Best R&B/Soul Songs of 2012

The Cream of the Crop ...

As these words are being written, 2012's almost over, so it's time to take a look back at the best R&B and Soul singles that were released during the year. Most of the names that made the list are established superstars, like Jennifer Hudson, Ne-Yo, Monica and Usher. But there's also a few lesser-known and underappreciated singers on the list too, like Tank, Leela James and Frank Ocean. For full details regarding About R&B/Soul's picks for the dozen best singles of 2012, have a look below.

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'Adorn,' Miguel

Released in: February. From the EP: Art Dealer Chic, Vol. 1.
From February through April, urban pop singer Miguel dropped a free EP once a month. The sexy "Adorn," which was the first song on the first EP, was popular enough to be released as an official single, and also appeared on his second studio album, Kaleidoscope Dream, later in the year.
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'Climax,' Usher

Released in : February. From the Album: Looking 4 Myself.
Usher teamed up for this song with Philadelphia-based super-producer Diplo, who's probably best known to R&B fans as the man who produced Chris Brown's 2011 smash hit "Look at Me Now." The result is a slow-burning jam where over a moody electronic beat, Usher croons about a bad break-up: "I gave my best, it wasn't enough/you get upset, we argue too much," he sings wistfully.
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'Think Like a Man,' Jennifer Hudson and Ne-Yo feat. Rick Ross

Released in: January. From the Album: Think Like a Man: Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture.
The pairing of singers Jennifer Hudson and Ne-Yo with rapper Rick Ross doesn't seem like an organic combination, but the result is pretty strong 'battle of the sexes' jam. J-Hud sounds bold and powerful, Ne-Yo plays his role as her male counterpart smoothly, and Rick Ross continues his hot streak of winning cameos.
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'Brand New Me,' Alicia Keys

On the piano-laced "Brand New Me," Alicia keys sings about growing and maturing to the point where she's her own woman and a domineering, controlling person no longer has a hold of her mind, heart and soul. "It's been awhile, I'm not who I was before/You look surprised your words don't burn me anymore/Been meaning to tell ya, but I guess it's plain to see/Don't be mad, it's just a brand-new kinda me," she sings. "Can't be bad, I've found a brand-new kinda free."
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'Thinkin Bout You,' Frank Ocean

One of the better examples of Frank Ocean's creativity as a songwriter is the opening lines of his debut album's first song, "Thinkin Bout You:" "A tornado flew around my room before you came, excuse the mess it made/It usually doesn't rain in Southern California, much like Arizona/My eyes don't shed tears, but boy they bawl when I'm thinkin' 'bout you." With those words, Ocean not only manages to reveal his knack for creative excuses, but exposes himself as emotionally vulnerable (the "rain" he sings about is his tears). Like most of his lyrics, they seem surface deep at first, and it can take repeated listenings of the song to actually understand the true meaning.
Released in: January. From the Album: This is How I Feel.
If you've ever felt like you need someone more than you need oxygen or to live, then you can probably feel Tank when he sings "Girl, I need you more than my next breath, never would I ever leave you, 'cause darlin' I need you more than the next breath I breathe." That's pretty heavy stuff. You can almost picture him on one knee, asking for his woman's hand.
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'Lazy Love,' Ne-Yo

Released in: May. From the Album: R.E.D.
Have you ever been with someone who's so good in bed that they make you wanna just stay attached to them all the time? If so, then you can probably relate to "Lazy Love," the first official single from Ne-Yo's upcoming R.E.D. album. "I gotta go, I got responsibilities I gotta take care of/that's when you wrap them legs around me, and I fall victim to that lazy love," he croons. "You got that I-don't-wanna-go-nowhere, that lazy love."
Released in: January. From the Album: Moving On.
On this single, K'Jon continues his trend of releasing mature, lyrically substantive music. On "Will You Be There," he sings about whether he can truly count on his woman while his world is crashing down around him. "After all is said and done, will you be there?" he sings.

The song on Soul singer Michael Kiwanuka's debut album is "Tell Me a Tale," a dreamy, ethereal tune that sounds like the the sonic equivalent of floating on a cloud. "Tell me a tale that always was, Sing me a song that I'll always be in," he sings. "Tell me a story that I can read, Tell me a story that I believe." The song's lyrics exemplify the album as a whole: they have a familiar universality, but at the same time not too familiar, since they only speak in generalities and abstracts and don't get too specific.

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'Lemme See,' Usher feat. Rick Ross

Released in: April. From the Album: Looking 4 Myself.
The third single from Usher's latest album was "Lemme See," which is sexually charged, but with a slower, sexier pace than some of his previous efforts. Plus there's the added dimension of a rap verse from Rick Ross. Obviously Rick can't match Usher when it comes to sensuality, but he does manage to throw in enough rugged sexuality to help propel the song forward.
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'It All Belongs to Me,' Monica feat. Brandy

Released in: February. From the Album: New Life by Monica.
On "It All Belongs to Me," Monica again teams up with her girl Brandy. As true R&B and pop fans know, the girls first collaborated way back in 1998 on another song with a possessive title: "The Boy is Mine." This time though, the song isn't about two teenagers fighting over the same guy; it's about an accomplished woman kicking a dude out while telling him not to touch any of her property. "I know you're mad, can't take no more, but put that back, they ain't yours," they sing, coldly.
Released in: June. From the Album: Chapter V.
On this song, Trey Songz is full party mode with the rapper T.I., singing about how there's only two reasons why he's in the club: the ladies and the drinks.

Pop/Soul singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas, who's a native of London, England, hasn't received as much attention in the U.S. as in her native country, but if she keeps releasing ear-pleasing songs like "Is Your Love Big Enough?," then she's bound to eventually become a well-known star on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Soul-drenched tune called "Heartbreaker," as the title suggests, is about a bad relationship. Here's how British singer Alice Russell explained it in a recent interview: "It is a broken hearted love song about the end of a relationship," she said. "it's about that time when you're just emotionally exhausted, you know you just have to let it go, you are resigned to it all being over." The song is the first single from her upcoming fifth studio album, To Dust, which is expected to drop in February 2013.

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'Pyramids,' Frank Ocean

Released in: June. From the Album: Channel Orange.
"Pyramids," which clocks in at nearly 10 minutes, spans the centuries as it tells the story of the narrator and his love, Cleopatra. But like everything Ocean writes, things aren't necessarily as they seem. Although the first half of the story apparently takes place in ancient Egypt as a cheating Cleo is condemned to death, as the second half unfolds, the modern day Cleo is a prostitute and the 'pyramid' referenced could be construed as being either a strip club or a bed.

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'Wake Me When It's Over,' The-Dream

Technically, The-Dream dropped this song under his real name, Terius Nash, in 2011 as part of a free digital album. But it wasn't until late 2012 that Def Jam commercially released it as a single and the album it came from, 1977, as a physical CD. Anyway, it makes the list mainly due to it's painful, melancholy lyrics about a bad relationship that he compares to living a nightmare.

R&B/Soul crooner Tondrae Kemp's "Say If You Want Me to Go," from his superb Sun Money album, is a smooth yet urgent relationship tune that slickly and deftly merges funk and hip-hop.
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'That's Still Mama,' Cody ChesnuTT

On Cody's Soul jam "That's Still Mama," he plays the role of a wise older brother/uncle/friend and tells young men that they need to respect their mothers. "Only reason I make this song is 'cause I love ya, Only reason I take this time is 'cause I don't wanna bury ya," he sings to his brethren. "Church boy, school boy, dope boy, I ain't gonna throw my hands up, I'm gonna love ya."
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'Something's Got a Hold On Me,' Leela James

Released in: June. From the Album: Loving You More ... in the Spirit of Etta James.
After Etta James' death in January 2012, Leela James (no relation) decided to record a tribute album consisting solely of cover versions of Etta's songs. The first single was Leela's highly spirited version of Etta's 1962 song "Something's Got a Hold On Me."
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'What Profit,' Dwele

Released in: July. From the Album: Greater Than One.
On this R&B/Hip-hop hybrid, Dwele sings about how dudes sometimes get so caught up in the material things in life that they forget to pay attention to their personal relationships. "Your man was steady stackin' chips, ridin' in the faster whips, livin' everyday like his birthday," he sings. "But it seems like your man forgot what you need in the worst way is to be loved from the top of your head to your pretty pedicured toes."