50. Maxwell “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” (1996)

Writers: Maxwell, Itaal Shur | Producer: Maxwell | #8 R&B

Smooth. This word can be used to describe Maxwell’s look, his sound, his whole vibe. The New York boho made his entrance upon the scene in 1996 and immediately made a splash with “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” R&B fans, particularly the female ones, were immediately entranced. How could they not, when Max reassured their lofty position in his life with lyrics like this? A successful remix of “Ascension” jacked The S.O.S. Band’s “No One’s Gonna Love You” and snared a whole new generation of music listeners. Super smooth. Hell, co-writer Itaal Shur may have had Maxwell in mind when he went on to co-write “Smooth” with matchbox twenty’s Rob Thomas and give that band the biggest hit of their career. (Big Money)

49. Ralph Tresvant “Sensitivity” (1990)

Writers: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis | Producers: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis | #1 R&B (1 week)

In the early 90s, there was a sitcom starring Patty La Belle, Duane Martin, Morris Chestnut, and Vivica A. Fox called “Out All Night”. In one of the episodes, Kadeem Hardison, fresh off his role as Dwayne Wayne on “A Different World” played a guy who pretends to be overly sensitive to pick up on Vivica A. Fox’s character. She’s in on the joke by the end of the episode and dogs Hardison out a bit for being too sensitive. That was Ralph T. in 1991. He was the man with sensitivity. Ralph’s sensitive look was sort of like the anti-Bobby Brown.
Listening to the song with 2012 ears, it’s corny as hell. But I swear to you, that song made even the hard dudes sing in their squeeky Ralph T. voice. Because this was the early 90s, the song features a harmless rap in the middle by Ralph T. himself. But of course, there was another version where Ralph decided to rap more and talk throughout the end of the song. In that version, he told the ladies that he had some much love to give but no one to receive. The first rap was harmless, but this one was terrible. And then, he called himself Mr. Sensitivity in the song and spelled it out. I know I’m making this song sound terrible, but it wasn’t. That dude was cool, even if he was a bit corny. (GG)

48. Montell Jordan “This Is How We Do It” (1995)

Writers: Montell Jordan, Oji Pierce, Ricky “Slick Rick” Walters | Producers: Montell Jordan, Oji Pierce | #1 R&B (7 weeks)

Wanna party? Of course you wanna party. Easiest way in the world to get a party started? Throw on Montell Jordan’s smash “This Is How We Do It.” West Coast good-time music, without the gangbanging, drive-bys or other assorted violence that marred most of the black music coming out of California at the time. Montell’s nasal voice and slightly goofy persona (despite his imposing site) contributed to make him a West Coast dude everyone could love–and it didn’t hurt that he used Slick Rick’s old school classic “Children’s Story” as the musical backing. Even though folks might still confuse him with Montel Williams, that former talk show host probably wishes he had a classic like “This Is How We Do It” in his corner. (Big Money)

47. Hi-Five “I Like The Way (The Kissing Game)” (1991)

Writers: Teddy Riley, Bernard Belle, Dave Way | Producer: Teddy Riley | #1 R&B (2 weeks)

Ahhhh, young love. So innocent. So carefree. Hi-Five perfectly captured those feelings with their breakout hit, “I Like The Way (The Kissing Game)” Tony Thompson’s voice was boyish enough to break the hearts of the Right On magazine set, while Teddy Riley’s production gave the song appeal beyond teenage girls. I still don’t know exactly what the kissing game is, but that probably speaks more to my lack of success attracting the opposite sex as a teenager than anything else. Tony might have left us too soon, but this song will always serve as a reminder of good times and puppy love. (Big Money)

46. Lauryn Hill “Doo Wop (That Thing)” (1998)

Writer: Lauryn Hill | Producer: Lauryn Hill | #2 R&B

I bust this out in my car regularly. I remember listening to this and really starting to appreciate R & B and Rap. Lauryn brought a fresh rap to an old school beat, and I gotta give her cred for making songs you can listen to over and over. Doo Wop makes me wanna bob my head from side to side and do that beat box mouth thing poorly. (Bridget)

If only the sound of struggle could always sound so sweet. For a moment in 1998, the world revolved around Lauren Hill, only to come crashing down around her a few short years later. Hip-hop heads already had an inclination that all was not right in the Refugee Camp when Hill dropped “Lost Ones,” a scathing indication of the state of the relationship between the band mates. When “Doo Wop (That Thing)” was released two months later, it was clear why; Hill was the real draw, she knew it, and she intended on sharing that fact with world. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” takes the sensibility of a ’60s Motown Classic and meshes it with a modern day warning to the African-American community to eschew the trapping of consumerism. On paper, that doesn’t seem that likely of a hit, but in practice it launched Hill into “household name” territory, winning her a couple of Grammy awards and a spot on this list. (Michael Parr)

45. Groove Theory “Tell Me” (1995)

Writers: Bryce Wilson, Amel Larrieux, Darryl Brown | Producer: Bryce Wilson | #3 R&B

Amel Larrieux teams up with producer Bryce Wilson over a heavy bass line melody and hip hop drums to create “Tell Me”. This is a classic case of Cupid shooting someone in the ass and suddenly falling head over heels for a love interest. However, in this situation girl chases boy. Amel is straightforward about what she can give on her end in a relationship with a certain young man. Feeling that this opportunity is too good to pass up, she pursues a new beginning and happy ending with him. This song would become the biggest hit for the duo.(June.)

44. H-TownKnockin’ Da Boots” (1993)

Writers: Keven Conner, Solomon Conner, Darryl Jackson, Stick, Roger Troutman, Larry Troutman | Producers: H-Town & Stick | #1 R&B (4 weeks)

Make no mistake, a good portion of R&B music has always been about gettin’ it on. Hell, the boys in H-Town were even smart enough to invoke the ghost of Marvin in the first few words of their panty dropper, “Knockin’ Da Boots.” Held up by a generous sample of Zapp’s “Be Alright”–which was sampled by judiciously earlier in the year with ‘Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up”–the tune would otherwise be your standard, early ’90s R&B vocal group number; that is any early ’90s R&B vocal group who happened to be executive produced by none other than Luther “Luke Skyywalker” Campbell. (Parr)

43. Lisa Fischer “How Can I Ease The Pain” (1991)

Writers: Narada Michael Walden, Louis Biancaniello | Producers: Narada Michael Walden, Louis Biancaniello | #1 R&B (2 weeks)

A former backing singer for the likes of Luther Vandross, New York’s Lisa Fischer made a grand entrance with the Grammy-winning single “How Can I Ease The Pain?” With a dramatic backdrop provided by supa-producer Narada Michael Walden and songwriter Louis Biancaniello, Lisa rose to the occasion with what can only be described as a bravura vocal performance. Hushed in the first two verses, by the song’s bridge, Lisa has broken it ALL. THE. WAY. DOWN. I’ve gotta say, this is one of the most amazing interpretations of a song I have ever heard. This is the sound of heartbreak, personified. (Big Money)

42. Soul For Real “Candy Rain” (1995)

Writers: Terri Robinson, Poke & Tone, Heavy D. | Producers: The Trackmasters & Heavy D. | #1 R&B (3 weeks)

The late Heavy D. was not only a platinum selling artist, but he was a pretty decent talent scout. Among his discoveries was a group of brothers named Soul For Real. They entered the scene at the beginning of 1995 with the bouncy confection “Candy Rain.” Continuing in the grand tradition of The Jackson 5 and New Edition, the song was bubblegum gold. However, due to Hev’s involvement, the bubblegum was cut with just enough hip-hop swagger to give it universal appeal (in no small part due to the slamming sample of Grover Washington Jr.’s “Mr. Magic.”) It looked like these guys were gonna be the next big thing, but after one more hit (the underrated “Every Little Thing I Do,”) Soul For Real all but disappeared. Well, at least they left this solid slice of soul behind!! (Big Money)

41. Erykah Badu “On & On” (1997)

Writers: Erykah Badu, Jaborn Jamal | Producers: Erykah Badu, Madukwu Chinwah | #1 R&B (2 weeks)

I was born underwater, with 3 dollars and 6 dimes. Yeah, you might laugh..because you did not do your math.

With those words, a turbanned, incense-waving Texan named Erica Wright entered the public consciousness and changed the game for R&B ladies forevermore. Melding a soothing yet fiery voice that was equal parts Billie Holiday and Chaka Khan with hip-hop flavored percussion, “On & On” was an addictive, smartly written and just plain dope intro to one of soul music’s most distinctive voices of the past 20 years. The mothership cann’t save you, so yo’ ass is gon’ get left. Indeed. (Big Money)

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