When the nineties rolled round, R&B was still drowning in a sea of lightweight, formulaic bullshit. For the disillusioned the UK’s ultra-cool, acid jazz movement offered a funky alternative but as America dismissed all British based black music as inferior, R&B’s dilemma remained; how to sell records and uphold black values of being successful whilst retaining that all important authenticity. Ironically, with pop and rock on the slide, a decade after Thriller R&B found itself dominating the mainstream. And yet, propagated by hip hops stark realism, there was a growing feeling within the ghettos that R&B artists had become so absorbed with aspirations of success they had abandoned their black fans and disowned their roots. 


Bronx raised, gospel choir star Mary J Blige offered one solution when she emerged as the female singer of her generation. Pioneering a new black and proud, hip hop soul hybrid, she was true ghetto fabulous; a tough chick from the streets mining the darker aspects of nineties living by speaking of the trials and tribulations of a black America ravaged by depression, abuse, HIV and Aids, gang violence and crack epidemics. Yet somehow she was still able to display the pain and vulnerability beneath her street sass and hyper sexuality to confound the stereotypical image of black, urban femininity.


Mary J. Blige took ghetto fabulous to the mainstream where it transcended all notions of authenticity and black aspiration. In a new climate demanding legitimacy, she hijacked pure hip hop to pull R&B away from its sappy, bittersweet past although she was still very much the exception. Sure there was Teddy Riley finally getting it right with ‘No Diggity’ and Aaliyah’s ‘One In A Million’ stripping away everything but the futuristic beats, yet for all the changing production paradigms, narcissism and naked greed prevailed like a cancer rotting from within.


In such a miserable climate, D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar, The Fugees The Score and The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill came as nothing short of complete revelations when they appeared championing soul’s ability to communicate more complex ideas. Looking back to gospel, vintage soul and old skool hip hop, they were the most influential albums of the era and were soon followed by a host of records navigating the present and the future while reconnecting with the past.


Neo-Soul presented one obvious connection with classic soul and funk. Originally little more than a clever record company marketing tool for D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, it covered a whole host of predominantly female artists. Despite the crazy hair-do’s, vintage threads, appropriated sounds and early seventies mannerisms and styles, at the very least it was an honest update of soul, if not the revolution it often claimed to be.


Hip hop gradually started to change too when Missy Elliott and Outkast built R&B into their sonic architecture while even manufactured femme funk like TLC began to provide their own retro-nuevo revelations, ‘No Scrubs’ broadening the landscape of concern for a mainstream audience with a wealth of information about the legacies of slavery, economic alienation and emasculation. But the group who would ultimately come to epitomise new millennium black music more than any other were Destiny’s Child. Appearing out of nowhere with their bottomless resources, great looks and adolescent sass, the real star of the show was Beyonce. Worshipped as the epitome of the strong, independent woman, in the 21st century there would be no stopping her.


01 YOUNG DISCIPLES ‘Get Yourself Together’ [12” Mix] (A Side September 1990)

02 PRINCE & THE NEW POWER GENERATION ‘Money Don’t Matter 2 Night’ (Diamonds And Pearls LP November 1991)

03 EN VOGUE ‘My Lovin (You’re Never Gonna Get It)’ (A Side March 1992)

04 SWV ‘I’m So Into You’ [Allstars Drop Check Dance Mix] (B Side March 1993)

05 MARY J. BLIGE ‘You Bring Me Joy’ (My Life LP November 1994)

06 ADINA HOWARD ‘Freak Like Me’ (A Side January 1995)

07 D’ANGELO ‘Brown Sugar’ (Brown Sugar LP July 1995)

08 FUGEES ‘Killing Me Softly’ (The Score LP February 1996)

09 AALIYAH ‘One In A Million’ (One In A Million LP August 1996)

10 BLACKSTREET ‘No Diggity’ (Another Level LP August 1996)

11 ERYKAH BADU ‘On And On’ (Baduizm LP March 1997)

12 MISSY ELLIOTT FEAT. DA BRAT ‘Sock It To Me’ (Supa Dupa Fly LP July 1997)

13 BRANDY & MONICA ‘The Boy Is Mine’ (A Side May 1998)

14 LAURYN HILL ‘Every Ghetto, Every City’ (The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill LP September 1998)

15 OUTKAST ‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’ (Aquemini LP September 1998)

16 TLC ‘No Scrubs’ (Fanmail LP February 1999)

17 DESTINYS CHILD ‘Bills Bills Bills’ (A Side June 1999)

18 ANGIE STONE ‘Love Junkie’ (Black Diamond LP September 1999)

19 KELIS ‘Caught Out There’ (Kaleidoscope LP October 1999)