The Year In R&B: 1994

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-If there was one year that saw mega success for R&B, it would certainly have to be 1994. While every year seems successful albums for the genre, 1994 just might be the biggest year in general. Aside from a plethora of solid albums and good music, there were some follow up projects from a few big names that had sales go through the roof. For instance, the mega album from Boyz II Men titled II took over the world and the airwaves to the tune of about 12 million copies sold domestically, making them one of the most successful acts in the history of the genre.

Mary J. Blige is a vital part of 1994, as her classic My Life album hit and sold over 3 million copies, one of the highlights on the entire year as well. With tons of hits and her tales of love gone bad, Mary captivated an audience that related to her music. She wasn't the only woman who came with great music as the return of Anita Baker came with her album "Rhythm of Love", which garnered a platinum plaque as well, and we got to witness the debut of Aaliyah to the world over with her near classic "Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number" album. Brandy would see her debut receive acclaim and good sales as her self titled first album captivated audiences worldwide also. In addition to the solo female artists, groups like Jade, Changing Faces, and more definitely sparked the world with their music, but no group could really hit as hard as TLC with their CrazySexyCool album, which was their most successful album, becoming the highest selling album from a girl group ever. I mean, could 1994 get any bigger?

Depends on how you look at it. Usher debuted, Barry White returned, Blackstreet came with the fire, and Keith Sweat proved he still could make good music. 1994 had so many great memories, but I'll save my favorite memory and album for later in the outro. I'll give the floor over to the rest of the team now.

At the heart of the “Golden Era”, we find 1994. This was an incredible year for hip hop and R&B wasn’t far behind. It was the year that produced my most listened to songs and albums and cemented my love for the genre and became standard at which I rank other years (and is only rivaled by ’98). Let’s get to the albums that won me over…

I always say that any year that sees a release from Boyz II Men is going to be a fantastic year and I have yet to be proven wrong. Just 3 years after their debut the “Boyz” were back in the studio putting their vocal talents to work and sure enough by the time summer was coming to an end, they released “II”. There will never be enough words to describe this album. It is my R&B standard. I appreciate the tracklist in its entirety, they cleverly set up the album so it gets progressively slower and more emotional. They start off the album with their ode to fans in “Thank You” until we get to the worldwide love anthems of “I’ll Make Love To You” and “On Bended Knee”. It was also this album that gave us “Yesterday” which proved that these guys were good enough to do a cover from the Beatles and (dare I say this) make it sound better!! Their vocals are truly exceptional, their harmonization flawless and their songs are unmatched. Boyz II Men remain R&B legends and as much as I love their debut, it’s this one that assured us they would always deliver at the caliber of legends.

1994 was also the year The Queen Of Soul releases “My Life”. Now Mary J is my (second) favorite female vocalis of all time. Not only does she have the talent, passion and variation to earn her title, but what truly puts her above everyone else is her rawness and honesty in her music. “My Life” captures her battle with depression, drugs, alcohol and her abusive relationship. Although I personally haven’t had bouts with these struggles, many have and it's her real-life issues that make her very relatable. This album is heart wrenching and her pain is felt through each track which really play out like short stories. On the production side, we can either credit or blame Puffy for the hip hop infusion (much like on her debut). Personally for me, the production pales in comparison to the actual lyrics and content. If there’s one thing to know about Blige, it's that she will always give you something to feel and some sort of awareness and this is a perfect example. This would be the second project and only the beginning of the mark she would leave on hip hop, soul and R&B.

This year saw the debut of the genre's most loved and probably the greatest “breakthrough” artist, and I’m talking about the OG “baby girl” Aaliyah. She truly gifted us with “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number” and although the success of this album is attributed to R. Kelly’s involvement, the result is pure musical enjoyment for the ears. The singles are obviously the favorites here (“Back & Forth”, the title track and “Down With The Clique” amongst others), but that’s not to take away from any other part of it. Each track gives us Aaliyah’s incredible silky smooth voice perfectly intertwined with R.Kelly’s signature “new jack swing” sounds. This was such a highlight of the year and introduced the world to a highly loved and much appreciated addition to the genre. Since Aaliyah’s life was cut so short, I’m always grateful that she left pieces of herself in her music for future generations to enjoy.

As critical as the above releases were to shaping the “golden era” of R&B, I can’t end this without mentioning Prince and his two releases that also added to this. While there was much media coverage around Prince’s dispute with his record label at the time, the album has been said to be an “unintentional release”. The tracklist is short but in true Prince form, it is laced with the talent and vocals only he can provide. The same is said about his other release “The Black Album” although the songs were recorded a decade earlier and intended to be released under an entirely different context, we were still gifted with another project to add to his catalog and list of releases. Much like my other favorites, whenever Prince drops an album, it is undoubtedly a fantastic year.

R&B didn’t stop there, other artists also added to the lineup include Keith Sweat with “Get Up On It”, Brandy with her self titled debut, Zhane with their debut “Pronounced Jah-Nay” and of course the Christmas album that broke records everywhere Mariah Carey’s “Merry Christmas” , so there you have it, the list that made 1994 such a critical year for me and one that produced classic after classic. It’s when I reflect on years like this that I am reminded of how much talent and brilliance is embedded in this genre.

1994 had hits out the ass. There's no denying that. From a young Usher popping up on the scene to Aaliyah sticking around off of the strength of her debut, we got a lot of great music over those 52 weeks. I want to focus on one tape in particular, mainly because of my connection to it.

TLC's second CD was the one that made me a fan of the trio. I mean, I'd always liked them, but Crazysexycool made me a legit fan. It was a classic tape that encapsulated the era it was created in to the point that you could still play Red Light Special and say two things. One, you'd say that this sounds like vintage '90s R&B. Two, you'd say that it still fits into your "fuck her slow" playlist just as much as, say, Jeremih or Frank Ocean or someone.

As mentioned in my Left Eye retrospective on SOTB, Left Eye's contributions on CSC, especially her verse on "Waterfalls," made me tune into everything they did. I mean, it was impossible to deny/ignore "Waterfalls" back in 1994, when it was getting played everywhere and anywhere. But, aside from "Waterfalls," the album was stacked with classics that took you on a sonic adventure.

Outside of Crazysexycool, you had...well, you had a lot of music. I'm sure that the rest of the team will cover some of the other highlights of the year. So, I'm going to leave on this: "believe in yourself, the rest is up to me and you".

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-So... my favorite album on the year honestly? H-Town and their sophomore album Beggin' After Dark. Why? It was everything I loved about 90s R&B, and features some of my favorite songs like "One Night Gigolo", "Sex Bowl" (which is hilarious), "Emotions", and "Full Time", completing what I feel is a truly underrated classic album for the year. There are more releases to speak of from Immature, Mariah Carey's Christmas album, Zhane, Luther Vandross, I mean the year was truly stacked. 1994 might actually be the greatest year in R&B history. It is certainly a top 5 year in the genre, hands down.



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