Song in the Key of Life. Confessions. II. My Life.
You know the classics. And I know you love them.
But the best part of being a music fan is randomly stumbling upon – and falling in love with – an album you may have missed. Let’s look at seven R&B albums that bypassed many fans the first time around – whether due to lack of exposure, unfairly harsh reviews or record label shenanigans.
These seven albums could be your new favorites.
Zhane, Saturday Night (1997)
I’ve already gone on record saying how I was bored to tears by Zhane’s sophomore release back in 1997. But after giving it another spin a few years back, I was surprised at how strong this album really is. Now it’s true, the album does have a few drowsy tracks, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Saturday Night showcases really solid ballads and heavenly vocals. It’s must better than the sleepy reputation that precedes it.
Nicole Wray, Make It Hot (1998)
It’s pretty easy to write off Nicole as another in a long line of 90s-one-hit-wonders who will forever be confined to the back of a milk carton. But she’s more than a hot single. Not only is she still releasing music today under the moniker Lady Wray, Nicole’s debut album lives on in my playlist as one of the most underrated R&B albums of all time. Yes, ALL TIME. Thanks to the pens of songwriting heavyweights like Missy Elliott and Static Major and production from Timbaland, Make It Hot is the perfect snapshot of late-90s R&B. So many people missed out on this one.
Dave Hollister, Chicago 85 … The Movie (2000)
Dave Hollister is one of R&B’s most underappreciated voices, so it’s no shock that one of the best albums of the ’00s probably flew right under your radar. Chicago 85 captured the soul of Chi-Town, with Hollister’s smokey vocals painting a portrait of love and life in the city. Standout singles and deep album cuts make this a very complete listen.
Amerie, Because I Love It (2007)
The best album you’ve never heard was a victim of label politics. Ameri(i)e’s third studio album was originally released in the UK but never officially made it stateside due to her departure from Columbia Records. Sadly, countless fans missed out on some of Amerie’s best work. The album wildly swings from uptempo jams to sparkling ballads without losing sight of itself. It’s heavy on samples but each one plays its role very well. I’ve been singing the praises of this one for years – and I won’t stop until y’all get on board and listen for yourself.
Keyshia Cole, Just Like You (2007)
I’m still not sure exactly when Keyshia became Black Twitter’s punching bag, but that unnecessary shade has clouded her impressive career. Keyshia has a pretty solid discography and this one, her second album, is the best of the bunch. Sure it’s home to some of her signature songs, but the album cuts are the real gems. Keyshia was at her creative and vocal peak here.
Mary J. Blige, My Life II … The Journey Continues (Act 1) (2011)
There’s this weird mindset among some R&B fans that MJB’s last great album was her 2005 smash The Breakthrough, then she somehow faded into obscurity. Um, no. MJB’s has continued to put out noteworthy material for another decade, and in the case of My Life II, some of that material stands as tall as her best albums. Sequel albums are almost always a turnoff, but the follow up to Mary’s classic My Life wisely expands on themes of its predecessor instead of rehashing them. And, as you’d expect, the songwriting and production are fit for a queen.
Luke James (2014)
Oh boy, THIS album. After a pair of phenomenal mixtapes, anticipation was sky-high for Luke James’ solo debut.
And to say people weren’t feeling it is quite the understatement.
But the album was by no means bad – the experimental sound just wasn’t what fans were expecting. Judged on its own merits, though, the album was one of the best of 2014, powered mostly by Luke’s phenomenal voice.
What other R&B albums are unfairly underrated? Share them below.