The best R&B songs are often hits that can take listeners right back to the 1990s. Some listeners today love these hits because of their upbeat and soulful vibes. The ’90s was a time when R&B incorporated elements of hip hop, funk, and precision vocals. This would end up creating a unique genre that is characterized by catchy choruses and a memorable beat. The ’90s also saw the emergence of some of the genre’s most iconic artists including Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, Boyz II Men, and Mariah Carey; all of whom created globally recognized hit songs. With the endless chart-toppers of the decade, we sought to find out the top five best ’90s R&B songs.
The 1990s was a golden age for R&B music, as the genre experienced an explosion of creativity and popularity. With artists like TLC, Brandy, and Whitney Houston dominating the charts, the decade saw the rise of some of the biggest and most iconic stars in the history of R&B. The music of the ’90s R&B was characterized by its smooth vocals, lush arrangements, and soulful lyrics, which spoke to the romantic and emotional experiences of young people.
At the same time, the genre also evolved to embrace new styles and sounds, incorporating elements of hip-hop, funk, and jazz to create a dynamic and diverse musical landscape. From the sultry ballads of Toni Braxton to the upbeat dance tracks of En Vogue, ’90s R&B offered something for everyone and became a soundtrack to an entire generation of music fans.
To try to narrow down the top songs among the many legendary hits, we’ve got you covered. For just a taste of the era, StudyFinds compild a list of the top five best ’90s R&B songs to listen to for a stroll down memory lane. If we missed one of your favorites, let us know in the comments!
The List: Best ’90s R&B Songs, Per Music Experts
1. “Are you that somebody?” by Aaliyah (1998)
The top song on our list is one that can be instantly recognized with the smallest snippet of a sound bite. “In the mid-’90s, Aaliyah experimented with new sounds, thanks to the likes of Static Major, Missy Elliott and Timbaland. On her 1998 single ‘Are You That Somebody?’ Timbaland gave her a unique production that included a baby cooing,” says YardBarker.
Aaliyah, 1997, Photographed By Phil Knott . pic.twitter.com/LRyILxydd2
— Archive Culture (@ArchivinCulture) April 17, 2023
It is universally agreed that Aaliyah’s tragic death at the young age of 22 was a loss to the music world as well. “Aaliyah’s smooth and sultry vocals bring an air of mystery and sensuality to the song, as she sings about the search for a lover who can keep up with her. The track is characterized by its innovative use of unusual samples, including the sounds of a crying baby, which add an eerie and haunting quality to the music. ‘Are You That Somebody?’ remains a timeless classic of the 90s R&B genre and a testament to Aaliyah’s talent as an artist,” writes Singer’s Room.
Ranked in the number one spot with several of our sources, “Are You That Somebody?” is notably called, “The greatest R&B song of the ‘90s,” according to Spin. “Aaliyah’s expressive vocal—which shows off the might of her powerful instrument and ability to not only keep up with, but dart around, Timbaland and Static’s start-stop rhythms schemes.”
2. “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child (1999)
In 1999, Beyoncé was not yet a household name, but she was still at the top of the charts along with her group Destiny’s Child. “‘Say My Name’ is quintessential R&B with its digs at a cheating boyfriend, theatrical synth strings and Beyonce’s syncopated vocal delivery. Best R&B lyric: ‘Say my name, say my name/you actin’ kinda shady/ain’t callin’ me baby/better say my name,'” says the Forty-Five.
Destinys Child for Honey magazine, 2001 pic.twitter.com/6OZ2I46qv3
— mariah ♡ (@voguessangel) April 7, 2023
This memorable track is also described as follows: “The song is all bravado, and circles a request so elemental that it shouldn’t even have to be asked: to be remembered, and treated with care and respect by someone who loves you,” writes Pitchfork.
3. “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey (1995)
If the previous songs on this list are about how love can go wrong, then this song follows suit. Often seen as a lost-love ballad, it is hard to deny the charm of “Always Be My Baby”. “The singer (Mariah Carey) has many amazing songs, but this was something special. It’s more straightforward with a catchy chorus that won’t leave your head. The song received a lot of positive reviews from critics and fans,” says Music Grotto.
— Mariah Carey Charts (Fan Page) (@chartmariah) April 26, 2023
Mariah Carey vocals along with the music video paint a vivid picture of an idealized past that never existed. “The video for the song, written by Carey, Jermaine Dupri, and Manuel Seal Jr., is so charming, so innocent that it temporarily makes you forget that these verses are about a fractured relationship. ‘Now you wanna be free, so I’ll let you fly,’ Carey coos in her breathiest head voice. She ‘ain’t gonna cry’ or beg her guy to stay, but that’s mostly because she is convinced that he’ll come back eventually. Because ‘time can’t erase a feeling this strong’…right? The words alone convey a sad hope, but no bleakness triumphs over the joyous keyboard chords, the snapping beat and Carey’s conviction that it will all work out,” writes Complex.
This song was also highly impactful on Carey’s career. “The success of Carey’s ‘Always Be My Baby’ officially put the singer in the league of industry giants like Whitney Houston and Madonna. This tune, specifically, does showcase Carey’s legendary range, but it also displays measured restraint from the singer,” according to American Songwriter.
4. “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe (1990)
Ladies of R&B have quite a bit to say when it comes to love and relationships. One of the earliest R&B hits of the ’90s, “Poison” is a track that delivers a young man’s perspective on dating and relationships. “With that bold percussive intro and rapid-fire snares all the way through, nineties American heartthrobs Bell Biv DeVoe came out fighting with their debut single ‘Poison’,” says The Forty-Five.
Do Me! — Bell Biv DeVoe pic.twitter.com/WouGWxn5n1
— M!CK's MiX RADiO (@MicksMixRadio) April 15, 2023
“The catchy up-tempo beat underlines the primary message of the song, ‘Poison’ by Bell Biv DeVoe centers around the line, never trust a big butt and smile. Why? That girl is poison. This ’90s staple is all about avoiding toxic relationships, and it eventually became the most successful song in the Bell Biv DeVoe repertoire.,” according to American Song Writer.
Bell Biv Devoe: Poison was a huge radio and dance hit. “Once you hear the first snare of this jam, people on the dance floor automatically start doing the running man. Bell Biv Devoe features half of New Edition and is one of the first examples of blending R&B and hip-hop,” writes Udiscover Music.
5. “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan (1995)
With so much emphasis on love and relationships, it is refreshing to see this list rounded off with a pure party song. “This song was the pinnacle of Montell Jordan’s career. He enjoyed a lot of success capitalizing on this catchy sound. The track spent weeks at the top of the chart. You can easily dance to the beats while you enjoy the lyrics. 90s dance parties aren’t complete until This Is How We Do It plays,” says Music Grotto.
🎶On April 15, 1995, ‘This Is How We Do It’ by Montell Jordan reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pic.twitter.com/PM4ljwp4pp
— RetroNewsNow (@RetroNewsNow) April 16, 2023
Along with a very catchy beat, “Jordan was specifically celebrating his life in South Central Los Angeles, which was cast asea by various levels of government and condescending white media in the mid-’90s. But his pluck and bombast resonated globally, and still does: It’s the song that you pray comes on at the club right when you roll up,” according to Pitchfork.
Though Jordan can be considered a one-hit wonder, this song continues to be the only big hit he ever needed. “There are some artists who don’t get recognition until a follow-up single or a sophomore album. However in Montell Jordan’s case, he saw his success with his debut single, ‘This Is How We Do It.’ The single peaked at No. 1 on a few Billboard charts and became a perfect club party song,” writes YardBarker.
You might also be interested in:
- Singer’s Room
- The Forty-Five
- American Songwriter
- Midder Music
- Udiscover Music
- Music Grotto
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.