José James Essentials
When hearing José James for the first time, those who think jazz and R&B are discrete categories may feel their brains being scrambled. But as he made clear on his tribute album Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday, the blending of vocal improvisation and popular-song delivery has a long and rich tradition. His reach extends to the contemporary, too: On his 2008 debut, The Dreamer, he showed off a talent for rap-adjacent phrasing. (Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before the Blue Note label made him an offer.) Whether he's leaning into harder-edged funk textures or engaging with balladry, James' skillful voice is a highlight in the world of contemporary song.