The ’90s will always be celebrated for the birth of grunge and the resurgence of the boy band, but we cannot sleep on the wonders of R&B from that time. ’90s R&B possessed a certain something missing in the genre today. There was an actual romance to the ballads. The poppier tracks packed in Motown soul. Overall, there was a sense of raw talent that came with R&B back in the day. So much so, that we have the best ’90s R&B songs that prove once and for all that the ’90s had the best R&B in the game. Then, now, for all time.
21. Whitney Houston “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)”
It’s hard to come close to what Whitney Houston could do with her voice. She belted out a lot, and we mean a-freaking-lot, of hits in her lifetime but felt when it came to capturing the true essence of R&B, “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” was her best. Written by the incomparable Babyface for Houston’s Waiting to Exhale, it was the perfect match for the motion picture.
20. K-Ci & JoJo “All My Life”
Middle school dances would not have been the same if it was not for “All My Life,” one of the sweetest songs to come from 1998. There wasn’t a kid alive at that time who didn’t want to grow up and have this on their wedding mixtape. Heck, to this day, there probably aren’t many wedding DJs who don’t have it as a staple on their playlist.
19. Mary J. Blige “Real Love”
Let’s get real right now. “Real Love” is legit two years older than Justin Bieber. Yup, Mary J. Blige released this track back in 1992 and it’s still just as epic as it was in the ’90s. The second song from her debut, What’s the 411, it shot up to reach #1 on the R&B charts. Which, obviously. It’s a complete gem.
18. Erykah Badu “On & On”
A lot of powerful women came out of the ’90s but you’d have to be insane to believe Erykah Badu wasn’t in the lot. Everything about her was so cool, but she was cool in a fresh new way that kept things exciting. She wasn’t about laying it on thick with what was expected of a woman in music. She did her own thing and delivered stunning R&B that helped bring the neo-soul movement forward with the likes of songs like “On & On.”
17. Boyz II Men “I’ll Make Love to You”
Come the year 2173, “I’ll Make Love to You” will still be aiding in bedroom romance. In reality, every song Boyz II Men created in the ’90s could be on this list — they were (and arguably are) the kings of R&B. It’s “I’ll Make Love to You” that takes the gold, though, for obvious reasons. If you really need us to tell you why, it’s because hearing this, even over two decades later, nothing gets you in the mood like this jam does.
16. 702 “Where My Girls At
What 702 did with “Where My Girls At” delivered a track took us away from all the ballads of R&B. Yes, we love when Whitney belts it out, but we also love the bops where you can just shake it. The amount of girl power in this track is banging. Too bad the group was never quite able to repeat the success of this hit. But that doesn’t make this one any less of a necessity for your GNO playlist.
15. TLC “Waterfalls”
One word: DUH. Not only a great addition to the R&B songs of the ’90s but also a PSA from the lovely ladies of TLC. It taught us about everything from gang violence to the dangers of unprotected sex with “Waterfalls.” All that within just a few minutes. TLC forever taught us the importance of life via song, and their 1999 song, “No Scrubs” was a contender for this list as well.
14. En Vogue “Don’t Let Go (Love)”
By the time En Vogue dropped “Don’t Let Go (Love),” we’d already heard a lot of power from the group. “Free Your Mind” and “Whatta Man” with Salt-N-Pepa set the bar high and it would be hard to top. Yet somehow, “Don’t Let Go (Love)” shattered expectations in the greatest way possible. It’s definitely sultry from start to finish and there’s a whole lot of attitude mixed in there, too!
13. Michael Jackson “Remember the Time”
Yes, Michael Jackson was and will forever be the King of Pop BUT we can all agree that “Remember the Time” was as R&B as they come. We also can’t deny this song because the video was absolutely larger than life. It had more stars than the Oscar stage, and it clocked in at over nine freaking minutes. That’s an epic, if you ask us.
12. Tevin Campbell “Eye to Eye”
If there’s one thing Disney’s great at, it’s taking their damn time with representation. There wasn’t a black princess until 2009. That’s over 70 years after Snow White (and I want to stress the white) came into play as the premier princess. So when A Goofy Movie came out with Powerline (performed by Tevin Campbell), people were pumped! No disrespect to every other Disney song but “Eye to Eye” was the first time something that sounded even the least bit R&B came from Mickey Mouse and Co., and it was phenomenal. Maybe more of that and less, “Let It Go”? Just a thought.
11. Keith Sweat “Nobody”
It’s been a minute since I’ve sat down and listened to “Nobody,” but I’d like to apologize to my teachers for singing this on the playground in 1996. Keith Sweat‘s music was a hit with all ages, but it was really meant for the grown doing those grown things. If you’re ever in the need for a purely sexual seduction, light some candles and put this song on.
10. Usher “You Make Me Wanna…”
It’s hard to believe that when “You Make Me Wanna…” came out Usher wasn’t even old enough to celebrate with a drink. He was a wunderkind. For good reason. His voice was as impeccable as his sweet moves. While he has had a cascade of hits since, it was “You Make Me Wanna…” that made us all perk up and take notice first.
9. Monica “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)”
If you were impressed by Usher being 19 when he burst out onto the scene, hold up. Monica was merely 15 when she declared “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days).” The song was an instant favorite for every girl who just wanted a little breathing room from the rest of the world. And it was all thanks to a talented 15-year-old!
8. Aaliyah “Are You That Somebody?”
For three years straight, the late Aaliyah charted with soundtrack jams. From Anastasia to Next Friday, she was killing it, but it was her single from the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack that went to #1. “Are You That Somebody?” made almost every teen, tween, mom, and grandma have a CD in their collection with Eddie Murphy on the cover. It was all thanks to one of Aaliyah’s best.
7. Destiny’s Child “No, No, No Part 2”
Long before they were telling us to say their name and preaching about them bills, Destiny’s Child was breaking in with “No, No, No.” Don’t get it twisted, there are two versions of this track. It was the remix with Wyclef Jean that makes this list. Why? Well, simply put, it was better and gave us a damn good reason to hit the dancefloor.
6. Ginuwine “Pony”
We have to pay our respects to Ginuwine. Without him, we wouldn’t have one of the inappropriate songs for a fifth grader to sing. We also wouldn’t have what is the best Channing Tatum moments from Magic Mike and Magic Mike 2. Also, I would like to apologize to my teachers once again for singing yet another song I shouldn’t have when I sang “Pony.”
5. Toni Braxton “Un-Break My Heart”
When Simon Cowell said some people have to have “it” to be a considered a great singer, he may have been talking about Toni Braxton in this song. “Un-Break My Heart” is pure gold from the second it starts. Her vocals aren’t only amazing, but the whole performance is so endearing you really feel for the person. Like dang, unbreak that girl’s heart!
4. All-4-One “I Swear”
We’d like to place money on “I Swear” being one of the most played wedding songs, ever. Since 1993, we’d estimate this romantic ballad has been a part of 6.7 million first dances. We can’t hate, though. We’re getting all mushy listening to it right now.
3. Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey “One Sweet Day”
Hey! We did say we could place just about every Boyz II Men song on the list. Well, “One Sweet Day” has not only them but the ultimate voice of the ’90s, Mariah Carey. We could not let it fall by the wayside. It placed musical royalty together and is a song that’s possibly the most impressive vocal performance in the history of sound.
2. R. Kelly “I Believe I Can Fly”
One cannot speak of the ’90s, music and great without speaking of R. Kelly and his contribution to the Space Jam soundtrack. When you are dealing with a movie that pairs the Michael Jordan with Bugs Bunny, you have to go above and beyond. “I Believe I Can Fly” does just that. Despite what you may think about the man behind the song, the track is timeless.
1. Janet Jackson “That’s the Way Love Goes”
We’d like to say that ’90s were a great time for Janet Jackson, but every decade has been pretty awesome for her ( and her fans, too). With each decade comes a new, refreshed Jackson. Come 1993, we got janet. From that, we were given its lead single “That’s the Way Love Goes.” It was like the sonic version of Lisa Bonet‘s character in A Different World; a bohemian, soulful joy.