DAR Music: The Greatest R&B Songwriters

By @TrueGodImmortal 

Many times in music, we tend to uplift the vocals, uplift the producers, but sometimes we neglect the person behind the words. Hip hop isn't notoriously known for songwriters per se (mostly because they prefer to stay hidden), but the other genres of music have birthed some of the best songwriters in history. From the Motown era all the way down to the current era we live in, songwriters have always been the most vital piece of music within R&B. The production will always be enjoyable, but what matters very much within R&B is the words. Your cadence and vocal delivery can make the difference, but it's the catchy rhythm behind those words that the songwriter captures that elevates a normal song or line. Songwriters have to tap into the production and the melody to really craft something special and that's what they usually end up doing. With a huge announcement on the Songwriters Hall of Fame coming recently, we wanted to look at the greatest songwriters in R&B history. These are the songwriters I feel are the true greatest.

*Lionel Richie 
(Top Songs: 
-The Commodores- Easy 
-Diana Ross- Endless Love
-The Temptations- Happy People)

-Though his songwriting catalog isn't as extensive as some of the names on this list, I'm starting the list off with one of the more prolific songwriters of our time. His name has been involved in a number of credits over the years, from the Diana Ross classics "Endless Love" and "Missing You", all the way down to the Temptations and their "Happy People" track. He also wrote a large amount of The Commodores' classics and his own songs and hit records, among others. He deserves a mention in this list, but admittedly, he wouldn't be as high up on the list as some of the other names if this was ranked (we don't rank often on here because greatness should be just appreciated).

*Ashford And Simpson 
(Top Songs:
-Diana Ross- Reach Out And Touch 
-Chaka Khan- I'm Every Woman 
-Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell- Your Precious Love)

-This dynamic duo had success as artists, performing their own songs, but they also seemed comfortable with crafting gems for other artists. Whether it was Ray Charles, The Supremes, Ben E. King, Gladys Knight and The Pips, or other great artists from this time period, Ashford and Simpson were something special behind the pen. Over 20 plus years, every song they crafted seemed to turn to gold and their knack for writing within the melody is second to none.

*Thom Bell 
(Top Songs: 
-The Stylistics- Betcha By Golly Wow
-The Spinners- Could It Be I'm Falling In Love
The Delfonics- Didn't I Blow Your Mind)

-In reality, just those three songs I listed would be enough to make you really understand the level of songwriting that Thom brought to the table. In the most soulful era of music, Thom was a go to ballad and hit maker. The Stylistics and their best songs come from his pen, and the same could be said for The Spinners and The Delfonics, along with others.

*Norman Whitfield 
(Top Songs:
-Rose Royce- I Wanna Get Next To You
-The Temptations- Just My Imagination 
-Edwin Starr- War)

-A large number of the hits we love and heard from The Temptations come from the genius of this man. Norman Whitfield was instrumental in the  success of Marvin Gaye (early on), The Temptations, Jimmy Ruffin, The Undisputed Truth, Edwin Starr, and Gladys Knight and The Pips. Alongside Barrett Strong, his writing partner, Norman crafted hit after hit with a knack for infectious melody and hooks. One of my all time favorite songs, the smooth Rose Royce classic "I Wanna Get Next To You" was written by Norman, and for that, he's got a spot on this list easily. He would toe the line between funk anthems and soulful ballads, which was vital to any songwriter in the Motown eras as things changed.

*Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis 
(Top Songs: 
-New Edition- Can You Stand The Rain 
-Cheryl Lynn- Encore
-Alexander O'Neal- Fake 
-Janet Jackson- Control)

-The legendary duo has been an important and vital part of music for decades, but they were the architects of the New Jack Swing era and kept their momentum going all the way through the 90s. After writing some classic songs and helping usher in a newer sound through Janet Jackson and her Control album, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis would really ascend to the next level for their work with the amazing group New Edition on the classic Heartbreak album. In addition to writing the epic "Can You Stand The Rain", they would also write the legendary "If It Isn't Love" and my personal favorite "You're Not My Kind Of Girl". They  also would write for Alexander O'Neal, Boyz II Men, The S.O.S. Band, Cheryl Lynn, and many more, earning their spot as two of the greatest songwriters of all time in any genre.

*Gamble And Huff
(Top Songs:
-The Intruders- Cowboys To Girls 
-The O'Jays- One Night Affair 
-Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes- If You Don't Know Me By Now 
-Billy Paul- Me And Mrs. Jones
-Lou Rawls- You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine)

-When we speak of iconic duos in music, there are very few who have made the impact that Gamble and Huff have. The production and writing duo crafted a sound of soul along with a writing style that turned the most smooth ballad into a hit or an anthem. From classics for a ton of artists like Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Jean Carn, Lou Rawls, Jerry Butler, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The O'Jays, and many more, Gamble and Huff controlled the sound of the era in many ways, and while there were many producers and writers during this era, I'd likely crown them as the best to do it during the late 60s and 70s.

*Michael Jackson
(Top Songs: 
-Blackstreet- Joy 
-USA For Africa- We Are The World 
-The Jacksons- This Place Hotel) 

-Let's be honest here: Michael Jackson is likely the greatest artist of our time in terms of appeal, pop sensibility, and importance. With two albums selling over 40 million worldwide, and 2 other albums sitting around the 30 million mark worldwide, Michael is a star like no other. He's also a brilliant songwriter. Whether assisting his family in writing via The Jacksons and their catalog, or writing a rare song for Blackstreet or Diana Ross, Michael excelled as a true songwriter. In addition to writing his own music, Michael gifted some great songs for others as well. He definitely deserves to be on the list.

(Top Songs:
-Vanity 6- Nasty Girl
-Tevin Campbell- Shhh 
-Chaka Khan- I Feel For You 
-The Time- Jungle Love)

-One of the greatest artists ever is also one of the greatest songwriters ever. Similar to how Michael Jackson was one of the greatest, Prince was a legend not only for his own songs, but the songs he crafted for others. Considering the versatility that Prince has as an artist, it should be no surprise he wrote songs like "Manic Monday" (for the Bangles), "Yo Mister" (for Patti Labelle), and more. His work with Vanity 6, The Time, Sheila E., and more is what we remember him for as a songwriter, but he has so much more musically in the stash as a songwriter, including some amazing songs written for Tevin Campbell. Prince is one of the most prolific writers of at least two generations.

*The Corporation
(Top Songs:
-The Jackson 5- ABC 
-The Jackson 5- The Love You Save
-Martha And The Vandellas- Bless You)

-Yes, you know we had to have this group of songwriters listed. Motown went through songwriters like toilet paper and the Corporation was set up to help change that, much like the other songwriters were enlisted for that task. This group of writers and producers banded together to craft what would become the majority of The Jackson 5's early catalog and though that's a limited amount of music in a way, the music was so iconic that it's impossible for me to sleep on this collection of songwriters.

*Curtis Mayfield 
(Top Songs:
-The Impressions- People Get Ready 
-The Staple Singers- Let's Do It Again
-Aretha Franklin- Something He Can Feel)

-One of my all time favorite artists ever, Curtis was one hell of a writer and producer. His work on his own albums is bar none, but I'm also very familiar with his work for other artists from The Impressions (his group) to The Staple Singers to Aretha Franklin to many more. Curtis had such a knack for straightforward lyrics and melody that any song he wrote was amazing.

*Rick James 
(Top Songs:
-The Temptations- Standing At The Top 
-Mary Jane Girls- All Night Long
-Teena Marie- Deja Vu)

-While it's hard to track down every single song that Rick has had a hand in, it's no denying that he's one of the best songwriters of the 80s. He was writing his own music, which was classic during this era, and also providing artists like The Temptations, Teena Marie (of course), and his group, the Mary Jane Girls with classic songs. Rick was an unstoppable force as an artist, but he was also unstoppable with the pen for himself and other artists.

*Narada Michael Walden 
(Top Songs: 
-Regina Belle- Baby Come To Me
-Whitney Houston- How Will I Know 
-Tevin Campbell- Tell Me What You Want Me To Do)

-One of the more underrated songwriters of our time, Narada Michael Walden has crafted so many classics in R&B history. From his work with Aretha Franklin to his dope pen work for Lisa Fischer ("How Can I Ease The Pain), he was able to keep the charts abuzz and the music flowing. He's certainly one of the greatest songwriters in the genre and his hits kept coming throughout the late 80s-early/mid 90s.

(Top Songs: 
-Beyonce- Single Ladies & 1+1
-J. Holiday- Suffocate & Bed 
-Rihanna- Hard & Do Ya Thang
-Justin Bieber- Baby
-Usher- Trading Places)

-The man born Terius Nash is one of the greatest songwriters of the modern era. He's got a knack for writing big ballads and anthems to empower women in a way, as well as songs that can lead to the bedroom. Whether his work with Rihanna, Usher, Beyonce, J. Holiday, or even Justin Bieber, his songwriting catalog is extensive and one of the best in the last 15 years, if not THE best.

(Top Songs: 
-The Four Tops- Baby I Need Your Lovin
-The Supremes- Stop In The Name of Love 
-The Isley Brothers- This Old Heart of Mine)

-This legendary trio was really responsible for the early Motown sound, and they made sure to stay busy putting the pen to paper for articles like The Miracles, The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Elgins, Marvin Gaye, and many more. They helped shape the sound in the 60s and for that, they deserve to be here on this list without question.

(Top Songs:
-Chris Brown- Take My Time 
-Marques Houston- Naked 
-Pleasure P- Under  
-Omarion- O)

-Another underrated artist/writer, Tank is one of those writers that can craft an infectious hook, a high energy joint for the radio, a ballad, and a sex song for the bedroom. His work with a number of artists from Chris Brown, Donell Jones, Dave Hollister, Monica, Jon B., Ginuwine, Fantasia, and more all earn him his spot on this list.

*R. Kelly 
(Top Songs:
-Michael Jackson- You Are Not Alone
-Hi-Five- Quality Time 
-Maxwell- Fortunate 
-Aaliyah- Back And Forth 
-Trey Songz- Grub On)

-One of the greatest artists of our time is also one of the greatest songwriters ever. In addition to writing his entire discography basically, R. Kelly has penned gems for numerous people over the years. Whether he wrote for Marques Houston, Changing Faces, Kelly Price, The Isley Brothers, Trey Songz, Ginuwine, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, and many others, Kelly is in the same realm of other legends like Smokey Robinson, Babyface, Prince, and Stevie Wonder as he is a legendary artist himself, but is also one of the greatest songwriters for others as well.

*Missy Elliott
(Top Songs:
Aaliyah- 4 Page Letter 
Monica- So Gone 
702- Steelo)

-Aside from the amazing songs she's written for herself, Missy has truly put the pen to paper for many of the artists we loved in the 90s and 2000s from the incomparable Aaliyah to the First Lady of Bad Boy Faith Evans, even the Tweet song "Call Me". Missy managed to keep her name in credits all over R&B during her heyday and that's the sign of a true legendary songwriter.

*Sean Garrett
(Top Songs:
-Kelis- Bossy 
-Beyonce- Diva 
-Fergie- London Bridge 
-Destiny's Child- Girl 
-Usher- Yeah!)

-Although he failed with his solo attempt at a music career, Sean Garrett would build a career writing hits and anthems for a number of women through the genre. Beyonce, Amerie, Kelly Rowland, Mary J. Blige, Kelis, and more all were gifted with a Sean Garrett penned gem, though his most prized possession would be writing the hit "Yeah" for Usher. That alone gave him clout as a songwriter and a hit that still lives on

(Top Songs 
-Rihanna- Take A Bow
-Beyonce- Irreplaceable
-Mario- Let Me Love You
-Keri Hilson- Knock You Down)

-One of the best songwriters of the 2000s, Ne-Yo has been earning his stripes with the pen for years. He was in the background for a while before he garnered a claim to fame as an artist himself, but his biggest songs have come from work with Rihanna, Beyonce, Marques Houston, Mario, Keri Hilson, Jennifer Hudson and more in the R&B genre. He has managed to carve a lane as a songwriter and is one of the most respected in this modern era.

*Smokey Robinson 
(Top Songs:
-The Temptations- My Girl 
-The Miracles- I Second That Emotion
-Mary Wells- My Guy)

-Smokey is a legend. We know that much. As a singer and artist, his rep is solidified, but as a songwriter, he was responsible for so many of the greatest Motown tracks. He has worked with The Marvelettes, The Temptations, Mary Wells, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Darin, and so many more. His heyday was during the 60s and 70s, but his legacy still continues on today and is vital.

(Top Songs:
-Tevin Campbell- Can We Talk
-Toni Braxton- 7 Whole Days 
-Bobby Brown- Roni & Every Little Step 
-Johnny Gill- My, My, My
-Boyz II Men- I'll Make Love To You)

-My personal pick for the greatest songwriter in music history. Babyface is honestly one of the biggest geniuses in music and his work over the years for countless artists is a testament to his true songwriting greatness.   His songs are rooted in love, sex, and heartbreak, and the list of artists he's written for is amazing. If I went through the entire list, I'd be here forever but Babyface wrote classics for Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, TLC, Brandy, Whitney Houston, Pebbles, Tevin Campbell, After 7, Mary J. Blige, The Whispers, Toni Braxton, Faith Evans, Beyonce, and so many, many more. It would be impossible to put into words how amazing his songwriting catalog is, but this is just an idea of how great Babyface has been over 4 decades. He had hits in the 80s, 90's, 2000s, and the 2010s. Longevity and staying power personified.

*Raphael Saadiq 
(Top Songs:
-D'Angelo- Lady 
-Tony! Toni! Tone!- Anniversary
-D'Angelo- Untitled 
-Lucy Pearl- Dance Tonight 
-John Legend- Show Me)

-Known more as a producer than a pure songwriter, Raphael has put in work over the years for artists like Joss Stone, his own Tony! Toni! Tone!, D'Angelo, Lucy Pearl, John Legend, and more recently he assisted Solange as well. Raphael doesn't get enough credit for his work, but he definitely has contributed to classics.

*Stevie Wonder
(Top Songs:
-Michael Jackson- I Can't Help It
-The Spinners- It's A Shame 
-Jermaine Jackson- Let's Get Serious 
-Rufus & Chaka Khan- Tell Me Something Good)

-Another instance where a legendary artist has wrote songs for so many others as well as himself. Stevie might be the greatest songwriter ever, but for me personally, he's tied or just slightly below Babyface. Those two are the definite greatest songwriters, but a look at the artists that Stevie has written for is absolutely mind-blowing. The list includes Marvin Gaye, The Main Ingredient, Labelle, The Supremes, Minnie Riperton, Jermaine Jackson, Elton John, Whitney Houston, and of course Michael Jackson. The list goes on and on, and over multiple decades, Stevie has provided great lyrics and songs for a number of artists. He deserves to be as high on this list as possible, and is tied as the greatest songwriter ever.



  1. What in the hell happened to George Clinton of the Parliament/Funkadelic, or Maurice White of EWF, or the songwriting duo of Isaac Hayes and David Porter??? You mean that Tank and The Dream make the list, and these legends don't??? And I'm also surprised that Teddy Riley didn't make the list... Smh...

  2. Teddy Riley wrote hits for 2 different groups of his; Guy and Blackstreet, along with writing hits for Michael Jackson, Keith Sweat, and Bobby Brown! The dude wrote Rump Shaker for cryin out loud! Who in the hell is Sean Garrett, and how did he make the list?? You need to tear this list down, and start all over again!!

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