There’s no arguing that the 90s is the golden age of R&B. The best 90s R&B songs still sound fresh, and their influence can be felt in the crop of modern R&B stars who are pushing the genre forward.
From floor-filling anthems to outpourings of emotion – and all soulful points in between – each of the 75 tracks in our list of the best 90s R&B songs represents a defining moment in the genre, and in the careers of the artists who sang them.
75: After 7 – Til You Do Me Right
The Indianapolis-based trio was one of the most versatile groups of 90s R&B, from vintage soul to New Jack Swing and slick ballads they could do it all. After breaking out in 1989 with “Can’t Stop” they teamed up again with Babyface and L.A.Reid on their third album Reflections the most essential slow dance ballad, “‘Til You Do Me Right.
74: Dru Hill – How Deep Is Your Love
Not to be confused with the Bee Gees’ classic, this song instead is all about Dru Hill’s sexual prowess. This single also helped the group blow up when it appeared on their sophomore album Enter The Dru. It had all the hallmarks of the classic Dru Hill sound: impeccable harmonies, staccato production flairs, and Sisqo’s unmistakable vocal runs.
73: Immature – Never Lie
Don’t let the name fool you, Immature were wise beyond their adolescent ages, making grown R&B jams to slow drag to. “Never Lie” was off the group’s second album, Playtime is Over, which saw the group catering to an older audience than their usual teenaged fanbase, and hitting No.5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
72: Faith Evans – Soon As I Get Home
The widow of Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans’s musical talent is often overshadowed by her personal life. But the church-choir-bred vocalist had a talent that was leaps and bounds beyond many of her peers. Honeyed and at once yearning and comforting, Evans’ velvet voice skims over this wistful romantic ballad with depth and precision.
71: Silk – Freak Me
The 90s were an especially freaky time for R&B – see: “Freak Like Me,” “Freek’n’ You” – and Silk add their own sensual single to the mix with their No.1 hit, “Freak Me.” Under the guidance of New Jack Swing vocalist/producer Keith Sweat, Silk couched their more lustful lyrics in gorgeous vocals, so you had to go back and read the lyrics before blushing.
70: Sybil – Make It Easy On Me
Coming off of the smash success of her cover of Dionne Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over,” the former disco diva embraced a more R&B sound on her second album Sybilization featuring the upbeat breakup song, “Make It Easy On Me.” Despite it being about a relationship that has run its course, the infectious dance-pop production makes it sound like she was better off anyway.
69: Neneh Cherry – Woman
This heavy soul song is a response to James Brown’s 1966 hit “This Is a Man’s World”. Neneh Cherry discusses the strength, resilience, and power that transcends and remains despite everything this woman has been put through. By the end of the song, it is clear that this is a woman’s world.
68: Paula Abdul: Rush Rush
This album was the swan song of Paula Abdul’s career as a singer. This ballad is lush and heavy on the strings and the music video featuring Keanu Reeves was inspired by Rebel Without a Cause.
67: Brian McKnight – Back At One
Apparently, Brian McKnight came up with the lyrics to this song while he was reading an instruction manual on how to put together his stereo system. If these steps to get your woman to fall in love with you fail, start back at one.
66: Johnny Gill – My, My, My
Another Babyface produced hit, this sultry tune won the Soul Train Music Award for Best Male R&B, Soul single and Johnny Gill proved that like Bobby Brown and Bell Biv Devoe, he too could be a success on his own, outside of New Edition.
65: Somethin’ For The People – My Love Is The Shhh!
One of the more unsung 90s R&B cuts, “My Love Is The Shhh!” by West Coast Trio Somethin’ For The People was another perfect blend of hip-hop soul and enlisted the talents of fellow contemporary R&B group Trina & Tamara. While Somethin’ For The People never blew up, their penned hits for Brandy and En Vogue did.
64: Sounds of Blackness – Optimistic
Written and produced by the legendary Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, this inspiring gospel/R&B song reminds listeners to, “keep your head up to the sky” and “to hold on to your dreams.” In 1991, this song went all the way to No.3 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop songs chart.
63: Deborah Cox: Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here
After suffering through heartache Deborah Cox is surprised to find a new love possessing the key to her heart. The unlikely, gospel-inflected hit helped establish Cox as a household diva of the 90s and eventually became a gay anthem, thanks to a remix by Hex Hector.
62: Tamia – So Into You
This feel-good love song came out in 1998 and remains Tamia’s most recognizable hit. Over the years the song has been covered by Brandy, Fabolous (with Tamia singing the hook), and in 2015 Childish Gambino.
61: K-Ci & JoJo – All My Life
Putting their “Freek’n You” of days of Jodeci behind them, brothers K-Ci and JoJo Hailey returned to their traditional roots with their side project, Love Always, consisting of more wholesome R&B fare. When JoJo penned “All My Life” for his daughter, he had no idea it would become the duo’s longest-running number-one single of their career and one of the most popular wedding songs of all time.
60: Sade – No Ordinary Love
Sade is the epitome of sensuality. This song was her first release in the 90s and she gifts us with a seven-minute slow burn of a tumultuous love affair that cannot be sustained.
59: Babyface – When Can I See You
This is by far Babyface’s most successful and most recognizable song. With Babyface broken-hearted and unable to move on from his love, hopefully, the answer was “soon.”
58: All-4-One – I Swear
Maybe you put this on a mixtape to your middle school crush or swayed to it at a dance, but this ballad is as serious as it gets. It was originally written for country music singer John Michael Montgomery but All-4-One made it a No.1 hit and won a Grammy for best pop performance in 1995.
57: Whitney Houston – Exhale (Shoop Shoop)
After the success of the Boomerang Soundtrack, Whitney Houston returned with this song off of the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack. The song’s message about getting back up again after experiencing the anguish of heartache still hits.
56. New Edition – I’m Still In Love
Having perfected the blueprint for early 90s R&B songs, New Edition proved they were no longer just a fresh-faced boy band and were all grown up with “I’m Still In Love.” The second single from the fittingly titled Home Again album saw the group reunite with frontman Bobby Brown along with their veteran production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to create a sensual jam that stormed the charts.
55: Dionne Farris – Hopeless
Coming off of the success of Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” and her own, “I Know,” Dionne Farris’ “Hopeless” was then featured on the iconic Love Jones Soundtrack. This timeless song about a hopeless romantic who remains optimistic is an absolute gem.
54: Blaque – Bring It All To Me
One of the essential Y2K R&B cuts, Blaque learned a lot about making sing-a-long jams under the tutelage of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC. And thanks to the remix, you get to hear J.C. Chasez from N’Sync sing about his “Timbs, baggy jeans and thug appeal.”
53: INOJ – Love You Down
This extremely upbeat cover of Ready For The World’s 1986 tune took the airwaves by storm 11 years later in 1997. INOJ’s rework of the song and her cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, was less a slow jam or ballad than a song to be blasted at your cardio funk class.
52: Queen Latifah – Weekend Love
Queen Latifah takes you on a playful ride into the sun, fun, and freedom of the weekend. She leaves the rapping duties to Jamaican emcee Tony Rebel and blesses us with her vocals.
51: Nuttin’ Nyce – Down 4 Whateva
Featured on the Low Down Dirty Shame soundtrack, Nuttin’ Nyce struts their stuff with this heavily sampled hit. Blending West Coast hip-hop flavor with powerful vocals, this song was made for cruisin’ the streets.
50: Mokenstef – He’s Mine
Not your typical R&B jam, Mokenstef – a combined moniker of the group’s members Mo (Monifa), Ken (Kenya), Stef (Stefanie) – didn’t mince words when they tell it “Azz Izz.” “He might be doing you but he’s thinking about me” a very open-minded girlfriend talking to her man’s mistress letting her know that, “you might have had him once” but that she’s, “got him all the time.” The swaggering cut sways back and forth in your brain like Aaliyah.
49: Monica – Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)
Monica was only 15 when she released this R&B classic. Featuring a sample of LL Cool J’s “Back Seat,” this hip-hop-influenced R&B song struck a chord with teens everywhere.
48: Total: Trippin
Total is by far one of the most underrated R&B groups of the 90s. Written by and featuring Missy Elliott, this sexy song about losing your cool over your boo is catchy and bouncy. “Trippin” would become the biggest hit of their career after going to No.7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
47: 702 – Where My Girls At
Produced by Missy Elliot and Key Beats, the biggest hit for 702 asks for backup in the form of girl power. After realizing that another woman is scheming on taking her man, 702 summons all the ladies in the house to put one hand up to this hip-hop ladies’ anthem.
46: Destiny’s Child – Say My Name
Before Bey went solo there was Destiny’s Child. Produced by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, this song demands to know if the man they love is cheating. This was Destiny’s Child’s breakthrough song, the one that put them on the map.
45: Brownstone – If You Love Me
An essential anthem from the cannon of R&B classics told from the perspective of “the other woman,” Brownstone gives their man an ultimatum to “act like you’re mine in the light and the dark.” The song begins as a ballad before it eventually breaks out into a swaggering New Jack Swing strut.
44: Charles & Eddie – Would I Lie To You?
Charles (Pettigrew) and Eddie (Chacon) met on a New York City subway where Charles saw Eddie holding a Marvin Gaye album and struck up a conversation. The rest is history, along with this 60s-soul-inspired classic. The duo remained something of a one-hit-wonder stateside, but was a constant fixture on the UK charts from 1992 and 1995.
43: Des’ree – You Gotta Be
“You Gotta Be” was both an inspiring, affirmative anthem and one of the most infectious singles on the radio, thanks to its fusion of jazz and soul. The UK singer’s biggest hit and personal mantra was inescapable in 1994, along with the striking black-and-white video that became the most played music video on VH1.
42: Tevin Campbell – Can We Talk
Tevin Campbell was everyone who ever tried to find the courage to talk to their crush. “Can We Talk” was all about the angst of teenage love, longing and words left unsaid.
41: Hi-Five – I Like The Way (The Kissing Game)
Another essential New Jack Swing cut, Hi-Five’s “I Like The Way” was on the more wholesome side of 90s R&B, turning singer Tony Thompson into teen heartthrob material overnight. The song shot its way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to the Midas touch of Teddy Riley.
40: Joe Public – Live and Learn
Another New Jack Swing success, this song samples Steely Dan, Parliament, Sly & the Family Stone, and the J.B.’s, among others. Beyond the head-nodding production, the lyrics impart some sage advice.
39: Portrait – Here We Go Again!
A New Jack Swing tune about going another round with your jealous significant other never sounded so good. The song samples the irresistible beat to Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” and Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise.”
38: Shai – If I Ever Fall In Love
Shai’s a cappella harmonies were unmatched, which is probably why this song can still raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
37: Keith Sweat – Twisted
One of the most unforgettable videos of the decade, Keith Sweat’s “Twisted” was a three-minute murder-mystery-romance that helped to launch the second wave of the R&B impresario’s career. A runaway hit, “Twisted” is infectious and danceable, and Sweat’s distinctive vocal style makes it a song only he could have pulled off.
36: Erykah Badu – On & On
The breakout hit and first single of her debut album, Baduizm, “On & On” track confounded critics even as it delighted them. Is she hip-hop? Is she R&B? Is she soul? Badu answered by being all that and more. The jazz-inflected beat on “On & On” lopes along, peppered with sly, self-aware lyrics that are as humorous as they are timely. This track was the very first taste of what was to come from an artist who has smashed through every musical boundary she’s ever encountered.
35: Xscape – Just Kickin It
“Just Kickin It’ was the ultimate “around-the-way girl” anthem by Southern R&B outfit Xscape. Discovered by Jermaine Dupri for his So So Def label, Xscape was the “hip-hop version of En Vogue,” said Dupri, which summed up their tomboy swagger.
34: Groove Theory – Tell Me
This smooth song built its bassline around 1983’s “All Night Long” by Rick James’s protege group, The Mary Jane Girls. With that as its foundation, lead singer Amel Larrieux’s honeyed harmonies with bandmate Bryc Wilson resonated with radio listeners around the world.
33: PM Dawn – I’d Die Without You
First appearing on 1992’s Boomerang Soundtrack, this beautifully crafted song feels reminiscent of something Sade may have recorded and remains one of PM Dawn’s biggest hits.
32: D’Angelo – Brown Sugar
Before the bared abs of Voodoo was Brown Sugar. The most popular track off D’Angelo’s album of the same name feels as timeless today as it did when it was released in 1995, sizzling with lo-fi sexiness, deep funk, and the freshness that D’Angelo would come to be known for.
31: Janet Jackson – That’s The Way Love Goes
There is a Janet Jackson for all seasons: there’s nasty Janet, drill sergeant Janet and then there’s come-hither Janet. The lead single off her 1993 album, Janet, “That’s The Way Love Goes” finds Jackson letting her hair down. A lyrical and musical pivot, it showed the world that Miss Jackson was all grown up. Built around a sample from James Brown’s “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” the single locks into a smooth downtempo groove and burns all night.
30: Lauryn Hill: Ex-Factor
Lauryn Hill initially penned “Ex-Factor” for another group but felt it was too personal to give away. This beautiful, heart-wrenching, breakup song was on repeat on many a Discman due to its relatability and stirring vocal performance.
29: Aaliyah – One In A Million
“One In A Million’ was the fruit of Aaliyah’s first collaboration with Missy Elliott and Timbaland. A club ballad that fused elements of funk, electronica, and trip-hop, and put Aaliyah’s ethereal vocals on full display, it was the perfect distillation of all the pervasive sounds of the era. As one of the best 90s R&B songs, it would turn Aaliyah into the decade’s patron saint of R&B.
28: Selena – Dreaming Of You
“Dreaming Of You” was the ballad of the mid-90s, Selena tapped into the unbridled longing that comes with every adolescent crush. As the lead single from her 1995 posthumous album, it was clear Selena was meant to be a huge star.
27: Brandy & Monica – The Boy Is Mine
Two R&B divas are better than one, and “The Boy Is Mine” combined the powerhouse vocal stylings of Brandy and Monica. The iconic duet completely dominated the charts (and culture) the summer of 1998, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for 13 weeks, selling over 3 million copies, and earning them both a Grammy Award.
26: Soul IV Real – Candy Rain
R&B meets bubblegum pop in Soul IV Real’s bouncy debut single “Candy Rain.” Powered by the youthful voice of the youngest brother Jason “Jase” Dalyrimple of their family band, the single still slapped thanks to production by their mentor and Uptown labelmate Heavy D.
25: Usher – You Make Me Wanna
It may have been co-written by Jermaine Dupri, but this track is classic Usher. The R&B crooner agonizes over the object of his affection over a smooth, slinky beat accompanied by hi-hat instrumentals that feature so prominently in his catalog.
24: Jodeci – Freek’n You
With opening lyrics no less frank than “Every time I close my eyes/I wake up feelin’ so horny,” Jodeci cemented their legacy as one of the 90s’ most influential R&B groups. With a seductive beat, “Freek’n You” was a chart-topper that contains possibly the only extant example of a vocoder-sounding erotic.
23: H-Town – Knockin Da Boots
90s R&B was the golden age for creative sexual innuendo and no group embraced it more than Houston’s H-Town and their hit single “Knockin Da Boots,” produced by Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell from the explicit rap group 2 Live Crew.
22: Next – Too Close
According to Next crew, they wrote this song after a woman on the dance floor purposely backed up on one of the guys to “see what they’re working with” and based on that, the dancing either continued or she’s on to the NEXT.
21: En Vogue – My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)
As with most arts, sampling is inexpertly done more often than not. But the sample on En Vogue’s most iconic track is an example of how to do it right. Poppy, funky and soulful, En Vogue belt the song out over a few bars from James Brown’s “The Payback.” Factor in the unforgettable dancefloor-filling breakdown and it’s no wonder that “My Lovin’” stayed in the US Top 10 for 13 weeks.
20: Monifah – Touch It
One of the first artists signed to Uptown Records, Monifah knew she had to dial up the sex appeal on her sophomore album Mo’hogany. Built around a sample of Laid Back’s Euro-club hit “White Horse,” “Touch It” lays the innuendo on thick and defies you not to bounce.
19: Brandy – I Wanna Be Down
With its opening lyrics, “I would like to get to know if I could be… the kind of girl that you could be down for,” Brandy’s teenaged tentativeness ushered in a new era of R&B women. A singer with sophistication, playfulness, and style, Brandy’s clever and adorably vulnerable lyrics were backed by a punchy, danceable beat to give us the decade’s anthem for modern adolescent romance.
18: Toni Braxton – You’re Makin’ Me High
A hot song with an equally hot video, Toni Braxton’s runaway No.1 from her sophomore album was the hit of the summer of ’96, and more than earns its place among the best 90s R&B songs. Rumored to be about everything from weed to masturbation, the suggestive lyrics were cleverly buried under a poppy, danceable, uptempo beat that borrowed from the burgeoning electronica movement.
17: Boyz II Men – On Bended Knee
During the 90s, it felt like Boyz II Men released a new hit every week. Even at that prolific rate, “On Bended Knee” stands out as a deliciously melodramatic cut above the rest. It’s the perfect cocktail of the four Philly balladeers’ vocal styles: drama, wistfulness, longing, and a chorus that’s still belted out of karaoke rooms from coast to coast.
16: Adina Howard – Freak Like Me
“Freak Like Me” not only served as Adina Howard’s sex-positive debut but paved the way for fellow female R&B vocalist to own their sexuality on record. It was one of the first 90s R&B songs where a woman talked unapologetically about her desires, plus the beat thumps to this day.
15: TLC – Waterfalls
This was by far the biggest song off TLC’s seminal CrazySexyCool album. TLC addresses social issues over smooth horns and sharp high hats as Left Eye delivers one of her best (and sadly, last) rhymes of her career.
14: SWV And Missy Elliott – Can We?
Missy Elliott and Timbaland unequivocally ruled control rooms in the 90s, and this track with R&B darlings SWV is a perfect example of why. Timbaland’s haunting production style is layered and nuanced here. Has he touched anything that didn’t turn to gold? Missy’s slick, rapid-fire rhyming stays firmly grounded in the beat, while SWV’s lyrics soar above it.
13: Maxwell – Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)
Released at a time when sample-heavy, hip-hop soul ruled the airwaves, Maxwell’s grooving debut and soulful crooning sounded more like the source material than a sample ever could, and remains one of the classic 90s R&B records of all time.
12: Blackstreet: No Diggity
1996 was a good year for R&B – especially for Blackstreet. Teddy Riley had initially offered “No Diggity” to the group Guy, but they rejected it. Blackstreet balked at first (they apparently thought the title was corny) but Riley convinced them of its brilliance and the group ultimately embraced the song. The single which famously samples the piano chords from Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands,” features a verse by Dr. Dre, who ultimately produced the track, turning out a No.1 hit that became the group’s defining anthem.
11: Jade – Don’t Walk Away
This catchy New Jack Swing tune bumps thanks to the classic Kool & the Gang sample. Part R&B jam with a hip-hop feel, the ladies of Jade lace this track with their sweet harmonies.
10: Color Me Badd – I Wanna Sex You Up
Dr. Freeze, who was also responsible for BBD’s “Poison,” produced this sultry track which was featured on the 1991 New Jack City soundtrack. These sensitive singers get right to the point by the chorus sampling Slick Rick “to the heart, tick-tock, you don’t stop.”
9: Ghost Town DJs – My Boo
This Miami bass-inspired one-hit wonder with its smooth harmonies is one of So So Def’s finest contributions. A fixture of any self-respecting pool party or BBQ, the Atlanta classic crops back up on the charts every few years, evidence of its timeless appeal.
8: Mary J. Blige – Real Love
Taken from her debut album, What’s The 411?, Mary J Blige’s very first Top 10 hit is an example of using a sample to create something original. Plucking sonic inspiration from Audio Two’s “Top Billin’,” the opening bars of “Real Love” have become synonymous with Blige and are among the most identifiable in the history of R&B. With this track alone, the soon-to-be queen of hip-hop soul and 90s R&B had already earned her crown.
7: Tony! Toni! Toné! – Feels Good
A fusion of R&B, pop, and a classic New Jack Swing beat, Raphael Saadiq and his bandmates, brother D’Wayne Wiggins and cousin Timothy Christian Riley, hit pay dirt with this party-starting anthem that landed them in the Top 10 for the first time. The song embodied all the elements that defined that era and remains one of the best 90s R&B songs that should be played “as frequently as possible.”
6: Mark Morrison – Return Of The Mack
Mark Morrison declared to the world that he was back after recovering from a cheating girlfriend. Even though she lied, this Mack is doing just fine. Although some of his wording is a touch indecipherable, his success remained the sweetest revenge.
5: Zhané Hey: Mr. DJ
More than 20 years after its initial release, “It’s Friday night and the weekend’s here, I need to unwind” remain some of the most resonant words in R&B history. With a swinging beat and soft, lush production, Zhané’s “Hey Mr. DJ,” from the duo’s debut album, Pronounced Jah-Nay, is the perfect representation of R&B’s prime objective: to be the sonic expression of the soul of the everyman and everywoman.
4: Montell Jordan: This Is How We Do It
This is the ultimate party starter that has stood the test of time. “It’s Friday niiight and I feel alright!,” Montell Jordan sang over a sampled loop of Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story.” The true universality of the song’s message made it a No.1 hit and used in everything from film soundtracks to teacher strikes.
3: Ginuwine – Pony
Not to be outdone, Ginuwine’s sonic love letter to lady-on-top has what is quite possibly the most unmistakable beat in R&B history, along with the least subtle metaphor ever written. The syncopated rhythm (courtesy of Timbaland) and that unforgettable rattle helped Ginuwine’s debut rocket right to the No.1 spot.
2: Mariah Carey – Fantasy
Choosing the best R&B jam from the Mariah Carey cannon is like picking your favorite child, the woman has had No.1 hits every decade since she hit her first falsetto note, but “Fantasy” combines all of the elements of Mimi. Built around a sample of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” it’s pop perfection meets R&B attitude, kicking off with vocal runs before hitting its groove. And the Bad Boy produced ODB-remix would become the blueprint for future pop hip-hop collabs.
1: Bell Biv Devoe: Poison
Once you hear the first snare of this jam, people on the dance floor automatically start doing the running man. Bell Biv Devoe features half of New Edition and is one of the first examples of blending R&B and hip-hop pre-Jodeci. This New Jack Swing classic reminds us all to “never trust a big butt and a smile.” Words to live by.
Article originally published on uDiscoverMusic.com.