The Year In R&B: 1996

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal 
-1996 is one of the greatest years in hip hop. This is documented. So, what about R&B? Is it also a great year for the genre? Yes. It is. 1996 is a year that was great all around for music in general, and while the albums might not have been the pure classics, the songs were undeniable and immaculate. From the return of New Edition to the maturation of Aaliyah, all the way to the arrival of Ginuwine, the becoming of Maxwell, and the commercial success of Blackstreet, 1996 had everything we could want in R&B and then some. Let's get into the discussion.

R&B released in 1996 wasn't the best year for R&B, but it was definitely a good one. There were debuts from 112 who I first heard with BIG on "Only You", Dru Hill who made noise with "Tell Me", Donell Jones with "Knocks Me Off My Feet" and Ginuwine, who wowed the ladies with "Pony". Debuts also came from Kenny Lattimore, Anthony Hamilton, Maxwell, Eric Benet and 702. Blackstreet had their biggest hit to date with "No Diggity". Toni Braxton hit us with her worldwide smash hit "Un-Break My Heart" and New Edition was back after a 8 year hiatus.

There were some great songs from movie soundtracks also during this year, such as:
*K-Ci & Jojo - How Could You (Bullet Proof)
*H-Town - A Thin Line Between Love & Hate (Self Titled)
*Mary J. Blige - Not Gon Cry (Waiting to Exhale)
*Whitney Houston - Shoop Shoop (Waiting to Exhale)
*R. Kelly - I Believe I Can Fly (Space Jam)
*Az Yet - Last Night (The Nutty Professor)

Here are some of my favorite songs from that year also:
*Mint Condition - What Kind of Man Would I Be
*Total - Kissing You
*702 featuring Missy - Steelo (I had a crush on the little light skinny one)
*112- Cupid (Their best song ever imo and one of the best R&B songs overall)
-Keith Sweat featuring Athena Cage- Nobody (I always felt like she was singing her part to me)
-Dru Hill- 5 Steps (Love this song. I used to butcher this trying to hit them notes)
*SWV- You're The One (Their harmonizing is beautiful and Coko's voice is amazing)
*Whitney Houston- I Believe In You and Me (Most beautiful voice ever)
*Aaliyah- 4 Page Letter (Girls really used to give their crushes in school 4 page letters, sometimes front and back, wow)
*New Edition - I'm Still In Love With You.
*The Fugees - Killing Me Softly
*Case featuring. Foxy Brown- Touch Me Tease Me

I wasn't really in love with full albums this year, but I definitely loved a lot of songs that came out. You could easily make a playlist of classics from this time.

There aren’t many years that were very good musically, but 1996 was exactly that. It seemed like every artist in every genre was putting out albums and songs that would not only be great, but would be regarded as classics almost instantly. R&B was definitely among that list, in fact, ’96 in my opinion was the precursor to all the other years I loved so much, as it set the standard and laid the foundation of so many future albums/projects. I won’t even begin to scratch the surface of my favorites this year, but let me take you through the few albums that stood out.

I have to start this list off with The Fugees. This is the year to thank for “The Score” album, which DAR has covered in depth, but it always deserves a mention. It was this album that served as a catalyst for the solo careers of both Lauryn Hill and Wyclef and the last studio album we would get from the group. They gave us a 13 track masterpiece filled with velvety smooth vocals, phenomenal chemistry and a nearly perfect mix of slow jams and hip hop infusion. From “How Many Mics” to “Ready Or Not” to “Fugee-La” and “Killing Me Softly”, The Fugees truly gave us classic after classic track on this album and showcased their talents vocally and lyrically. Lauryn Hill, Wyclef and Pras gave us the best of themselves and kicked off the year perfectly.

If you ask me who IS R&B, I would say Babyface and sure enough this year he gave us his highly acclaimed album “The Day”. This is my most favorite in his catalog. Each track is better than the next and each one of them pulls on the heart strings in a different way. Babyface has always been known to capture the essence of love and relationships, but on this album he addresses other issues. He teams up with Stevie Wonder in “How Come, How Long” to shed light on physical abuse against women, the title track which is dedicated to his wife for giving birth to their son and of course the typical Babyface love anthems like “Everytime I Close My Eyes”, “Seven Seas” and “This Is For The Lover In You” captivated our hearts. He even manages to incorporate some hip hop in there to make it an all around great listen. This was another gem to add in the genre.

Miss Aaliyah gives us her sophomore project and my favorite in her catalog as ’96 was the year of “One In A Million” and with this, she affirms her rank as one of the greatest. With an array of producers and a couple features including Slick Rick and Treach, Aaliyah takes a more mature approach to her content. “If Your Girl Only Knew”, “One In A Million” and “Choosey Lover” along with “4 Page Letter” and “The One I Gave My Heart To” are obvious favorites, but the greatest would be in “Got To Give It Up” which is a cover of Marvin Gaye’s song, features Slick Rick’s rapping AND has a sample of MJ’s “Billie Jean". If you ever doubted the talent of Aaliyah, this album should prove otherwise. She was a R&B powerhouse and R&B was better having her additions until her untimely passing.

The last release I’ll mention is the soundtrack from the movie “Set It Off”. I really liked the film so it comes as no surprise that the soundtrack was amongst the highlights (for me) with En Vogue, Seal, Brandy, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and Tamia amongst others that made this a great compilation and each of these tracks would add to the existing list of classics this year. “Don’t Let Go” is of course the best on here, but the others are not far behind and gained a ton of radio airplay and commercial success.

As I said, 1996 was a very solid year so the releases didn’t stop there. Blackstreet released “Another Level” and had the entire continent singing “No Diggity”, while a little later in the year, we would be introduced to the smooth, sultry and extremely provocative music of Ginuwine with his debut "Ginuwine..The Bachelor" and that's still only naming a few. 1996 was a great year for the genre overall and each one of these are true classics.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal 
-My favorite album of 1996 was Maxwell with his Urban Hang Suite classic. The entire album plays like a true to life classic, as Max weaves through each production with a true ease, and songs like "Welcome", "Suitelady", "Til the Cops Come Knockin", and others set the tone for those trying to get "in the mood". I also enjoyed the Toni Braxton album "Secrets", though not as much as her first, it was still a solid album that sold very well. Donell Jones hit big with the very enjoyable album "My Heart", and his version of "Knocks Me Off My Feet" is almost better than Stevie's. Tony! Toni! Tone! released their final album as a group, Mint Condition gave us a gem, 702 entered the realm of R&B, Case gave us his self titled project, AZ Yet delivered a self titled album, Babyface gave us his usual brand of love music, SWV searched for a "New Beginning", Keith Sweat came back in a major way thanks to "Twisted" and "Nobody" off his self titled album, Ginuwine's debut birthed the legendary "Pony" track, and who could forget Blackstreet going to "Another Level" with the success of "No Diggity". Aaliyah would hit new commercial heights and Dru Hill would release their certified classic debut album as well. I loved all the music from the year in the genre, but my personal favorite song from the year that's slightly slept on? Mista's "Blackberry Molasses". It's honestly one of the most underrated R&B tracks of the 90s and one of my absolute favorite songs ever. Other underrated acts from 1996 like Eric Benet (who released his debut), Horace Brown and Gina Thompson (known for her dope "The Things You Do" single) came with it the year as well, showing that R&B had fire power from all spectrums and corners. 1996 isn't the greatest year ever in R&B, but considering it brought us the debuts of Dru Hill, Maxwell, Donell Jones, Ginuwine, Eric Benet, and more.... it might be the greatest year ever for R&B debuts. And that is something to be proud of on the year.



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