DAR Music: The 15 Greatest R&B Sophomore Albums

By @TrueGodImmortal 

Similar to what we did earlier in the week with our look at the greatest sophomore albums in hip hop, it's only right we supply a list for R&B. While many debut albums in this genre are revered, there are a number of sophomore albums that truly hit the mark and can be considered classics. Today, we take a look at the 15 Greatest Sophomore Albums in R&B. Let's get right into it.

*Bobby Brown- Don't Be Cruel (1988)

-There was no other album to start this list off with. At all. One of the greatest R&B albums ever is without a doubt the greatest R&B sophomore album ever. I hold Don't Be Cruel in such high regard, that if you ask me what's my favorite album on this classic list, it would win every single time without question. Bobby returned with his second solo album backed by the production and writing prowess of Babyface, And the results are absolutely groundbreaking. Not only is this one of the greatest albums of the 80s and the greatest New Jack Swing album, it's the project that took Bobby from being a star to a superstar. Whether the title track, "Every Little Step", "I Really Love You Girl", "Roni", "Rock Wit'cha", or "My Prerogative", the highlights of this album are above and beyond what other artists were giving to their fans, making this a classic and clearly the best album from Bobby.

*Jodeci- Diary of A Mad Band (1993)

-I'll say this again: Jodeci is my favorite R&B group and that will likely never change. Their second album is one that's particularly special to me, as the group brought in a much more rugged sound to their New Jack Swing style, and gave the listeners even more hits. From the smooth opener "My Heart Belongs To U", to the booming sound of "Alone", the solid "What About Us", and of course the two most infamous songs on the album, "Feenin" and "Cry For You", Jodeci deliver what I feel is their best album.

*TLC- CrazySexyCool (1994)

-One of the greatest groups ever in R&B have to make the list for their highest selling, most critically acclaimed classic. Backed by an iconic cover, production from Babyface, Jermaine Dupri, and Organized Noize, TLC could do no wrong on this album. This classic project gave us hits like "Waterfalls", "Creep", "Diggin On You", and of course "Red Light Special" selling millions and millions of copies along the way and racking up awards throughout the process, proving the trio was here to stay for a long time.

*Toni Braxton- Secrets (1996)

-She might be the most underrated female legend in the genre. Toni gave us back to back classic albums full of hits and powerful ballads. While I'm partial to her debut album, this album was without a doubt one of the most solid of the 90s. The ballads here are a bit bigger than her debut, as there aren't many ballads as powerful as "Un-Break My Heart", but Toni makes sure to hit us with some smooth R&B hits in "You're Makin' Me High", "Let It Flow", and "I Don't Want To". Toni does what she does best on this album and delivers a classic once again.

*Brandy- Never Say Never (1998)

-During the 90s, there were very few women in the genre that were as popular as Brandy. She was in movies, she was on TV as Moesha, and she was a music star at the height of her success. Her second album would arrive amidst a ton of fanfare, and while I'm personally partial to her first project, this second album is essentially the early maturation of her as an artist and person. This album featured her classic duet with Monica "The Boy Is Mine", but also features some of her strongest ballads in her career with "Have You Ever" and "Almost Doesn't Count". Never Say Never was a statement album from Brandy and it didn't disappoint at all.

*Mary J. Blige- My Life (1994)

-After making a huge impact with her classic debut, Mary came back even better and slightly more polished with her 2nd album, the game changing project, My Life. This album still had the hip hop soul that Mary gave us on her debut, but she was more comfortable than ever on this project it seemed. She delivered hits like "Be Happy", "I'm Goin' Down", and "Mary Jane (All Night Long", but nothing could compare to the title track, which is Mary at her best. From top to bottom, My Life is quite possibly the best Mary album and it's undoubtedly a classic.

*R. Kelly- R. Kelly (1995)

-Scandals and controversy aside, there is no way I could deny this album for what it is. It's a classic and in all honesty, it's the best R. Kelly album ever, and that includes 12 Play. It wasn't overly sexual unnecessarily, and it also didn't have as much hip hop influence as his solo debut. That works very well for R. Kelly on this project, as I consider this his most traditional R&B album of them all. How could anyone deny the smooth vibe of "You Remind Of Something", the creative spin he put on "Down Low" (and the video), the ballads like "Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby" and "I Can't Sleep Baby", or my personal favorite, the bedroom anthem "Tempo Slow". Love him or hate him, this album holds a special place in R&B history and musically deserves to be on this list.

*Tony! Toni! Tone!- The Revival (1990)

-Usually, the debut album and the first impression is what the fans love and remember most, but in the case of Tony! Toni! Tone!, their biggest moment came from their second project, the undeniable album The Revival. Mixing in soul with a bit of New Jack Swing, the group delivered on one of the best albums of the early 90s, giving listeners versatile sounds on "Feels Good", "Whatever You Want", "All My Love", and of course "It Never Rains (In Southern California)". The Revival let the world know exactly who Tony! Toni! Tone! was, and from there, these legends were born.

*Babyface- Tender Lover (1989)

-After a slightly disappointing debut album, Babyface returned with what I think is still his best album and it took him to an even higher level as an artist. He had made a name already as a songwriter and producer (his work on Don't Be Cruel is undefeated), but he hadn't reached that level himself as an artist.... until this album. Utilizing the New Jack Swing sound to perfection, Babyface supplied his listeners with classics like "It's No Crime", the title track, "Sunshine", "Soon As I Get Home", and of course, one of his greatest songs ever, "Whip Appeal". The album helped turn Babyface into a music star and I think it's the most important piece in his journey as an artist without a question.

*D'Angelo- Voodoo (2000)

-The greatest one-two punch in the history of R&B and soul music came from D'Angelo. If you ask me, the best album of the genre in the 2000s is Voodoo. It exceeds expectations and goes above and beyond what he gave the world on his classic debut Brown Sugar. After a 5 year hiatus, D'Angelo works closely with Questlove, the Soulquarians, DJ Premier, and Raphael Saadiq to help him craft and create an album that will certainly be remembered forever. Whether the DJ Premier produced classic banger "Devil's Pie", where he discusses the pitfalls and true reality of coping with varying vices and temptations, the unbelievably soulful and smooth "Send It On", or the landmark single that pushed this album to double platinum status "Untitled (How Does It Feel)", D'Angelo delivers on an album that takes some risks, but they ultimately pay off. Voodoo is an undeniable classic, and one of my all time favorite albums.

*Boyz II Men- II (1994)

-This was the moment that Boyz II Men became the biggest R&B group on the entire planet. After a very successful album with their debut, the group would come back with an album that exceeded just about everyone's expectations. The harmony was in place beautifully on every track, and through songs like "Thank You", "I'll Make Love To You", "On Bended Knee", and "Water Runs Dry", they showcase why they are one of the most legendary groups in R&B, and the fans agreed, to the tune of 12 million copies sold in total in the United States, over 18 million copies worldwide, and a number of records broken via their singles. There's no way you can talk sophomore albums in R&B without mentioning the most landmark sophomore album in the genre.

*Erykah Badu- Mama's Gun (2000)

-After an undisputed classic in Baduizm, Badu returned with an album that was even better. She would work very closely with the Soulquarians on this album, including J. Dilla, and the results would turn out to be epic. This was the peak of neo-soul to me, as Badu came with her brand of smooth jazz inspired music and her relatable yet eccentric lyricism to craft a true gem. My favorites on this project are the original version of "Bag Lady", the smooth "Orange Moon", and the absolute classic "Didn't Cha Know", which might be the greatest Badu song ever. J. Dilla deserves an award just for crafting such a beautiful production for this song. Mama's Gun was the album that let me know that Badu was here to stay.

*Ginuwine- 100% Ginuwine (1999)

-We just recently discussed this album in our comparison with Sisqo so I won't spend too much time on this project. The fact remains, Ginuwine upped the ante by easily outperforming his solid debut, with a much more concise and fluid sophomore project. 100% Ginuwine is exactly what the title suggests, as the only two guest appearances are from Timbaland and Aaliyah, and Timbaland only has adlibs on a few tracks due to being the main producer. Whether on tracks like aforementioned Aaliyah featured "Final Warning", the hit single "So Anxious", the classic "Same Ol' G", or even "None Of Ur Friend's Business", Ginuwine delivers the album that catapulted him as an artist and solidified his legacy. I still think 100% Ginuwine is his best project.

*Aaliyah- One In A Million (1996)

-After her break from R. Kelly, Aaliyah sought musical solace in two amazing talents from Virginia. Working with Missy Elliott and Timbaland, Aaliyah would begin working on her second album, and the result would end up being something much more special than any of us expected. In reality, One In A Million is not only one of the best sophomore R&B albums, it is also one of the greatest R&B albums of the 90s, the premier decade for the genre. Whether she let the world know that she was "Hot Like Fire", wrote a "4 Page Letter", or told like it was on "If Your Girl Only Knew", Aaliyah gave the world an album that said she had matured, improved, and would be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. It's a shame she was taken away from her family and fans so early before achieving the full greatness she was destined for.

*Alicia Keys- Diary Of Alicia Keys (2003)

-There are very few artists in music who debuted with a one-two punch back to back, but Alicia Keys managed to pull off that feat like a few others on this list. Her second album is definitely one of the best of the 2000s, and it's one of the best produced R&B albums I've heard. The production ranges from smooth and melodic to booming soul all the way to piano driven ballads, and that's what makes it so great to me. Whether she's hitting hard on "Karma", singing her heart out on "If I Ain't Got You", going for the man she wants on the Kanye West produced classic "You Don't Know My Name", or sharing vocals alongside a reunited Tony! Toni! Tone! on "Diary", Alicia delivers time and time again on this project, solidifying alongside the other classics on this list as one of the greatest sophomore R&B albums ever.



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