80. The Refugee Camp All-Stars (Featuring Lauryn Hill)The Sweetest Thing” (1997)

Writer: Lauryn Hill | Producers: Lauryn Hill & Wyclef Jean | #2 R&B (airplay only)

The last song Lauryn & ‘Clef recorded together (unless you count the ill-fated Fugees “comeback” song “Take It Easy”) is a wistful tale of infatuation and devotion. Lauryn rapturously praises a man whose “kisses taste like Amaretto” to Wyclef’s guitar strums and a midtempo drumbeat. “The Sweetest Thing” was one of many treasures to be found on the woefully underrated Love Jones soundtrack, and although this song contained 2/3 of The Fugees (let’s be nice and give Pras an equal percentage here,) it definitely set the stage for L-Boogie to fly solo. (Big Money)

79. Aretha FranklinA Rose Is Still A Rose” (1998)

Writer: Lauryn Hill | Producer: Lauryn Hill | #5 R&B

“A Rose” brought Aretha into Generation Hip-Hop. Although the beat was jacked from BDP’s “Super Hoe” and a portion of the chorus borrowed from Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians’ “What I Am,” this song could’ve easily been a classic Aretha joint in the vein of “Spanish Harlem.” Actually, this song almost comes across as a sequel to that Aretha chestnut. Here, Ree plays the big sister/matron to a young lady who’s been hurt by love. It isn’t difficult to picture Lauryn Hill (who wrote, produced and sang background) in the “little sister” role. At any rate, whatever the relationship, Aretha was rewarded with her first Gold single in over two decades. (Big Money)

78. Aaliyah “At Your Best (You Are Love)” (1994)

Writers: Ernie Isley, Ronald Isley, Marvin Isley, Rudolph Isley, O’Kelly Isley & Chris Jasper | Producer: R. Kelly | #2 R&B

I’ll be truthful here. I always thought Aaliyah was slightly overrated. She made fun music and thanks to her relationships with Timbaland and Missy, she always had hot beats and songs that were picked up by radio. She was marketed smartly. But I always thought her best song was on her first album, when she was barely a teenager. Produced by R. Kelly, the Isley Brothers cover started with Aaliyah singing a capella before the track kicked in. At times, I’ve thought her vocals were a little light, but not here. She sounds amazing.
When you think about Aaliyah as an artist, several songs come to mind. Some may think of her first single “Back And Forth”. Most probably think about “Are You That Somebody?”. But I think about this song and only this song. Only such a beautiful creature like Aaliyah could sing so beautifully. She was at her best. (GG)


77. Dru Hill “In My Bed” (1996)

Writers: Ralph Stacy, Raphael Brown & Daryl Simmons | Producers: Ralph Stacy & Daryl Simmons | #1 R&B (3 weeks)

Drama!

Sure, it’s all well and dandy singing vague songs about wanting to get with ppl… or about how you’d like to party (in the club or otherwise)… but, for me, there’s nothing like the good ol “story song.” You see, Sisqo’s woman just ain’t being faithful. He’s figured out there’s some funny business going on… and he’s gonna testify (with the help of Sneezy, Doc and Lumpy) on it:

“Cuz when we made love I heard you call out his name! CALL OUT HIS NAME! *pause* Somebody’s sleeping in my bed.”

Damn, girl. (Carlos Halston)

76. Toni Braxton “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” (1992)

Writers: Babyface, Daryl Simmons & Bo Watson | Producers: L.A. Reid, Babyface & Daryl Simmons | #4 R&B

A smoking hot track from a smoking hot singer.  And I’m not just talking about her looks.  This lady can truly sing.  Love Shoulda Brought You Home was the first from Toni and it was featured on the Boomerang movie soundtrack.  The title of the song was reportedly taken from a Halle Berry line in the movie – “Love should’ve brought your ass home last night.”  It was later released as one of her many singles on her 10x platinum selling debut, Toni Braxton.  That’s a lot of albums. But once you hear the quality of the vocals, production, and lyrics, you can see why.  L.A. Reid, Babyface, Daryl Simmons wrote and produced the track (as well as most of her debut.)  You know their track record.  With Toni behind the microphone, you can expect nothing less than greatness. (Peter)


75. Mint Condition “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” (1992)

Writers: Larry Waddell, Jeff Allen & Stokley | Producers: Mint Condition & Jellybean Johnson | #3 R&B

Remember when there were actually R&B bands? Mint Condition was one of the last self-contained units to gain widespread R&B success, and “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” was the song that introduced them to music lovers across the country. From the dramatic, whispered vocals to lead singer/drummer Stokley breaking it down at the track’s end, “Pretty Brown” harkens back to a time when every funk band had to kill the crowd with at least one stellar slow jam. Of course, in the two decades since, Mint Condition has become known primarily for their slow jams. Nevertheless, when you’ve messed up and you have some ‘splainin’ to do–throw this joint on. Thank me-and Mint Condition-later. (Big Money)

74. Lauryn Hill (featuring Carlos Santana) “To Zion” (1998)

Writer: Lauryn Hill | Producers: Lauryn Hill & Che Guevera | #77 R&B

Lauryn Hill hasn’t always been crazy. Lots of sane people sing to their young children right?
“To Zion” was maybe the most personal track on her very personal solo debut, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. The song was about her first born son, who she named Zion and the song featured Carlos Santana on guitar. In the song, Lauryn discusses being pregnant and the opinions of others close to her. She sings, “Look at your career they said, Lauryn baby use your head, but instead I chose to use my heart.” Near the end of her song, she screams, “My joy!” many times in a row. It’s not just a great song because it’s inspirational and about her child. It’s more so because her emotion isn’t just directed at her child. It’s also directed at the people who told her to not have him. She’s angry and joyful all at the same time. (GG)

73. BLACKstreet Don’t Leave Me (1996)

Writers: Teddy Riley, Chauncey Hannibal, Roosevelt Harrell, Karen Anderson, Bunny DeBarge | Producer: Teddy Riley | #1 R&B (airplay only)

Not soon after Tupac Shakur passed away, an eerie music video for his song “Ain’t Mad At Cha” hit MTV. One of the more underappreciated song on his double album All Eyez On Me, “Ain’t Mad At Cha” actually became the third single to the release. The timing was weird. The video featured Pac being killed and rockin’ it out with laughable versions of stars in heaven. What made the song memorable was the usage of DeBarge’s “A Dream”. Just a short time later, Blackstreet released “Don’t Leave Me” as the follow-up to humongous single “No Diggity”. The song used the exact same sample. It was hard to listen to either song and not think of the other. Both songs were sort of magical cousins in 1996.
I always thought it would’ve been a great touch for Blackstreet to sing along with Danny Boy to Pac’s vocals sometime after Pac died, but alas it never happened. Blackstreet as a group really sang the hell out of this song and though others may like “Before I Let You Go” better, it’s my favorite Blackstreet ballad. (GG)

72. Brian McKnight One Last Cry (1992)

Writers: Brian McKnight, Brandon Barnes | Producer: Brian McKnight | #8 R&B

I guess it’s true when they say men cry in the dark. On “One Last Cry” Brian McKnight holds back no emotions while reminiscing on a love which left him heartbroken. Before taking his soul to the laundromat for the last time over this relationship, Brian harmonizes over piano telling a story of seeing an ex-girlfriend with another man; wishing he had no feelings for his former lover.  After acknowledging the two never saw eye to eye in the first place, he realizes he can do nothing else but to forever release his feelings for her by having one last cry. (June.)

71. Lenny Kravitz It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over (1991)

Writer: Lenny Kravitz | Producer: Lenny Kravitz | #10 R&B

A while back, we discussed summer jams in a Popblerd podcast. “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” was all over the place in the summer of 1991 – both MTV and VH1 had the video in heavy rotation, while Top 40 and modern rock radio made it a constant presence on the FM dial. Peaking at number 2 on the Hot 100, it was Lenny’s first single to have any real impact, and remains his highest charting track to date – and with good reason. The song oozes soul, drawing heavily from the playbooks of Stax, Motown, and Philadelphia International. If the composition and arrangement weren’t retro enough, Lenny enlisted the services of The Phenix Horns (of Earth, Wind and Fire fame) to top it all off. Ostensibly one of the many Mama Said tracks directed at ex-wife Lisa Bonet, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” is the perfect, soulful summation of love persevering through the individual and shared challenges inherent in relationships. Of course, Lenny and Lisa lacked such perseverance, and their split was final. Alas. (Dr. Gonzo)

Check out #81 through #90 here/

#99 through #100 can be found here.

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