60. Usher “Nice & Slow” (1997)

Writers: Jermaine Dupri, Manuel Seal, Brian Casey, Brandon Casey, Usher | Producer: Jermaine Dupri | #1 R&B

Ugh, the guitar plucking right at the entrance. I want it to be “7 o’clock on the dot.” I think if you ever need to apologize for a major F@&# up, Usher is a good person to seek out. His voice is melodious and could calm a 6ft tall Mama Bear after you took her babies honey. I paint a pretty picture…Anyway, you lady is comparable when she is angry, I can guarantee I’m right. Just take it Nice N’ Slow. (Bridget)

59. Jodeci “Lately” (1993)

Writer: Stevie Wonder | Producer: DeVante Swing | #1 R&B

Jodeci’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” is one of the few songs that is actually more famous for its live version rather than the studio version. In fact, I’m not even sure I’ve heard the studio version outside of the boring music video. Their live performance was part of Uptown Unplugged, an MTV Unplugged show which was recorded and released as a CD and also featured Mary J. Blige, Father MC, Christopher Williams, and Heavy D. For all of you under the age of say 25, I had to actually purchase the entire CD to get the song. There wasn’t any iTunes to cherry pick songs from. I’m sure there are many people who own the Uptown Unplugged album simply because they wanted this song. That’s how big it was at the time.
The song slows down Stevie’s version and the major difference is that K-Ci and JoJo go heavy on the whine. Stevie’s version builds up vocally as he’s calm in the beginning and by the end, when he sings that he thinks his girl is cheating on him, he turns expressive. K-Ci and JoJo start slowly too, but get to the whining and screaming very quickly.
They also performed this song on “Martin” and K-Ci and Martin Lawrence had a memorable “Ooooo yeah!” battle. (Me and Jodeci think you’re cheatin’ on us.) (GG)

58. Whitney Houston “Exhale (Shoop Shoop) (1996)

Writer: Babyface | Producer: Babyface | #1 R&B (7 weeks)

Whitney Houston’s career is defined by the fact that she was a singer of uncommon talent often wasted on subpar material that becomes at least listenable because her voice is so damn beautiful. Babyface’s ‘Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” is the greatest exception. Whitney’s lead vocal performance is remarkable, full of passion, grace and remarkable texture. “Exhale” is a song about letting go and Whitney’s interpretive, expressive work here captures that feeling perfectly. It literally sounds like an exhale. Because the song’s so deceptively simple and subtlely arranged, the fact that this remains the finest work she ever did is a little recognized fact. (Tyler)

57. Maxwell “Sumthin’ Sumthin'” (1996)

Writers: Maxwell, Leon Ware | Producer: Maxwell | #23 R&B

The late ’90s gave rise to the so-called “neo-soul” era, a segment of the genre that was a conscious throwback to the classic soul era of the 1960s-1970s, yet also very much a product of contemporary styles. Many of those artists are well represented on this list – Erykah Badu, D’angelo, Jill Scott, et. al. For my money, no one pulled off this neo-soul smoothness with more class, sexiness, and je ne sais quoi than Maxwell. His debut Urban Hang Suite LP managed to create the exact ambiance that its title evoked: a swank, sexy urban dwelling perfect for chillaxin’ with a “person of interest.” At number 108 pop and 23 r&b, “Sumthin’ Sumthin'” was not the album’s highest charting single, but it is one of the most memorable. Emblematic of the neo-soul subgenre as a whole, the song’s laid back, soulful funkiness helped to rescue r&b from the syrupy schmaltz that it had been drowning in for most of the decade.  (Dr. Gonzo)

56. R. Kelly “Your Body’s Callin'” (1993)

Writer: R. Kelly | Producer: R. Kelly | #2 R&B

Before listening to an R. Kelly slow jam made you feel all creepy, the Chicago singer/songwriter dropped gems like “Your Body’s Callin'” on us. Opening his breakthrough album, 12 Play, this song was an invitation to a night filled with pleasure. Passionate and a little bit dirty (again, without being creepy,) “Your Body’s Callin'” is still a mainstay of bedroom mixes. (Big Money)

55. Kelis “Caught Out There” (1999)

Writers: Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo | Producers: The Neptunes | #9 R&B

In a decade where man-hating was briefly en vogue (ha!), did anyone capture the simultaneous hate and vitriol of adultery on wax better than Kelis? “Caught Out There” coasts largely on barbed sass, but then, my God, the way the singer unleashes during the chorus – not since Rage ended “Killing in the Name” with a repeated, increasingly emphasized set of epithets – you know what I mean – has anyone exploded for such a prolonged period of time. The Neptunes beat is ice-cold, but those mind-melting space lasers or whatever-the-shit that fire during the oft-vaunted “I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW!” section are disorienting and aggressive; Kelis’ detached cool contrasted with her primal, firebrand anger gives the song insane layers of dynamic. It’s enough to make me want to remove my sack and deny my gender, something “You Oughtta Know” never accomplished; unique and endlessly re-playable, “Caught Out There” would be a cool song even if Kelis didn’t douse the chorus in gasoline and chuck a box of lit matches on top. The fact that she did makes it a classic. (Drew)

54. Erykah Badu “Next Lifetime” (1997)

Writers: Erykah Badu, A. Scott | Producer: Tone the Backbone | #1 R&B (Airplay Only)

Erykah Badu represented something new in the R&B world when she made her debut in 1997, and one of the things she did was re-introduce a sense of mysticism into the genre. “Next Lifetime” is an example of the spiritual vibe she applied to her music, done within the framework of a common love song quandary: she’s in love with someone who’s already in a relationship with someone else. “How can I want you for myself when I’m already someone’s girl,” she muses. While the protagonist in most songs would just say “screw it, I’ll steal him,” Erykah threw a curve: “I guess I’ll see you next lifetime.” Aided by a video co-starring Method Man and her future paramour Andre 3000, “Next Lifetime” was a smash that brought a much-needed dose of maturity to the airwaves. (Big Money)

53. Zhane “Hey Mr. DJ” (1993)

Writers: Jean Norris, Renee Neufville, Kier Gis, Anthony Criss, Vincent Brown (Naughty by Nature) A. Bahr | Producer: 118th Street Productions| #3 R&B

Hey Mr DJ was THE classic after-work/club jam in 1993.  It didn’t matter if it was a bar, a cookout, a club, or blasting from your car audio, Hey Mr DJ was there.  The single was originally featured on the Roll Wit The Flava compilation, courtesy of the queen herself, Queen Latifah and Flava Unit Records.  Later it was released as a single for their platinum selling debut LP Pronounced Jah-Nay.  Produced by Kay Gee of Naughty By Nature fame, the beautiful and talented Jean Norris and Renee Neufville penned a gem of jam that will still have you nodding your head and out on the dance floor.  (Peter)

52. Boyz II Men “I’ll Make Love To You” (1994)

Writer: Babyface | Producer: Babyface | #1 R&B (9 weeks)

14.  That’s how many weeks I’ll Make Love to You stayed at #1.  Most songs stay on the charts for 14 weeks.  This stayed at #1.  It tied Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”  The Babyface penned and produced platinum single could only be done by the Boyz from Philly.  Their harmony backed by the Babyface soundscape brought forth one of the greatest songs ever recorded.  Every radio station from Urban Ac to Pop had this track in heavy rotation.  You can feel every word that was belted out.  Love songs like these tug at your heart strings and never let go.  20 years from now when someone asks for a definition of a love ballad, don’t be surprised if the Boyz are mentioned first. (Peter)

51. Brian McKnight “Anytime” (1997)

Writers: Brian McKnight, Brandon Barnes | Producer: Brian McKnight | #1 R&B (Airplay Only)

Sometimes a song just comes at the appropriate time, and that’s what “Anytime” did for me. At the time this song became popular, I was going through my first real relationship, and my 21-year old heart was getting fucked with big time. First love is always a bitch, and although I was treated badly, I still found this person dominating my thoughts. I wondered if they felt the same towards me (as it turns out, they did.) Alas, there was no chance of reconciliation, but at least I had Brian McKnight’s haunting piano ballad to perfectly articulate my feelings. (Big Money)

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