We can all agree that the 90’s was a great era for Black music. Everything from hip-hop to R&B was running the charts and artists like R. Kelly, Aaliyah, Ginuwine, The Fugees, Lauryn Hill, Wu Tang Clan, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Brandy and more were at the top of their games and the top of the charts. These artists ruled before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were even heard of and they sold millions of copies apiece in their careers.
There were so many hit songs of the 90’s it’s hard to pin them down to one list. And we’re so sure you’ll let us know what we missed. But it’s Black Music Month, so we had to try. We looked at the biggest hits and hitmakers and we did a cross-section of uptempos and ballads and male and female artists with some hip-hop thrown in.
And STILL, it was tough to get down to ten. So don’t think of this as a definitive list – this is more a list representative of the best of Black music in an era that was defined by so many great choices. Read on and see if you agree or disagree with our list.
1. POISON (1990) Bell, Biv, Devoe
No matter where you are or what you’re doing as soon as you hear the beat and the intro “Spiderman and Freeze in full effect” you’re bound to start singing this Bell Biv Devoe 90’s classic. Fresh off their 80’s heyday as the least controversial members of New Edition (until we saw the BET biopic!) Michael Bivins, Ronnie Devoe and Ricky Bell decided to cook up this funky, hip-hop oriented track and it was a WIN, earning the trio a platinum single. Who doesn’t know that you just can’t trust a big butt and a smile?
2. ARE YOU THAT SOMEBODY (1998) Aaliyah
Teenage sensation Aaliyah was discovered by R. Kelly, who she later married in an illegal ceremony since she was just 15 at the time. She rebounded from that scandal with this huge hit, done for the Eddie Murphy Dr. Dolittle movie. Producer/writer Static Major and longtime collaborator Timbaland made the record which initially Static said Aaliyah wasn’t crazy about. But it became one of her biggest hits, getting “retired” from TRL and becoming one of the top 3 played videos on MTV in 1998. Sadly, both Static Major and Aaliyah would die both early and unexpectedly – Aaliyah in a 2001 plane crash and Static Major in 2008 of complications from myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder.
3. AINT NOTHING BUT A G THANG (1992) Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg
The Dre/Snoop track remains the quintessential 90’s West Coat hip hop song. Recorded for The Chronic, Dre’s debut CD, now viewed as a classic of the era, it was among one of the West Coast records that hit nationwide making even bigger stars of Snoop and Dre. It’s lazy, percolating beat taken from funk samples was part of Dre’s trademark West Coast sound.
4. ONE SWEET DAY (1995) Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men
Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men wrote and sang on this ode to lost loved ones, which became a Billboard record-setter spending 16 weeks at the number one spot. Boyz II Men is part of three of the longest running songs on the Billboard chart including this one. Since neither Carey nor BIIM, then at the peak of their careers, could make time for both a video and to record, the video and the recording were done at the same time, which is why the video is composed solely of studio footage. Though the song was nominated for several Grammys, it surprisingly didn’t win any.
5. PONY (1996) Ginuwine
The song used to sexy effect by Channing Tatum’s character in Magic Mike, the Timbaland/Static Major produced song “Pony” has enjoyed a renaissance lately. The hook is also used in Rihanna’s “Jump” from her 2012 release Unapologetic. This was Ginuwine’s debut single from his 1996 album Ginuwine…The Bachelor and one of his two #1 hits. The other was the 2001 song “Differences” which he wrote for his now ex-wife, Tonya who recorded as the rapper Solè.
6. REAL LOVE (1992) Mary J. Blige
The second single from Mary’s What The 411 debut release, the song was produced by Mark C. Rooney and Mark Morales of The Fat Boys. Biggie made one of is first appearances on the song’s remix. It samples early rap classics “Top Billin’” and “10% Diss,” and is one of the songs credited with combining R&B themes and singers with hip-hop beats, kicking off a whole new era in Black music.
7. WHIP APPEAL (1990) Babyface
The song was written by Babyface and Pebbles and was a radio staple throughout that year as Babyface racked up hits on his second solo release, Tender Lover. To date, that album is his highest charting release. Holly Robinson Peete briefly appears in the video.
8. I BELIEVE I CAN FLY (1996) R. Kelly
R. Kelly wrote this anthem for Space Jam the Michael Jordan movie. He said he heard the song in a dream that came to him complete with the cartoon characters in the movie. Though Kelly is well known for his risqué songs, this became a pop hit and is still considered his most inspirational anthem as well as his biggest hit to date.
9. NO DIGGITY (1996) BLACKstreet with Queen Pen and Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre, Queen Pen and BLACKstreet teamed up for this 90’s dance hit that went #1 in the U.S., sold almost 2 million singles and won a 1988 Grammy for Best R&B Performance for Duo or Group. Producer Teddy Riley says that neither Guy ,who he first offered the song to, nor Aaron Hall, who went solo, nor BLACKstreet liked the song. Riley says that’s why he’s singing the song’s first verse.
10. WATERFALLS (1995) TLC
TLC had been through a lot – relationship trauma, money woes and conflicts within the group. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was coming off burning down her NFL boyfriend Andre Rison’s house, and a host of family tragedy. The song, written by Lopes and Marquize Etheridge and produced by Organized Noize, reflected not just the group’s personal troubles, but included references to HIV and drug addiction.
It would become the group’s biggest hit, and the video, starring “Roc” star Ella Joyce, actor Bokeem Woodbine and rapper Shyeim, used technology that was groundbreaking at the time. Directed by F. Gary Gray, who went on to direct big-budget films, including the latest in the Fast and Furious franchise, its budget clocked in at $1 million.
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