R&B seems on a slight downspiral this decade. The music is less inspired, the soul seems less existent and the content seems bogged down with who cheated on whom and who did whom wrong, but there are still artists out there who deliver albums based on honesty and talent. These artists have brought us clarity in muddled times when the line between R&B and hip-hop is at its thinnest.
This top ten is based on quality, influence on the R&B movement and mainstream music and the extent of its connection with the public.
Best R&B Albums of the decade:
10) Usher – Confessions (Mar 23, 2004)
With fresh and fierce new competition vying for his spot on the charts, Usher went back into the studio and crafted his most successful album to date. Confessions perfects his formula on this album; â€œBurnâ€ works better than â€œU got it Badâ€ did on his previous album 8701, and Confessions Part II, though not as catchy, is still more successful at making girls swoon over his infidelity than â€œYou make me Wannaâ€ was in ’97. Confessions shows maturity from the two albums prior and became a global phenomenon in 2004 with 3 consecutive #1 singles, cementing Usherâ€™s place at the top of his genre.
9) R. Kelly – TP2.com (2000)
This served as his last album before controversy took over his career, an intentional throwback to the days when R. Kelly sang about making love and not material gain. The descendent of what most believe to be his best work, the patchy 12 Play, TP2.com doesn’t disappoint and in many ways surpasses its predecessor in overall quality.
8) Aaliyah â€“ Aaliyah (July 17, 2001)
On her third album, Aaliyah stepped away from the sure success she had with Missy and Timbaland on her break-out album One In A Million and worked mostly with Static, from former R&B group Playa, who co-wrote 10 of the songs on the album. This album stands on the strength of the superb contextual tracks that could never work as singles.
7) Brandy – Full Moon (Mar 5, 2002)
Her albums aren’t selling three million copies anymore, but make no mistake, her music is better than ever. Brandy and producer Rodney Jerkins came out with an edgier, more mature sound on Full Moon that polarized her sizeable fan base.
The two collaborated in writing material for this album–something Afrodisia suffered from–and came up with a modern-day masterpiece with this album.
The beats may be overly repetitive in places, but the album has a definite flow and is high on both quality and quantityâ€”a justifiable fan favorite since it came out in 2002.
6) Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (Nov 21, 2000)
Her first album, Baduizm, almost single-handedly brought Neo-Soul to the mainstream in ’97. Years later, with an influx of similar sounding artists that threatened to water down or usurp the movement, it was time for Badu to follow up her debut and redefine the genre. Mama’s Gun infuses old soul with new and adds in some funk for good measure. While it didn’t do as well commercially as Baduizm, the new album showed the critics that she was here to change the game, rather than simply play it.
5) Alicia Keys – Diary Of Alicia Keys (Dec 2, 2003)
After being vaulted into the stratosphere with Songs in A Minor, the pressure was on to equal the success with her sophomore album. The Diary Of Alicia Keys more than equals her debut. Gone are the patchy album tracks and in their place we get proof that Alicia was worthy of all the hype she received.
4) John Legend – Get Lifted (Dec 28, 2004)
John Legend started out as a choir director, moved on to singing back up on Kanye West-produced tracks, then to his own recording contract and album. Get Lifted benefits from Kanyeâ€™s production but it’s Legend who truly shines, channeling such greats as Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield. Time will tell if he lives up to his name, but for now, he’s deserving of his Grammy Awards and accolades.
3) Mary J Blige – The Breakthrough (Dec 20, 2005)
You can’t call it a comeback, but after her last album, Love & Life, faltered both commercially and critically under dated production from P. Diddy, Mary definitely put herself firmly back on top. This album not only states the long-known obvious, that Mary is a queen, but also celebrates it. The breakthrough is her jubilee in a long and royal career and boasts her best collection of songs since the urban classic My Life from ’94. Sadly, the album might not be as well remembered for lack of proper promotion and catchy singles. Time will tell.
2) Jill Scott – Beautifully Human (Aug 31, 2004)
After letting the world know who Jill Scott was on her first album, the time came to demonstrate what Jill Scott could do. Every word on Beautifully Human is delivered impeccably, down to the syllable. This album shows us different aspects of Scottâ€™s life, from love of her man, to love of herself, to regret and from there to acceptance of her mistakesâ€”the amalgamation of her feelings and experiences. Far better than her first and easier to listen to, this album merely lacked the album-selling single to set flying off the shelves as A Long Walk had years earlier. The name alone of Jill Scott speaks volumes on quality, but neither then, nor now, does it sell volumes in quantity.
1) India Arie – Acoustic Soul (Mar 27, 2001)
This collection not only introduced India Arie to the scene, but also boasts some of the best music Motown has ever had to offer. Taking cues and inspiration from greats such as Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, this album blends the old with the new seamlessly and served to introduce a long overdue sense of positive feminism in music.
Seven grammy nominations, including best album, Acoustic Soul showed the world that Motown still has what it takes in modern music.