The ultimate ’90s R&B playlist: From D’Angelo to TLC

Running the gamut of emotions that fuelled R&B in the ’90s, The AU Review’s “Hip Hop and R&B Retrospective” playlist has turned away from 100 greatest songs by women in hip hop and turned attention to rap’s silkier, smoother cousin.

From Janet Jackson and SWV to Maxwell and 112; Brandy and Monica to Usher and Ginuwine, this nostalgia-heavy playlist was cut down from 200 songs to 136, helping you re-discover (and discover) some of the best R&B to come out of the 90’s.

As R&B moved out the funk of The Isley Brothers and Tony Toni Tone in the 80s, and started to blend closer with hip hop, the 90s bought things closer than ever to the pop charts, and set the stage for the unequivocal influence black culture and music has held over the mainstream ever since. From the club to the bedroom, there was absolutely no escape from the sound crafted during that seminal decade.

It was a time when Timbaland got to experiment with Ginuwine, setting him up to be the one to save Justin Timberlake from shallow pop stardom.

D’Angelo widened up that low-end and set his buttery soul loose, forming neo-soul along with Maxwell and Erykah Badu, sowing the seed for today’s crop like Frank Ocean, Miguel and The Weeknd.

Monica, Aaliyah and Brandy solidified themselves as the “it” girls of R&B, but Lauryn Hill quickly emerged as the queen off the back of just one solo album.

The members of New Edition would go on to new jack swing their way to solo success, followed closely by Blackstreet.

Meanwhile, Babyface, Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight found their sweet spot in ballads, while Dru Hill moved away from saccharine songwriting and started their to-this-day bickering as Sisqo closed the millennium singing about thongs.

We’ve done our best to segment some of the playlist by certain styles of R&B. The love songs, the sex songs, the party songs, the heartbreak songs – 90’s R&B may have been boxed into just few categories, but it just wouldn’t have been the same without a little formula.

There’s even one (very underrated) song by an Australian artist in there. Try find it.

Here are some of the highlights from the new playlist. And don’t forget to subscribe – we’ll be switching it completely with a new theme every month, focusing on either hip hop on R&B.

We’ve already done “hip hop – editor’s picks” and “women in hip hop”, now take a few weeks to get familiar with “Best of 90s R&B”. Next month we’ll take it straight down to the muddy 808s and lo-fi out-the-trunk funk of southern hip hop.

Note that, with exception of a Changing Faces and Aaliyah song, we have decided not to include R Kelly (at least his voice – it’s really damn hard to avoid his production) on this playlist.

Ms. Lauryn Hill | “Ex Factor”

D’Angelo | “Shit, Damn, Motherfucker”

Brandy | “Sittin’ Up In My Room”

Brownstone | “If You Love Me”

Ginuwine | “So Anxious”

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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