Kiana Fitzgerald

At this point, it feels borderline-disrespectful to discuss the rocky road that Dawn Richard has journeyed to the present. But the hype around her isn't nearly lofty enough just yet, so it only makes sense to start at the beginning.

Chance the Rapper is determined.

On Saturday night, Beyoncé shook the music world with an hourlong feature on HBO, and then a surprise album — Lemonade.

Beyoncé couldn't have produced a body of work this defiant, or blunt, two years ago. Lemonade has been made possible by the cultural, social and political upheaval we're in the midst of, triggered by the deaths of boys and fathers and women, who will never be forgotten.

Without a doubt, Anderson .Paak is the new "it" guy of that place where R&B and hip-hop overlap. It sort of happened overnight, and we can kind of credit Dr. Dre, who gave .Paak permission to leave his fingerprints all over Dre's long-awaited return to music, 2015's Compton.

Late Thursday evening, Kendrick Lamar crept back into our lives like a thief in the night. With his new album untitled unmastered., Lamar and his label Top Dawg Entertainment offer us a look at the steps it took to get to his fully formed magnum opus — 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly — and show us that they can stop the world when they feel like it.

If you want to understand how the hip-hop/R&B production duo Christian Rich operates, listen to the first two tracks of its debut album, FW14. The intro, "Yellow Moon," is 40 seconds of the most hip elevator music you've ever heard, mixing brief flashes of heart-palpitating drums with a jazz-inspired undercurrent.

R&B singer-songwriter Elle Varner flew out of the gate in 2011 with a feel-good, boom-bap-heavy tune about a man who had managed to snag her attention away from a particularly nice pair of shoes. But three years already feels like an eternity ago, and on her newer material Varner sounds far from satisfied by either a sweet talker or some new kicks.

Singer-songwriter SZA consistently tagged the music she released on SoundCloud in 2012 and 2013 as one thing: "Alternative." That tag is something of an anti-classification ether, the place artists go to hide out when music journalists not unlike myself go hunting for victims to categorize.

For a few years now, BJ The Chicago Kid has been the answer when rappers known for taking their pound of flesh need a little help baring their souls — from Freddie "Gangsta" Gibbs to Top Dawg Entertainment's reluctant industry darlings, Kendrick Lamar and