Top 25 R&B Albums Of The Past 20 Years
R&B has taken many forms over the last couple of decades and has morphed into a sound entirely different to it’s origin. Today we celebrate the genre in it’s entirety, compiling all the albums that have great significance to us and have helped contribute to it’s vast development over the years. From newcomers who have emerged, breaking the ideals of traditional R&B, leading it into new directions. To the Legends among them who have embraced the generational shifts in music and have encouraged our creativity, while calling on listeners to join them on their refreshing and vibrant new paths. Further more, we pay homage to the trove of treasures buried within this genre’s colourful past. Excavating through its rich soils compromised of timeless classics, that are still highly appreciated and are constantly influencing the music we consume today. The order of this list is judged by 4 categories; Accolades, Critical Response, Sonic impact and Highlights.
Take a look at the official New Wave Magazine, top 25 albums from the last two decades with a more extensive background on our Top 5.
25. Ne-Yo - Because Of You
Accolades: Platitum Status (RIAA), #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, Grammy for Best Contemporary Album
Sonic Impact: High Replay Value for R&B lovers and a shining moment for one of the genre's best song writers
Highlights: Because Of You, Can We Chill
24. D'Angelo - Voodoo
Accolades: Platinum Status (RIAA), #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, Best RnB album Grammy Award
Critical Response: Voodoo received rave reviews from contemporary music critrics
Highlights: Devil's Pie, The Root
23. SZA - CTRL
Accolades: Platinum Status (RIAA), #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, The album was listed as the best album of 2017, 5 Grammy Nominations, over 2.3 billion streams worldwide.
Critical Reception: Ctrl received universal acclaim from music critics.
Sonic Impact: Unique in SZA's Vocal tones, song writing and concepts
Highlights: Love Galore, The Weekend, Go Gina
22. T-Pain - Rappa Ternt Sanga
Accolades: Gold Status (RIAA),
Critical Response: The album overall received positive reviews from music critics
Highlights: I'm Sprung, I'm In Luv (With A Stripper), Como Estas
21. Mariah Carey - Emancipation Of Mimi
Accolades: 6x Platinum, 10 Grammy Nominations, #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, 5 Billboard Music Awards
Critical Response: Generally positive reviews
Sonic Impact: The Emancipation of Mimi was Carey's strongest effort from the 2000s with majorly successful records
Highlights: It's Like That, Shake It Off, We Belong Together
20. Solange - A Seat At The Table
Accolades: Gold Status (RIAA), #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums
Critical Response: A Seat at the Table was met with widespread critical acclaim
Highlights: Cranes In The Sky, Don't Touch My Hair, F.U.B.U
19. Akon - Trouble
Accolades: Platinum Status (RIAA), #1 on Uk album Charts
Critical Response: A Seat at the Table was met with widespread critical acclaim
Sonic Impact: The album pioneered street R&B into the mainstream, making way for R&B artists with less romantically inspired images and lyricial content to gain attention
Highlights: Locked Up, Lonely, Ghetto
18.Rihanna - Anti
Accolades: 3x Platinum Status (RIAA), Favorite Soul/R&B Album at American Music Awards, 2 Grammy Nominations
Critical Response: Anti received generally positive reviews from critics.
Sonic Impact: Anti was a "rock-star" album and was noted as a "banner for heterogeneity in R&B"
Highlights: Needed Me, Desperado, Kiss It Better
17. Bryson Tiller - Trapsoul
Accolades: 2x Platinum Status (RIAA), Trapsoul was included in several year-end lists in 2015
Critical Response: Trapsoul received generally positive reviews from critics.
Sonic Impact: Trapsoul is an album that marked a new era of Hiphop/Trap inspired R&B
Highlights: Don't, Exchange, Been That Way
16. FKA Twigs - LP1
Accolades: 1 Grammy Nomination, Shortlisted for Mercury Prize
Critical Response: LP1 received widespread acclaim from music critics.
Sonic Impact: LP1 is a cohesive aesthetic that draws on modern R&B and electronic while also remaining inventive, Often seen as the best example of R&B/Electronic music
Highlights: 2 Weeks, Video Girl, Closer
15. Dvsn - Sept 5th
Critical Response: Sept. 5th received positive reviews from music critics.
Sonic Impact: Sept. 5th is recognised as a cult classic within new generation of R&B while keeping to the genre's roots as many others take influence from HipHop and other genres.
Highlights: Hallucination, Sept 5th, The Line, Try/Effortless
14. Mary J Blige - No More Drama
Accolades: 2x Platinum Status (RIAA), 2 Grammy Nominations,
Critical Response: No More Drama received generally positive reviews from critics.
Sonic Impact: A perfect example of heartfelt and gritty R&B
Highlights: No More Drama, Family Affair, Keep It Movin'
13. Alicia Keys - Diary Of Alicia Keys
Accolades: 4x Platinum Status (RIAA), 1 Grammy Award, 2 Soul Train Awards, #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums
Critical Response: The Diary of Alicia Keysreceived generally positive reviews from critics.
Sonic Impact: A key project in Neo-Soul and Contemporary R&B
Highlights: You Don't Know my Name, When You really love Someone, if I Ain't Got You
12. Chris Brown - FAME
Accolades: 2x Platinum Status (RIAA), 6 BET Award Nominations, 1 American Awards Nomination, 1 Soul Train Music Award, 1 Grammy Award, 1 Billboard Music Award, #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums
Critical Response: F.A.M.E. received mixed reviews from music critics
Sonic Impact: An impactful record in both the R&B and Pop worlds with effervescent slow jams and up-tempo tracks
Highlights: Deuces, No BS, All Back, She Ain't You
11. PARTYNEXTDOOR - PARTYNEXTDOOR
Critical Response: PARTYNEXTDOOR recieved widespread acclaim by music critics
Sonic Impact: A transcendent album in new age R&B and influencial in the sound of various artists in the genre today.
Highlight(s): Welcome To The Party, Break From Toronto, Wild B*tches, Wus Good/Curious
10. Trey Songz - Ready
Accolades: Platinum Status (RIAA),
Critical Response: Ready received mostly positive reviews from professional critics.
Sonic Impact: With various impactful songs that have stood the test of time Ready is recognised as a go to project in boudoir R&B.
Highlight(s): Neighbours Know My Name, I Invented Sex, Successful, Yo Side Of The Bed
9. Beyonce - Dangerously In Love
Accolades: 5x Platinum (RIAA), 5 Grammy Awards, #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums
Critical Response: Dangerously in Love received generally positive reviews from music critics.
Sonic Impact: A world renowned project for dance inspired R&B and Ballads
Highlight(s): Crazy In Love, Me Myself & I, Dangerously In Love, '03 Bonnie & Clyde
8. Destiny's Child - Survivor
Accolades: 4x Platinum (RIAA), 1 Soul Train Award, #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, 1 America Music Awards, 1 Teen Choice Awards
Critical Response: The album received generally positive reviews.
Sonic Impact: On of the pinnacles of group R&B albums.
Highlight(s): Survivor, Bootylicious, Emotion, Nasty Girl
7. Justin Timberlake - Justified
Accolades: 4x Platinum (RIAA), 6x Platinum (BP) 3 American Music Award Nominations, #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, 3 Grammy Awards, 3 EMA Awards, 1 BRIT Award
Critical Response: Justified received generally positive reviews from critics.
Sonic Impact: Justified pushed the boundaries on sonics in R&B/Pop with record that impacted music across the globe
Highlight(s): Senorita, Cry Me A River, Rock Your Body, Like I Love You
6. The Weeknd - Trilogy
Accolades: 3x Platinum (RIAA)
Critical Response: Trilogy was met with generally positive reviews.
Sonic Impact: Trilogy was a widely impactful project that still has infuence till this day, made up of a string of classic mixtapes, the album is a 30 track offering that sparked a new style in R&B instumentally and in lyrical content.
Highlights: High For This, Birds Pt 1, Montreal, The Morning, Rolling Stone
5. Usher - Confessions
Description: Confession, executively produced by music powerhouse Jermaine Dupri, is an iconic piece of work in the museum of R&B. By far Usher's most commercially successful project, confessions is an album that strategically and brilliantly communicated all sides of Usher as an artist and his potential to be a hitmaker as well as a respected performer and vocalist. With songs ranging from club records that have lasted almost 2 decades such as 'Yeah!' and 'Caught Up' to emotive vintage R&B sounds such as 'Burn' and 'Can You Handle It', Usher's capabilities were on show to a sold-out crowd and he executed the game plan to perfection. To create a masterful project like Confessions, it is no surprise that some of the best songwriters of this era were instrumental in its penmanship, creative minds such as Lil Jon, Bryan-Michael Cox, Just Blaze, Rich Harrison, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and Dre & Vidal were involved in one way or the other and all of them were on their A-game. This album's place at #5 on our list is well deserved for not only the generational songs it brought us but for the millions of people it inspired and millions more of which it was a big influence in their creation.
- Derrick Odafi
Accolades: Diamond Status (RIAA), #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, 3 Grammy Awards, 7 Soul Train Music Awards, 4 American Music Awards, 11 Billboard Awards,
Critical Response: Confessions was met with generally positive reviews.
Sonic Impact: Confessions is an album that is recognised for its atronomical hits along with executing a traditional R&B sound with game changing production
Highlights: Confessions Pt II, Yeah!, Burn, Bad Girl
4. Beyonce - I Am Sasha Fierce
Description: I AM…SASHA FIERCE, Beyoncé’s third solo studio album offers two compelling sides of herself which shows off her ability to produce Pop and R&B ditties, but still managing to be a sultry femme fatale in the process. I AM… goes into the psyche of Beyoncé, behind closed doors and away from the spotlight as she exhibits soulful, relatable ballads that have now become classics. And these tracks are still streamed today, 12 years later. Tracks such as ‘If I Were A Boy’ or ‘Halo’ come forward as heartfelt and charmingly vanilla whereas ‘Ava Maria’ shows off vocal boldness and retains her aptitude of producing melodies with flair. ‘SASHA FIERCE’ changes course into a bouncy and risqué side of Beyoncé that generated memorable hits such as ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’, ‘Video Phone’, ‘Diva’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’ which glow with production and is admirable for artistic credibility. - Shenead Poroosotum
Accolades: 3x Platinum (RIAA), 5x Platinum (BP) 1Soul Train Award, 1 American Music Award, #1 on Billboard 200, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, 7 Grammy Awards, 1 MOBO Award, 3 EMA Awards
Critical Response: I Am... Sasha Fiercereceived generally mixed reviews from critics
Sonic Impact: Multiple chart topping hits that showcase Beyonce's song making ability and her vocal range, further stamping her as the focal point of R&B in the modern era
Highlights: Single Ladies, Diva, Ego, If I Were A Boy, Halo, Video Phone
3. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
Description: Frank Ocean’s distinct, multidimensional, shapeshifting R&B we know him for today mostly stems from Frank’s stunning debut album and arguably his magnum opus - Channel Orange. The critically acclaimed 2012 album filled a vacant space in R&B in that period, at the time where R&B was going through a resurgence of a much more fast, electronic sound. Frank and all of the minds behind the project (such as Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt and Pharrell) stripped the sound much more back to its’ more natural roots. This was in some sense a return to the alternative R&B/neo soul sound with a modern twist - the beautiful electric guitars, spacey synthesizers and a somewhat lo-fi sound to tracks like ‘Sierra Leone’, ‘Lost’, ‘Thinkin’ About You’ and ‘Sweet Life’, really added a deep soul element reminiscent of Dwele or D’Angelo which wasn’t so common in early 2010’s R&B. He didn’t shy away from more electronic inspired tracks though, with the almost 10-minute masterpiece ‘Pyramids’ being synth driven from the start, with an incredible dance break but still maintaining a natural element, creating the perfect equilibrium. The album also stood out due to its’ incredible songwriting - referencing socioeconomic equalities in the USA, drug addiction (with inspiration from his upbringing) and perhaps his most renowned subject matter: love & sex. Love and sex were possibly the most key topics on this album in relation to Frank’s public status, after he came out as bisexual after rumours regarding his sexuality circling due to Channel Orange’s lyrical content. This allowed him to have even more appeal to the LGBT+ community and augment his fan base to a whole new plateau. Channel Orange’s perfect balance in all senses across this album really epitomise what R&B is all about and help revitalise the alternative, soul back into genre, inspiring a whole generation of musicians. - Levi Wilson
Accolades: Gold Platinum (RIAA), Platinum (BP) 1 Soul Train Award, 1 American Music Award, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, 1 Grammy Awards, 1 MOBO Award, 3 EMA Awards
Critical Response: Channel Orange is the third most acclaimed album of the 2010s and the 154th most acclaimed album in history.
Sonic Impact: Changed the format of song writing, song stucture and subject matter in Contemporary R&B
Highlights: Thinkin Bout You, Sierra Leon, Pink Matter, Bad Religion, Pyramids
2. Usher - 8701
Description: During the time 8071’s release, it was instantly hailed as a majorly transformative body-of-work. Today, 19 years later, it’s success has played a huge part in cementing it’s creator, as an internationally known name. The 15-track album is brimmed with timeless classics such as; U Remind Me, I Got It Bad, U don’t have to call and U-Turn. Delving into it’s context, 8701 arrived a lengthy four years after Usher’s sophomore project entitled, My Way - which was released at the age of 18. Upon listening it becomes apparent that the teenager in him, is no more. As a result, the musical objective of the album was to steer fans away from his previous project’s penchant for teen-pop sonics. Consequently, affirming his manhood, driving us down a more mature and sensual route, reflecting the man he had became. This can be heard on tracks like, Hottest Thing and U Don’t Have To Call. This coming-of-age declaration displays the profound growth shown by the artist; both in his vocals and lyricisms, evident in tracks like Can You Help Me and U Got It Bad, especially. In addition to this, the albums production evolves; allowing him to flow over impeccably executed instrumentals, thanks to the army of talented producers behind it, such as The Neptunes, She'kespere and Baby Face. - Rehana Harmony
Accolades: 4x Platinum (RIAA), 2x Platinum (BP) 1 Soul Train Award, 1 American Music Award, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, 2 Grammy Awards, 3 Billboard Music Awards, 1 BET Award
Critical Response: 8701 received generally positive reviews from music critics.
Sonic Impact: Multiple trancendent R&B songs that are regarded as some of the best the genre has ever seen, Usher showcased his hitmaking abilities and created an album regarded by many R&B lovers as masterpiece
Highlights: U Remind Me, U Got It Bad, U Don't Have To Call, How Do I Say
1. Aaliyah - Aaliyah
Description: This self-titled studio album was an R&B, neo-soul and experimental masterpiece, cited by many (including myself) as one of the greatest R&B albums of all time. The final project by Aaliyah illustrates different aspects of her personal and musical journey; Songs like 'More than a woman' and 'Rock the boat' marked the reintroduction of Aaliyah as a now-mature young adult both contextually and vocally. Meanwhile, songs like 'Never no more' depicting her endurance of abuse were much more emotionally intimate. Aaliyah's cool, effortless yet direct vocal deliverance on songs like ''We need a resolution', set it apart from other, more exuberant R&B albums at the time. - Thelma Khupe
Asides from Aaliyah's vocals, R&B mogul Static major's work writing the album plays an important part in its R&B eminence, as well as a futuristic approach to R&B production by Timberland and Missy Elliot.
Accolades: 2x Platinum (RIAA), Platinum (BP) 1 Soul Train Award, 1 American Music Award, #1 on Billboard R&B/HipHop Albums, 2 Grammy Awards, 3 Billboard Music Awards, 1 BET Award
Critical Response: Aaliyah was met with highly positive reviews from most critics.
Sonic Impact: cited it as the peak of R&B's golden age and the greatest example of Aaliyah's legacy and influence in pushing music forward socically. Regarded by many R&B artists as masterpiece
Highlights: We Need A Resolution, Rock the Boat, More Than A Woman
Listen to our spotify playlist with our special picks from all the projects listed, curated by Rehana Harmony