The Prefix Power Rankings: Female R&B Singers

The Prefix Power Rankings: Female R&B Singers

Welcome yet again to the Prefix Power Rankings, where we take a look at who’s the hottest in any given genre. Today, we look at perhaps the most important classification of musician around: female R&B singers.

I really, really like R&B. I wrote about male R&B singers last month, and I’m writing about lady R&B singers this month. I’d write about intersex R&B singers next month, but the only one I could talk about is Antony, and depending on the day he doesn’t sound like R&B at all.

Anyways, there are several categories upon which you can judge female R&B singers in relation to each of the following:

  • Quality Of Voice (QOV): The ideal R&B songstress follows a pattern laid down by powerhouse vocalists like Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Tina Turner. If your vocals can’t knock down a medium-sized barn, you’d better switch over to indie-pop with a quickness.
  • Current Radio Hits (CRH): Self-explanatory. If you’re the go-to lady for a feature or your song is blowing up either Hot 97 or hell, even the Internet, you get points.
  • Public Profile (PP): Did some juicy bit of gossip crop up when I searched your name on TMZ ten minutes ago? That’s not a metaphor; that’s just how I’m judging this category.
  • Caliber Of Celebrities Dated (COD): Romance fuels great songwriting, and it’s a known fact that a song becomes fifteen percent better when you know exactly who it’s about.
  • Actual Quality Of Music (AQOM): What rating did Prefix give your last album? If there is no preassigned grade, I will go into emergency reviewer mode, using Paula Abdul’s Head Over Heels as my low point and Fugazi’s The Argument as the threshold for having a great album.
  • Bonus Destiny’s Child Multiplier (BDCM): Have you ever been in Destiny’s Child? If so, you get an arbitrary boost, because Destiny’s Child was like the Beatles of contemporary R&B and they are worthy of your respect, if not unquestioning loyalty and admiration.


We judge these criteria on a 1.0-10.0 scale, because we are Prefix and that’s just how things are done around here. And without further adieu, here are the rankings as they currently stand.


10. Keri Hilson

QOV: One time, I took a class on hip-hop at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where 9th Wonder served as a guest lecturer. He told an anecdote that, though I’ll spare you the details, ended in him thinking that Keri Hilson was not a very good singer. 4.0

CRH: Seems like everybody’s got a feature from Ms. Keri, babayyy on their album, and you can’t swing Ace Hood by his dreads without hitting a car that’s blasting “Pretty Girl Rock.” 8.0

PP: You know what I know nothing about? Keri Hilson’s personal life. I guess she wants it that way, but it’s torpedoing her in the Prefix Power Rankings. 5.0

COD: One time Keri Hilson said in an interview, “I don’t date rappers. I have a brain.” This is blasphemy. 0.0

AQOM: Good for a killer single or two, but beyond that, nothing special. 6.0

Overall: At the end of the day, Ms. Keri is a serviceable R&B singer. Her albums are mercenary singles-generating machines, and her personal life is an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a “who cares?” 5.4

9. Solange Knowles

QOV: Beyonce’s little sister inherited a pair of pipes almost as good as Bey’s. 8.0

CRH: Probably Solange’s biggest song yet was when she covered a Dirty Projectors song, and while that might have been the number-twenty played song of the week at my college radio station, that doesn’t count for much. 2.0

PP: Solange’s public existence is in many ways defined by her proximity to her sister. She’s the one, if you recall, who turned Beyonce and Jay-Z on to Grizzly Bear. She gets points simply because I knew this fact off the top of my head. 6.0

COD: Abysmal. Solange is divorced, and the only reason anyone has ever heard of the dude is because she divorced him. 0.0

AQOM: Solange recently released Sol-Angel And The Hadley St.-Dreams, which was essentially her attempt at creating some sort of R&B Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, except it ended up being the only album in existence simultaneously featuring production from The Neptunes as well as Thievery Corporation, and also feature a fucking Boards of Canada sample. An even-keeled effort this was not. 6.0

Overall: So Solange was not technically in Destiny’s Child, but she is Beyonce’s sister and helped write “Get Me Bodied,” so she still gets the magical “Destiny’s Child” multiplier. 5.5

8. Ciara

QOV: I’ve never actually heard Ciara’s voice when it’s not slathered in Auto-Tune, so I have no idea. Let’s go with 3.0

CRH: “Ride” was a phenomenal single, but it never really took off on the radio like it was supposed to, though when I was in college this was a house-party staple for a month straight. 6.0

PP: I think Ciara dated The-Dream one time? Oh wait, that was Christina Milian and her and The-Dream were married. Arbitrary 5.0, mainly because probably a lot of people have assumed that Ciara dated The-Dream.

COD: In real life, Ciara dates NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire, which is actually awesome if you even remotely follow the NBA. 6.0

AQOM: Seriously, have you heard “Ride?” 8.0

Overall: Ciara started out down with Outkast on LaFace Records, and now she’s nothing more than an R&B also-ran with an NBA player for a boyfriend and a bangin’ single that didn’t get enough love. 5.6 

7. Alicia Keys

QOV: Alicia Keys has a damn near angelic voice. 8.0

CRH: Last time Alicia showed up on the radio, it was to sing the chorus on Jay-Z’s “Empire State Of Mind,” which is still the national anthem for New Yorkers. She hasn’t hit the radio on her own terms since “No One” in 2008, however. 4.0

PP: Alicia has a reputation as something of a tee-totaler, having once called off a scheduled appearance in Indonesia because she found out the event was sponsored by a cigarette company. Come on, Alicia. You’re not Minor Threat. 4.0

COD: How many people can say they’re married to Swizz Beatz? One, and that person is Alicia Keys. I wonder if the Keys-Beatz couple ever gets together with Beyonce and Jay-Z for a game of Pictionary. 6.0

AQOM: Eh, middling? She’s got talent for days, but then her albums always seem sort of lame. 7.0

Overall: Say what you will about Keys’ standards in corporate sponsorships (high) and husbands with the word “Beats” in their name (the highest), but Alicia is not particularly hip. Not that she seems to care, though. 5.8

6. Ms. Lauryn Hill

QOV: Back in the day, Ms. Hill was literally the best. She was the best part of the Fugees, had one of the best albums of 1998, and hell, even her song on Santana’s Supernatural wasn’t half bad. And it was all anchored by her voice, a soulful croon that sounded equally at ease rapping or singing. 6.0

CRH: The last time Lauryn Hill was on the radio, I was ten years old. 0.0

PP: While she might not have any hits right now, she offered her famously volatile services as a Rock The Bells headliner this summer, so she’s definitely got the “cargo shorts demographic” down. 5.0

COD: She bagged herself a Marley, and before that she was with Wyclef. Points off because it wasn’t one of the more famous Marley pups. 5.0

AQOM: She made The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. ‘Nuff said. 8.0

Overall: As far as enigmatic Salinger-esque former Fugees go, Ms. Hill is pretty great. 6.4

5. Mary J. Blige

QOV: Voices were invented so Mary J. Blige could sing. I know that I’m only supposed to go to ten, but she gets an 11.3

CRH: Whenever Mary J. has an album coming out she seems to throw something up on the radio. This time, it’s “Somebody To Love Me (Naked),” which is less a Mary J. Blige song and more of a Lil Wayne and Diddy song. But hey, no complaints over here. 6.0

PP: For reasons I’ll get into below, Mary’s not too big on the limelight. 3.0

COD: Mary J. Blige dates her manager now, but back in the day she was with K-Ci of K-Ci and JoJo, and man, was that guy a dick. That’s all I’ll say out of deference to Ms. Blige, but I will say that Blige has one hell of a tumultuous “Personal Life” tab on Wikipedia.

AQOM: Mary’s got some stone-cold classics to her name, and if you don’t agree with me I will punch you. 8.0

Overall: Due to my completely arbitrary breaking of my own rules, Mary gets a 6.46

4. Adele

QOV: It’s actually kind of insane that the voice of an old soul can come out of someone so young. 9.0

CRH: “Rolling In The Deep” might be the most inescapable song of the year. I’ve heard it in bars, cars, and even the waiting room in the dentist’s office. 8.5

PP: Everybody and their parents love Adele. She smokes, drinks and cusses, but it’s cute because she does it in moderation. Or something. 9.0

COD: Adele’s ex has Solange syndrome, where your ex gets marginally famous on behalf of your dumping him. 4.0

AQOM: As our own Andrew Winistorfer puts it, “Adele’s 21 only has two great songs (“Rolling in the Deep” and “Rumor Has It,” a song that kicks more ass than any other pop song this year), and is loaded with mid-tempo ballads that are pretty indistinguishable. That said, to a lot of people, 21 is a hard stand against the encroaching hegemony of pop radio.”  There you go. 7.0

Overall: Throwing the rock to Winistorfer yet again: “Adele rips off the most impressive sales run in 10 years, and the Internet is largely silent.” Thus, she gets a 7.5 in the Power Rankings.


3. Kelly Rowland

QOV: Classically known as Beyonce’s second banana in Destiny’s Child, Kelly Rowland recently started making headway in the “Coming Out From Under Beyonce’s Shadow” department, mainly by making agreeably commercial pop songs that inevitably performed better on the charts than any Beyonce song. Note I didn’t actually say anything insightful about her voice, which if we’re being honest with ourselves is work(wo)manly soulful at best. 6.0

CRH: BABY LET ME BE YOUR MOTIVATION. Man, that song has some legs. Its popularity is, in my opinion, due more to the instrumental (provided by Jim Jonsin of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” and T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” fame) than anything Ms. Roland or her co-conspirator Lil Wayne contributed to the track. Still, a hit is a hit, and “Motivation” is a hit. 8.0

PP: Well, what I said above isn’t entirely accurate. Basically, “Motivation” became a hit for two reasons: One, because of said Jim Jonsin instrumental. Two, however, has to deal with Rowland’s public relations people, who used the fact that she finally got her hands on a halfway decent single to craft a Wrester-style comeback narrative around Rowland. Or something. (Note: I do not personally know Kelly Rowland’s publicist.). 7.0

COD: Remember that one time when Kelly Rowland did a song with Nelly? I always liked to pretend they were dating. 4.0

AQOM: Uh, as good as any second-tier prefabricated pop-R&B can be, I guess? There was a reason that Beyonce was the Chris Paul of Destiny’s Child, and it wasn’t just because Bey’s father was the group’s manager. 6.0

Overall: If it weren’t for her former membership in Destiny’s Child, Kelly might not even be on this list, but since she is, she gets the BONUS DESTINY’S CHILD MULTIPLIER and clocks in at 8.25. You go, girl!


2. Rihanna

QOV: Honestly, Rihanna isn’t that good at singing. I mean, she’s better than me, but in terms of the other ladies on this list, she’s not great. I have a friend who saw her live one time, and he told me she had “the singing voice of a drunk rooster.” So there’s that. 6.0

CRH: This is where RihRih really shines. In the past year, basically everything she touched became a hit, from very bad, very serious songs with stupid puns (Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie”) to awesome, fun songs with terrible puns (“What’s My Name” featuring Drake, whose “The square root of 69 is ate-somethin’” joke is apparently stolen from a DJ Paul mixtape, of all places). 10.0

PP: Did you know that Rihanna is the second-most popular musical artist on Facebook? That’s pretty insane. I’m not sure which is more impressive, though—that she’s the second-most “liked” artist on Facebook, or that she’s now the most famous Vida coconut water spokesperson of all time. 9.0

COD: Rihanna’s romantic life is tumultuous as a motherfucker. Did you know the song “Marvin’s Room” by Drake is about how he just wants to be with Rihanna? And that when Chris Brown, Rihanna’s spectacularly douchey ex, heard it, he got so mad that he recorded his own version of “Marvin’s Room” where he basically called Drake out on being a beta-male? Well, those things are all true. 10.0

AQOM: All those songs off of Loud were hits for a reason, ya smell me? 8.0

Overall: It’d take a lot to beat Rihanna with her 8.6, but if there’s one lady who could, it would be…


1. Beyonce

QV: What’s almost unbelievably insane is that not only can Beyonce sing better than anybody else out there, but she can also dance better than anyone else out there, and unlike virtually every single performer, she can do both at the same time. We salute you, Beyonce. 10.0

CRH: While her newest album, 4, may very well go down as a latter-day R&B classic, it’s more in the vein of an early-eighties soul/funk record that could have done chart wonders against the likes of Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Earth, Wind & Fire. And while 4 might have held aspirations of being a game-changer, destroying R&B radio and recreating it in its own image, it, um, didn’t do that. The newest single, “Love On Top,” is laid-back, almost complacent in its smoothness, and fits in amongst Kelly Rowland and Ciara about as well as Andre The Giant trying on one of those leotards Beyonce rocked in the “Single Ladies” video. Still, something’s gonna stick soon, so she gets an 8.0

PP: BEYONCE IS PREGNANT. I REPEAT: BEYONCE IS PREGNANT. CNN reported the news and claimed that it was as big a deal as the Royal Wedding. CNN was wrong. It’s a bigger deal. 10.0

COD: I mean, Jay-Z. 10.0

AQOM: I’ll leave it to Prefix’s Craig Jenkins, who gave Beyonce’s 4 an 8.0 and told me on Twitter that it was one of the top five R&B albums of 2011.

Overall: Beyonce gets the ultimate Destiny’s Child Multiplier, which puts her at an 11.5/10, making her the greatest and best female R&B singer in all the land. Sounds about right.

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