The Kings and Queens of R&B: 2000-2009

Back in 2015, we asked this question: Who ruled R&B in the 1990s?

Here’s your answer: A decade worth of R&B royalty, ranked.

While fans love to celebrate ’90s R&B — and rightfully so, it was a monumental decade — R&B seemed to reach a crossroads soon into the new millennium. Hip-hop’s influence began to overtake the presence of soul, with melodies being replaced by stilted production.

But I’m Helen Keller to the critics.

The years 2000-2009 gave us new stars, reinvigorated careers and totally recast the musical landscape. The game had changed, but the game was still pretty great.

Let’s salute the musical trendsetters who changed the game every year in the decade.

R&B royalty was determined by these factors — retail success, impact and visibility throughout the calendar year. A few hot months weren’t enough to win the crown.

Now, pay homage to the greats.

The King of R&B: 2000

voodoo

D’Angelo

R&B enjoyed widespread commercial success at the dawn of the 21st century  – veterans like Toni Braxton, Erykah Badu and R. Kelly added to their legacies while younger acts like Destiny’s Child, Carl Thomas and Sisqo continued to build followings. But none of those albums were as daring – or game-changing – as D’Angelo’s platinum-selling Voodoo.  Yeah, the infamous “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” vid may get all the press, but Voodoo was a landmark album for R&B. As the genre began to flirt with pop success, the album’s murky funk proved that there is still an audience for instrumentation and atmosphere. The neo-soul movement exploded into the mainstream at the turn of the century — Voodoo lit that fuse. In 2000, D’Angelo finally went from R&B recluse to R&B royalty.

Who came closest to the crown? Toni Braxton

The King of R&B: 2001

u don't have to call

Usher

In 1994 Usher became a player. In 1997 he became a star. In 2001, he became a movement. In a year highlighted with memorable releases nearly every other month, Usher’s third album fulfilled the promise he’d shown since he first rode onto our playlists on the hood of that car sever years prior. “U Got It Bad,” “U Remind Me” and “U Don’t Have To Call” all became inescapable anthems for the lovelorn (and don’t think those U’s were coincidental – Usher knows branding, playa). From the summer of 2001 till we counted down the clock on New Year’s Eve, Usher would not be stopped – redefining R&B’s sound for the next decade. And that’s just the half of his warpath.

Who came closest to the crown? Alicia Keys

The Queen of R&B: 2002

foolish

Ashanti

You couldn’t turn on the radio in 2002 without someone screaming IT’S MURDAAAH in your ears. For better or worse, Murder Inc. Records’ stranglehold on the music industry was the biggest story of 2002, with Ashanti becoming heiress apparent to R&B’s throne. Check the scoreboard: With the expectation of a four week break, Ashanti’s name topped the R&B singles chart from January to June. Her triple-platinum debut album and its huge single “Foolish” made Ashanti an immediate industry player – a half-dozen follow-up singles and guest spots kept the momentum rolling. Ashanti’s reign at the top was short-lived but, in 2002, she truly earned the title Princess of R&B.

Who came closest to the crown? Musiq Soulchild, Brandy

The Queen of R&B: 2003

bey crazy in love

Beyonce

Way back in the late ’90s, we all saw this day coming – it was just a matter of time before the face of Destiny’s Child’s broke away from the pack and launched a solo career. Fueled by a furious Chi-Lites sample, Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” became an instant smash and Queen Bey began her ascent to the throne. The high-energy performances (“Baby Boy”) and commentary on womanhood and femininity (“Me, Myself and I”) that are now Beyonce’s hallmark all began here – her imprint is all over the year. Her seat at the top slot was all but guaranteed. Destiny fulfilled.

Who came closest to the crown? R. Kelly

The King of R&B: 2004

confessions

Usher

Yeah, I know, this one was a no-brainer. Usher’s Confessions stands as one of the most critically acclaimed R&B albums of the past 15 years, with more than 20 million sales worldwide. Usher welcomed Lil’ Jon into the mainstream, making “crunk” a household term while “Burn” set a new standard for ballads. Usher redefined the marriage of R&B and hip-hop in a manner that hadn’t been seen since Jodeci changed the game a decade prior. Confessions is Usher’s greatest work and a pivotal album in the history of modern R&B.

Who came closest to the crown? Alicia Keys

The Queen of R&B: 2005

we belong together

Mariah Carey

DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK.

Actually, that’s exactly what you should call it.

Mariah possesses one of the biggest voices in R&B history – literally and commercially. But by the turn of the century, MC was more known for erratic behavior and cinematic stumbles than her music. However, it only takes one good album to remind the world of your greatness. The Emancipation of Mimi became her redemption – “We Belong Together,” “Shake It Off” and “Don’t Forget About Us” reset the playing field, moving R&B away from its love affair with hip-hop to its more soulful roots. Mimi was back, and R&B was stronger than ever.

Who came closest to the crown? John Legend

The Queen of R&B: 2006

be without you

Mary J. Blige

DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK.

Actually, that’s exactly what you should call it.

Yep, there are a lot of similarities between Mary J. Blige’s 2006 and Mariah Carey’s dominant 2005. Like Mariah, MJB was seen as a respected ’90s star whose light began to dim by the 21st century. But, like Mariah, Mary was just one hit away from renewed relevance – “Be Without You” topped the R&B charts from January till mid-April, becoming one of the most successful singles in R&B history. Her fantastic seventh album, The Breakthrough, lived up to its name, spawning more hits and more notoriety. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul didn’t leave her crown in the 90s – she was far from finished.

Who came closest to the crown? Ne-Yo, Chris Brown

The Queen of R&B: 2007

no one

Alicia Keys

I’m sure Alicia Keys’ fans have spent the majority of this post grumbling that I’d overlooked their hero. Not so. Alicia spent the first half of the decade delivering some of the purest R&B we’d heard in ages, yet she always seemed to be overshadowed by bigger stars. And though 2007 was dominated early on by Robin Thicke, Chris Brown and the rising Ne-Yo, Alicia finally climbed to the top of R&B’s mountain by year’s end. Credit her third album, As I Am, and the fiery single “No One,” which became the most listened-to song of the year. The album landed three Grammy awards, five million in sales, and confirmation that Alicia no longer had to play runner-up.

Who came closest to the crown? Robin Thicke, Ne-Yo

The King of R&B: 2008

closer

Ne-Yo

2008 was an odd year for R&B. Several big-name artists made strides throughout the year, including Alicia Keys, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Mariah and Beyonce, but none of them maintained dominance for a prolonged period of time. That leveled the playing field, allowing fresh faces to break away from the pack. Ne-Yo’s third album, Year of the Gentleman, peppered R&B fans with strong singles throughout the calendar year, including “Closer” and the No. 1 “Miss Independent.” Ne-Yo had long been a player in R&B but by 2008, we knew he was here to stay.

Who came closest to the crown? Keyshia Cole

The King of R&B: 2009

blacksummersnight

Maxwell

By 2009, mainstream R&B began its transition into the heavily urban sound that still resonates today. But before the genre totally made the hip-hop plunge, an enigmatic champion of neo-soul finally emerged from hiding. Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night, his first album in eight long years, was a soulful breath of fresh air, shoving aside the over-reliance of hollow autotune for more gentle melodies. “Fistful of Tear,” “Bad Habits” and, of course, “Pretty Wings” dominated R&B and Urban AC charts and the album itself became a platinum seller. Classic R&B was far from dead, it just needed a revival. R&B needed this album.

Who came closest to the crown? Beyonce

Before we wrap up, we have to pay homage to the decade’s leading voices:

The King and Queen of ‘00s R&B

my boo

Usher and Alicia Keys

By the close of 2009, Ursher and Alicia had sold roughly 50 million albums worldwide, a truckload of No. 1 singles, and were the voices behind many of the decade’s most memorable hits. They were R&B’s saving grace, giving us nearly 10 years of unforgettable gems. The throne is theirs.

[Check out our kings and queens of 90s R&B here]

Agree? Disagree? Whom would you crown king and queen? Let us know in the comments.

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1 Comments

  1. Uhhh this is hard…. I would say that there is one King (usher) and two queens (beyonce and alicia) and maybe 3 queens (MJB)… But we can only have one king and one queen I guess…

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