The second time’s the charm.
Last time we hung out, we named the 12 best sophomore albums in rap history — second albums that were so good they surpassed their predecessors.
This time, let’s look at 12 times R&B artists not only bested their debut albums but, in some cases, created works that have become all-time classics.
Debut: Songs in A Minor
In all honesty, I found Alicia’s debut to be slightly overrated. Songs in A Minor was certainly promising, but the album had its share of few holes. Those holes were quickly filled by its follow-up, a phenomenal showcase of Alicia’s writing and vocal skills. It still stands as one of the best R&B releases of the 21st century.
Debut: What’s the 411?
How do you follow up a groundbreaking debut? You, somehow, drop an album that’s even MORE groundbreaking. My Life isn’t just Mary J’s signature work, it’s one of the signature albums of the 1990s — a sobering portrayal of the struggles of womanhood.
When Brandy emerged in the mid-90s, she soon became America’s newest sweetheart. But her sophomore album proved that she was more than the cute girl with braids. Never Say Never was a shockingly mature project that exhibited tons of growth and depth. It remains her most celebrated project.
Debut: A Jagged Era
JE’s introduction to the world of R&B was solid, but ultimately forgettable, despite several strong singles. But it was their second effort that truly showcased their range, proving they could be both balladeers and party-starters. It’s the album that put them on the map.
A few weeks ago, I boldly challenged Twitter to find a three consecutive albums — from debut entry to round three — that were as consistently good as 112’s triumvirate. The gem of that collection is Room 112, which deftly glides from radio hits to smooth bedroom burners. The 112 boys were at the top of their games here.
Unless you were hiding under a rock and/or a fetus in the mid 90s, you know just how monumental Boyz II Men’s second album was in the world of music. The singles were anchored to the top of the Billboard charts seemingly for eternity, and the album cuts themselves were masterful. This is the album that ushered R&B into the mainstream in the ’90s.
Debut: Dangerously In Love
While the Beyhive is typically fixated on Beyonce’s most recent albums, her second album still stands as her most complete effort. An effective mix of uptempo jams and power ballads, it showcased all the tools at Bey’s disposal. The themes might not be as sophisticated as those in Lemonade, but the tracks here speak for themselves.
Debut: Destiny’s Child
Destiny’s Child’s 1998 debut was sorely underrated at the time, with most praise focused on the lead single and little else. The Writing’s on the Wall, though, commanded MUCH more attention. The brash mix of R&B, pop and hip-hop transformed DC from overlooked soul singers to pop megastars.
Yep, you read that right — Anthony Hamilton’s debut album actually dropped way back in 1996, seven years before he hit big with his soul smash Comin’ From Where I’m From. Hamilton’s gritty, pleading vocals were a throwback to a bygone era — but it was the relatable lyrics that really drove the themes home. An underrated gem.
Debut: My Heart
This is the dark horse of the list but, trust me, it earns its place among these giants. Donell’s debut was strong — especially from a vocal standpoint — but the stakes were raised the second time around and Jones stepped up to the challenge. Where I Wanna Be is Donell at his zenith and stands as one of the most overlooked albums of its era.
Debut: Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
It may sound like blasphemy in 2016 but I never expected Aaliyah to be the superstar she became. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed her debut but it did little to distinguish her from her peers. That all changed with One In A Million, an album that pushed R&B’s sonic boundaries into a new era. With one album, Aaliyah rewrote the rules for R&B.
Debut: Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip
Yep, this one was a given. TLC’s impressive, albeit uneven, first album established them as young women who unabashedly embraced their sexuality. Their second album was a portrait of their maturation — in both themes and sounds. It’s a coming-of-age project that would inspire strength and feminism in scores of young listeners. And, of course, the album is home to some of the most memorable songs of the 1990s.
Which sophomore R&B albums do you think beat their predecessors? Let us know below. And while you’re at it, check our list of the 12 Greatest Sophomore Rap Albums Ever.