If you know this site, you know we love R&B. And there has been no era for R&B in my lifetime like the 1990s.
It’s the decade that pushed boundaries, giving us the rise of New Jack Swing, the marriage of R&B and hip-hop, and the genesis of neo-soul. It’s the era legends were made and legitimate classics were delivered on almost a monthly basis.
So it’s time to look back at the best of the decade. And this time I’ve brought friends.
This list was compiled by members of The Soul In Stereo Cypher, our Facebook group where we talk music just about 24/7. Our panelists include:
Nicolette Carney, occasional Soul In Stereo columnist and photojournalist extraordinaire
Charles Williams, who has encyclopedic knowledge of this R&B game
My dude Juwan Dickerson, who is hilarious as he is insightful
Wifey Javacia Bowser, matriarch of Soul In Stereo. She’s kind of a big deal.
And me, Edward, the big boss man.
To create this list, each panelist submitted their 30 favorite tracks. Those tracks were merged into one giant master list, which we all ranked. This is the result, the best R&B songs from 1990 to 1999.
Now, take a look at the best the genre has to offer.
Just missing the cut:
SWV, “You’re Always on My Mind”
Deborah Cox, “My First Night With You”
Color Me Badd, “I Wanna Sex You Up”
Tony Toni Tone, “It Never Rains (In Southern California)”
Zhane, “Hey Mr. DJ”
Faith Evans, “U Used to Love Me”
Janet Jackson, “Velvet Rope”
Total featuring The Notorious B.I.G., “Can’t You See”
Aaliyah, “4 Page Letter”
100. Tamia, “So Into You”
Edd: Today, Tamia is known as one of R&B’s most reliable stalwarts. But back in 1998, her career was just beginning. And what a way to get started – “So Into You” has become one of her signature tracks, sampled endlessly and forever tied to her career.
99. Ghost Town DJs, “My Boo”
98. Brandy featuring Wayna Morris, “Brokenhearted”
97. Johnny Gill, “There U Go”
96. Aaron Hall, “I Miss You”
95. Jade, “Don’t Walk Away”
94. Jodeci, “Stay”
93. Montell Jordan, “Falling”
92. R. Kelly, “I Believe I Can Fly”
91. En Vogue, “Hold On”
90. Jon B, “They Don’t Know”
Edd: I remember kids at school thinking Jon B WAS Babyface, that’s how smooth his vocals were. He learned from one of the best, with this track still being fondly remembered today.
89. Phyllis Hyman, “Meet Me on the Moon”
88. Faith Evans, “Reasons”
87. K-Ci and JoJo, “All My Life”
86. Ralph Tresvant, “Sensitivity”
85. D’Angelo, “Brown Sugar”
84. Playa, “Cheers 2 U”
83. Destiny’s Child, “Bills Bills Bills”
82. Montell Jordan, “What’s On Tonight”
81. Lisa Fischer, “How Can I Ease the Pain”
80. Mariah Carey, “Emotions”
Javacia: In case you somehow weren’t convinced of Mariah Carey’s phenomenal vocal talent by her debut release, this lead single from her sophomore album showed off her awe-inspiring range once again.
79. Next, “Too Close”
78. Anita Baker, “Body and Soul”
77. Tevin Campbell, “Alone With You”
76. Kelly Price featuring Ron Isley and R. Kelly, “Friend of Mine (remix)”
75. Brandy, “Angel in Disguise”
74. Boyz II Men, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”
73. Adina Howard, “Freak Like Me”
72. Sade, “Kiss of Life”
71. Boyz II Men, “Motownphilly”
70. Dru Hill, “Beauty”
Charles: Lyrics like “Walks by me every day; Her and love are the same; The woman that’s stolen my heart; And beauty is her name”, are enough to make you fall in love with this song. Add a simple but ethereal track with Sisqo proclaiming his love backed up with that classic Dru Hill harmony, you have a hit that will stand the test of time. You can’t help thinking about the “beauty” in your life when you hear this song.
69. Maxwell, “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)”
68. Mary J. Blige, “Love No Limit”
67. Silk, “Lose Control”
66. Prince, “Diamonds and Pearls”
65. Toni Braxton, “Another Sad Love Song”
64. Jodeci, “Cry for You”
63. Blackstreet, “Before I Let You Go”
62. Hi-Five, “I Like the Way (Kissing Game)”
61. Whitney Houston, “All the Man that I Need”
60. Faith Evans, “Soon as I Get Home”
Juwan: This is the Faith Evans I love, raw emotion and passion in her singing. A classic bop!
59. Janet Jackson, “Anytime, Anyplace”
58. Erykah Badu, “Next Lifetime”
57. Xscape, “Just Kickin’ It”
56. Soul for Real, “Candy Rain”
55. Mariah Carey, “My All”
54. Whitney Houston, “Run to You”
53. Mary J. Blige, “Real Love”
52. Mariah Carey, “I Don’t Wanna Cry”
51. 112 featuring The Notorious B.I.G. and Mase, “Only You (Bad Boy Remix)”
50. Mary J. Blige, “Not Gon’ Cry”
Charles: Mary J. Blige is so popular because she makes you feel what she is feeling through her songs. From the first moan of the intro, Mary grabs you and delivers a song that paints a dim yet vivid picture of what she has gone through in a wasted a relationship. With a Babyface-crafted backdrop, Mary gets it totally right. The haunting image of her in black sunglasses and head scarf from the video only add to this emotionally raw song.
49. Boyz II Men, “Water Runs Dry”
48. Whitney Houston, “I’m Your Baby Tonight”
47. Jodeci, “Come & Talk to Me”
46. Eric Benet featuring Tamia, “Spend My Life With You”
45. Erykah Badu, “Tyrone”
44. Donell Jones, “Where I Wanna Be”
43. Lauryn Hill, “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
42. En Vogue, “Don’t Let Go (Love)”
41. Janet Jackson, “If”
40. Lauryn Hill featuring D’Angelo, “Nothing Even Matters”
Javacia: Singing about that kind of love that makes the whole world disappear, Lauryn’s and D’Angelo’s voices sound smooth as honey on this classic R&B track.
39. Whitney Houston, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)”
38. Groove Theory, “Tell Me”
37. Ginuwine, “Pony”
36. Mary J. Blige, “My Life”
35. Dru Hill, “Tell Me”
34. Mint Condition, “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)”
33. TLC, “No Scrubs”
32. Silk, “Freak Me”
31. TLC, “Waterfalls”
30. Usher, “Nice & Slow”
Juwan: Usher was at his best with this one, a real slow jam for our generation.
29. Mariah Carey, “Vision of Love”
28. En Vogue, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”
27. Keith Sweat featuring Kut Klose, “Twisted”
26. Erykah Badu, “On & On”
25. Usher, “You Make Me Wanna…”
24. Mariah Carey, “Fantasy”
23. SWV, “Right Here (Human Nature Remix)”
22. Keith Sweat featuring Athena Cage, “Nobody”
21. Janet Jackson, “I Get Lonely”
20. Sade, “No Ordinary Love”
Javacia: Four years after the release of her Stronger Than Pride album, the queen of sophisticated soul glided back onto the scene and reclaimed her throne with this sultry ballad. The lead single from her Love Deluxe album, “No Ordinary Love” became a fan favorite in 1993 and today is considered a classic by many.
19. Aaliyah, “One in a Million”
18. Deborah Cox, “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here”
17. TLC, “Red Light Special”
16. Aaliyah, “Are You That Somebody”
15. Shai, “If I Ever Fall In Love”
14. Brandy & Monica, “The Boy is Mine”
13. TLC, “Creep”
12. Fugees, “Killing Me Softly With His Song”
11. Boyz II Men, “End of the Road”
10. Toni Braxton, “Breathe Again”
Nicolette: Toni’s debut project was filled with hits. “Breathe Again” was another joint to remind the masses that she was definitely here to stay.
9. Brandy, “I Wanna Be Down”
Charles: Brandy burst on the scene with this light hip hop feeling ode to the object of her affection. She was syrupy sweet, but still “down” with her now signature braids age appropriately asking her crush if she could be “down with him”. They saved the adult version for the remix. The combination of Brandy’s sweet yet somewhat gritty voice and catchy beat make this song one that stays with you a while after you’ve heard it. Who doesn’t know that hook “I wanna be down-n-n…” This was a great launch to a successful recording career.
8. Bel Biv DeVoe, “Posion”
Nicolette: If you don’t move when you hear the drums in the drum into, check your pulse. Bell, Biv, DeVoe blesses the 90s with one of the best R&B dance joints of all time.
7. Montell Jordan, “This is How We Do It”
Nicolette: In 1995, there was no escaping Montell Jordan’s first hit. An ode to West Coast life that turned into an anthem for every party all over the world.
6. Blackstreet, “No Diggity”
Nicolette: Blackstreet + Dr. Dre + Queen Pen + A classic Bill Withers sample = One of the Greatest songs of the 90s.
5. SWV, “Weak”
Charles: You cannot talk about 90’s R&B without talking about this song. It is a classic example of how 90’s girl groups did it right. SWV delivers this simple and beautiful song that still remains in heavy rotation for R&B lovers today. Coko’s lead vocals set the stage from the very beginning, then Lelee and Taj provide the perfect harmonies with her for the background. Weak is the perfect song to describe how someone makes you feel.
4. Tevin Campbell, “Can We Talk”
Juwan: Reminds me of that first crush I had back in the day in middle school. Tevin Campbell captures adolescent love well.
3. Janet Jackson, “That’s the Way Love Goes”
Javacia: The first single released from the Janet album, this song was a perfect way to introduce fans to Miss Jackson’s new sound, which freely and boldly explored love and sexuality in a way she and not many other female artists had done before.
2. Lauryn Hill, “Ex-Factor”
Juwan: One of Lauryn Hills best tracks, takes me back to the first time I heard it. Too bad it can’t be like it was.
1. Michael Jackson, “Remember the Time”
Edward: By 1992, Michael Jackson was already considered one of the greatest entertainers in the world. But with this song, his legend grew even larger. Riding the wave of New Jack Swing that was dominating the music scene, MJ created a iconic anthem (with an even more iconic music video). Once again, MJ outdone himself and this was our overwhelming No. 1 choice for best song of the decade.
Which songs should have made our list? Let us know below. And check out our playlist of all our top songs right here!