Leading up to the Grammy nominations on Nov. 10, Rolling Stone is breaking down 16 different categories. For each, we’re predicting the nominees, as well as who will (and who should) win on Grammy night.
SZA is in the foreground of what the Grammys has dubbed “Progressive R&B” — R&B with deep and palpable influence from other genres, including rap, rock, and electronic music. (Many people have called this subgenre “alternative R&B.”) The Best Progressive R&B Album Grammy replaced Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2020; racial justice advocacy following the murder of George Floyd encouraged the Recording Academy to nix the term “urban,” a longstanding and inaccurate catchall term for Black music.
If not for SZA’s clear dominance this year, this category could boast a tight race. It’s had its share of blockbusters in the past, from Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange (which won in 2013) to Beyoncé’s Lemonade (2017’s winner), but as of late, less-established artists have made their mark. “[Last year] Steve Lacy was undeniably instrumental in elevating the subgenre to unprecedented heights,” says Yan Snead, music programmer for R&B, African, and Caribbean formats with Pandora. “Jordan Ward, Q, Leon Thomas, Chiiild, Jean Deaux, Amindi, Flwr Chyld, and countless others [are] killing it right now.” Spotify’s head of R&B, Alaysia Sierra, agrees. “This category is so healthy,” they say.
But as artists free themselves from distinct genres, category submissions can be a game of strategy. Sierra notes that Amaarae’s Fountain Baby could be a good fit, but might also fare well in Best Global Music Album for its international influences and her Ghanaian background. The predictably unpredictable nature of the Grammys — particularly with Black art — makes it tricky. “The Grammys always throw us a curveball,” says Sierra. “Sometimes it’s good, like, ‘I didn’t expect that — good for them. I love that album.’ Sometimes it’s like, ‘OK, that was … interesting.’” Here are our predictions for the nominees — and the winner.
SZA’s debut, Ctrl, earned a nomination in this category’s predecessor, Best Urban Contemporary Album, in 2018. It ended up losing to the Weeknd’s Starboy, a monster in pop music that year, but this time around, SOS is the beast to beat. SZA has disputed being boxed into R&B, but submitting her cross-genre masterpiece to this category would be strategic. Alaysia Sierra notes that SOS has held steady in the upper echelons of Spotify’s U.S. and global weekly album charts for months. “I think sonically, this is textbook progressive R&B,” says Sierra. “She’s been probably the — outside of your Frank Oceans — poster child.”
The Age of Pleasure
Eight-time nominee Monáe is a Grammy favorite for good reason: The cunning multi-hyphenate makes sagalike albums with incredible intent. She lets loose on The Age of Pleasure, a disc of global party music, including rap, Afrobeats, amapiano, and reggae. “It’s one of those skipless albums,” says Keithan Samuels, founder and editor-in-chief of the blog Rated R&B. The combination of her big sound and even bigger name makes it a strong contender for a Progressive R&B nomination. Sierra notes the album’s exploration of “themes of Blackness and queerness,” adding, “She does it all, and it’s one of the only albums that fully explores the [African] diaspora.”
Never Enough wasn’t the scene-shifting album Caesar’s debut, Freudian, was, but across three releases the Canadian singer has retained an enamored fan base (he just played a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden). “The writing, meticulously curated sequencing, and production on this album was captivating,” says Yan Snead, music programmer for R&B as well as African & Caribbean formats with Pandora. “One of my biggest pet peeves are features that don’t match the feel or subject matter of the songs they’re on, but Daniel got it right with his inclusion of serpentwithfeet, Omar Apollo, and BADBADNOTGOOD especially. [He’s] a student of the alternative R&B landscape, clearly.”
Red Moon in Venus
Kali Uchis has traversed somewhat disparate Grammy categories over her three nominations since 2018. She got a nod for Best R&B Performance for her feature on Daniel Caesar’s “Get You,” a win in Best Dance Recording for contributions to Kaytranada’s “10%,” and a nod for Best Música Urbana Album for Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios), her sophomore effort and first Spanish album. This year’s Red Moon in Venus could land her here, though, with Maura Johnston writing, “The album’s full-spectrum approach to songcraft reflects the way love can cause people to open up not just their hearts, but also the way they look at the world,” in a rave review for Rolling Stone.
The Love Album: Off the Grid
Call him Diddy, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Puff, Puffy, Puff Daddy — just don’t call him out of touch. The artist and mogul is a veteran in music, and stars across generations rallied around him for his first album in a whopping 17 years. The magnitude of that gap and the roster of features of The Love Album: Off the Grid (Mary J. Blige, Justin Bieber, H.E.R., and Babyface are four of 27 guests) could warrant Grammy attention alone. But the jam-packed album from the well-known figure was also generally well-received by R&B lovers. “I don’t make an algorithm; I make a feeling. I want to give them something they can sing,” Diddy said in the album’s trailer. “People say, ‘Do you want streams?’ I said, ‘I want souls.’”
This story is adapted from Rolling Stone’s fourth annual Grammy Preview issue, released ahead of the start of first-round voting on Oct. 13. We featured SZA on the cover, spoke to some of the year’s biggest artists about the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come February, made our best predictions for the nominees in the top categories, and more, providing a full guide to what to watch for leading up to the 2024 awards.