Essential '90s R&B & Soul Albums

The decade's best of the best

Back in the 1990s - particularly the early-to-mid-'90s - R&B ruled the charts, and it was during this time that some of the best soul and R&B music was released since the '70s. For a few short years there was an R&B renaissance that resulted in many prolific, eclectic acts arriving on the scene, including Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, D'Angelo and Jodeci. With that in mind, this guide includes the essential R&B and soul albums of the 1990s, including iconic releases by Maxwell, Lauryn Hill, R. Kelly and more.

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The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) - Lauryn Hill

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Columbia Records

This album is the cream of the crop, the standard-bearer, the measuring stick that all albums of its era should be judged by. It is to the '90s what Alicia Keys' Songs in A Minor was to the '00s.

Track List:

  1. Intro
  2. Lost Ones
  3. Ex-Factor
  4. To Zion
  5. Doo Wop (That Thing)
  6. Superstar
  7. Final Hour
  8. When It Hurts So Bad
  9. I Used to Love Him
  10. Forgive Them Father
  11. Every Ghetto, Every City
  12. Nothing Even Matters
  13. Everything Is Everything
  14. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
  15. Can't Take My Eyes Off of You
  16. Tell Him (Live)
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R. (1998) - R. Kelly

R. Kelly - R.
R. Kelly - R. Jive

Though his past is speckled with several controversies, R. Kelly remains a musical genius. R. is a testimony of the artist's raw talent. There are almost no duds on this album, even though there are a whopping 29 tracks between the two discs.

Disc 1 Track List:

  1. Home Alone (feat. Keith Murray)
  2. Spendin' Money
  3. If I'm Wit You
  4. Half On a Baby
  5. When a Woman's Fed Up
  6. Get Up On a Room
  7. One Man
  8. We Ride
  9. The Opera
  10. The Interview (feat. Suzanne LeMignot)
  11. Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy
  12. Don't Put Me Out
  13. Suicide
  14. Etcetera
  15. If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time
  16. What I Feel / Issues

Disc 2 Track List:

  1. The Chase
  2. V.I.P.
  3. Did You Ever Think
  4. Dollar Bill
  5. Reality
  6. 2nd Kelly
  7. Ghetto Queen (Crucial Conflict)
  8. Down Low Double Life
  9. Looking for Love
  10. Dancing With a Rich Man
  11. I'm Your Angel (Duet)
  12. Money Makes the World Go Round
  13. I Believe I Can Fly
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Share My World (1997) - Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige - Share My World
Mary J. Blige - Share My World. MCA

Mary J. Blige is another artist from whom it's difficult to chose a best '90s album of hers, but Share My World can be considered first among equals, as far as her albums go. Still, Mary's other '90s albums, Mary (1999), My Life (1994) and What's the 411? (1992) are all worthwhile in their own right.

Track List:

  1. Intro
  2. I Can Love You (feat. Lil' Kim)
  3. Love Is All We Need (feat. Nas)
  4. Round and Round
  5. Share My World (Interlude)
  6. Share My World
  7. Seven Days (feat. George Benson)
  8. It's On (feat. R. Kelly)
  9. Thank You Lord (Interlude)
  10. Missing You (feat. The Lox)
  11. Everything
  12. Keep Your Head
  13. Can't Get You Off My Mind
  14. Get To Know You Better
  15. Searching (feat. Roy Ayers)
  16. Our Love
  17. Not Gon' Cry
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Brown Sugar (1995) - D'Angelo

D'Angelo - Brown Sugar
D'Angelo - Brown Sugar. EMI

The opening title track in and of itself makes the whole album worth the purchase, but there's plenty of other good music here too, particularly a version of "Cruisin'" that's even better than Smokey Robinson's original.

Track List:

  1. Brown Sugar
  2. Alright
  3. Jonz in My Bonz
  4. Me and Those Dreamin' Eyes of Mine
  5. Sh*T, Damn, Motherf*Cker
  6. Smooth
  7. Cruisin'
  8. When We Get By
  9. Lady
  10. Higher
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Baduizm (1997) - Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu - Baduizm
Erykah Badu - Baduizm. Universal

Erykah Badu seemingly appeared out of no where when she arrived on the scene in 1997 and blew up big time with her debut album, led by the single "On and On." Although she's still a relevant, creative artist to this day, nothing she's released since has equaled the overall quality of Baduizm.

Track List:

  1. Rim Shot (Intro)
  2. On and On
  3. Appletree
  4. Other Side of the Game
  5. Sometimes (Mix No. 9)
  6. Next Lifetime
  7. Afro (Freestyle Skit)
  8. Certainly
  9. 4 Leaf Clover
  10. No Love
  11. Drama
  12. Sometimes
  13. Certainly (Flipped It)
  14. Rim Shot (Outro)
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Forever My Lady (1991) - Jodeci

Jodeci - Forever My Lady
Jodeci - Forever My Lady. MCA

This album was considered near-perfect at the time of its release and even spawned three phenomenally successful hit singles: "Forever My Lady," "Come & Talk to Me" and "Stay."

Track List:

  1. Stay
  2. Come & Talk to me
  3. Forever My Lady
  4. I'm Still Waiting
  5. U and I
  6. Interlude (553 Nasty)
  7. My Phone
  8. Gotta Love
  9. Play Thang
  10. It's Alright
  11. Treat U
  12. X's We Share
  13. Cherish
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Cooleyhighharmony (1991) - Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men - Cooleyhighharmony
Boyz II Men - Cooleyhighharmony. Motown

Back before they sold out - er, make that matured - Boyz II Men was a fun-loving, freewheeling group of guys. This album is their only one that's chock full of the uptempo New Jack Swing that was popular at the time.

Disc 1 Track List:

  1. Please Don't Go
  2. Lonely Heart
  3. This Is My Heart
  4. Uhh Ahh
  5. It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday
  6. Motownphilly
  7. Under Pressure
  8. Sympin'
  9. Little Things
  10. Your Love
  11. End of the Road
  12. In the Still of the Nite (I'll Remember)
  13. Uhh Ahh (Sequel Version)
  14. Motownphilly (Remix Radio Edit)
  15. Sympin' (Remix Radio Edit)
  16. It's So Hard to Say Goodbye the Yesterday (Radio Version)
  17. Al Final del Camino (End of the Road, Spanish Version)

Disc 2 Track List:

  1. Just a Cover Up
  2. Can't Be Liked
  3. Motownphilly (12" Version)
  4. Motownphilly (12" Dub)
  5. Motownphilly (Quiet Storm Mix)
  6. Under Pressure (Groovy Remix)
  7. Under Pressure (Extended Remix)
  8. Sympin' (Remix)
  9. Sympin' (Remix Radio Edit Without Rap)
  10. Uhh Ahh (Remix)
  11. Uhh Ahh (Sequel Version with French Girl)
  12. Uhh Ahh (Sequel Version Acappella)
  13. It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday (Gospel Version with Dedication)
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Maxwell: MTV Unplugged (1997) - Maxwell

MTV Unplugged: Maxwell
MTV Unplugged: Maxwell. Columbia

This seven-song, 34-minute live EP, which was released a year after his debut album, is one of the best live R&B albums ever, and is perfect mood-setting music for the bedroom. Check out his cover versions of Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" and Nine Inch Nails' "Closer."

Track List:

  1. The Suite Urban Theme (The Hush)
  2. Mello: Sumthin (The Hush)
  3. The Lady Suite
  4. This Woman's Work
  5. Whenever Wherever Whatever
  6. Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)
  7. Gotta Get: Closer
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Long Time No See (1997) - Chico DeBarge

Chico Debarge - Long Time No See
Chico Debarge - Long Time No See. Kedar Entertainment

An underrated classic. Chico DeBarge had just been released from prison when he recorded this album, but instead of wildin' out, he became introspective. Long Time No See is sultry, soulful and simmering. Must-hear songs: "Iggin' Me," "No Guarantee" and his cover of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man."

Track List:

  1. Intro
  2. Love Still Good
  3. Iggin' Me
  4. Virgin
  5. No Guarantee
  6. Ms. Wonderful
  7. Was It Good
  8. Physical Train
  9. Trouble Man
  10. Love Jones
  11. Superman
  12. One Love
  13. Long Time No See
  14. No Guarantee (feat. Joe) [Remix Version]
  15. Outro
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Hits (1997) - Tony! Toni! Toné!

Tony Toni Tone - Hits
Tony Toni Tone - Hits. Mercury

This multi-platinum group is where R&B icon Raphael Saadiq got his start in the 1980s. Since all of the the group's albums were stellar, it's near-impossible to pick just one out of the pack. This greatest hits package is the way to go.

Track List:

  1. If I Had No Loot
  2. Boys and Girls (Remix)
  3. Annie May
  4. The Blues
  5. Don't Fall In Love
  6. Little Walter
  7. Thinking of You
  8. Anniversary (Radio Version)
  9. Feels Good
  10. Let's Get Down
  11. (Lay Your Head on My) Pillow
  12. It Never Rains (In Southern California)
  13. Baby Doll
  14. Whatever You Want
  15. My Ex-Girlfriend