Retrospective: Top 10 R&B Albums Of The New Jack Swing Era

By @TrueGodImmortal

The New Jack Swing Era was one of the greatest times in music history. From the mid 80's to early 90's, this era of music reigned supreme as artists from all walks of life brought R&B with a more hip hop influenced yet smooth sound. Today, I rank the top 10 albums from that era, and as a note, I'm only classifying albums from 1986-1993, as I believe that's the true era of this monumental time in music.


*After 7- After 7

-This group is one of the more underrated groups of this time period. The family of Babyface, After 7 would see their Babyface penned and produced tracks skyrocket to the charts and this album is gold. With two of my favorite songs from the group, "Ready Or Not" and "Can't Stop" being featured on this album, I consider this album an underrated classic. Though it's not as prominent as some of the other New Jack Swing Era releases, I'd say it was certainly better than a good amount and deserves an honorable mention ranking.

*Johnny Gill- Johnny Gill 

-This album was honestly the epitome of New Jack Swing. While the King of New Jack Swing was another New Edition member, you had to give it up for Johnny earning his keep as a solo artist. Babyface once again put the pen to work, crafting gems for Johnny, but none greater than his biggest single "My, My, My". The smooth and seductive song was a true New Jack classic, as is his upbeat and fast paced single "Rub You The Right Way", which likely inspired many dance floor routines. This was Johnny's crowning achievement as a solo artist without a doubt.

*New Jack City Soundtrack

-Though this isn't limited to just R&B, how could I leave this off the list entirely? It at least needs a honorable mention. Christopher Williams gave us one of the best New Jack Swing dance tracks with his classic "Dreamin" and the iconic hook remains a favorite. The entire soundtrack embodies the feel and sound of what New Jack represented and rightfully so.

*Guy- The Future 

-I personally think this album is just as good as their amazing debut, but this album just misses the list barely. Released in 1990, this album expands on the debut and featured hits like "Let's Chill", "Do Me Right", and various other solid tracks. The trio managed to avoid a sophomore slump, though this album admittedly took a slightly darker feel and tone than their previous project(apparently due to the firing of their manager who stole from them). A great listen regardless and one of the best albums of that era.

*Boomerang Soundtrack

-I love this soundtrack. It's my favorite soundtrack of all time and with good reason. This is New Jack Swing R&B at the end of the era, after the evolution and at its absolute best. Nothing misses on this soundtrack from the smooth sounds of "Give U My Heart" by Babyface and Toni Braxton, to the slow jam "There U Go" by Johnny Gill. Everything about this soundtrack is classic and it's not a shock that one of the main components behind it, like so many other projects during the era, was Babyface. Babyface will be seen even more, or at least referenced much more as this list continues.

TOP 10

10. Al B. Sure- In Effect Mode 

-A classic that in some ways made lightskin brothers back in style during that era (it was the natural wave then to have the whole lightskin/darkskin battle, showing how silly trends and fads can be). Regardless, Al came through with an album that's truly timeless and something he couldn't duplicate as his career would move forward. From the infectious and unstoppable lead single "Nitr and Day" to my personal favorite Al B. Sure track "Off On Your Own", this album has every element of what we loved about New Jack Swing and then some.

9. Keith Sweat- Make It Last Forever 

-You can't have a list about New Jack Swing without talking about one of the true forefathers of the genre as an artist, Keith Sweat. When we talk about the faces of New Jack, besides Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and of course Teddy Riley, Keith Sweat comes to mind(right next to New Edition). He was exactly what New Jack Swing was all about in a way. No, he wasn't the best singer, he didn't even seem like your normal superstar, but he carried a certain suave attitude along with the infectious music to boot to make himself prominent. From the title track to "I Want Her" to "Don't Stop Your Love", this album has everything. It's a great introduction to Keith Sweat and if you're unfamiliar with New Jack Swing, it's a great starting album.

8. Bell Biv Devoe- Poison 

-New Edition is the most vital element of New Jack Swing from an artist standpoint. They spawned the entire era and dominated it like no other. Where Babyface was the dominant writer and producer with L.A. Reid, New Edition was the most dominant force. As they branched off to do solo or other projects, Johnny, Ralph, and of course Bobby would do great, leaving the final three to come together and make a classic. Bell Biv Devoe and their Poison album was without a doubt one of the seminal new jack releases. The title track remains one of my favorite New Jack Era songs.

7. Babyface- Tender Lover

-When you speak of the New Jack Swing Era, the true architect of this is Babyface from songwriting to production to promotion to artistry. He is the face of the New Jack Swing Era. On this album, his 2nd solo album, he mastered the genre. "Whip Appeal" and "Soon As I Get Home" are two classic tracks and that's just scratching the surface on how amazing this album is. Babyface has many great projects, but nothing beats this album.

6. Boyz II Men- Cooleyhighharmony 

-Though I'm not THE biggest fan of this album, I think it's likely the best album and the most raw music from this group. The harmonies aligned perfectly on every track, something that the group became known for. My favorites here are "Uhh Ahh", "Please Don't Go", "End of the Road", and "Sympin". One of the most popular R&B albums ever in terms of sales, and allowed us to get a glimpse of the commercial dominance this group would go on to have through the 90's.

5. Guy- Guy 

-This is truly one of the greatest R&B albums I've ever listened to in its entirety, not just from the era, but in general. While Guy gets credited for their music as New Jack artists, they are pioneers overall and this album is where it all started. My favorite song from them is on this album, as the smooth sounds of "Piece of My Love" captured my attention from jump. "Round and Round", "Teddy's Jam", "Groove Me", "Goodbye Love", and "I Like" all set the tone for a classic album that deserves to be appreciated some 28 years later. It's one of the best of this era and if you had it in your top 3, I don't blame you at all.

4. Jodeci- Forever My Lady

-I've considered Jodeci the final chapter of the New Jack Swing Era, as they carried that distinct sound, and would be the last group of artists to really carry it. This album captured the essence of New Jack Swing, with slightly more hip hop sensibility. How could you argue against an album that has "Come And Talk to Me", "Stay", the title track, "I'm Still Waiting", "U&I", and so many other amazing songs? This is Jodeci at their absolute best and one of the greatest R&B albums of all time.

3. New Edition- Heartbreak 

-The greatest force in New Jack Swing released an album that would change everything for them. After Bobby Brown left the group and went solo, Johnny Gill stepped in and magic was born in this album. The underrated duo of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis take the wheel on this album, writing and producing nothing but classics on a project that would see a more mature and grown New Edition. It was the evolution of New Edition. Songs such as "Boys to Men", "If It Isn't Love", "Crucial", and of course "Can You Stand The Rain", I've always felt this album was the blueprint for many groups that would come in the years following. This might be the most important New Jack release.

2. Michael Jackson- Dangerous 

-I must admit. It was strange writing out this list and having Michael Jackson at no. 2. I mean Michael is always no. 1, isn't he? He is usually deservedly no. 1, but today he stands with the no. 2 album on this list, and to be fair, that's debatable also. If you have Dangerous in your top 5 or even just top 10 and NOT top 3, I can respect it. That's a testament to how great the era was. However, Michael and Teddy Riley create a different sound and feel for New Jack Swing, and songs like "Give In To Me", "In The Closet", "Who Is It", and "Black and White" test the limits of New Jack. On the flip side of that, "Jam", "Why You Wanna Trip On Me", the title track, "Cant Let Her Get Away", and of course, the epic "Remember The Time" all fit perfectly within the New Jack genre. It's a daringly balanced album and a great attempt from Michael to integrate into the coolest genre of R&B ever.

1. Bobby Brown- Don't Be Cruel 

-There are albums. There are moments. There are things that cannot be described. This is one of those. It's rare that an album from someone who isn't necessarily the best singer or necessarily an actual great dancer comes along and makes one of the greatest albums of all time, but crazier things have happened. If you go by decade, I'd give this album the distinction of not only being a top 3 R&B album of the 80's, I'd give it a top 5 album of the decade distinction period. Babyface and L.A. Reid were at work yet again, saving their best material for the man who departed from New Edition and didn't look back. My favorite tracks have to be "All Day All Night", "Every Little Step", "Roni", and "Rock Witcha", but the greatness of the album doesn't stop there. It is flawless. Every song is a hit in its own right, the cool demeanor and resolve that Bobby showcased in his delivery of every track is truly underrated. This album was the best selling album of 1989, and put Bobby and his Gumby fade on top of the world. Long live the King of New Jack Swing.

There was no easy way to go about this list. To be honest, there were many albums I wanted to include, but couldn't. For the albums that didn't make the list, from H-Town to Troop to TLC to many more, it is likely because they didn't embody the era of New Jack. The music may have been rooted in the New Jack essence, but unlike the albums listed, it wasn't as concise or cohesive. Disagree or see an album missing that you feel should be on here? Post your opinion in the comments below.



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