Ranking the Best Donell Jones Albums

Although R&B has had a very low profile in the mainstream scene for the past decade or so, I always give props to the stalwarts – those artists who quietly and consistently drop album after album, even when spotlight is shining elsewhere.

Joe Thomas. Brian McKnight. Raheem DeVaughn. And yes, Donell Jones.

Ever since we heard him singing Stevie songs in that living oil painting back in the summer of 96, Donell has crafted quite a remarkable career for himself, branding himself as a reliable (if too often overlooked) voice for more than two decades.

Today, it’s time to look back at the albums that shaped that career, ranking all of Donell’s LPs from bottom to top. As usual, we’ll only be focusing on studio albums, so no compilations (including his Lost Files tape … sorry, playas).

7. 100% Free (2021)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 3 stars out of 5

Edd said: Man, y’all really beat up on this album when it dropped earlier this year but when I finally got a chance to hear it it wasn’t nearly the disaster Twitter portrayed. Donell’s most recent release no doubt has its issues, but my biggest criticisms aren’t with Donell’s performances, it’s the more technical aspects that hold this one back. Some suspect mixing on a couple tracks, middling production and an extremely brief runtime make 100% feel only like 75% complete.

Forgotten favorites: “Karma (Payback),” “100% Free”

6. Forever (2013)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Donell’s 2013 release flew under the radar a bit but there’s plenty of solid stuff here. The first half of the album is of the stellar soulful quality that’s synonymous with Donell’s best works. The second half is a little more experimental, with mixed results. It’s not the strongest body of work but you can’t hate on the highs.

Forgotten favorites: “Forever,” “Closer I Get to You,” “I Miss the King”

5. Lyrics (2010)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Lyrics serves as a intriguing reflection of the genres that have influenced Donell’s career, from Chicago-styled sounds to hip-hop classics straight from Illmatic. Like Forever, the sonic experimentation can be hit or miss, but there are more wins this time around. Donell sounding like a sleazy GoBot on “Backdoor” works way better than you’d expect, for instance. But the EDM-ish efforts that infested nearly every R&B album in the early 2010s don’t really work and feel even more dated today.

Forgotten favorites: “Blackmail,” “Backdoor,” “All About the Sex”

4. Life Goes On (2002)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Following up your best project (more on that later…) has to be an incredible burden on an artist. Have no fear, though, Donell delivered. “You Know That I Love You” is of course the album’s most memorable standout but this is far from a one-song show. Donell’s pen remains as poignant as ever – he even tries to clean up the shade of the original “Where I Wanna Be” in the sequel track. Air-tight from front to back, Life Goes On is one of the more underrated albums from its era.

Forgotten favorites: “Put Me Down,” “Where You Are  Pt. 2 (Is Where I Wanna Be),” “Gotta Get Her (Outta My Head)”

3. My Heart (1996)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Look, I get it. The competition in the R&B arena was TOUGH in 1996. Still, Donell’s debut deserved much, much more love than it received at the time. Brimming with well-crafted tracks and notable vocal performances (covering Stevie Wonder is no small feat, and it’s done very well here), My Heart is quite the promising debut. From the sexy slow jams to the catchy midtempo grooves and dope hip-hop samples, it’s all that we  love about 90s R&B.

Forgotten favorites: “No Interruptions,” “In the Hood (Playas Version),” “Natural Thang”

2. Journey of a Gemini (2006)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Despite this album being delayed seemingly endlessly in the mid-00s, Donell’s Journey of a Gemini didn’t let fans down, standing as his only No. 1 album to date. I mentioned earlier that some of his later projects struggled when Donell attempted to diversity his sound but that’s not the case here. The change of pace makes this record feel very fresh – he’s as comfortable in the club as he is the bedroom. It’s yet another criminally underrated effort.

Forgotten favorites: “Cry,” “Spend the Night,” “Another Life”

1. Where I Wanna Be (1999)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Over in the Soul In Stereo Cypher on Facebook, we’ve spent the past week debating artists’ signature songs and albums. Well, when it comes to Donell, there’s no debate. Where I Wanna Be – both the album and the titular song – are his greatest contributions to R&B. Yeah, that infamous title song is still problematic, but when it sounds this good, I can’t hate, only appreciate. In fact, that’s the story of this album. Immaculate sequencing and soothing vocals combine for Donell’s defining and most beloved release.

Forgotten favorites: “Shorty (Got Her Eyes on Me),” “Have You Seen Her,” “This Luv”

What’s your favorite Donell Jones album NOT named Where I Wanna Be? Let us know down in the comments below.

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1 Comments

  1. My mom is a HUGE DJ fan…I like Journey of A Gemini and Life Goes On. His voice irritates me at times though lol🤷🏾‍♀️

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