DAR Music: The 8 Best R&B Albums Of 1996

By @TrueGodImmortal

R&B was in an interesting place when 1996 began. It had moved on from the New Jack Swing influence and began moving into a slightly new direction with Neo-Soul and other sounds, making for an interesting time in the genre. 1996 would end up being a pivotal year for the genre as some sophomore albums would shake the game up, some debuts that would change the genre, and more. What are the 8 best albums from 1996 in R&B? Let's take a look.

8. Ginuwine- The Bachelor

-You might feel this album should be a little higher and that's fine. For me, Ginuwine's debut was an important album on the year for multiple reasons. One, it gave us a new R&B star that would become a regular fixture in the genre for years to come, but also, it would showcase the versatility and the ability of Timbaland as a producer. He would supply Ginuwine with some of his best production of the era, making hits like the iconic "Pony", "Tell Me Do U Wanna", "I'll Do Anything, I'm Sorry", and "Only When You're Lonely", along with the rest of the solid tracklist.  This was a solid arrival for Ginuwine and another big career moment for Timbaland, who was etching his legacy.

7. New Edition- Home Again

-I thought for a while on which album to put on this list at the 7th spot and after coming to the conclusion that Ginuwine would have the 8th spot, I battled between New Edition and Mint Condition for 6th and 7th. New Edition returned to form in 1996 after an extended hiatus, with all six members in tact. While many would consider this album a money grab (and it was), it still doesn't take away from the fact that it was a great listen overall. I just wish the group would have got things together and made an album during the heyday of their solo runs in 1990-1991. Regardless, with production from Puffy, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Gerald Levert, and more, the group delivered classics like "I'm Still In Love With You", "Hit Me Off", and the gem "You Don't Have To Worry". It is honestly possible that Home Again is the second best NE album (more like the third best personally) and it was a highlight in 1996 for sure in R&B.

6. Mint Condition- Definition Of A Band

-Quite possibly the most underrated group of them all, Mint Condition has some of the best music of the 90's in the genre by far. Their third album isn't necessarily their best album, but it is definitely in the running for a top 2-3 spot by far. Mint Condition was consistent through the 90's, earning hit records and gold plaques on the strength of their smooth R&B sound and this album continued the trend to the max. Whether it was hits like "You Don't Have To Hurt No More" and "What Kinda Man Would I Be", or album tracks like "Ain't Hookin' Me Up Enough" or "I Want It Again", Mint Condition delivered on an album that remains one of my favorites in this classic year.

5. Keith Sweat- Keith Sweat

-We sometimes forget the legendary status of Keith Sweat. The man was one of the biggest artists in the genre for a number of years and he would hit a new level in 1996 with his self titled fifth album. He was a successful artist on all of his prior albums, but commercially, this would be his biggest work, going 4X platinum and spawning his last big solo hits in his career. This album features some smooth production and guest appearances from Gerald Levert, Aaron Hall, and Ronald Isley, along with gems like the hits "Twisted" and "Nobody" and album tracks like "Chocolate Girl" "Come With Me", and "In The Mood". After all the years he had in the music game, Keith Sweat proved you can still keep elevating as time passes.

4. Babyface- The Day

-I am not the biggest fan of this album and it is actually my 4th favorite Babyface album under Lovers, Tender Lover, and For The Cool In You, BUT this project just might be a classic. It isn't as epic as his previous albums, but it has more of a relaxed and smoothed out sound, which works pretty well for Babyface. He has some great music here, featuring epic guests like Mariah Carey (in her prime), Eric Clapton,
Stevie Wonder, LL Cool J, and more. My favorite tracks on the album are "Talk To Me", "Everytime I Close My Eyes", "Seven Seas", "This Is For The Lover In You", and "Simple Days", as Babyface delivers to the highest power on those tracks. This album isn't perfect, but it is a really good listen from start to finish.

3. Aaliyah- One In A Million

-I spoke of Timbaland earlier and here we are arriving at another classic album in 1996 that he would lend his expertise to. Working alongside the beautiful songstress Aaliyah, their chemistry was like a match made in heaven. Tim had the music and production style that fit perfectly with Aaliyah and her vocals, not to mention, Missy Elliott was behind the pen for numerous tracks on the album, showcasing her songwriting prowess as well. This was the beginning really of an era where Aaliyah, Missy, Ginuwine, and Timbaland all seemed to reign supreme, and with an album like this featuring songs such as "Hot Like Fire", "4 Page Letter", the title track, "If Your Girl Only Knew", and more, there was no surprise that the new partnership of Aaliyah and Timbaland took over the airwaves and the charts as well.

2. Toni Braxton- Secrets

-So, we spoke before of how important this Toni Braxton run was in the 90's and while her debut album is easily her best work, this sophomore album is not too far behind. We've discussed this album in detail before actually, so I won't give too much on it here again, but the fact remains that Secrets is a moment in time in R&B music. Toni was already one of the biggest solo artists in the genre, carving a place for herself amongst the Mariahs, the Whitneys, and Mary J. Bliges, and her second album saw her claim the crown for the year. This album moved 14 million copies worldwide off the strength of amazing songs like "Let It Flow", "You're Makin' Me High", "I Love Me Some Him", and of course "Un-Break My Heart". Toni would see her star power rise and her music continue to be critically acclaimed, as Secrets was quite possible the biggest album of the year, but it doesn't claim the top spot on this list. What album is no. 1?

1. Maxwell- Urban Hang Suite

-There was no other choice for the top album of 1996. Period. Maxwell arrived and while he wasn't a multiplatinum superstar, his music was on a level higher than most in the genre at the time. With a Jazz feel to his music compounded with the early Neo-Soul sensibility behind his vocals and production, Maxwell delivers an amazing debut that features a number of his greatest songs and some of the best songs of the year by far. Maxwell coasts on gems like the bedroom ballad "Til The Cops Come Knockin", the beautifully arranged "Reunion", the upbeat smooth style of "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)" and "Sumthin' Sumthin", as well as the beauty of songs like "Whenever, Wherever, Whatever", "Lonely's The Only Company", and my personal favorite on the album "Suitelady (The Proposal Jam)". Maxwell doesn't miss once on this project and delivers what I like to call a perfect album from start to finish. Urban Hang Suite is the best R&B album of 1996. Period.



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