If you’re a longtime R&B fan, you probably pine for the glory days of the 90s, when R&B was dominating mainstream airwaves and we were blessed with back-to-back classics on an almost monthly basis. But that momentum slowed by the time we rolled into a new millennium.
And for what it’s worth, I think we often underrate the great music created in that era. The rise of neo-soul, legends like Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey reclaiming past glories, ’90s upstarts like Beyonce and Usher becoming megastars and the arrival of new trendsetters like Alicia Keys and Ne-Yo filled the 2000s with many memorable hits.
Today, we’re looking back at the 100 best.
And like that list, once again I’m joined by members of the Soul In Stereo Cypher, our official Facebook group, to break down our favorites. Joining us are:
Longtime R&B fanatic Charles Williams, who returns after helping out with our 90s list
Former Soul In Stereo contributor and music junkie Desiree Savage
Diane Hawkins, who will throat punch anyone who dares to besmirch the good names of Prince or Luther Vandross
And of course, yours truly, the Shao Kahn of SoulinStereo.com, your favorite singer’s least favorite album reviewer
To compile this list, each panelist nominated their 30 favorite songs from the years 2000-2009 (so don’t yell at us for excluding Miguel or H.E.R., they’ll be on the 2010-2019 list, playa). We compiled them into one mega list, ranked them all and created the list below.
(And one note: Yes, this list does include songs from R&B’s Voldemort, R. Kelly. That is not an endorsement of his character or a dismissal of any allegations against him. This is simply an unbiased look back at the decade of which his music was a big part of.)
Now, let’s look back at the best R&B of the early 21st century.
Just missing the cut:
Raphael Saadiq, “Live Without You”
Rihanna, “Take a Bow”
Amel Larrieux, “For Real”
Megan Rochell, “The One You Need”
Rahsaan Patterson, “The One For Me”
Cassie, “Long Way to Go”
Erykah Badu, “Danger”
Mary J. Blige, “Steal Away”
Musiq Soulchild, “143”
John Legend, “Green Light”
100. Floetry, “Ms. Stress”
Desiree: “My, my annngel, I’d stop breeeathing, for you….if my life was possible without……
99. Bilal, “Sometimes”
98. Jill Scott, “The Fact Is (I Need You)”
97. Ciara, “Promise”
96. Luther Vandross, “Dance with My Father”
95. Beyonce, “Green Light”
94. J. Holiday, “Bed”
93. Ledisi, “In the Morning:
92. Lyfe Jennings, “Must Be Nice”
91. Ne-Yo, “Nobody”
90. Anthony Hamilton, “Charlene”
Edd: And y’all say my man Keith Sweat is the master of begging for love. Anthony comes for the crown on this one. No one – NO ONE – belts out Southern-drenched soul like Anthony Hamilton, and this bluesy track aches with emotion. One listen and even you will beg Charlene to come back just to keep Anthony from falling apart.
89. Anthony Hamilton, “I’m a Mess”
88. Jazmine Sullivan, “Bust Your Windows”
87. Teedra Moses, “Be Your Girl”
86. Lucy Pearl, “Dance Tonight”
85. Angie Stone, “Wish I Didn’t Miss You”
84. Avant, “My First Love”
83. Brian McKnight, “Love of My Life”
82. Amerie, “All I Need”
81. Musiq Soulchild, “TeachMe”
80. Goapele, “Closer”
Desiree: This joint makes you feel so good I caught wind of somebody in the media ministry at my church playing the instrumental in between services! Lol!
79. Erykah Badu, “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)”
78. Musiq Souldchild, “B.U.D.D.Y.”
77. LeToya, “Torn”
76. Mariah Carey, “Shake It Off”
75. Amy Winehouse, “Tears Dry on Their Own”
74. Lloyd, “Get It Shawty”
73. Case, “Missing You”
72. Ne-Yo, “Mirror”
71. Next, “Wifey”
70. Fantasia, “Free Yourself”
Desiree: Sick and tired of being sick and tired … We’ve all been there and we got a theme song for it!
69. Ruff Endz, “Someone to Love You”
68. Joe, “I Wanna Know”
67. Beyonce, “Single Ladies”
66. Usher, “Throwback”
65. 702, “I Still Love You”
64. Musiq Soulchild, “Don’t Change”
63. Musiq Soulchild, “HalfCrazy”
62. Janet Jackson, “Doesn’t Really Matter”
61. Jazmine Sullivan, “Need U Bad”
60. Michael Jackson, “You Rock My World”
Charles: Michael Jackson hadn’t released new music in about six years and people were speculating on whether his music was going to be any good. Was it going to be worth anything? Not only was his first single good, but it rocked our world. The moderate dance tempo song is classic Michael including the familiar ad libs and feelers with modern twists making modern and fresh for the time. Seemingly picking up where “Smooth Criminal” left off, the video with Chris Tucker helped to propel the song to the top of the charts.
59. Musiq Soulchild, “Love”
58. Tamia, “Officially Missing You”
57. Jill Scott, “A Long Walk”
56. Tyrese, “How You Gonna Act Like That”
55. Sunshine Anderson, “Heard It All Before”
54. Sade, “By Your Side”
53. Dave Hollister, “One Woman Man”
52. Pharrell, “Frontin”
51. Aaliyah, “Try Again”
50. Lil Mo, “4Ever”
Kyle: You should always expect fire when Lil’ Mo and Fabolous work together. This is no exception as Bryan-Michael Cox hooked them up with a banger and they delivered. This song has become a staple at many many weddings.
49. Keyshia Cole, “I Remember”
48. Amerie, “1 Thing”
47. Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight”
46. Glenn Lewis, “Don’t You Forget It”
45. Alicia Keys “Fallin'”
44. Robin Thicke, “Lost Without U”
43. Ginuwine, “Differences”
42. Tamia, “Stranger In My House”
41. R. Kelly, “Ignition (Remix)”
40. Floetry, Say Yes
Edd: In my eyes, this is THE sexiest song of the entire decade. Marsha’s vocals roll off her tongue like … um, what was I saying? Lawd, this song’s got it hot in here.
39. Carl Thomas, “I Wish”
38. Usher, “Confessions Part II”
37. Jagged Edge, “Promise”
36. Ne-Yo, “Sexy Love”
35. Jill Scott, “Golden”
34. Monica, “So Gone”
33. Sade, “Solider of Love”
32. Usher, “Yeah”
31. Toni Braxton, “He Wasn’t Man Enough”
30. John Legend, “Ordinary People”
Charles: John Legend proved that even in the 2000s you didn’t need a lot to deliver a hit. Simply a piano, pretty melody, meaningful lyrics, and a distinctive voice is all you need to pave the way to becoming a legend. This was not his first single on his debut, but it is perhaps the one single that is immediately recognized and respected by music fans of all kinds. With glimpses of Stevie Wonder, this song presented John Legend as someone whose talent is anything, but ordinary.
29. R. Kelly, “Step in the Name of Love”
28. Amy Winehouse, “Rehab”
27. Usher, “U Remind Me”
26. Faith Evans, “I Love You”
25. Mary J. Blige, “Family Affair”
24. Jagged Edge, “Let’s Get Married (Remix)”
23. Ne-Yo, “So Sick”
22. Beyonce, “Me, Myself and I”
21. Maxwell, “Pretty Wings”
20. Beyonce, “Irreplaceable”
Diane: It’s extremely hard not think of the word “irreplaceable” without unconsciously singing “to the left, to the left.” This mid-tempo song of independence could arguably be a millennial’s version of Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 mega-anthem “I Will Survive.” Beyonce’s song (written by hitmaker Ne-Yo) serves up the story of a woman fed up with her man’s infidelity along with a large side of empowerment. “Irreplaceable” is unforgettable.
19. Michael Jackson, “Butterflies”
18. Erykah Badu, “Bag Lady”
17. Chris Brown, “Yo (Excuse Me Miss)”
16. Alicia Keys, “You Don’t Know My Name”
15. Mario, “Let Me Love You”
14. Usher, “U Don’t Have to Call”
13. Brandy, “Full Moon”
12. Janet Jackson, “All for You”
11. Amerie, “Why Don’t We Fall In Love”
10. Usher, “U Got It Bad”
Kyle: Usher was already unstoppable by the time this single dropped. He already had number one records before this song came out, but most of them were fun singles. “U Got It Bad” showed another side to Usher and proved that he was also one of the top vocalists in R&B.
9. Jagged Edge, “Let’s Get Married”
Desiree: Side eye notwithstanding for that “we ain’t getting no younger” line, this cut brings forth a passion that legit makes you wanna get married!
8. Alicia Keys, “If I Ain’t Got You”
Diane: Alicia Keys’ single opens with a beautiful, soothing piano solo that spotlights her musical brilliance and builds up to an emotional plea for love and a longing for happiness. It’s no wonder why this passionate ballad was nominated for a Grammy in the Song of the Year category. (Keys won for Best R&B Performance.) The classically trained pianist’s ballad is reminiscent of the legendary Motown sound that serenades R&B music lovers.
7. Aaliyah, “Rock the Boat”
Diane: Even though Aaliyah had previous hits such as “Back and Forth,” “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” and “4-Page Letter,” her 2001 song “Rock the Boat” showcased a more mature, mellow groove that still appealed to her fans. This sensual single was among Aaliyah’s best work enhanced with a lush video of the Bahamas’ sunshine and signature captivating choreography. Unfortunately, it might be hard for some to listen to this Grammy-nominated single without thinking about the young songstress’ rise to superstardom that was tragically cut short.
6. Mary J. Blige, “Be Without You”
Charles: Another decade of hits list and Mary J. Blige appears again! Staying power describes Mary and this song is a great example of that. She had been through a lot and had come out of the storm ready to love … herself and someone else. She professes her love for a man and that she can’t live with him. With a perfect blend of hip hop and R&B, her heart felt profession became her biggest hit to date and made her a Grammy darling in 2007.
5. Justin Timberlake, “Cry Me a River”
Edd: To this day, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this song – I was driving during a pitch black night in 2002 on my way to get dinner during a work shift. When those haunting chants started up, I perked up. And when that beat dropped, it was all over. I was instantly a Justin Timberlake fan. Prior to this song, I had seen JT as a talented but kinda bland pop star. But I became a believer that frigid fall night, thanks to the magic of Timbaland’s production.
4. Ashanti, “Foolish”
Kyle: After dominating the charts with her catchy hooks on songs for Ja Rule and Fat Joe, Ashanti made her mark as a solo artist and became a household name with this record. The DeBarge sample blended perfectly with her sweet vocals.
3. Beyonce, “Crazy In Love”
Diane: “Crazy In Love” was the monster hit that gave Beyonce’s solo career even longer legs, arms and, of course, hips. The infectious, high-energy song was paired with an equally Sasha Fierce video that revealed the undeniable chemistry between Queen Bee and Jay Z. I dare anyone to play this song without trying to copy Beyonce’s bootylicious moves. You will burn at least 350 calories in three minutes. You ready?
2. Mariah Carey, “We Belong Together”
Kyle: Most people were ready to write off Mariah Carey by 2004 due to her previous two albums, but this record erased all doubts about her as a hitmaker. This Jermaine Dupri produced record ended up being the biggest song of the decade in music and brought her back to superstardom.
1. D’Angelo, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”
Charles: What do you get when D’Angelo and Raphael Saadiq collaborate? A bonafide hit! From the very first note this song captivates with D’Angelo’s smooth falsetto alternating with his more commanding natural voice over perhaps the most seductive track ever. Produced by Saadiq, this song is nothing short of perfect leaving you feeling some kind of way at the end. This song, and of course video secured D’s spot as a quintessential sex symbol. A song so nice, it needs no title.
Listen to a playlist of the top 100 songs … er, 98 songs (sorry, Aaliyah) on Spotify below: