You know what they say about first impressions – and in the world of music, that cliche takes on even more importance.
Introducing your art to an audience is often the first step in an artist’s ascent (and sometimes, the beginning of the end). But sometimes, those debuts are SO good, SO revolutionary and SO poignant that the artist has yet to reach those heights again.
Let’s look back at 12 of the best debuts in R&B history – debuts so good that the artist was never able to top it. I’m joined by fellow R&B fanatic Nicolette Carney for this convo.
Nicolette: In a time where music was blessed to have Whitney and Mariah both dominate the charts, Toni Braxton emerges into the scene fearlessly. With her incredibly rich alto and timeless cuts, Braxton gave the masses a flawless, ground breaking debut album. With impeccable production
from LA Reid and Babyface, this album to many R&B and music lovers is considered a blueprint on how to introduce yourself into the world of music.
All of them, “Another Sad Love Song,” “Breathe Again,” “Love Shouda Brought You Home”
Edd said: The Brown Sugar vs Voodoo debate probably will rage until the end of time. But for my money, there’s no betting against Brown Sugar, the album that many credit (including me) with launching the neo-soul movement of the late 90s/early 00s. D’Angelo stepped in the footprints of legends – Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke and more – bringing their sound to a new generation. Brown Sugar created the blueprint that scores of artists still follow today.
Must-hear cuts: “Me and Those Dreamin’ Eyes of Mine,” “Lady,” “Crusin'”
Nicolette: 1998 is deemed as a Golden Year in R&B music. Many classic debuts were presented this year and Tamia’s debut album is one of them. Providing incredible vocal performance and production (including the classic “You Put A Move On My Heart”), Tamia’s self titled project was a good indication that she would be around the world of R&B for a very long time.
Must-hear cuts: “Imagination,” “So Into You,” “Loving You Still”
Edd said: Sometimes it only takes one album to cement your legacy. Sade Adu and members of the British band Pride came together in 1984 to create a soothing slice of R&B that would become a milestone release. Nearly every song in this set has become legendary on its own, making this feel sort of like a greatest hits collection. Nah, it’s just an album that’s really, really good.
Must-hear cuts: “Smooth Operator,” “Your Love Is King,” “Hang on to Your Love”
Nicolette: There’s really not much to say about this debut. If you have lived under a rock for the last twodecades, here’s one word describe Lauryn Hill’s debut album: Legendary. Ask any R&B and Hip-Hop artists thriving today, “What album inspires?” I promise you, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill will be mentioned. Or it should be.
Must-hear cuts: “Lost Ones,” “Ex-Factor,” “I Used To Love Him”
Edd said: I still remember hearing Badu’s “On and On” for the first time – it was so rich, so soulful, so different, that I though it was a commercial for one of those chitlin circuit plays that would come to town every few months. Seriously. I caught the video on BET soon after and I was immediately hooked. Baduizm is an album that linked two generations, one that borrowed from the blueprint set by legends like Billie Holiday and infused it with late 90s hip-hop sensibilities. Jazz, ’70s soul and rap were blended to create an album that directly spoke to its young audience by using a voice dripping with the wisdom of their forefathers. Baduizm still stands as one of the greatest R&B albums of the past 20 years.
Must-hear cuts: “On & On,” “Next Lifetime,” “4 Leaf Clover”
Nicolette: The start of the new millennium brought a strong wave of Neo Soul projects, and Jill Scott led the way with her debut classic, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol I. Packed with sultry but demanding vocals, on top of thought-provoking story telling, you walked away with a full understanding of who Jill Scott really was.
Must-hear cuts: “Gettin’ In The Way,” “It’s Love,” “Honey Molasses”
Edd said: Faith Evans’ 1995 is probably the best R&B album of its era that doesn’t get the accolades it deserves. We’re gonna change that. Bad Boy Records incredible hot streak started right around the time of its release, meaning that success was certainly. Faith’s smoky R&B was layered over hip-hop influenced production, setting a new standard that would be imitated throughout the late 90s.
Must-hear cuts: “Come Over,” “Soon As I Get Home,” “You Used to Love Me”
Nicolette: R&B music lovers know about the goodness that is Teedra Moses’ 2004 debut Complex Simplicity. This album was so solid on production and vocals, Teedra Moses has continued to be a respected name in R&B music on one album alone for over a decade. If you are not aware of the dopeness of Complex Simplicity, then take a break from this article and press play.
Must-hear cuts: “Be Your Girl,” “Backstroke,” “Take Me”
Edd said: It’s well documented that Kelly Price’s debut album is my favorite R&B record ever, so of course I’m giving it some love here. Incredible vocals, solid songwriting, a remix that reignited Ron Isley’s career and gave R. Kelly a decade worth of material, and a soul sensibility that should have made Kelly our generation’s Aretha Franklin. Criminally underrated but absolutely untouchable.
Must-hear cuts: “Friend of Mine (and the remix),” “Secret Love,” “You Complete Me”
Nicolette: After a few delays, Marsha Ambrosius finally emerged and offered with one of the finest R&B albums of 2011 (and possibly the decade), Late Nights & Early Mornings. The album was packed with sensuality, emotion, powerful messages and amazing song sequencing. Ambrosius’ solo debut put any questions to rest on her ability to stand alone from Floetry.
Must-hear cuts: “Late Nights & Early Mornings,” “Your Hands,” “Chasing Clouds”
Edd said: With one album, Whitney Houston became the voice of a generation. I dare you to find a flaw in Whitney’s debut – the top-notch songwriting, pitch-perfect production, and of course, a voice that seemed to descend from the heavens combined to make one of the defining albums of the 1980s. It’s not only Whitney’s best album by far, but one of the greatest albums ever recorded.
Must-hear cuts: “You Give Good Love,” “How Will I Know,” “Saving All My Love for You”
Which debuts would top your personal lists? Let us know below.