The Year In R&B: 1998

We continue our series on R&B music with our newest entry on the year 1998. In some ways, if 1993 was the greatest year, then 1998 was the 2nd best. It could challenge 1993 for that top spot to be honest. Today, we look back at the year and everything the genre gave us. Let's get into it.

1998 saw the rise of Usher. Let's focus on Usher for a bit. Sure, My Way was going to be a small success anyway. It had Babyface and JD working on it. Plus, "You Make Me Wanna" was a good-to-great first single. But, when 1998 hit, we got "Nice and Slow," a song that'll still get panties wet when I play it (maybe that's because most the women I've talked to are big Usher fans, but whatever). The song was catchy, infectious, and made nine-year-old me want to grow up so I could do freaky things with my soon-to-be high school and college crushes (what? I was a very sexual being from a young age. Screw you). The song set Usher up for a plethora of hits and solidified his first of several top-ten albums.

Aside from Usher, we got new Dru Hill, new Destiny's Child (technically the first album, but whatever) and others. Can we talk Destiny's Child for a second, since Beyonce and Lemonade are still running the world like girls should. The album itself wasn't that great. It showcased each member's uniqueness and set them up for success. But, the album in itself wasn't as good as their later work to me. It was a bit too restricted and "sign of the times" for me at some points. When we got their next work, they blossomed. Here? They just started to bloom and plant roots.

1998 also saw Brandy and Monica sing-fighting over some two-timing assclown in "The Boy is Mine," a send-up/remake of the MJ/Paul McCartney song "The Girl is Mine." Replace the saccharin from the MJ song and replace it with a ton of girl power. That's pretty much "The Boy is Mine" in a nutshell. Plus, the opening of the track? It sets you up for some "ish is about to get real" vibes. It was a song that showed Brandy (and Monica) could get down and dirty, but still keep it clean.

Man! 1998 has a lot of hits, a lot of great moments. We got to see R. Kelly win Grammys for a song from a kid's movie. For real, though, you can't deny how cheesy and badass "I Believe I Can Fly" was. Badass in the sense that it was R&B Gospel mixed with some soul. Cheesy because, well, it was from Space Jam (a classic in its own right, sort of, but still). We also got to see Erykah Badu win a Grammy, which was totally deserved. Overall, 1998 was a great year for the R&B genre.

In every genre there’s always one year that stands out. One that gave the music industry the very best and truly dominated charts and radio airwaves... for R&B that year was 1998 and of course that’s what we get to talk about today. These albums made listening to the radio that much more enjoyable, and it  kept us pondering love and relationships. Like I said, this year was stacked and most of my favorite R&B songs (to this day) came from 1998, so in no particular order let's take a look at the albums that make up the R&B side of my music library.

It’s not possible to be a fan of the 90’s and not love 112! 1998 gave us their sophomore release “Room 112”. These guys captivated our hearts with their debut album (come on who doesn’t love Cupid) and came back with a bit of an edge. This album isn’t perfect, as it's packed with interludes and the tracklist is exhaustive, BUT the tracks that I did like carried the album and made it amazing. They continue with the momentum they had gained from their debut and kept the infusion of hip hop going. If you remember 1998, it was a huge year for Bad Boy and  the artists on the label were pumping out hit after hit so to see Lil Kim and Mase as features was a brilliant move. “Love Me” and “The Only One” were instant favorites and “Whatcha Gonna Do” featuring MJG was not far behind. I think there was a level of maturity that came with this album, as much as the debut was the fluffy aspects of love, this had a realer approach, and we hear the painful heartbreak side. It’s relatable, so no surprise that it was received so well. The only sad part is, 112’s debut album featured BIG and since this album was released shortly after his death, BIG's presence is truly missed but “Room 112” is still an incredible addition nevertheless.

Who could forget the “The Boy Is Mine” craze that swept the continent in ’98. Brandy and Monica collaborated on this song (that I believe was a single) and it did SO well that they both had the song appear on their albums the same year. This started a "beef" between these women that allegedly wasn't even there, as "there was no boy and no beef", they've been quoted saying. Brandy releases “Never Say Never” and Monica released “The Boy Is Mine” a month apart from each other. Now I’ve always been a fan of both of these ladies. I like Brandy’s raspy voice and the content of her songs have always stuck with me. She goes from slow and sappy to upbeat and fun and it never sounds lackluster. She’s a crowd pleaser so from her “Top Of The World” track with Mase to her cover of “Everything I Do I Do It For You”, she gave us a very solid album and one of the most relatable songs in history (“Have You Ever”) . Monica also gave us an equally dope album (if not better), and she’s different than Brandy in that her voice is soft and thin with an innocence that is magnetic. Conceptually her songs are what they should be, laced with love, emotion and very relatable. How could you not love “Angel Of Mine” or her cover of Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” with 112. Both of these ladies gave us amazing albums and a ton of drama. If we’re being was definitely their year.

R Kelly. No R&B list is complete without this guy...especially this year since he released “R” (the only double album by an R&B singer). Here’s what I love about this, R.Kelly has always managed to be a perfect balance of sappy emotional music, bump n grind and hip hop. His albums have always been received well but to me this is the best in his catalogue. He collaborated with Noreaga,  Jay, Keith Murray, Foxy, and Nas for the hip hop heads; he gave us “Home Alone” “We Ride” “Dollar Bill” “Money Makes The World Go Round” to keep things light and fun, then gave us the polar opposite with “I’m Your Angel” and “I Believe I Can Fly”. As much as he gets made fun of for his personal (and super weird) choices in life, when it comes to music, he’s brilliant. Another fantastic addition to the year.

Like I said, Bad Boy was on fire in the 90’s, that’s undeniable. Total released “Kima, Keisha & Pam” and what’s interesting about this is that both this album and “Room 112” were released on the same day, both from the same label, they are both sophomore projects AND they both have the same number of tracks. So much like it’s male counterpart release, the tracklist is exhaustive, but these ladies are fantastic, so no one is complaining. I appreciate Missy’s involvement in this as a writer, a featured MC and producer. Everything Missy touches is gold so when we hear “Trippin”, “Do Something” and “What About Us”, we’re not surprised at how dope they are. With this project, they still incorporate some hip hop flavor, but focus primarily on the true R&B side of things which is great. I love their vocals, I love their harmonization and their album theme is very fitting. I don’t love all the songs on this album, but the ones I enjoy make me love the whole thing. Again, another great release this year!

Another highlight of this year is Mya’s self-titled debut album. As much as I liked a couple of the songs upon its release, my appreciation for the entire album came later. The first single we would have heard from her was “It’s All About Me” feat Sisqo. IMO this was a very smart move because Dru Hill also had a release this year AND Sisqo had a solid following and a ton of popularity, so there was a lot of buzz from every angle. Mya definitely got noticed and gained her own fan base. What Mya brought to R&B was respectful, soft vocal talents and her image was that of innocence, charisma and an allure that appealed to both demographics of men and women. I also appreciate that she collaborated with rappers (“Movin’ On Remix” with Silk The Shocker and “Bye Bye” feat. Missy Elliott). The track list is short, sweet and to the point and she stays true to the genre. This was a much needed debut and once again a great addition to the year.

Last but certainly not least and easily my most favorite release of the year, the hybrid that fits in both the R&B and the Rap world equally....”The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill”. Her solo debut was highly anticipated and VERY well received with good reason. It’s an exceptional album with a conservative tracklist and every song is filled with emotion, insight, experience and a ton of overall talent. Lauryn Hill is the rapper to her ballads and her own vocalist to her hip hop tracks. If you doubted her talent when the Fugees were around, this album would prove that she is a powerhouse. I love each and every track on here so I won’t list them off, but the variation in the featured artists, like Santana, Mary J Blige and D’Angelo makes it incredibly engaging. She absolutely killed it with this release and secured herself as true genius. Her writing, singing and rap flow are all exceptional and balanced to make this a true gem.

It’s impossible to talk about every album that made this year so great but in addition to these ones, Maxwell, Keith Sweat, Dru Hill, Destiny’s Child, Tamia and Prince all dropped some gems as well. R&B, much like hip hop, has given us so much talent and so many relatable and emotionally driven songs that will always remind us of a first dance, a school crush, a new relationship or some other significant event in our lives. I’m always thankful to the ’90’s for giving us substance, quality and a standard that is unmatched.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-I loved this year. My favorite album of the year would be one that now holds a personal significance to me now that I'm friends with an original member of the group. As a child, I'd sing the lyrics and the verses to every Dru Hill song, proud of the hometown boys for making it so far and having success. I'd always been a fan of the group, but when they came out with Enter The Dru, for me, it was a wrap. That album is a classic in every sense of the word. From the hits like "Beauty" and "How Deep Is Your Love", to the lesser known but classics like "I'm Wondering" and "One Good Reason", Dru created a perfect album with more of an edge than their debut possessed. Being friends with Woody of the group now allows me to appreciate that moment in time in music and that album much much more. However, 1998 had so much more to it than just that.

Destiny's Child, Brandy, Monifah, Mya, Sparkle, Xscape, Faith Evans, Monica, Kelly Price, Deborah Cox, Total.... the ladies were on fire. Usher was burning up the charts with his singles, as his 1997 release My Way still dominated the charts in 1998. My favorite debut on the year came from Tyrese, and I think Tyrese has yet to put out an album that is better than his first self titled debut. With songs like "Lately" and "Sweet Lady", his smooth vocals certainly brought a sound that we weren't too familiar with before. It was a welcome change of pace. R. Kelly came through with his double album R., and then there's the Lauryn Hill album, which I think we've talked about recently so I'll spare too many details here, I'll just say Lauryn had the best overall album of the year (minus Aquemini) and showcased her ability and talents to the fullest. The Temptations even came back with their hit "Stay" off the album Phoenix Rising, which is a slept on project. Jesse Powell, Montell Jordan, Maxwell (Embrya is a classic), Chico Debarge, Kenny Lattimore, and a ton of other artists on the year kept R&B going. 1998 was full of hits, good music, and R&B at its finest. You got to love it.



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