The R&B of the 1990s is all around us. And not just in the form of nostalgia-tapping playlists but in the music on the Billboard Hot 100. You can hear a discreet sliver of Ginuwine and Timbaland’s magnificent grinding anthem “Pony” on Drake’s “Fake Love,” and Ed Sheeran appropriated a portion of TLC’s “No Scrubs” for his diet dancehall “Shape of You.” Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic borrows heavily from the heyday of Teddy Riley and DeVante Swing—that album’s single “That’s What I Like” is a Top 10 hit right now.
For the fans who can recall Changing Faces album cuts and name each member of Subway, this is a vindication. It’s an enshrining of a insanely fertile and formative chapter of black music, one that yielded classic albums and singles, and expanded the framework of pop songwriting and production, thanks to the next-level genius of artists like Missy Elliott and Chucky Thompson. The era deserves its accolades; it is some of the best American music ever. To wit, these are the 50 best R&B songs of the ‘90s.