Next year could be a watershed moment for contemporary R&B at the Grammys, particularly in the General Field. With SZA leading all nominees at the 2024 Grammy Awards with nine nods and Victoria Monét (seven) and Coco Jones (five) right on her heels, a new class of R&B powerhouses is looking to make a major splash on Music’s Biggest Night.
At the top of 2023, Beyoncé became the most-awarded act in Grammy history thanks to her triumph in best dance/electronic album for her seismic Renaissance album. That same record — which won three additional Grammys and spawned a pair of Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits — reigned victorious at the Soul Train Awards, where it secured the “Cuff It” singer her fourth album of the year win at the ceremony.
The Soul Train Music Awards launched in 1987 with a star-studded ceremony co-hosted by Dionne Warwick and Luther Vandross. Intended to celebrate the best in R&B, soul, rap, jazz, and gospel music, the Soul Train Music Awards predate any Grammy categories honoring rap and R&B albums. The Recording Academy introduced best R&B album (along with such other “genre album” awards as best pop album, best rock album and best country album) in 1995, with best rap album arriving the following year.
So, just how often do the winners of the Soul Train Music Award for album of the year sync up with the Grammy winners for best R&B album, best progressive R&B album and best rap album? While Soul Train cannot always be used as a proper precursor there is certainly considerable overlap between the two shows.
Every Soul Train Music Awards ceremony since 1995 — barring 2020 — has found the show’s album of the year winner getting, at the very least, a nod in its respective genre category at the corresponding Grammy ceremony. There have been 15 instances in which the Soul Train album of the year winner won the Grammy for their respective genre category. But there’s a catch.
For the the ceremony’s first nine years (1987-1996), album of the year was split into male, female, and group, with additional categories for rap, jazz and gospel albums. From 1997 to 2003, the awards were consolidated into a single R&B/soul or rap album of the year category. In 2004, Soul Train experimented with dropping genre specifications, presenting an award simply titled “album of the year.” They returned to the male, female, group split from 2005 to 2007, ultimately settling on one album of the year category from 2009 onwards.
Here’s some more Soul Train Music Awards lore: the 2008 ceremony was canceled due to the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike. Luckily, the 2023 WGA strike ended in time for this year’s Soul Train Music Awards.
This year’s Soul Train album of the year nominees are SZA (SOS), Victoria Monét (Jaguar II), Coco Jones (What I Didn’t Tell You – Deluxe), Babyface (Girls Night Out – Extended), Burna Boy (I Told Them…), Ari Lennox (age/sex/location), Janelle Monáe (The Age of Pleasure) and Summer Walker (Clear 2: Soft Life – EP).
Here’s a brief overview of which albums have triumphed at both the Soul Train Music Awards and the Grammys.
At the 1995 Soul Train Music Awards, Barry White‘s The Icon Is Love took home R&B/Soul album of the year – male, Anita Baker‘s Rhythm of Love scored R&B/Soul album of the year – feamle and Boyz II Men‘s II clinched R&B/Soul album of the year – group, duo or band.
Both Baker and Boyz II Men earned best R&B album nods at the 1995 Grammys, with the Philly vocal group taking the whole thing home. White appeared in the 1996 best R&B album lineup, ultimately losing to TLC’s CrazySexyCool.
Luther Vandross was White’s only fellow Soul Train nominee to also earn a nod at Grammys; his Songs proved no match for II in the best R&B album category. Similarly, Me’Shell Ndegeocello was Baker’s only fellow Soul Train nominee to compete at the Grammys, with her Plantation Lullabies also losing out to Boyz II Men’s blockbuster.
At the 1996 Soul Train Music Awards, D’Angelo‘s Brown Sugar won R&B/Soul album of the year – male, Mary J. Blige’s My Life scored the female trophy and Xscape‘s Off the Hook earned the group award. Both D’Angelo and Blige appeared in the Grammys lineup, while Xscape missed out on a nomination.
At the 1996 Grammys, Ultimately, TLC’s CrazySexyCool won best R&B album at the 1996 Grammys.
At the 1997 Soul Train Music Awards, the West Coast reigned supreme. 2Pac‘s All Eyez On Me took home R&B/Soul or rap album of the year; the Billboard 200-topping album beat out The Fugees‘ The Score, OutKast‘s ATLiens and R. Kelly‘s self-titled album.
Despite this victory, All Eyez On Me lost the best rap album Grammy to The Score, which also earned an album of the year nod from the Recording Academy, unlike 2Pac’s record. 2Pac has a chance to win his first competitive Grammy next year thanks to his nod for best music film for Dear Mama.
This was the year of Erykah Badu. Baduizm, her landmark debut studio album, won top honors at Soul Train and best R&B album at the Grammys. Although she did not earn an album of the year citation at the Grammys, at least her fellow Soul Train album of the year nominees reaped Grammy nods in their respective genres. Mary J. Blige (Share My World) made an appearance in best R&B album, and both Puff Daddy and the Family (No Way Out) and The Notorious B.I.G. (Life After Death) showed up in best rap album. None of those three acts won their genre categories.
In 1999, Lauryn Hill pulled off something only two other artists have achieved since. With The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the “Ex-Factor” singer won album of the year at both Soul Train and the Grammys — and she also won best R&B album at the latter. That year, Hill won five Grammys. She remains the last Black woman to win album of the year at the Grammys as lead artist.
Two of her Soul Train competitors — Erykah Badu (Live) and Jay-Z (Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life) — reaped Grammy nominations for R&B and rap album, respectively, with Mr. Carter taking the victory for his Billboard 200-topping set.
At the turn of the century, disgraced R&B crooner R. Kelly triumphed at Soul Train with R. At the Grammys that year, he fell victim to TLC. While R. earned a Grammy nod for R&B album, TLC’s FanMail — which also earned album of the year nominations at both ceremonies — took home the award.
The two other Soul Train R&B/Soul or rap album of the year nominees — Mary J. Blige (Mary) and DMX (Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood) — fared opposite fates. Blige earned a nod in R&B album, while the “Slippin” rapper would not earn his first Grammy nom until the following year.
Fittingly, Dr. Dre‘s 2001 won the 2001 Soul Train Music Award for R&B/Soul or rap album of the year, sparking a four-year streak of rap album victors at the ceremony. That year, frequent collaborator Eminem landed album of the year nods at both Soul Train and the Grammys. Although the “Stan” rapper lost in both contests, he did best 2001 for the best rap album Grammy.
As for the other two contenders that year, R. Kelly’s TP-2.com reaped zero bids at the Grammys, and the Recording Academy handed Jay-Z a rap album nod for Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, while Soul Train opted to honor The Dynasty: Roc La Familia.
This was an interesting year for Soul Train and the Grammys. At the former, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint won top honors, but the beloved record lost the best rap album Grammy to OutKast’s Stankonia. Ironically, Soul Train ignored Stankonia, while the Grammys showered the record with five nominations, including album of the year.
Another 2002 Soul Train album of the year nominee — Alicia Keys’ Songs in A Minor — scored Grammy gold, taking home best R&B album.
In 2003, Nelly‘s Nellyville won album of the year at Soul Train and earned a nod in the same category at the Grammys, in addition to a best rap album nomination. Mirroring the 2001 awards season cycle, Eminem’s The Eminem Show landed nominations in the same two Grammy categories, besting Nelly in the rap field.
Ashanti also scored an album of the year nod at Soul Train for her self-titled set, which coincided with Grammy victory for best contemporary R&B album.
In 2004, OutKast pulled a Lauryn Hill and won album of the year at both Soul Train and the Grammys — as well as best rap album at the latter — with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Their landmark double album remains the last hip-hop album to win top honors at the Grammys.
In addition, each of their Soul Train competitors reaped Grammy bids. The year prior, the Academy introduced best contemporary R&B album to differentiate between traditional and modern stylings in the genre. Luther Vandross‘ Dance With My Father triumphed in best R&B album, while both Beyoncé (Dangerously in Love) and R. Kelly (The Chocolate Factory) earned nods in contemporary R&B album, with Queen Bey taking it home.
This was the first year that Soul Train introduced the following categories: R&B/soul album – male, R&B/soul album – female, R&B/soul album – group and best gospel album.
Usher‘s Confessions took home the male award, Alicia Keys’ The Diary of Alicia Keys scored the female trophy and Destiny’s Child‘s Destiny Fulfilled clinched the group one. All three of those albums received Grammy nods. At the 2005 Grammys ceremony, Keys won best R&B album and Usher triumphed in best contemporary R&B album. The following year, Destiny’s Child reaped a bid for best contemporary R&B album, ultimately losing to Mariah Carey‘s The Emancipation of Mimi.
Prince was Usher’s only competitor to make it to the Grammys; his Musicology fell to The Diary of Alicia Keys, as did Jill Scott‘s Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2, which also earned an R&B/soul album – female nod at Soul Train. Brandy also appeared in that category, and she ended up losing to Usher in best contemporary R&B album at the Grammys.
For good measure, this year’s best gospel album winner — Israel and New Breed’s Live From Another Level — reaped a bid for best contemporary R&B gospel album at the 2005 Grammys.
John Legend‘s Get Lifted won R&B/soul album – male, Mariah Carey‘s The Emancipation of Mimi took home R&B/soul album – female and The Black Eyed Peas‘ Monkey Business scored the group award. Of those winners, only Legend and Carey overlapped with the Grammys. At the 2006 Grammys ceremony, Legend triumphed in best R&B album and Carey won in best contemporary R&B album.
Of the nine other nominees across the three Soul Train R&B/soul album of the year categories that year, just two names also appeared on the final Grammys ballot. Fantasia’s Free Yourself earned a nod for best R&B album, as did Earth, Wind & Fire‘s Illumination.
For what it’s worth, this year’s best gospel album winner — Donnie McClurkin‘s Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs — also won the 2006 Grammy Award for best traditional gospel album.
At the 2007 Soul Train Music Awards, Jamie Foxx‘s Unpredictable triumphed in R&B/soul album – male, Mary J. Blige’s The Breakthrough clinched R&B/soul album – female and The Isley Brothers & Ronald Isley‘s Baby Makin’ Music took home the group award. Of those winners, only Foxx and Blige were also honored at the Grammys. At the 2007 Grammys ceremony, both artists reaped bids for best R&B album, with Blige coming out on top.
Of the nine other nominees across the three Soul Train R&B/soul album of the year categories that year, just three of those acts also scored Grammy nods. Two of Blige’s fellow Soul Train nominees — Beyoncé (B’Day) and India.Arie‘s (Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship) — earned looks from the Recording Academy. India.Arie lost best R&B album to Blige, and Beyoncé reigned in best contemporary R&B album. Coincidentally, Beyoncé won that Grammy over Chris Brown’s self-titled album, which lost to Unpredictable at Soul Train.
Finally, this year’s best gospel album winner — Kirk Franklin‘s Songs from the Storm, Volume I — did not get any Grammy love. Nonetheless, Franklin still won the 2007 Grammy Award for best contemporary R&B gospel album album thanks to his chart-topping Hero record.
After a four-year hiatus, Soul Train returned with a bang, awarding Beyoncé’s I Am… Sasha Fierce top honors. The “If I Were A Boy” singer’s third solo studio album also took home the Grammy for best contemporary R&B album, reaping an album of the year bid in the process. Ultimately, Taylor Swift‘s Fearless beat out I Am… Sasha Fierce for album of the year at the Grammys.
This was also the first year that the Soul Train Music Awards aired before the Grammys, meaning that they correctly foreshadowed not only Beyoncé’s Grammy victory but also Maxwell‘s (BLACKsummer’snight, best R&B album). 2009 was also the year Soul Train nominated more than four records for album of the year; Ne-Yo‘s Year of the Gentleman (which earned a Grammy nom the year before) and Jamie Foxx‘s Intuition (which lost contemporary R&B album to Sasha Fierce) were both among the expanded field of nominees.
In 2010, Usher‘s Raymond v. Raymond won album of the year at the Soul Train Music Awards. A few months later, the album took home best contemporary R&B album at the 2011 Grammys — the last ceremony in which that category was active.
Drake (Thank Me Later) was the only other Soul Train album of the year nominee to reap a Grammy nod in his respective genre category (best rap album). He lost both races.
Just like Usher, Chris Brown‘s F.A.M.E. won album of the year at the 2011 Soul Train Music Awards and best R&B album at the 2012 Grammys.
Only two other albums earned honors at both ceremonies. Adele‘s 21 lost album of the year at Soul Train, but won seven Grammys, including album of the year and best pop vocal album. Jay-Z & Kanye West‘s Watch the Throne earned a Grammy nod for best rap album, ultimately losing to West’s own My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
This year, the Grammys once again edited their lineup of categories. After discontinuing best contemporary R&B album after the 2011 ceremony, the Recording Academy introduced best urban contemporary album at the 2013 ceremony. Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange was the first album to win top honors at Soul Train and best urban contemporary album at the Grammys. The record also landed a Grammy nod for album of the year.
Two of Ocean’s Soul Train competitors — Nas (Life Is Good) and R. Kelly (Write Me Back) — reaped Grammy bids in their respective genre categories, and both lost their races. Interestingly, Miguel‘s Kaleidoscope Dream competed against Channel Orange for the best urban contemporary Grammy, ultimately earning a Soul Train album of the year bid the following year.
In 2013, Kendrick Lamar won top honors at Soul Train with Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City. Unfortunately, the album became the center of one of the most controversial Grammy ceremonies in history. At the 2014 Grammys, Lamar infamously lost best rap album to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis‘ The Heist. Both records were also nominated for (and lost) album of the year.
Every 2013 Soul Train album of the year nominee had good fortune at the 2014 Grammys. Both Fantasia (Side Effects of You) and Rihanna (Unapologetic) reaped bids for best urban contemporary album (Riri won), and Jay-Z (Magna Carta Holy Grail) earned a nod for best rap album. In addition, Justin Timberlake‘s The 20/20 Experience scored a nod for best pop vocal album as a part of The 20/20 Experience — The Complete Edition.
Beyoncé’s iconic eponymous surprise album may have won top honors at the 2014 Soul Train Music Awards, but it lost the 2015 Grammy for best urban contemporary album to Pharrell Williams’ Girl. Both artists earned album of the year bids at both Soul Train and the Grammys.
Two of their fellow nominees — Drake (Nothing Was the Same) and John Legend (Love in the Future) — earned Grammy recognition in their respective genres, and both lost their races.
In 2015, The Weeknd triumphed at both Soul Train and the Grammys, winning top honors at the former and best urban contemporary album at the latter.
Fellow nominee Chris Brown earned a Grammy nod for X in the same category the previous year. D’Angelo & The Vanguard, another fellow nominee, ended up winning best R&B album at the 2016 Grammys.
In 2016, Queen Bey picked up her third album of the year victory at Soul Train with Lemonade. The “Formation” singer’s Peabody Award-winning record also won best urban contemporary album at the 2017 Grammys, ultimately losing album of the year honors to Adele’s 25.
At the 2017 Grammys, the Recording Academy welcomed all of the 2016 Soul Train Music Award album of the year nominees except for Bryson Tiller (Trapsoul). Drake (Views), Kanye West (The Life of Pablo) and DJ Khaled (Major Key) all earned best rap album bids, with Chance the Rapper‘s Coloring Book coming out on top. Rihanna (Anti) also earned Grammy nods for album of the year and best urban contemporary, losing to Adele and Beyoncé, respectively.
In 2017, Bruno Mars (24K Magic) became the most recent artist to win top honors at both the Soul Train Music Awards and the Grammys. To put him in even rarer air, the “That’s What I Like” singer also joined Lauryn Hill and OutKast as the only act to win the two aforementioned awards in addition to a Grammy in their respective genre category (best R&B album).
Two of Mars’ fellow Soul Train nominees were recognized by the Recording Academy. The Weeknd (Starboy) and SZA (Ctrl) both reaped bids for best urban contemporary album, with the “I Feel It Coming” singer reigning victorious.
At the 2018 Soul Train Music Awards, H.E.R.‘s self-titled compilation album won top honors, setting it up nicely for a best R&B album victory at the 2019 Grammys. At that ceremony, H.E.R. earned five nominations, including album of the year and best new artist (she lost both).
Three of H.E.R.’s fellow Soul Train nominees got some Grammy love. Miguel (War and Leisure) and Chloe x Halle (The Kids Are Alright) both earned nominations for best urban contemporary album, ultimately losing to The Carters‘ Everything Is Love. Leon Bridges‘ Good Thing appeared alongside H.E.R. in best R&B album.
In 2019, Lizzo beat out the competition and won top honors at Soul Train with her Cuz I Love You album. The record also won best urban contemporary album at the 2020 Grammys, losing its album of the year bid to Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Ella Mai was Lizzo’s only fellow Soul Train nominee to reap a Grammy bid. The “Boo’d Up” singer’s self-titled set lost best R&B album to Anderson .Paak‘s Ventura. Interestingly, H.E.R.’s I Used to Know Her landed album of the year nods at both ceremonies despite missing a Grammy nomination for best R&B album.
For the first time in over a decade, the Soul Train album of the year winner did not land a single Grammy nomination. Summer Walker‘s chart-topping Over It reigned supreme at Soul Train, yet the Recording Academy ignored the hit-laden set. In fact, the “Girls Need Love” singer did not land a Grammy nod as a lead artist until her current bid for best R&B album (Clear 2: Soft Life – EP).
Despite this disruption, 2020 didn’t completely damage Soul Train’s credibility as a Grammy precursor. Jhené Aiko‘s Chilombo — which landed Grammy nods for both album of the year and best urban contemporary album (she lost both) — appeared in the Soul Train album of the year nominations lineup. Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour also turned their Soul Train album of the year nomination into a best urban contemporary album Grammy bid.
In 2021, Jazmine Sullivan got her flowers with a Soul Train album of the year win for Heaux Tales. Her acclaimed EP also claimed best R&B album at the Grammys despite missing a citation in album of the year.
Four of Sullivan’s fellow nominees repeated their Soul Train fortune at the Grammys. Doja Cat (Planet Her) landed Grammy nods for album of the year and best pop vocal album, Wizkid (Made In Lagos) reaped a bid for best global music album, and H.E.R. (Back of My Mind) earned nods for album of the year and best R&B album.
At the 2021 Grammys, Giveon‘s Take Time EP earned a nod for best R&B album. A repackaged version of the project titled When It’s All Said And Done… Take Time earned an album of the year bid at the 2022 Soul Train Music Awards.
Last year, Beyoncé, the Mother of the House of Renaissance, took home top honors at the Soul Train Music Awards. At the 2023 Grammys, her acclaimed love letter to the Black queer origins of dance music won best dance/electronic award, reaping an album of the year bid along the way.
Like the year prior, several of Yoncé’s fellow Soul Train nominees found success at both Soul Train and the Grammys. Although she went 0-6, Mary J. Blige (Good Morning Gorgeous) earned nods for album of the year and best R&B album. Chris Brown’s Breezy also appeared in the lineup for best R&B album (he and Blige lost to Robert Glasper’s Black Radio III), and Lizzo’s Special earned a nod in best pop vocal album (she lost to Harry Styles’ Harry’s House).