Published Dec 17, 2018From its inception, the genre known as R&B has relied on the venerable guitar for its unique bass-heavy sound and entrancing chord structure and composition. While an ever-present constant in the music, it has taken a back seat in recent years with the genre preference for hip-hop samples and electronic sounds. For a minute, it felt square to strum — but no longer. These days, being able to wield a guitar as an R&B artist isn't a strange thing anymore — in fact, it's an advantage to being able to exude a more organic and heartfelt sound.
When Texas-based Leon Bridges first arrived on the scene in 2015 with the old-school sound of Coming Home, it was predicated on the vintage R&B chords and Sam Cooke musical look and sound. Bridges' smooth guitar breaks proved that there was still a place for funky fretwork in the future. He switches things up a tad with 2018's Good Thing, but the guitar foundation is intact as it builds toward a forward-minded approach to today's soul.
The Los Angeles-based R&B singer-songwriter isn't afraid to lean in on acoustic grooves as he tells unconventional tales about love, relationships and trying to make it in a tough industry. Debut album Sonder Son offered Spanish guitar-oriented feels — check out the acoustic pluck action of tracks like "Talk 2 U" or "First World Problemz/Nobody Carez,"— while his latest Lost EP continues on this acoustic through line.
Jessica "Jessie" Reyez is more often than not seen with a guitar and it's served her well for her relatively short yet impactful presence in the spotlight. From the now-familiar chords of breakout track "Figures" to the guitar-focused tracks on her current Being Human in Public EP, Reyez's adapt strumming skills ensures a personable connection between her music and her fans. From her start playing acoustic covers on YouTube to selling out concerts, she's come a lot way from busking in downtown Toronto to become a role model for a new generation of guitar-playing young hopefuls.
Better known by her stage name H.E.R. — short for "Having Everything Revealed" — Gabriella "Gabi" Wilson prefers to stay hidden behind sunglasses. What isn't a mystery is her appeal, which has a lot to do with her affinity for guitar sounds. The artist, who started playing blues guitar at the age of seven, uses the instrument when songwriting and isn't shy about demonstrating her impressive playing skills while on tour.
Initially an offshoot/side project for members of the now-defunct Odd Future collection, the band — fronted by Syd and Matt Martians — are at the forefront in terms to making guitar sounds and musicianship cool for the next generations. Each member — including guitarist Steve Lacy and bassist Patrick Paige II — are all talented musicians in their own right and provide inimitable guitar grooves with an ear to the future.
Known mononymously as Khalid, Khalid Donnel Robinson has quickly earned a rep for earnest, yet solid R&B/pop sounds. Heavy bass and mellow guitar serve as foundational material for both his debut album American Teen and 2018's Suncity EP. Indeed, Khalid's signature sound leverages acoustic sounds coupled with messages of awkward teen love and a need for belonging in a way that's heavily relatable.
Charlotte Day Wilson
Classically trained Charlotte Day Wilson is proficient at both piano and guitar, and uses both to strong effect in creating her minimalist soul-oriented sounds. Guitar plays an integral role in her musical compositions; her recent Stone Woman EP uses various instruments to great effect, bolstered by jazzy guitar riffs and chords.