This feature was originally published in 2012.
The R&B of the '90s is all around us, and not just in the form of nostalgia-tapping playlists, but in the music of today. Last year alone, it was everywhere, from a discreet sliver of Ginuwine and Timbaland’s magnificent grinding anthem “Pony” on Drake’s “Fake Love” to a portion of TLC’s “No Scrubs” for Ed Sheeran's diet dancehall “Shape of You.” Bruno Mars' 24K Magic borrows heavily from the heyday of Teddy Riley and DeVante Swing—that album’s “That’s What I Like” was a Top 10 hit last year.
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 an insanely fertile and formative chapter of black music, one that yielded classic albums and singles, and expanded the framework of pop songwriting and production (and thus, the entries on the Billboard Hot 100), thanks to the next-level genius of artists like Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill, Boyz II Men, and Chucky Thompson. The era deserves its accolades; it is some of the best American music ever. To wit, these are the best '90s R&B songs.