Best R&B Singers of the ’90s

The 1990s was my all-time favorite period for music. And it was a great period for R&B. The best-selling female R&B group of all time, TLC, were at the height of their career in the ’90s, and the longest-running #1 Billboard hit was a R&B song released during the same period. ’90s R&B continues to be one of my favorite types of music.

This is my personal list of the top 10 best R&B singers and group of the ’90s. The list is based on vocals (range, rhythm, etc) as well as style and quality of music. As always, feel free to make any suggestions.

brandy-norwood

1. Brandy Norwood is an American singer, actress, and songwriter. She is best known as Moesha from the TV show of the same name, and for her hits “The Boy is Mine” and “Have You Ever?”

Brandy has one of the most unique voices and a wide range — she is irreplaceable. She isn’t a soprano like others, but she doesn’t need to be — her raspy voice has just as much power and feeling.

mariah-carey

2. Mariah Carey is an American singer best known for her wide vocal range and series of hit singles, including “Hero” and “One Sweet Day”, a duet with Boyz II Men and the longest-running #1 single in American history.

Mariah’s “My All” is of my favorite songs ever and a classic, like so many of her ’90s ballads. Mariah was at her peak in the ’90s but hasn’t been the same since.

boyz-ii-men

3. Boyz II Men is an American male group and best-selling R&B group ever. Their hits include “End of the Road”, “Four Seasons of Loneliness”,  and “One Sweet Day” with Mariah Carey.

There will never be another Boyz II Men. The amazing combination of their voices, lyrics, and production contributed to making nearly every one of their songs historic. Favorite Boyz II Men song? All of them.

whitney-houston

4. Whitney Houston is an American singer and actress and one of the best music artists of all time, based on sales and awards. She covered Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”.

Whitney has the classic “singer’s voice”; her songs will be listened to for generations. If you haven’t heard of her, you haven’t been alive for the past few decades.

babyface

5. Babyface, real name Kenneth Edmonds, is an American R&B entrepeneur: prolific singer, songwriter, and producer. In addition to his own hits (including “When Can I See You” and “Every Time I Close My Eyes”), he wrote “End of the Road” for Boyz II Men and “Let It Flow” for Toni Braxton.

It is not an overstatement to say that ’90s R&B would not have been without Babyface.


mary-j-blige

6. Mary J. Blige is an American singer and songwriter. Best known singles of the ’90s include “Real Love” and a cover of “I’m Going Down”.

You know Mary’s voice when you hear it — her voice defines passion and feeling. And who will forget her signature blonde hair?

en-vogue

7. En Vogue is an American female R&B group known for their strong voices and personal style. Their hits include “Hold On” and “My Lovin’ “. En Vogue embodies the spirit of early ’90s R&B, both in music and style. Rarely has there been a group where every member has a voice so powerful.

toni-braxton

8. Toni Braxton is an American singer best known for her deep voice and hit single “Un-Break My Heart”.

Toni’s contralto adds a signature note to every song. Some of her songs are upbeat, others are mellow and sad, but all of her songs are enduring.

monica-arnold

9. Monica Arnold is an American singer and songwriter. She is best known for the duet “The Boy is Mine” with Brandy and singles “Angel of Mine” and “Don’t Take It Personal”.

Monica’s voice carries any song, no matter the production.

tlc

10. TLC – T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chili, is an American girl group best known for singles like “Waterfalls” and the woman’s anthem “No Scrubs”.

Chili’s voice is original and magnetic, but more than their range, TLC knew how to combine social issues with great production and the eclectic mix of their personalities, style, and voices.

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order by first name): 112, Aaliyah, After 7, Blackstreet, Destiny’s Child, Dru Hill, Faith Evans, Jon B., Janet Jackson, Jodeci, Keith Sweat, K-Ci & JoJo, Lauryn Hill, Maxwell, Montell Jordan, SWV, Tatyana Ali, Tevin Campbell, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Usher, Xscape, Zhané

See also:

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45 thoughts on “Best R&B Singers of the ’90s

  1. I completely agree on this list. I can’t think of any to add – your list and honorable mentions are comprehensive! I always figured my love of 90s music was biased, as I was coming of age during that period (pre-teens to early 20s).

    Oh wait – I really liked After 7 (although they may have peaked in the late 80s). Their cover of Sarah Smile is still among my favorite songs.

  2. Daphne,

    In Honorable Mention, I tried to cover many of the artists that had more than a couple of good songs. A few would have been lower or higher on the list, if this were about the ’80s or ’00s.

    “I always figured my love of 90s music was biased, as I was coming of age during that period (pre-teens to early 20s).”

    Yes, I grew up on ’90s music. But I’m not extremely biased; I like ’80s R&B as well. But ’90s R&B was better overall — it added more “rhythm” to the “blues”.

    “Oh wait – I really liked After 7 (although they may have peaked in the late 80s).”

    Good one! Added to Honorable Mention.

  3. I love the 80′s R&B too but the 90′s brought about a lot of talent. They just don’t make GOOD R&B anymore.

  4. Cheri, ITA; the ’90s was explosive for R&B.

    “They just don’t make GOOD R&B anymore.”

    There are a few, although current R&B has more of a hip-hop and/or pop-ish vibe. It’s hard to tell the difference now between genres. But Jazmine Sullivan gives me a late ’90s vibe, she probably would have done well then.

  5. I am not really into R&B, but I’ve heard about most of these people, and I can name at least a few songs. Some of these performers were really big in Serbia.

    I think Mariah was the most popular of them all. I was never really a fan, but I agree about “My all”. It’s such a wonderful song.

    It looks like 90s were a good decade for all music. It’s definitely my favourite, but I assumed it’s because I was a teenager in that decade. :D

  6. Mira,

    “Some of these performers were really big in Serbia.”

    Like who? I’ll guess, besides Mariah, Whitney and Boyz II Men?

    Mariah’s older stuff is great. She took a nosedive circa 2001, but had another momentary peak with The Emancipation of Mimi.

    “It looks like 90s were a good decade for all music. It’s definitely my favourite, but I assumed it’s because I was a teenager in that decade.”

    Nope. The ’90s (and ’80s, to a lesser extent) were just a great time for music. :)

  7. Well, all of these people (except, maybe, Babyface) were popular in Serbia.

    True, Mariah and Whitney were the biggest, but also Toni Braxton. Boyz II Men, of course. But Mary J. Blige was also popular.

    I’d say all of these people were popular. The only ones who’re not that popular (but weren’t unknown either) are Brandy, Monica and Babyface. All people know about Brandy and Monica is… Well, Brandy and Monica, “The Boy is Mine”, which was a massive hit. But I don’t think their other songs were that popular.

  8. Mira,

    “The only ones who’re not that popular (but weren’t unknown either) are Brandy, Monica and Babyface.”

    Lolhuh? :)

    Without Brandy and Babyface, ’90s R&B would have been completely different (read: not as good). They even wrote/produced many of the hits for the artists on this list.

    How interesting that Toni was more popular than Brandy. I love Toni, but I’d say Brandy is a better artist overall, in the ’90s and beyond. Mary I wouldn’t guess was extremely popular outside of English-speaking countries, but glad to know she is.

  9. Good list! I love pre-2001 Mariah, and I didn’t know “I Will Always Love You” was a cover!

    LOL, did anyone see the episode of Soul Food: The TV Series, when Babyface played a creepster? I’ve never been able to look at him the same way again.

    After 7 and Zhane don’t sound familiar–I’ll have to Google.

  10. Jasmin,

    “I didn’t know “I Will Always Love You” was a cover!”

    It was. My parents are huge Dolly Parton fans so I know the original version. Whitney’s version is better though.

    I haven’t watched the Soul Food TV Series at all. But Babyface is an interesting character anyway; I could only imagine.

    You know Zhané (forgot the accent, I’ll add that) — “Hey, Mr. DJ…Everybody’s ready to party…”

  11. I should put down my kwaito music and start listening to you American music so I can follow your music discussions lol.

  12. Nkosazana,

    Lol. So you don’t know of any American R&B? Even Mariah, Whitney, etc?

    If you need suggestions for artists, albums, or songs, I have plenty. Starting with those on this list. :)

    Jasmin,

    I just saw a bit of that episode on Youtube. I must say, he played the role quite well. ;)

  13. Oh I know who those famous people are Whitney, Mariah Carey and Chili (thanks to her reality show). But don’t ask me to name a song of them because right now on the top of my head I could not to save my life.

    Don’t get me wrong we listen to this kind of music as well in SA, but for me kwaito ruled before moving to Sweden :)

  14. Nkosazana,

    Not to worry, I’ll feature many more of their songs here (in addition to the ones listed under “See also”). Soon you’ll be as in love with ’90s R&B as I am. :)

    Sherry,

    No others?

  15. I think I need to get hip to kwaito music!

    I love other South African music like Ladysmith Black Mombazo, Juluka, Miriam Makeba, and Hugh Masakela.

  16. I will be a 90′s music fan forever!! I wanted to add Xscape to the list :)

  17. Hi julu,

    “I agree with the post, but you forgot Rome, Carl Thomas, R Kelly.”

    At first I thought, “Who?” But I remember him. He had about two or three hits though. I think I’ll leave two hit wonders off this list. :)

    I like Carl Thomas but he is early 2000s not ’90s, I’m sure. *checks*… Yup.

    I think I unconsciously, yet deliberately, left R. Kelly off…

  18. “Best R&B Singers of the ’90s”? I really don’t think so! Here’s why: Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Peabo Bryson, Jody Watley, Freddie Jackson, Jeffrey Osborne, Keith Washington, Alexander O’Neal, Cherrelle, Pebbles, James Ingram, Gerald Levert, Johnny Gill, Karyn White, Montell Jordan, Ralph Tresvant, Keith Sweat, Tevin Campbell and The Isley Brothers – to name but a few – are entirely missing.

    “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”
    Oscar Wilde

  19. Hi Harry, welcome. :)

    …This is the Best R&B Singers of the ’90s. Not the ’80s. Lol!

    Most of those artists you mentioned had a hit or two in the ’90s, but their “time” was the ’80s and we didn’t hear as much of them later on. If this were an ’80s (or all-time) list, Luther would be at the top. But it’s not.

    I hear you on Montell, Keith Sweat, and Tevin Campbell though. They are some good ones I forgot. I’ll add them to Honorable Mention.

  20. Hmmm… You might want to check the facts on that – most of these artists were very productive and successful in the 1990s! I’m 52 in the meantime, so I guess I should know… unless memory loss has scheduled a premature visit with me…

    - Luther Vandross released four original and several compilation albums in the 1990s
    - Peabo Bryson released “Can You Stop The Rain”, arguably his greatest album, in 1991
    - Jody Watley’s very successful album “Intimacy” came out in 1993
    - the 1990s were Freddie Jackson’s most successful time – he released his best-selling albums between 1990 and 1996
    - Jeffrey Osborne released his outstanding album “Only Human” in 1991
    - Keith Washington’s entire career pretty much happened between 1991 and 1994
    - Alexander O’Neal had three successful albums between 1990 and 1994
    - Pebbles had a huge success in 1990 with her album “Always”
    - Gerald Levert was very productive in the 1990s – solo and with LSG
    - Ralph Tresvant started his solo career in 1990 with the release of the self-titled debut album
    - The Isley Brothers had numerous successful solo and group projects in the 1990s, e.g. “Mission To Please” in 1996 (including the Isley, Jasper, Isley smash hit “Caravan Of Love”, which came out in 1990)

    Did I prove my point…? : )

  21. Harry/logos,

    I did and do check the history for all of the artists mentioned here. Essentially, when a person thinks of the major artists you mentioned, they think ” ’80s” not ” ’90s”.

    And for those whose careers fell between the two decades — I can’t mention everyone! I wish I could, but this is not the “Every Single R&B Artist With Hit Singles in the ’90s” list. A lot of this list is based on vocals, and I just don’t think the less popular artists you mentioned have strong enough voices. : (

    P.S. You should choose one name/email or I will have to keep clearing your comments. That might take a while if I’m not online. And it’s just less confusing if you use one name.

  22. Sorry about the mix-up with different name/e-mail – I’m not sure how and why that happened.

    “Essentially, when a person thinks of the major artists you mentioned, they think ” ’80s” not ” ’90s””

    “I just don’t think the less popular artists you mentioned have strong enough voices”

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on these two statements…

    Anyway, I enjoy reading your blog… and our banter.

  23. I know everyone/group except Brandy, Monica, Babyface. And in the honourable mentions I only know Janet Jackson(ADORE her album with Joni Mitchel) and Destiny’s Child.

    Dunno, can’t beat the older generation of RnB artists. Talent personified. Even the hardest rocker used to jam to likes of Barry White!

  24. Hi foosrock,

    “I know everyone/group except Brandy, Monica, Babyface.”

    In other words, three of the most well-known ones (well, Monica is more popular in the U.S.)? :)

    Wait, wait, you don’t know Usher? Even if you didn’t know him from the ’90s, Confessions had some 20 million copies sold (half of those were outside of the U.S.), and a record-breaking number of #1 hits.

  25. Wait, wait, you don’t know Usher?

    Afraid I don’t. Post links, Alee, please……..

  26. Oh, sorry, don’t know this dude. He’s goodlooking though, although a bit too metrosexual for my taste…….

  27. I agree wholeheartedly with that list. Matt is a huge Jodeci fan, you wouldn’t know to look at him but he loves some 90′s RnB and 90s rap. He knows ppl I don’t know. LOL. When I so surprised, I’d add Guy but that was late 80s/early 90s.

  28. I’d like to add Aaliyah, Az yet/Dru Hill/TLC/Tamia and for the record to that person that says that Brandy is better that Toni….that’s a lie

    Toni has sold more than Brandy and in my own opinion can sing better, but this is not about comparing one artist to another…

    The list goes on …Shola amar, (late 90′s )Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill..etc

  29. Mkhululi,

    “I’d like to add Aaliyah, Az yet/Dru Hill/TLC/Tamia”

    All of them except Az Yet and Tamia are already on the list, just in Honorable Mention. TLC is number 10… did you read the list?

    “for the record to that person that says that Brandy is better that Toni….that’s a lie”

    That would be me and no it’s not a lie. It can’t be because it’s a matter of opinion. I like both of them but I do like Brandy better. I may just be the only one but to me Brandy is a better overall artist and more unique than the majority of R&B artists.

    “Toni has sold more than Brandy and in my own opinion can sing better”

    They have different singing styles. Toni’s voice is very deep. And I thought she sold more because she was more albums…

    “The list goes on …Shola amar, (late 90′s )Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill..etc”

    As I said to someone else: I can’t have every single R&B artist of the ’90s on this list. But I did forget Lauryn (no idea why) so I’ll add her to Honorable Mention.

  30. Hi Alee, point taken….Now I have a suggestion for you.

    It seemsas if you are passionate about music like I am, I’d like to recommend some artist for you and I would like you to do the same(if that’s alright)….I’m always looking for good music and I’m always searching for new and different artists……..

    Check out

    1 – Feist(Canada) (1,2,3,4 + I feel it all)
    2. Khadja Nin (Burundi) – Sina mali,sina deni + Sambolera my son)
    3. Simphiwe Dana(South Africa)
    4. Davina – So good
    5. Erykah Badu – Next lifetime and Bag Lady
    6. Sade – Lovers Rock

    If you would like more or you would like me to send you some samples……email me

    Cheers…

  31. Babyface is the best… as a musician, songwriter, producer… some of the artists listed hits were written and produced by him… so for me he put so much into r&b regarding his solo and other artists careers

  32. Mkhululi,

    I know Feist, Erykah Badu (love Bag Lady), and my nickname is practically Sade because I always use her songs as my theme songs.

    As for my music, I usually feature artists I like on the blog in the music category so you can check those out and stay tuned for more.

    Lwazi,

    I agree. Babyface was integral to ’90s R&B, without a doubt.

  33. OMG absolutely agree with your list. A few others to add are (excuse me if they don’t fall into the 90s):
    - Az Yet
    - Tamia
    - 3T
    - 702
    - Kai
    - Brian McKnight
    - Drop N Harmony
    - Ashanti
    - Honeyz
    - Joe

  34. I quite agree with this list especially the ladies mentioned, yeah they really did rock the 90′s.

  35. Let me share with you about this. I am currently listening to this genre that you are talking about. SWV, Brownstone with their Kiss and tell, Changing Faces on G.h.e.t.t.o.u.t., Aaliyah, and Coko. I also like kwaito. Erykah Badu with her on and on. i like it also.

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