Ranking the 30 Best R&B Albums of the 2000s

The 2000s were an odd time for R&B.

While the genre dominated the charts through most of the mid-90s, R&B began to lose a lot of its luster by the new decade. In an attempt to maintain relevance, many artist began to heavily incorporate pop and hip-hop sounds into their work. While that wasn’t necessarily a bad strategy – R&B has long borrowed from those sounds, after all – by the end of the decade, the sounds we once loved began to dissipate.

R&B as we knew had totally changed.

But post isn’t all about doom and gloom – while many veteran R&B artists spent the decade trying to find themselves in this new world, newcomers took the opportunity to make a name for themselves with innovative releases.

Simply put, the landscape changed and many artists capitalized, giving us some of the most memorable music of the past decade.

Let’s take a look at the greatest albums to grace our ears from the years 2000-2009. Oh and before you throw a tantrum about your favorite album being left off the list, keep these key factors in mind: Albums were ranked based on quality, consistency and influence within the genre. This could have easily been a top 50 list but today we’re just focusing on the cream of the crop.

The 2000s were years of transition for R&B but they gave us way more ups than downs. Here are the best of the best.

Albums we love that just missed the cut: Angie Stone, Mahogany Soul (2000); 112, Part III (2001); Lil Mo, Meet the Girl Next Door (2003); Lyfe Jennings, Lyfe 268-192 (2004); Brandy, Afrodisiac (2004); John Legend, Get Lifted (2004); Tamia, More (2004); Keith Sweat, Just Me (2008); Trey Songz, Ready (2009); Maxwell, BLACKSummersnight (2009)

Aijuswanaseing30. Musiq Soulchild, Aijuswanaseing (2000)

Musiq is the master of feel-good R&B and his debut is the greatest example of that talent. Playful, breezy tracks like “Just Friends” and even the reflective “Girl Next Door” are infectious and accented by Musiq’s wit and humor. Musiq ain’t winning your local spelling bee (be honest, how long did I take you to decipher that title Aijuswanaseing?) but he’s tough to beat his brand of cool, relatable R&B.

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just-like-you29. 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.

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priceless28. Kelly Price, Priceless (2003)

Career hurdles and personal struggles almost shelved Priceless, Kelly Price’s third release, before it even reached our ears. Thankfully that didn’t happen. Kelly’s vocals are among the best in recent R&B history and they’re on full display here – resonating with both power and sensuality. Priceless comes extremely close to recapturing the magic of Price’s landmark debut. I’m just glad we got a chance to hear it.

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je heartbreak27. Jagged Edge, J.E. Heartbreak (2000)

For years I considered Hard to be JE’s best album but after revisiting this one a few months back, the appeal of J. E. Heartbreak is just undeniable. It’s truly JE at their peak – soaring ballads, upbeat cuts that don’t betray the group’s core sound, and hit after hit after hit. Nearly all of JE’s signature tracks make their home on this album. It’s the quintessential Jagged Edge release.

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floetic26. Floetry, Floetic (2002)

In the early 2000s, R&B was introduced to a new Dynamic Duo that rivaled any superhero pairing. Singer Marsha Ambrosius (the “songstress”) and spoken-word enthusiast  Natalie Stewart (the “floacist”) teamed to craft a fully-formed debut that ran the gamut from slow bedroom burners to upbeat hip-hop tracks. Floetry would part ways far too soon but Floetic still remains their crown jewel.

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in-my-own-words25. Ne-Yo, In My Own Words (2006)

You think R&B is in rough shape these days? Well, you should have been around in 2006, when naysayers were commiserating about the alleged “death” of the genre. Enter singer/songwriter Ne-Yo, who proved that a new generation of artists had plenty of steam left in the tank. Ne-Yo’s debut became a critical and commercial hit, spawning memorable singles and kick-starting his career into stardom. R&B wasn’t done yet, and Ne-Yo was just beginning.

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fearless24. Jazmine Sullivan, Fearless (2008)

R&B fans have been dying for Jazmine’s breakout moment for nearly a decade now, and their love affair with her music began right here. Consider Jazmine’s debut a concept album that delves into the listener’s personal fears – whether it’s rejection, unrequited love or the struggles of achieving success. Extremely well-written and sung magnificently, Fearless proved that Jazmine is a star in the making. We’re just waiting for the world to catch up.

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bday23. Beyonce, B’day (2006)

The biggest fault I have with Bey’s later albums is that she experiments with too many contrasting sounds. Sometimes it makes for a disjointed listen. That’s a mistake B’Day never makes, making it Beyoncé’s most cohesive — and consistent — album to date. While not all of the pop records hit the mark, the defiance of more traditional R&B cuts like “Irreplaceable” and “Resentment” and attitude that oozes from hip-hop inspired tracks like “Upgrade U” are some of the best songs Bey has ever recorded. B’Day might not get the hype but it’s Beyoncé at her best.

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complexsimplicity22. Teedra Moses, Complex Simplicity (2004)

It’s a travesty that Teedra Moses isn’t a superstar. Her 2004 debut feels like it was crafted by a 10-year music veteran in her prime. Layering soul and hip-hop, Complex Simplicity is an album that remains true to R&B’s historic roots but borrows enough from current trends to keep things fresh and exciting. She’s also not afraid to bare her soul, whether it’s firing off on unfaithful men or mourning a loved one. Complex Simplicity may have gotten lost in the shuffle but we’ll never stop singing its praises.

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because-i-love-it21. Ameriie, 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 overseas 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.

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who is jill scott20. Jill Scott, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1 (2000)

Time for your boy to date himself: Back in my final months of college, Jill Scott’s debut was pretty much the soundtrack to the life of every woman on campus. Jilly from Philly instantly made her mark with a release that examined every aspect of womanhood – from tackling social hurdles to (literally) fighting to protect one’s household. Who Is Jill Scott? Is one of the best love stories of the 2000s, one brimming with pain, redemption and triumph. It’s a story so many women took to heart – and a story brothers can learn from as well too.

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chicago-8519. 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.

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emotional18. Carl Thomas, Emotional (2000)

By 2000, hip-hop’s influence over R&B became more pronounced. MUCH more pronounced. But Carl Thomas wisely decided to turn back the clock, bringing soul closer to its roots. The result is a lush, romantic album that’s still fondly embraced today. Just when you thought love was gone, Carl ushered it back with his dynamic delivery.

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mamas gun17. Erykah Badu, Mama’s Gun (2000)

Raw. That’s the best description of Erykah Badu’s sophomore album – the perfect evolution from her celebrated 1997 debut. From attempting to ease the burden of the working woman on “Bag Lady” while also celebrating the importance of self-love on “Kiss Me On My Neck,” Mama’s Gun’s key theme is liberation. In an era where love in R&B was becoming more superficial, Badu pushed for authenticity, and in the process created some of her best work.

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tp216. R. Kelly, TP2.com (2000)

TP-2.com did for the 2000s what its predecessor did in the early 90s — it reinvented R&B. From over-the-top sexual anthems and party starters to explorations of faith, family and womanhood, Kelly AGAIN rewrites the template for modern R&B. It’s my personal favorite Kelly album.

 

 

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870115. Usher, 8701 (2001)

Sometimes, the stars align at just the right time, and just the right place, for magic to happen. Usher’s third album was that moment – producers Jermaine Dupri, B-Cox and The Neptunes were at their creative peaks while Usher was hitting his stride as a vocalist. Their chemistry created 8701, one of most rich R&B experiences of the new millennium. It’s hard to find flaw in this air-tight set and it comes VERY close to being Usher’s greatest achievement

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back to black14. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (2006)

It’s frustrating to look back at Amy Winehouse’s career in 2017 – 10 years prior, she was a safe bet to revolutionize the genre. Back to Black was not Amy’s debut but it was her breakout record stateside, establishing her as both a pop force and a soul pioneer. Relying on R&B’s roots, Winehouse brought a sound that embraced jazzy production and live instrumentation to mainstream ears. Unfortunately, we lost Amy before she could truly reshape R&B’s landscape, but Back to Black is sobering yet fulfilling example of what could have been.

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comin from where Im from13. Anthony Hamilton, Comin’ From Where I’m From (2003)

Anthony Hamilton’s debut album largely went unnoticed in 1996, but seven years later he hit pay dirt 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.

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destiny-fulfilled12. Destiny’s Child, Destiny Fulfilled (2004)

Sorry Beyhive, but here’s facts: Album-for-album, Destiny’s Child’s total discography is probably stronger that Beyonce’s solo catalog. And while The Writing’s on the Wall gets deserved props for being the group’s breakout record, you could make the case that Destiny Fulfilled, the group’s final album, is their best work. These aren’t little girls singing about bills and bug-a-boos, they are women who use their experiences to craft strong ballads and midtempo cuts that accurately reflect the experiences of their maturing fanbase. It wasn’t the album many critics wanted to hear, but the well-crafted storytelling made it extremely poignant. If DC can give us another album this good I’m OK with a reunion.

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aaliyah11. Aaliyah, Aaliyah (2001)

Released mere weeks before her tragic death, Aaliyah’s third album has gone on to attain nearly mythical status upon R&B fans. Trust me, the praise is deserved. Embracing a darker vibe to match her sultry attitude, Aaliyah’s moody soundscapes and infectious singles would make this set one of the most celebrated of the decade – and easily one of the most influential. I mean, just turn on the radio: A large majority of today’s hitmakers have pattered their albums after the standard set by this release. Mood music might be hot right now, but Aaliyah helped set the standard.

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southern hummingbird10. Tweet, Southern Hummingbird (2002)

Southern Hummingbird was a deceptive album. After the success of Tweet’s first single “Oops (Oh My),” many of us expect an album in the vein of Aaliyah’s earlier work. That was far from the case. Southern Hummingbird is a gripping collection of throwback soul, merging easy-going melodies with Tweet’s frank lyrics. The honesty of her pen – from pleading with her man for a rendevouz to trying to kick her nasty habit of stress smoking – is what makes us keep coming back for more. It’s not the album we thought we’d get but we’ll never let it go.

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faithfully9. Faith Evans, Faithfully (2001)

Faith Evans is one of R&B’s most celebrated voices, and for good reason. Her debut is hailed as a classic, her sophomore album is fondly remembered and even her 2005 offering The First Lady has gotten a lot of love online recently. But where’s the love for Faithfully? The album blended Faith’s impeccable vocals with nearly every rap sample imaginable – Biggie, Outkast, even The Firm. Faithfully is arguably the last great release of Bad Boy Records’ golden era and still holds strong today. If this one ain’t better than Faith’s classic debut, it’s the closest one.

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voodoo8. D’Angelo, Voodoo (2000)

As Voodoo creeps ever closer to its 20th birthday, I’ll admit it’s still tough to digest at times. While it refuses to go down as smoothly as D’Angelo’s heralded debut Brown Sugar, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a sweetness to its brand of sweaty, sticky funk. Voodoo is an amalgamation of music’s greatest trendsetters – you hear sounds of Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Kool and the Gang among many others – packaged into a off-kilter, yet thrilling package. The neo-soul movement may have started gaining momentum by 2000, but it was Voodoo that kicked the hinges off the door and made way for a new breed of soul stars. It’s arguably the most influential album on our list.

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chocolate factory7. R. Kelly, Chocolate Factory (2003)

Say what you will about R. Kelly – lord knows I have – but I respect his ability to evolve with each release. That sonic diversity is what drives Arruh’s best work, Chocolate Factory. It’s more than just a blend of music genres, it’s an amalgamation of decades of music history, packaged in one near-perfect album — unquestionably his most complete and dynamic effort.

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the-breakthrough6. Mary J. Blige, The Breakthrough (2005)

Don’t call it a comeback – unless you want to. I won’t be mad. After her Love & Life album stumbled, Mary’s star started to dim and her career began to sputter. Never doubt the queen. The Breakthrough was an aptly named album, reestablishing Mary as one of R&B’s preeminent voices while recapturing the magic of her earlier works, which Love & Life failed to do. Nearly 15 years into her career, MJB was still capable of captivating audiences. Impressive.

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justified5. Justin Timberlake, Justified (2002)

JT’s mammoth sophomore album – 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds – is arguably the most revolutionary album of the decade, and likely would have landed at the top spot on this list. However, that album leans a bit too much into the pop realm for inclusion here. Instead, we have to show love to Justin’s debut, which is very clearly an R&B record and is almost as great as its predecessor. Stellar production from Timbaland and the Neptunes laid the groundwork for JT’s soulful vocals and even amp up the tempo when the time is right. At times, Justified feels like a direct descendant of the Off the Wall-era MJ, able to blur genres but keep soul in the forefront. Justified was just the beginning of Timberlake’s dominance of the 2000s.

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all i have4. Ameriie, All I Have (2002)

We all knew Ameriie had a hit single on her hands before she released her debut LP in 2002. What we didn’t know is that she was so much more than a one-hit wonder – she was the total package. Writer/producer Rich Harrison’s impeccable soundscapes take the lead here as Ameriie wistfully glides over his infectious midtempo tracks. It was the very definition of a summertime album – filled with romantic longing and danceable cuts tailor-made for an evening cookout. Ameriie blew away our expectations and made an album that has endured for 15 summers – and counting.

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emancipation3. Mariah Carey, The Emancipation of Mimi (2005)

There is no way this album should have been this good. After nearly a decade of drama and so-so releases, MC delivered an album – 15 years after her debut, mind you – that blew away nearly everything in her legendary catalog. This was more than a redemption album; the blend of pop, soul and hip-hop helped breathe life into a genre that was starting to lose its way. And, perhaps more importantly, it’s the album that endeared Mariah to a whole new generation of R&B fans. More than a decade later, this is arguably Mariah’s most beloved release – just ask around online (believe me, I did).

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confessions2. Usher, Confessions (2004)

Confessions was a game-changer for R&B. Usher evolved his sound to incorporate crunk (“Yeah”), Top 40 pop (“Caught Up”) and infectious hip-hop (“Throwback”). Bearing his relationship woes on wax was a both potent creative fuel and a brilliant marketing pitch – people are STILL talking about his ill-fated romance with TLC’s Chilli today. While it’s not a perfect album – it’s a bit too lengthy, and that’s not even counting the extra tracks on the bloated Deluxe Edition – it set R&B on a new path.

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diary-of-alicia-keys1. Alicia Keys, The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003)

Alicia’s debut, Songs In A Minor, took the R&B world by storm in 2001 but even back then, I thought the album was merely OK – filled with promise but not the sea change for R&B that critics predicted. Two years later, she fulfilled her destiny. While The Diary of Alicia Keys might not have the massive singles of its predecessor, it’s a much tighter package blending pop, hip-hop and traditional R&B into an impeccable package. It’s capped off by brilliant writing as well – you feel Alicia morph into a star-gazing waitress on “You Don’t Know My Name” and walk alongside her as she casts off fame for love on “If I Ain’t Got You.” No sophomore jinx here, this is the greatest representative of R&B for the new millennium.

What are your favorite albums of the 2000s, and which one of your favorites didn’t make the list. Holla below.

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15 Comments

  1. Why is R. Kelly even in the list ????

  2. Donnie’s The Colored Section is better than all of these albums. It’s omission is criminal.

  3. Damn, it’s funny how I knew Teedra Moses was going to be on this list. It’s so unfair that she didn’t blow up…that album is like a masterpiece.

  4. Missing Joe on this list. “My name is Joe” is a great album and one of Joe’s best work

  5. I’m not mad at this list at all. And I’ve got some music to catch up on (listening to the Emancipation of Mimi for the first time now…don’t judge, lol).
    I agree that Alicia Keys did something extraordinary with “Diary”, mainly because I thought the hype over her first album was overblown. But no India Arie?:(

    • Yes, her first album is quite overrated. Not bad but overrated. And poor India just missed out on getting in.

  6. Why left out Chante Moore out of the list?Pick any of her albums you will agree that she can outsmart any of those selected,she got quality and consistency deserved.

  7. Really?? Alicia Keys? A good album but far from #1. Also, no Brandy Full Moon?
    That should have been #1!!Who wrote this list?

  8. Come onnnnnn…Monica’s AFTER THE STORM?!!! Nowhere?

  9. Pretty good list I would have liked to see Joe, and Bilal on the list though. Great reasons on the R Kelly albums I even think they could both be a little higher on the list. Great review Ed great reasoning for all the albums.

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