20. Aaliyah “Are You That Somebody?” (1998)

Writers: Static Major & Timbaland | Producer: Timbaland | #1 R&B (Airplay Only)

The pinnacle of Timbaland’s first phase (yes, it IS better than “Try Again” or “Get Ur Freak On”), Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” is olympian in concept AND execution. A graceful, nuanced vocal of staggering maturity from Aaliyah + a coo-ing baby + Tim’s trademark stuttery beats (and, less happily, his trademark “i’ma rap on this too, ok?”) + Static Major’s (the unsung hero of most of Tim’s pre-Furtado/Timberlake tracks) rococo vocal arrangement turn this into the “Bohemian Rhapsody” of 90s RnB. Brilliant. (Carlos Halston)

19. D’Angelo “Brown Sugar” (1995)

Writers: D’Angelo & Ali Shaheed Muhammed | Producers: D’Angelo & Ali Shaheed Muhammad | #5 R&B

Effortlessly melding street tough with bedroom smooth, “Brown Sugar” introduced the world to D’angelo, multi-instrumentalist and key figure of the neo-soul era. Co-produced with Ali Shaheed Muhammad. “Brown Sugar” is the title track of D’angelo’s first album, as well as its lead single. An ode to black femininity, the song succeeds through its coyness – the song’s subtext is blatant without being lewd, a lyrical tension that only adds to its sex appeal. Musically, “Brown Sugar” is sublime: a tight stop/start beat driven by a bassline strut and a percolating organ line – all courtesy of D’angelo’s musical virtuosity. And that’s to say nothing of the layered vocals working with and against each other to create a sonic texture smoother than a bead of sweat drippin’ down D’angelo’s pecs. (Dr. Gonzo)

18. K-Ci & JoJo “All My Life” (1998)

Writers: Joel Hailey & Rory Bennett | Producers: Joel Hailey & Rory Bennett | #1 R&B (2 weeks)

When K-Ci and JoJo went on their own, the only thing that changed was the style of production. Their emotional over-singing was still their signature. But after being part of The Mad Band that was Jodeci, dressing in leather vests and White Sox baseball caps, they were now a little more classy. Before they released their debut album sans Jodeci, they teamed up for a song called “How Could You” which was on the soundtrack to the movie “Bulletproof” starring Adam Sandler and Damon Wayans. Their first album as a duo Love Always was a nice reinvention for the two. I bought the album the day it came out and was pleasantly surprised to hear the ballad “All My Life”, which I thought had legs if it was ever released as a single. People used to make fun of me because I’d play the track over and over telling them that if it was released as a single, it was going to blow up. Low and behold, it was the third single on the album and went number one on the pop singles chart. They stopped making fun of me and wondered if I had any inside information about radio play.

It is now probably best now remembered as a wedding song. While lyrically, it sure seems like a relationship based song, I’ve heard JoJo say that it was inspired by his daughter and he also dedicated it to her as well. (GG)

17. SWV “Weak” (1993)

Writer: Brian Alexander Morgan | Producer: Brian Alexander Morgan | #1 R&B (2 weeks)

SWV served as the middle ground between the uber-classy nightclub soul of En Vogue and the raucous IDGAF of TLC. “Weak,” the group’s third single, was too cutesy for the former and too sensitive for the latter. Coko, Lelee and Taj delivered an emotional performance that provided fodder for numerous talent shows for the next few years—almost a given, considering the song’s regular-girl appeal. Composer Brian Alexander Morgan allegedly wrote the plaintive song based upon his feelings for another R&B diva (the underrated Chante Moore) and recorded a version himself before giving it to the Sisters With Voices. (Big Money)

16. Tony! Toni! Tone! “Feels Good” (1990)

Writers: Tony! Toni! Tone! | Producers: Tony! Toni! Tone! | #1 R&B (2 weeks)

Tony! Toni! Toné!’s New Jack Swing anthem was the second single issued from their sophomore LP The Anthem. The energetic dance number was the group’s biggest success to date (#9 pop, #1 r&b, #3 dance). the first of thee top ten singles for the group. Although its aesthetics are very much a product of the era, “Feels Good” retains its ability to get booties shakin’; the masses may not remember the name Tony! Toni! Toné!, but they surely remember “Feels Good.” (Dr. Gonzo)

15. Lauryn Hill “Ex-Factor” (1998)

Writer: Lauryn Hill | Producer: Lauryn Hill | #7 R&B

I gotta bring it to Lauryn again. She may not like me, but I love her. That guitar riff at near the end makes my heart beat a little faster. This is a classic, I remember hearing it on the radio so many times, and I think I loved every time. (Bridget)

Wyclef either has the magic stick or he threw some serious Haitian voodoo-type stuff on Lauryn, because you only make this kind of song when you’ve fallen crazy, crazy OUT of love with someone. I hope she does this kind of pleading when she faces the judge later this year. Someone just might pay her taxes for her. (Big Money)

14. Mariah Carey “Vision of Love” (1990)

Writers: Mariah Carey & Ben Margulies | Producers: Narada Michael Walden & Rhett Lawrence | #1 R&B (2 weeks)

Mariah Carey had it all. Backing from a huge record company, idiotic amounts of songwriting and singing talent, and a debut song guaranteed to head to the top of the charts. Granted, “Vision of Love” didn’t sound like anything else on the radio in the summer of 1990, but still: the first time you heard it, you knew it was a smash. It was timeless-with elements of popular music in each of the previous four or five decades. Producers Rhett Lawrence and Narada Michael Walden (who ruled pop radio in the late Eighties) provided a lush background for the 20 year old Mariah to sing her guts out. Before she needed a crazy Mimi alias, guest rappers or silicone, it was all about that voice, and that’s what people will still be raving about when Mariah’s too old to fit in poom-poom shorts anymore. (Big Money)

13. Shai “If I Ever Fall In Love” (1992)

Writer: Carl Martin | Producer: Carl Martin | #1 R&B (1 week)

First, let’s not get it twisted: we’re talking about the a cappella version of “If Ever I Fall In Love.” The version that, if it weren’t for Whitney’s cover of a certain Dolly Parton tune, would have held down the number one slot in the US for a month or two. Why producers Carl “Groove” Martin and Darnell VanRensalier saw it fit to include a non-a cappella remix of the tune is beyond me. Now that we’ve got that out of the way; Shai were the less polished take on the Boyz II Men formula and “If Ever I Fall In Love” was the magic. The tale of lessons learned from a relationship gone wrong is immediately relatable, and the vocal harmonies keep it swimming in your head for days. (Parr)

12. Usher “You Make Me Wanna…” (1997)

Writers: Usher Raymond IV, Jermaine Dupri & Manuel Seal | Producers: Jermaine Dupri & Manuel Seal | #1 R&B (11 weeks)

Oh god, I’ve felt this feeling before. What feeling you ask? Go listen to the lyrics, and don’t deny it. It happens, we don’t follow through with this. It’s the worst feeling, and we all know the guilt (the ones that have felt it)…but Usher makes it seems so easy to deal with. You feelin’ it? Just go get it out with Usher and his sweet, sweet ways. This song calms my brain, and totally puts everything into focus. I sound like a terrible person now, but Usher doesn’t. (Bridget)

11. En Vogue “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” (1992)

Writers: Denzil Foster & Thomas McElroy | Producers: Denzil Foster & Thomas McElroy | #1 R&B (2 weeks)

En Vogue has quite a few great singles, but nothing showcases everything great about who these ladies are better than “My Lovin (Never Gonna Get It).” I mean, it’s a song with flawless lead performances by Maxine Jones and Dawn Robinson, but is mostly remembered for its doo-wop style background vocal arrangement (“ooooooooooh bop!”) and an absolutely killer breakdown. And it’s built around a really ingenious loop of a guitar sample of James Brown’s “The Payback.”

But “My Lovin” should be remembered as quite literally the moment where the experiment – a girl group where each member is equally important no matter what part she sings – succeeds. And it’s so good that no other girl group since has been able to successfully recreate that kind of magic – or bothered to try. The Supremes remain the template for girl groups, but that does not in any way diminish the greatness of what En Vogue accomplished — it actually makes them more singular. It’s a shame the four original members only recorded two albums together. (Tyler)

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