The 1990s was an amazing decade for music, and there’s no doubt that tons of talented black male singers of the 90s were a big reason why. So in this article, we’re going to count down our favorite artists that not only made amazing music, but paved the way for talented singers to come after them, as well.
Best Black Male Singers of the 90s
Let’s begin with the talented Usher.
Usher started performing when he was very young and quickly rose to stardom. He is famous for his voice carrying sexual energy and powerful emotion. It’s also effortless for Usher to jump genres and sing with huge vocal power. Usher came to fame during the late 90s with his second 1997 album release My Way.
Some of his most popular songs from the late 90s were “You Make Me Wanna” and “I Need A Girl (Part One),” with both of these songs receiving huge critical reception.
In R&B and hip-hop in the 90s, no one was singing or rapping about celebrating their marriages or relationships. Usher stated in an interview with Vulture, “I’ll give them something to aspire to, a man dedicating songs to them based off how he feels about them, who ain’t hiding the relationship.”
Usher has mastered being able to captivate a crowd and win them over. He has the talent of being able to read a room and cater to his audience.
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2) Darius Rucker
Darius Rucker first gained notoriety when he was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the GRAMMY Award-winning 90s rock band Hootie & the Blowfish.
Their album Cracked Rear View remains in the Top 10 best-selling studio albums of all time and is certified 21 times multi-platinum. In an interview with CMT’s Jessica Nicholson, Darius said, “We played ‘Hold My Hand’ the first time on Letterman, and our lives changed overnight.”
After leaving Hootie & the Blowfish to enter the country genre, Darius Rucker won the 2009 Male Vocalist and New Artist of the Year award; becoming the first African American artist to win the CMA Best New Artist Award.
Rucker manages to blend rock and country flawlessly with his gritty voice that is warm and easily capable of showing uncontrolled joy and deep anguish.
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3) Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is considered one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century. He contributed to music, fashion, and dance; with his moonwalk and robot dance moves still being done today.
Michael Jackson changed the world by challenging racial boundaries and revolutionizing the music world with his creativity and how he delivered his music. It’s impossible to summarize his best songs from the 90s, but a short list of the are:
1) Black or White
2) Remember the Time
3) You Are Not Alone
4) They Don’t Care About Us
Michael was able to strike emotion into people listening to his music, he was one of the kindest and most empathetic people and transferred that into his music.
Listening to Michael’s music makes you feel fully connected to the universe and Michael was famed for his high-pitched voice that is famous for sending people into song or tears with how much his music touches his listeners.
It’s amazing to see how far he came from being the young lead singer of The Jackson 5.
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4) Barry White
Barry White was an R&B singer who blended many soul, funk, and disco sounds. He is well known for his bass-baritone voice and having a romantic image. A few of his most famous songs in the 90s were, “Come On,” “I Only Want to Be With You,” “Put Me in Your Mix,” and many others.
Barry’s best album in the 90s was The Icon is Love, which won the RIAA Platinum Album Award, and the 1995 Soul Train Award. In the 1990s, there was a wave of 1970s nostalgia that rekindled Barry White’s popularity. I think a big thanks needs to be given to the Fox dramedy “Ally McBeal.”
That quirky series featured an awkward, but brilliant, lawyer (John Cage) who was obsessed with playing Barry White while staring (and dancing!) in the mirror in order to reignite his self confidence. It became a true touchstone for the show, and was so popular in the late 1990s that Barry White himself guest starred on the show, as well.
Barry White could make his songs sexy and romantic at the same time, which was a huge hit among the ladies. He changed the music scene in the 1970s with his growling seductive lyrics and his husky voice, which he carried forward into the 1990s.
K-Ci and his brother JoJo were in the group Jodeci and the group K-Ci & JoJo. K-Ci is known as the lead singer of Jodeci and has done many solo projects as K-Ci. The genre that K-Ci sings is mainly R&B, soul, pop, and gospel.
His best-released albums in the 90s with both bands are It’s Real and Diary of A Mad Band, Forever My Lady, and The Show, the After Party, the Hotel.
K-Ci is also an amazing solo artist, and his 1994 cover of the song, “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” by Bobby Womack gave him national fame. In an interview with The Fader Daily Newsletter, K-Ci described his music: “We always like to do a song that means something … we write songs that people can relate to.”
His music appeals to his audience and there are many topics present in his songs that allow people to find something to relate to. When it comes to 90s R&B, K-Ci is worth a listen if you are looking for soulful music with emotional vocals and attractive lyrics.
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6) Luther Vandross
The best sign that you’re one of the best black male artists of the 90s is not the fact that you had a successful decade, but that your career was so good, it spilled over from one decade into the next.
That’s certainly the case with Luther Vandross, whose popularity was large in the 1980s and continued to burn quite brightly into the 1990s, as well.
We all know about Luther’s talented vocal ability, but he also deserves credit for being versatile. He not only performed backing vocals on some of your favorite records (that you probably don’t even know about), but Luther was also able to team up with talented artists like Janet Jackson and serve you up a banger like “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”
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7) Nathan Morris
Nathan Morris was the founding member of the group Boyz II Men and a great singer in the genres: soul, R&B, and new jack swing. The group won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, American Music Award, and Soul Train Music Award.
If you are a fan of cappella harmonies and emotional ballads, any song with Nathan Morris in it will be perfect for you. One of my favorite songs with Nathan Morris is “End of the Road.”
This song was used for the soundtrack for Eddie Murphy’s movie Boomerang and brings me back instantly to the early 90s. Some of the most popular songs with Nathan Morris in them are, “I’ll Make Love to You,” “A Song for Mama,” and “On Bended Knee.” Nathan Morris has a voice that was destined for music, with an early singing career singing in the church choir.
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8) Bobby Brown
Like Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown helped popularize a new jack swing; a blend of funk, soul, and hip-hop sounds. One of my favorite songs by Bobby Brown is “On Our Own,” the big hit theme song for the Ghostbusters II movie in 1990.
From 1989 to 1992, he had three Top 10 hits with New Edition and seven solo Top 10 hits. Bobby Brown also makes some deep and easily misunderstood songs, I love how every time I listen to one of his songs it feels like it’s my first time hearing it.
9) Kenny Greene
Kenny Greene was a singer who was a member of the R&B group Intro and wrote and produced many of the group’s songs. The group had their famous hits, “Let Me Be The One,” “Come Inside,” and “Why Don’t You Love Me.”
After the release of their New Life album, the group parted and Greene started to write and produce for other people. He wrote the songs, “Reminisce” and “Love No Limit” for Mary J. Blige and he tied for the 1993 ASCAP’s Award for Songwriter of the year.
His music is known for strong sexual references and slow beats with graceful harmonies. Kenny was a very gifted singer whose voice would give you chills listening to it.
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Babyface, also known as Kenneth Edmonds, is an R&B legend with Grammys and multi-platinum records, and one of the most famous voices from the 90s.
From the early to late 90s, he wrote and worked on multiple songs and albums for many artists including Bobby Brown. Babyface has been so impactful in the music industry that they even named a section of Interstate 65 the Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds Highway.
Babyface’s music had a sensitive, R&B vibe, that matched perfectly with the instrumentals, he had a versatility that is unmatched in the R&B world.
11) Johnny Gill
Johnny Gill is a rare breed. This is a singer that was so vocally talented when he was a teenager that he sounded like a fully mature grown man.
Gill hit the ground running in the 90s, as 1990 in particular brought us his self titled album that featured “My My My” on it. That’s an R&B classic, and it’s truly incredible to think that he was just 23 when that song was burning up the radio.
From “A Cute Sweet Love Addiction” to “Quiet Time to Play” to “Let’s Get the Mood Right,” it’s clear that’s Johnny Gill’s legacy in R&B is solidified based on his solo offerings alone, let alone his group work with New Edition and LSG.
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Ginuwine is a contemporary R&B singer and songwriter who has released multiple multi-platinum and platinum-selling singles and albums. Ginuwine was a top R&B artist in the late 1990s through the mid-2000s.
Ginuwine’s biggest hit of the 90s was his 1996 Timbaland-produced track “Pony,” though he has a lot of other songs to be remembered for. Ginuwine’s success was during a transitional period for R&B and bridged the music genre from the late 90s to the early 2000s. To this day, Ginuwine has a very strong vocal voice and great dance moves, which boost his crowd presence while performing.
13) R. Kelly
R. Kelly was a leader of R&B music in the late 90s and both sang and produced smooth love songs, highly over-sexualized music, and melodic hymns. R. Kelly was versatile with easy shifts from baritone to alto, and allowed him to make hits like “Bump n’ Grind,” “I’m Your Angel,” and “I Believe I Can Fly.”
In the late 90s, in the prime of R&B, R. Kelly was often considered the most accomplished singer-songwriter. Kelly has a discography that has sold over 75 million records, making him the most successful male R&B singer of the 1990s.
R. Kelly’s music was a mix of pop, soul, and sex and had heavy influences from Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. He could fill arenas with fans and during his performances, the crowd roaring was enough to overcome the speakers.
People can hate R. Kelly and not agree with his actions, and rightfully so, but his music career was one that has been unmatched by anyone else during the late 90s to early 2000s.
14) Brian McKnight
Brian McKnight helped define soulful music in the 90s with his high range and vocal register. He was an R&B and soul singer and songwriter earning 16 Grammy Awards nominations, though he never won.
On top of his vocal talent, he also plays eight instruments that he often utilizes in his music. Brian has a buttery voice and often sings heartwarming lyrics, many of which are great for getting people to sing along.
His most famous works of art are “One Last Time” and “Back at One.” When it comes to love songs, Brian McKnight is the king, serenading swooning women with his good rhyme and good chords.
15) Gerald Levert
Gerald Levert was an R&B, soul, and new jack swing singer, best known for being a part of the vocal group LeVert, LSG, and the R&B group Black Men United. Music runs in Gerald’s blood, with his father, Eddie Levert, being the lead singer of the R&B/soul group the O’Jays.
Gerald has Grammy awards and nominations, and gold and platinum-selling albums. Gerald went on to write for other artists such as Patti LaBelle, Barry White, and Stephanie Mills. After his 1991 Private Line solo album, he went number one on the charts and became a household name.
His music is best known for his fiery voice and great rhythm and blues talent combined. Gerald was blessed with being able to sing varying pitches and quickly incorporate rhythmic changes into his music.
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16) Peabo Bryson
When you talk about talented black male singers, of course you expect to see names lie Luther Vandross or even James Ingram on lists like these, but it someone as good as Peabo Bryson should never be overlooked.
This man not only cranked out an incredibly long list of studio albums (about 20, in fact, at the time of this publication), but his career began in the 1970s and has continued all the way to present day. There’s something to be said for longevity.
Keeping it restricted to the 90s, Peabo gave the world gems like “Can You Stop the Rain” and “Shower You With Love,” and he is permanently has the hearts of every Millennial (and perhaps even Gen-Xer) thanks to the magic he and Celine Dion created on “Beauty and the Beast.” And if that wasn’t amazing, Peabo and Regina Belle teamed soon after to create “A Whole New World.”
What a career.
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Black male singers in the 90s have been vital in revolutionizing music and extended beyond the established norms of music that existed up until then. All of these singers on this list have in their own way contributed to the history of music and paved the way for everyone to make their own voices heard.
This article was written by Jesse, with selection additions and edits by Michael.