We’ve all heard the phrase “they just don’t make music like that anymore,” but as you’ll notice with many of the great female R&B singers of the 2000s that have made this list, that saying holds a lot of weight. While many of the artists on this list are still actively making music, there’s something special about the early 2000s that really kept R&B music alive following the amazing decade of music we enjoyed in the 1990s.
Top Female R&B Singers of the 2000s
Let’s begin with Brandy.
Brandy’s career has been spaciously spread over the late 90s and 2000s. She is part of that generation of R&B stars, along with Usher and Destiny’s Child, who took off in the late 90s, but started their careers at a young age and gained a wide following from their peers. From her first album released in 94’, Brandy, to her come-back album in 2020, B7, Brandy maintains a solid voice throughout.
Her coming-of-age album, Full Moon, is her best-performing album post-2000, as well as her most loved. Brandy is well known for her vocal range, especially in how she layers vocals and for the unique cadence of her voice. She has received the title “The Vocal Bible,” as well, something that has stated put a lot of pressure on her to perform perfectly at all times. Still, her sound is celebratory, genuine and highly unique. When a Brandy joint comes on, you know it’s her.
- My Favorite Brandy Song: “Love Wouldn’t Count Me Out.” This song is a classic 90’s feeling R&B love song. The vocal layering is prime here. The song is relatable to anyone that has been disappointed by another person and highlights that guttural feeling of dismay.
Bad Girl RiRi is another obvious member of the female R&B vocal powerhouses of the 2000s. Her debut was a little later than Beyonce’s, and her start was a bit slower without the backing of a prior group career, but she made a name for herself immediately. The first Rihanna album that BLEW UP was assuredly Good Girl Gone Bad, which was released in 2007 and then revamped in 2008 with the addition of tracks such as “Take a Bow” and “Disturbia.” You know I have a killer “Take a Bow” dance routine recorded in my photo booth archives.
Again, with RiRi, we have an incredibly dynamic artist. Her early albums are marked by teen angst and vocals on the forefront. Then, her sound evolves to include heavy bass lines, synth, and other varying elements that make her music distinctive. I feel empowered by Rihanna’s music because it talks about realizing her own strength and letting go of unhealthy relationships. This is a universal human experience. We get hurt and we have to find a way to be okay again, to grow, and to enjoy the process.
- My Favorite Rihanna Track: “You Da One” off of Talk That Talk. It’s a feel-good song. It makes me want to dance around the kitchen in my PJs with a spatula microphone. We have all had someone whom we haven’t been able to stop thinking about, that lives at the forefront of our dreams and waking thoughts.
When you think about an artist that speaks from the soul, that owns her unique style, that is versatile, but also so original to her own sound- you think of Alicia Keys. I love how many classic R&B elements are present in her first album and throughout her discography. She carries over some of the original aspects of 90’s era R&B and mixes them with stunning piano riffs and a killer vocal range. She’s got hip hop, she’s got pop, she’s got jazz, and she blends them beautifully to create a killer R&B track collection.
Keys’ music speaks to empowering people to own their emotions and stand in their power. It makes you want to stand up for yourself and others, walk confidently in your own skin, and speaks to the intense human experience of finding yourself.
- My Favorite Alicia Keys Song: Again, a tough choice, so I’ll choose one of the many. It’s gotta be “The Thing About Love” off of As I am. The lyrics are potent. We’ve all experienced difficult times and then found immense joy in discovering love, whether that is love with oneself, with the world, or with someone else. This song is genuine and soulful, plus Key’s vibrato is impressive.
Solange, the younger of the Knowles sisters, is an artist that was creating as I grew up, but whom I have found a deep love for in more recent years of my life. She made her solo debut in her album, Solo Star, in 2002. Her releases have been spread apart over time, and her entire repertoire includes only six albums released in 2002, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2019. Nevertheless, she is an absolute must-listen-to artist in the 2000s R&B genre.
In my opinion, she has grown stronger and more dynamic with each new album. One of her hidden gems, produced by Devon Haynes of Blood Orange, is True. This EP pays a tribute to late 80’s pop music and is marked by upbeat rhythm, synth instrumentals, and dance tunes. This album is unconventional in its short length, but it doesn’t leave the listener with an unsettled feeling. Solange does things her own way and this album was the beginning of a beautiful journey of breaking the so-called rules.
- My Favorite Solange Song: A timeless classic that gets me up and moving, and also reminds me of all the quiet fears of my romantic heart all at once is “Losing You,” hailing from the aforementioned gem, True.
Mary J. Blige
“Let’s get it crunk up on/Have fun up on, up in this dancery/We got ya’ll open, now ya floatin’/So you gots to dance for me/Don’t need no hateration/Holleration in this dancery.” These lyrics from “Family Affair,” embody Blige’s energy. She wants you to get up and dance all night and HAVE FUN. Although Blige made her debut in the late 90’s, her sound and repertoire continued well into the 2000s.
She has so many powerhouse albums, my favorites being No More Drama and Breakthrough. In addition to the entirely carefree, blissful, dancy feeling her music has in it, there is also soul, passion, and raw emotion. I love how she uses samples from classic soul artists such as Nina Simone in her songs.
- My Favorite Mary J Blige Song: One of her best tracks in my humble opinion has got to be “Take Me As I Am,” because I listen to it and I feel empowered and strong. She’s admitting to being flawed and is embracing it, telling people to take her as she is or not at all.
It’s hard to write about Amy without producing an actual manuscript of emotion and admiration. Winehouse only has three main albums, more if you include her live albums released in recent years and movie soundtracks, but she showcases the idea of QUALITY OVER QUANTITY. Amy Winehouse fits into a few genres, but her music definitely has a home in the R&B category, and while talking about vocalists, she has got to be one of the best female vocalists of the 2000s.
Frank, her first full album released in 2003, highlights her incredibly unique sound. It’s sensual, it’s strong, it’s fun, it’s romantic, it’s wistful, and the list goes on. And then Back to Black came along and absolutely rocked everyone’s world AGAIN. It stays true to her key style, but has a little bit more of a “fuck you” mentality, and it’s gold. I’ll stop myself there, before producing a novel.
- My Favorite Amy Song: I simply cannot choose a favorite song, but I do LOVE the track, “Tears Dry on Their Own.” Winehouse is singing about being heartbroken, yet the song takes on an upbeat and carefree tone. It’s all in all a positive song. Tears dry on their own just as we get through heartbreak on our own. Maybe it doesn’t happen right when we want it to, but it comes in time and with humility.
Like, Mary J Blige, Braxton made her stage in the late 90s, but the bulk of her albums were released in the early and mid-2000s. The Heat was released in 2000 and it is HOT, for lack of a more fitting word. Her other albums followed suit, continuing to spark flames. Braxton takes a new spin on the love song by turning that love back on herself with tracks like “You Were Wrong,” “Just Be a Man About It,” and “Lies, Lies,Lies.”
She calls people out on how they hurt her and claims that she deserves better. When listening to her I feel sexy, resilient, and free. She also released an album in 2020 titled Spell my Name which is resplendent, celebratory, and genuine.
- My Favorite Toni Braxton Song: “Nothin’,” from her album “Spell My Name.” It is an emotional love song that speaks to the feeling of loving someone so fully that you cannot imagine your life without them. It inspires me to let people know how much I love them at any moment I feel called to.
Mariah Carey is one of the best female R&B singers of the 90s, and she successfully carried over that winning streak into the 2000s. Carey’s style remains true to the classic 90’s R&B love song, resembling the slow back beat and strong vocal progressions of Whitney Houston.
The Emancipation of Mimi album was sort of a turning point, in which Carey gave her style a little more flare with a mix of the classic slow love tunes and more upbeat, feel-good tunes. Also, don’t forget about her fire Christmas album in 2010, Merry Christmas II You.
- My Favorite Mariah Carey Song: I have to admit that I absolutely JAM out to the song “Touch my Body.” It’s sexy, it’s fun, and it has a good dancing beat. Sometimes, it feels good to just be carefree. Music that is able to evoke that free, easygoing feeling is just as important as the music that makes you reflect and feel deeply.
Keyshia Cole entered the scene in 2005 with her album, The Way it Is, which is marked by that smooth vocal progression, slow beat, and soulful sound that makes R&B what it is. Then came my personal favorite, Just like You. I love the keyboard threaded through the drum lines.
Cole owns her womanhood and the message that women are complex, strong, capable, and beautiful rings through her music. In her album Woman to Woman, she calls out all the people that have treated her poorly in relationships and sings about owning herself and her power.
- My Favorite Keyshia Cole Song: “Losing You” has got to be my favorite track. Who hasn’t felt like they lost someone, and in losing that person, also lost a piece of themselves? It’s impossible not to think of these people in your own life as Cole sings. I love the keyboard elements in the background and the rhythm of the vocals alongside the synth. On top of that, Anthony Hamilton’s feature section is buttery.
Jennifer Hudson hit the music scene via American Idol in 2004. She then grew her repertoire as a cast member of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. She brings a singer-songwriter, theatrical presence to the R&B scene. Not only is she a well-rounded musician, she is also a well-versed actor. She is one of the only performing artists to have received an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy, and Tony award.
Hudson is a dynamic performer and her songwriting is a show-stopping quality. Top that off with her killer vocal range and you’ve got yourself a superstar. Her 2008 album, Jennifer Hudson, is definitely her most loved album, as it should be. It’s incredibly diverse with tracks that are heavily vocal-based and soulful, as well as tracks that are upbeat and lively.
- My Favorite J. Hud Song: “Giving Me,” because it’s stunningly beautiful and striking. It showcases her range wonderfully. It makes me feel the way I would if I were watching the “falling in love” montage of a classic romantic movie. There have been fights and hesitations, but then, finally, they give in to each other and BAM! Sparks fly.
Aaliyah only had one album released in the 2000s, and three albums total. Her career was cut short by a terrible tragedy, BUT I have to include her here simply because of her immense influence on the evolution of R&B through the 2000s. Aaliyah had a direct influence on some huge R&B stars including Timbaland and Missy Elliot. She was influential in areas such as songwriting and production.re
- My Favorite Aaliyah Song: “At Your Best (You Are Love),” because it is dreamy and ethereal. Aaliyah’s voice is celestial as she reminds you that “you’re a positive motivating force,” and that “you are love.”
Ciara brings entertainment and fun to R&B. She blends pop, R&B, and hip-hop elements to create her signature style. Her music is sexy and upbeat. I hear Ciara and I immediately want a dance floor at my feet. Her song “Goodies,” off of her debut album of the same name was number one on Billboard’s Top 100 for over a month, which is pretty unheard of for a newcomer.
She didn’t just show up at the scene, she made an ENTRANCE. Ciara embraces the new-age style of R&B that includes many pop elements like synthesizers and multiple production elements. Her vocals are strong AND her music is straight-up enjoyable.
- My Favorite Ciara Song: “Only One,” from her 2013 album, Jackie. It’s definitely slower than her other tracks. The layering, in the beginning, creates a soft effect and her voice is strongly showcased. It’s relatable, it’s genuine, and it highlights her diversity.
Erykah Badu’s music can be considered both Soul and R&B. She received TWO Grammys after her first album, Baduizm, was released in 1997. Badu continued to release superb records through the 2000s, with the last one, But you Caint Use my Phone, in 2015. She began her career as a rapper and hip-hop dancer before becoming the soul queen that she is known as. She, along with a few key others, created a movement of R&B that was heavily based in hip-hop.
Her music is full of soul, fresh beats, and revolutionary combinations. Can we also talk about her vocal tone? It’s entirely unique and rugged. Badu draws on her heritage and experience and relives it through her music, which makes it inevitable to feel deeply reflective and joyful while listening to it.
- My Favorite Erykah Badu Song: I adore the song “I’m in Love With You” from her second album, Mama’s Gun. The guitar progression reminds me of the Spanish guitar and it has a slow, sultry sound. The bass is also incredibly fun. This song simply makes me happy. It’s like honey on warm buttered bread on a sunny morning.
Fresh out of the powerhouse trio that was Destiny’s Child, Ms. Beyoncé Knowles debuted her first solo album in 2003. Dangerously in Love is an album that can undoubtedly be labeled “baby-making music.” With its slow, steady beat and sensual lyrics, this album was STEAMY.
Looking at Beyonce’s cabinet of treasures from that first album, all the way to her latest album, Renaissance, her range of talent is crystal clear. She goes from the slow grind of Dangerously In Love to the soft, yet strong vocals of I am Sasha Fierce– to the Upbeat, Flirty tones of 4-to the absolute banger statement albums that are Beyonce and Lemonade-to the complete 360 of clubby house beats that make up Renaissance. AND THEY ALL SHINE IN THEIR OWN WAY. That, my friends, is a powerhouse artist for you.
I grew up alongside Beyonce’s career, not the other way around. I am Sasha Fierce came out when I was in the sixth grade and I belted Halo with absolutely no idea what it could possibly be about, but it didn’t matter because puberty was hitting hard and this song struck a nerve. Fast forward to now, I listen to Renaissance at the gym, at the grocery store, in my room. It makes me want to dance, mostly, but it also serves as a commentary on societal issues as much of her music does.
You can’t claim that many artists can make you feel both happy and sad, lost and found, critical and positive, like an absolute badass one second and a crying sappy emotional mess the next, but Beyoncé can. That is why she is a revolutionary R&B singer and superstar.
My Favorite Beyoncé Song: I can’t choose a favorite Beyoncé song. It’s impossible, but one of my many favorites is “Hold Up” from Lemonade. It’s got a really unique beat. I love how it speeds up and slows down. It has a sort of freestyle feeling to it and the lyrics are incredibly relatable.
Another member of Destiny’s Child that took off on a killer solo career, Kelly Rowland is not as well known as Beyonce, but she 100% deserves a spot on this list. Her first album, Simply Deep, sold over three million copies around the world. She’s featured on a range of other R&B and hip-hop artist’s tracks, such as Nelly’s “Dilemma.” She is that stand-out female vocal in this hit song singing, “I love you and I need you.” Her collaborations with other artists are fantastic. She has this deep, soulful cadence that instantly makes you feel warm down to your soul.
- My Favorite Kelly Rowland Song: “Turn it Up,” off of Here I am. This track is POWERFUL. The song begins with the lyrics “I could tear the whole world down.” Who else has been betrayed by someone and felt like they, too, could tear the world down? I think we all have in one way or another.
Ready to Go Back to the Year 2000?
There you have it. A SUPERB line-up of female R&B singers of the 2000s. If you’ve listened to any of these artists, give them another listen. You will not be disappointed. If you haven’t, you are in for a delightful treat and should begin your deep dive immediately. As is necessary, I have been playing these badass ladies on repeat recently. As a result, I have been inspired by the power, talent, soul, diversity, swagger, and realness that shines through the music of each of these magnificent female artists.