The 10 Best R&B Songs of 2022: Staff Picks (2024)

Breaking down R&B's most memorable tracks of the year.

The 10 Best R&B Songs of 2022: Staff Picks (1)

Love was an overriding theme in R&B in 2022 — and given what people have been enduring over the last several years, between the pandemic, incessant social and political issues as well as economic uncertainty, it’s not surprising. The various iterations of the emotion were rhythmically and lyrically dissected: from new love, spiritual love, toxic love and love lost to, above all, self-love.

Established and emerging stars alike embraced the oftentimes complicated subject in refreshing and illuminating ways. Songwriter Muni Long staked her claim to a solo career with “Hrs and Hrs,” her sensuous, no-time-limit take on lovemaking. On the other side of the clock — against an infectious two-step track — The Weeknd grappled with being out of time when his lover calls quits on their relationship.

Beyoncé took fans on a liberating course to self-love via the anthem “Break My Soul,” then extolled the exhilarating feeling of falling in love and enjoying life with abandon on “Cuff It.” Rihanna, also marking her long-anticipated musical return, addressed the spiritual power of enduring love on “Lift Me Up.”

Here are R&B’s most memorable songs of 2022:

  • Rihanna, "Lift Me Up"

    The 10 Best R&B Songs of 2022: Staff Picks (2)

    After a five-year absence from the charts, Rihanna reappeared by way of this beautiful ballad from the Black Panther: Wakanda Foreversoundtrack. Co-written by Tems, the song is an ode to late actor andBlack Pantherstar Chadwick Boseman, and displays Rih’s ever-maturing tone and emotional delivery, leaving fans aching for more. Rihanna delivers both a tender tribute to the beloved actor and a memorable return to her musical roots.— NEENA ROUHANI

  • Tems, "Free Mind"

    The Tems bandwagon hit capacity in 2022, courtesy of her scorching features (Future’s “Wait 4 U” and Beyonce’s “Move”). Beyond her impressive assists, however, it was her not-so-hidden solo gem, “Free Mind,” that launched her into stardom. Unearthed from her stirring 2020 EPFor Broken Ears, “Free Mind” rose from the ashes and became her first solo Hot 100 hit last June. Aching for liberation, Tems strokes wonders with her pen, giving us poignant one-liners like “This is the peace that you cannot buy” and “Send me a love that you cannot mix.” — CARL LAMARRE

  • Chris Brown, "Under The Influence"

    Chris Brown turns the tempo down several notches for his courtship of a love interest, but his desires turn hazy after sipping on some syrup. “Under the Influence” slow-burned its way to success and finished 2022 on a high note after cracking the Hot 100’s top 15 and earning C-Breezy another platinum plaque to add to his formidable collection. — MIKE SAPONARA

  • SZA, "Shirt"

    The 10 Best R&B Songs of 2022: Staff Picks (3)

    Also front and center among 2022’s long-anticipated returns wasR&Bcult favorite SZA, who soulfully details the desperation surrounding a toxic love on “Shirt.” The depicted relationship’s destruction is reflected in the track’s cinematic, Dave Meyers-directed visual, showing SZA and Lakeith Stanfield wreaking havoc all over town. Her calm tone counters the chaos, simultaneously rugged and smooth atop the Darkchild-produced beat. —N.R.

  • Steve Lacy, "Bad Habit"

    With its earworm of a hook, “Bad Habit” catapulted Steve Lacy to the top of the Hot 100, into the Big Four categories at the Grammys and into the next level of his career. The song finds the former cult artist turning miscommunication with a potential romantic interest into a universal anthem: “I wish I knew/ I wish I knew you wanted me,” he croons on the song’s hook over a steady bass line and glittery synths. — CYDNEY LEE

  • Brent Faiyaz, "All Mine"

    Love can be complicated for Brent Faiyaz, yet the Maryland-bred singer-songwriter knows what he wants on the romance-heavy “All Mine,” and makes his most urgent plea for his baby mother’s adoration. Pulling out all the stops, Faiyaz charmingly croons, “I know that I’ve been the worst / But I’ll love you better / If you let me / Let’s catch a flight, change the weather /And I promise forever.” The buoyant ode stood out within a crowded R&B field to become a radio hit and a breakthrough moment for the long-rising Faiyaz. — M.S.

  • The Weeknd, "Out of Time"

    The 10 Best R&B Songs of 2022: Staff Picks (4)

    On his third Dawn FM single, The Weeknd acknowledges he’s ultimately to blame when his lover leaves him, and staying deep in his ’80s bag, he gives that age-old dilemma a refreshed spin by sampling Tomoko Aran’s 1983 Japanese city pop hit “Midnight Pretenders” and tapping Jim Carrey for additional vocals. Not only did The Weeknd’s sonic experimentation and insightful lyrics (“You begged me with your drowning eyes to stay”) lead to another R&B hit, but the track also became a two-step dance anthem.— C. LEE

  • Beyoncé, "Break My Soul"

    If ever a song exquisitely captured people’s need for release and rebirth after pandemic-induced isolation and raging social issues, it’s Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul.” You can’t help but dance and sing at the top of your lungs to the high-energy house track that features an exuberant sample of Big Freedia’s 2014 single “Explode.” Reuniting with co-collaborators Tricky Stewart and The-Dream, Beyoncé affirms it’s time to reflect and move forward: “I’m lookin’ for motivation / I’m lookin’ for a new foundation, yeah / And I’m on that new vibration … You won’t break my soul.” — GAIL MITCHELL

  • Beyoncé, "Cuff It"

    Beyoncé lets looseandpromises to “f–k up the night”onthisuptempo Renaissance track, as“Cuff It”swellswith anebullienceand conviction tolovethat recalls “Love on Top.” Simultaneously, Nile Rodgers’guitar and Raphael Saadiq’sdrum and bass evoketheseductivegrooveof‘70sdisco-funkmusic.“Cuff It”earnedQueenBey her 10th R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay No. 1, as wellas abest R&B song nominationat the 2023 Grammy Awards, thus continuing her reign as rhythmic royalty.— HERAN MAMO

  • Muni Long, 'Hrs & Hrs'

    The 10 Best R&B Songs of 2022: Staff Picks (5)

    Among her many 2022 accomplishments, Muni Long showcased her uninhibited sexuality by doling out a modern-day version of “Cater 2 U” with “Hrs and Hrs.” Not only is she audacious enough to break the time limit in the bedroom, but she’s also willing to up the ante with champagne showers, shrimp and lobster towers, knowing that food and sex combined are any man’s kryptonite. Her defiance against the shot clock makes “Hrs and Hrs” an indelible gem and a must-have on any sensual playlist.— C.L.

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