Top 20 R&B Albums of All Time: Case Closed

Jan 12, 2007 (Updated Jul 24, 2013)

The Bottom Line When it is done well, R&B stands for rare beauty...

After having explored the grittier side of things in my Top 20 Rap Albums of All Time: A Closer Look review, I felt I had to go back and crop the best of a genre that is continuously tiptoeing on the line between emotions, sensuality, sexuality and the pitfalls of saturated love cliches.

Rhythm and blues in the strictest of sense is the unlikely marriage of rhythmic music that reaches you through the depth of your being and strokes/soothes you, while the lyrics carry you to a primitive ethereal place where feelings take center stage. The roots of blues transformed with a generally more upbeat, less melodramatic edge. R&B has been in transformation and has seen many forms through its widespread influence. From its continuous flirting with Pop and its now steady relationship with Hip Hop, to the reverting to Soul influences, R&B explores the same familiar themes, but with different pairs of glasses.

In my search for the best R&B LPs, I have like a love-sick bachelor searched high and low through my vast collection of CDs, only to find that I was spoken to by the select few that won my heart and were able to cloud my judgment enough so that I was able to see them for what I wanted them to be: special.

There are no clear predetermined criteria or agenda, no excessive intellectualization, just a lasting feeling, not dissimilar to the overall qualities and specific attributes you look for in a potential long-term mate. Beyond a bare minimum of critical thoroughness, the albums that were able to do this consistently as opposed to One Night Stands/One Hit Wonders, were awarded a permanent place in my musical harem.

So, here are my ravishing belles:

20. Blackstreet – Another Level (1996)

Teddy Riley's long-awaited achievement, this album did indeed reach Another Level. Tight production, heartfelt singing with a modern feel. The only drawback may be the unnecessarily long running time, clocking at just over 70 mins, that could have been shorten by taking out the less stellar last four tracks including the lenghty Motherlude and preachy The Lord Is Real. Yet and still, this album is potent enough to merit a spot on this A-list. With this imperfect concubine, I still gotta have my Fix once in a while. What can I tell you, it's Good Lovin!

Standout Tracks:
No Diggity
Good Lovin
Let's Stay In Love
Don't Leave Me
I Can't Get You (Out of My Mind)

19. Usher – My Way (1997)

Nice & Slow. This album is Jermaine Dupri around his creative peak with a ripe Usher about to conquer the world. Babyface claims two tracks and oversees the project with Dupri & Reid. Usher himself contributes in the writing department with a cocky unapologetic arrogance on My Way that reminds us of My Perogative from Bobby Brown's debut. T. Riley had launched his success as a producer along with Reid & Babyface on B. Brown's first solo album in 1988 and chips in here too for a song. Dupri's beats shine, but one has to mention the extended You Make Me Wanna that dubiously appears as the tenth and last track. Usher would continue to mature musically and give incredible songs, but as albums go, this one benefits exactly from this lack of filler songs, save the extended first single. On a personal note, I can't count the times I played Nice & Slow on the way to picking up a real pretty, pretty little thang that's waiting for me. It's seven o'clock, on the dot...

Standout Tracks:
You Make Me Wanna...
Just Like Me
Nice & Slow
My Way
I Will

18. Next – Next Episode (2002)

After their fiery debut and a mainstream second album, this is Next's next level. A mature sound and lyrics (like "It feels good spending time with your kids") give this a positive play. Not incredible singers individually, their combined voices make for a pleasant listen. The good songs just keep on coming like a multi-orgasmic woman. Imagine That...

Standout Tracks:
Your Love Is
Imagine That
Feels Good
Hold Me Down
That's My Word
It's Okay
Brand New

17. Mary J. Blidge – Share My World (1997)

Female R&B mogul, it is difficult to pick through MJB's consistently superior discography and not be tempted by more than one of her seven LPs. That being said, Share My World is really the album that stands out track after track. From start to finish, this CD has sure replay value with a mix of up-beat tracks with a Hip Hop edge to slower, more heart-felt ballads with gut-wrenching lyrics like Babyface's Not Gon' Cry & Missing You. It pretty much has Everything, but then again Love Is All We Need.

Standout Tracks:
I Can Love You
Love Is All We Need
Share My World
Seven Days
Missing You
Not Gon' Cry

16. Aaliyah – One In A Million (1996)

Timbaland & Missy's ingenious songwriting/producing propelled charming, charismatic Aaliyah beyond her already successful R. Kelly days to give us this gem. A landscape. A landmark. One In A Million.

Standout Tracks:
One In A Million
A Girl Like You
If Your Girl Only Knew
Got To Give It Up
4 Page Letter
I Gotcha' Back
One I Gave My Heart To

15. TLC – Ooooooohhh¡­ On the TLC Tip (1992)

Talented, loveable, controversial, T-Boz, Left-Eye and Chilli's debut is rapy, raw, rambunctious & rhythmic. New Jack Swing in full effect, the songs are catchy, original and speak mainly of women emancipation and fits in a time-specific capsule. Yet, it is rather the larger emancipation of an ill-defined music genre and, remarkably, the album stands the test of time like the Egyptian pyramids. Lovely Lisa Lopes' creative heritage, before the group became the more confined commercial cash cow it became. This Is How It Should Be Done.

Standout Tracks:
Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg
Hat 2 Da Back
What About Your Friend
His Story
Somethin You Wanna Know

14. Jerzee Monet – Love & War (2002)

Yeah, this short & sweet, positive offering may have flown by most radars, but this soulful cut more than makes the list in my books. Simple, yet meaningful in its message. The brighter side of R&B is exposed here with a poignant mixture of engagement and confident nonchalance. Each track is good and adds to the tableau. Unexpectedly, the painting revealed has a glimpse of the subtle beauty of Monet's water lilies.

Standout Tracks:
Work It Out
Tonight Is The Night
Missing You
Love And War
One Of Those Days

13. Tyrese – I Wanna Go There (2002)

Actor/model/singer Tyrese Gibson gives us a complete album with this one. He later audaciously attempts an R&B/Rap double album with Alter Ego that shows his willingness to go further and push his limits. Ultimately, when it comes to this grounded release, I literally Wanna Go There. This LP has an assured swankiness with a sensual & captivating aura that draws you in (like a portrait artist) and sticks to you like the draws you in. I Must Be Crazy, but Girl I Can't Help It, any way you look at it, this album is Kinna Right.

Standout Tracks:
How You Gonna Act Like That
How Do U Want It (Situations)
I Must Be Crazy
She Lets Me Be A Man
Signs Of Love Makin'
Girl I Can't Help It
Kinna Right

12. R. Kelly – 12 Play (1993)

The most successful male R&B artist of all-time dropped this classic to the world and had little girl's panties wet on one side, while for the opposite sex, he became the de facto voice for many men trying to get laid, as did Marvin Gaye in his day. 12 tracks, 12 Play, 12th place. Having just left his band to go solo, multi-talented (soon to be multi-platinum) Robert Kelly exploded on the R&B world with this masterpiece and has never looked back since. It Seems Like You're Ready.

Standout Tracks:
You're Body's Calling
Bump & Grind
Homie, Lover, Friend
It Seems Like You're Ready
Sex Me (Parts 1 &2)

11. Jagged Edge – Jagged Era (1997)

This Gotta Be Jermaine Dupri's Illmatic. Executive producer, he produces most and even raps on some. In no way a great rapper, his easy lyrics and laid back flow works well with his masterful beats. You may become So So Def, after bumping these tracks at high volume again and again. Nothing is so-so. Everything on this is good. Mellow to upbeat, every song brings you somewhere. Jagged Edge are proficient from the get-go and sing with primitive passion. Busta Rhymes can bust a rhyme as usual. Da Brat drops sexy rhymes in the mix.

Standout Tracks:
Slow Motion
Addicted To Your Love
Gotta Be
Wednesday Lover
Funny How

10. R. Kelly – T.P-2.COM (2000)

Singer, songwriter, producer, R. Kelly took the Twelve Play concept to another level with this second instalment of the Twelve Play Trilogy. From someone who was Born in the 90's, R. enters the new millennium with more tracks and – who would have thought – some even better tracks. Besides the sexually charged cuts, the album is rounded off with vivid relationship songs, party tracks and even ends with a gospel-inspired ballad. The hit single I Wish and its remix are all a song should be and explore the death of a friend in a very powerful way, while Just Like That is R. Kelly at his most poetic and magical. Rich voice, writing and rhythm from the R in R&B makes this an album to look up to.

Standout Tracks:
The Greatest Sex
Just Like That
One Me
I Wish
I Wish (Remix)
I Decided
A Woman's Threat
Feelin' On Your Booty

9. Avant – Director (2006)

4th album. 4 Minutes. Yet, you'll want to play the whole 57 minutes and change of this one. From the smooth instrumentals & vocals to the head-bobbing JD-produced You Know What, to a socially conscious duet, singer/songwriter Avant takes the Director seat to make a figurative motion picture that should be nominated for Best Sound.

Standout Tracks:
This Is Your Night
You Know What
4 Minutes
Grown A** Man

8. Changing Faces – All Day, All Night (1997)

The best and undeniably underrated duo in R&B got it right with their sophomore release. You can literally listen to this one All Day, All Night. After penning & producing their previous chart-topper Stroke You Up, R. Kelly shows up again for 4 of the 14 tracks. Cassandra Lucas & Charise Rose shine with their sultry voices, but also write a few songs as well as provide vocal arrangement. Jay-Z and Tracey Lee's raps are welcome, but although generally upbeat, the album does not fall in the 90s trap of trying to be too Hip Hop. This is R&B and these girls take it there all by themselves, even doing justice to one of the most remade pop songs of all time. Likewise, I keep coming back to this one Time After Time.

Standout Tracks:
I Apologize
Time After Time
All of My Days
All Day, All Night
G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T Part II
Baby Tonight

7. Monica – The Boy Is Mine (1998)

Singing professionally since 12 years old, Monica's second album, at sixteen, showcases her gorgeous voice with engaging and layered production. Like on Usher's My Way, she delivers mostly Slow Jams such as the beautiful For You I Will from the Space Jam Soundtrack. Brandy, Outkast and 112 all make worthy appearances. There are three remakes, but they do not feel forced as Monica, this Angel of Mine, breathes new life into them. In fact, the album does not lack originality with good lyrics and interesting beats. And that voice! Did I mention her voice? One of the best slow tempo LP out there.

Standout Tracks:
The Boy Is Mine
Angel of Mine
Gone Be Fine
Right Here Waiting
I Keep It To Myself
For You I Will

6. New Edition – Home Again (1996)

A reunion album, after years of enjoying successful careers apart, Bobby, Michael, Ricky, Ronnie, Ralph and Johnny came back groomed and grown. Mike & Ronnie, having found their niche adding rap to their repertoire, carry the upbeat tracks, while the powerful voices of the two thirds of the sextet romance the opposite sex but with a rugged edge. The album is versatile and complete. Johnny Gill even plays the guitar, writes and produces. The title track says it all, as they hit home. R&B legends James Harris III & Terry Lewis produce most songs and are in top form, while JD and Sean "Puffy" Combs tackle two tracks each of this tour de force. The content is dynamic with energy and style. Even if some more engaging lyrics could have helped a few cuts, these thirteen tracks Can Stand the Rain; You Don't Have to Worry.

Standout Tracks:
Oh, Yeah, It Feels So Good
Hit Me Off
You Don't Have to Worry
Hear Me Out
How Do You Like Your Love Served
I'm Still In Love With You
Home Again

5. R. Kelly – TP3 Reloaded (2005)

Put the key in the Ignition. R. Kelly has been music-defining throughout his career. Imaginative in his concepts, production, lyrics & singing, he brings his modern take on R&B with this versatile and creative LP. With smooth slow jams, swinging party tracks, reggae & reggaeton hits and the daring Trapped in the Closet opera, R. Kelly is nothing but trapped. He is boundless and dutifully pioneers R&B to make it consistently better and evolving. Humour, concept songs that work well and good guest appearances, especially from creamy-voiced Nivea and a Game on top of his game. Kelly is omnipresent in all shape and form with his melodious voice, his witty lyrics and simple but reaching production. Twelve Play, twelve years later. This is art. This is mad good. As mad as you if I was Kickin' It With Your Girlfriend. This album is a whole Ignition Remix with the R. in overdrive.

Standout Tracks:
Playa's Only
In The Kitchen
Kickin' It With Your Girlfriend
Reggae Bump Bump
Burn It Up
Trapped In The Closet (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5)

4. Joe – My Name is Joe (2000)

After a very stirring second album, Joe steps up the notch to achieve album greatness with this almost self-titled third outing, with more fervour and control in his singing, better beats and more consistency on this one. Sure you won't find lyrics as deep as say All That I Am, or sensual tracks as on cue as The Love Scene, but the overall package is a nice steady, assured voyage in the world of Joe. Somebody Gotta Be On Top and Joe came real close with this one, with measured singing, writing and producing. Set up your Table For Two and prepare for the musical feast.

Standout Tracks:
Somebody Gotta Be On Top
Table For Two
I Wanna Know
Get Crunk Tonight
Peep Show
I Believe In You
So Beautiful

3. Monica – After the Storm (2003)

Knock Knock. Who's there? With Darkchild, DJ Scratchator, Jermaine Dupri, Missy Elliott, Jazze Pha & Kanye West on the production side and a spunky Monica composing, singing, rapping and doing vocal arrangements, this long-awaited reworked album has it all. Tyrese and Tweet chip in for a little vocal variety and DMX's grimey lamentation is exquisite on one of the best Hip Hop / R&B duet ever released. Busta Rhymes even spits a few praises on the outro. This has everything to make this feel brand new every time you put it in (it does help to have Missy shout out her signature New Monica!) Even the four songs on the limited bonus CD are worthy additions and are good enough to have been put on the album proper. Sending chills down your spine with her voice and tears down your cheeks with her words, Monica Arnold proves she's not Just Another Girl.

Standout Tracks:
So Gone
U Should've Known Better
Don't Gotta Go Home
Knock Knock
Breaks My Heart
Go to Bed Mad
Hurts the Most

2. Boyz II Men – II (1994)

Babyface, James Harris III & Terry Lewis participated, but Boyz II Men knew what they were doing by their second album which they executively produced. Just look at their superb a cappella production of the Beatles' Yesterday. Making full use of the quartet's vocal layers and showing musically richness with crafty piano and an all together researched sound, this album flows like water in a stream. Never feels forced. A force to be reckoned with. We'll have to wait till the Water Runs Dry to see this dislodged.

Standout Tracks:
Trying Times
I'll Make Love to You
On Bended Knee
50 Candles
Water Runs Dry

1. Xscape – Traces Of My Lipstick (1998)

This album is My Little Secret. I sometimes Xscape listening to the group's final recording before singer/songwriter Kandi's departure for a solo career. This collection of songs proved to be all you can expect from an accomplished R&B quartet. The production value is simply amazing with Jagged Edge even doing background vocals and vocal arrangements succeeding in being both mellow and mesmerizing. When JD isn't crafting the infectious melodies, you find Babyface on the keyboard or Keith Sweat to produce and sing on the massive Am I Dreamin'. Musically & lyrically compelling. Every song is strong, every note is right. The vocal range of these girls is incredible and they sing so well together you feel their voices are transporting you to a phantasmagoric voyage. Enjoy the ride.

Standout Tracks:
My Little Secret
Softest Place on Earth
One Of Those Love Songs
The Arms Of The One Who Loves You
Am I Dreamin'
The Runaround
Hold On


Special Mentions

Best Canadian R&B Album
Deborah Cox – One Wish (1998) // Keshia Chante – 2U (2006)*

Best Christmas R&B Album
Toni Braxton – Snowflakes (2001)

Best Live R&B Album
Mary J. Blidge – The Tour (1998)

Best Remix R&B Album
Bell Biv Devoe – WBBD – Bootcity! The Remix Album (1991)**

**If this wasn't a remix album, this would have easily entered this list on its own merrits


Related Reviews

For more Hip Hop and R&B by the same author:

Top 20 Contemporary R&B Artists Thus Far: In Closing (part 1: 20-11)
Top 20 Contemporary R&B Artists Thus Far: In Closing (part 2: 10-1)

Top 20 Underground Hip Hop Albums: In Case You Didn’t Know
Top 10 Rappers of All-Time: A Case Study (Part 1: 10-6)
Top 10 Rappers of All-Time: A Case Study (Part 2: 5-1)


N.B.: My pre-1988 R&B albums are almost exclusivly "best of's" so I will contend that this effectively narrows the scope of this list to 1988-2006. Yet as these are my metaphorical lovers, it could also be argued that I may simply like them young... (that may also be why R. Kelly gets so many nods, although this is very speculative and I will gladly take an out-of-court settlement any day to drop the subject)

*****************************UPDATE 2013*****************************

Worthy yearly R&B Albums since this review was initially written Jan 12, 2007 :
Keyshia Cole – Just Like You (2007) 
Ray J – All I Feel (2008)
Maxwell – BLACKsummers'night // Tynisha Keli - The Chronicles of Tk (2009)
Jaheim – Another Round // Monica - Still Standing (2010)
Jennifer Hudson
– I Remember Me // Joe – The Good, The Bad, The Sexy (2011)
Tank – This Is How I Feel // Monica - New Life (2012) 

Thanks for reading and happy listening! -Crazy-C

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