16 Female R&B Singers of the 90s That Are Unforgettable
Nostalgia runs deep inside all of us, and as the years roll on, it’s inevitable that many of us would love to roll the clock back to the 1990s, especially when it comes to music. So in this article, I’m going to share some of my favorite female R&B singers of the 90s, with the hopes that it takes you back down memory lane.
Female R&B Singers of the 90s You’ll Love
It’s only fitting to begin a list about R&B singers with the actual Princess of R&B: Aaliyah.
More than 20 years have passed since the tragic death of Aaliyah, yet she still moves people. Aaliyah burst onto the R&B scene in 1994 at just 15 years-old with Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, an album that chronicles her increasing interests in love and having fun.With her street fashion and soft, baby-like voice, she evoked the innocent and rebellious natures of teenage girlhood.
Aaliyah would go on to collaborate with new producers and songwriters like Timbaland and Missy Elliot, who would enhance her musical style as she reached adulthood. She left the world as a trailblazer at just 22 years old; one who’s musical style and fashion sense has been imitated in R&B till this very day. Forgetting her would be inexcusable.
- Editor’s Note: Below, check out my review of Aaliyah’s self-titled album on vinyl:
- Best Aaliyah Songs of the 90s: Check out “At Your Best” and Choosy Lover.”
Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige is one tough cookie. She made her mark in the 90s by straying from the sweet girl-next-door image that was common for female singers at the time. It just didn’t fit her. Mary represented the around-the-way girl who’s had quite a few heartbreaks but was still hopeful of finding real love.
Her music makes you root for her in life and love. She gives listeners faith that they too will be triumphant over their circumstances. Now 30 years into her career, the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul continues to prove why she’s unforgettable.
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At the start of her career, Faith Evans had to contend with the stigma of being regarded as a mere replicate of Mary J. Blige. She proved her detractors wrong with her silky, operatic voice and more tender approach towards love. Faith endured her own share of tragedy; her husband, the legendary rapper Notorious B.I.G, was murdered in 1997.
Faith would channel her pain in her music, stunning listeners with her resilience and inspiring vocal performances such as “Love Like This.” And, of course, Evans sang the hook on Puff Daddy’s tribute to Biggie Smalls on “I’ll Be Missing You,” which was a permanent fixture on the radio in the late 1990s.
For these reasons, Faith Evans’ contributions to 90s R&B has withstood the test of time.
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Chilli of TLC
TLC is one of the rare music groups where every member is truly essential. While acts like The Supremes or The Three Degrees or Destiny’s Child opted to swap members in and out, TLC lost Left Eye in 2002 and never replaced the energy and talent she brought to the table.
But while Left Eye garnered a lot of press, and T-Boz offered an amazingly unique vocal tonality to the trio, Chilli always provided the beautiful harmony. While Left Eye, and T-Boz to a lesser degree, brought edge to TLC, Chilli offered a softer and more sensual side.
Of course, the great T-Boz often sang lead, but when Chilli got her shot as the front woman, she never let it go to waste. I highly recommend you check out tracks like “Come On Down” or “Don’t Pull Out On Me Yet” from their album “Fan Mail” to see what Chilli can offer fans vocally.
Lauryn Hill is a wildcard. She sings, she raps, she even acts! Musically, we were first introduced to her as one-third of the group, the Fugees, with Wyclef Jean and Pras. In addition to rapping, Lauryn would sing the choruses, providing smooth intermissions between verses.
She would branch out and drop her only album in 1998, a masterpiece entitled The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Here she’d showcase just how smooth and divine her singing could be. To this day, Lauryn Hill’s only release still has fans enthralled enough to see her in concert (even if she may be a few hours late).
Brandy was another teenaged R&B sensation who made her mark in the 90s. She sang very unabashedly about topics like having a crush and wanting to be loved. Essentially, Brandy’s fans were drawn to her confidence regarding romance. Her R&B stardom accelerated when she landed her own sitcom entitled Moesha. With her music and tv show taking off, Brandy became a household name well before becoming an adult. On top of that, Brandy is often referred to as the “Vocal Bible.”
Now that’s the stuff that makes an artist unforgettable.
- Best Brandy Songs of the 90s: There’s just too many to name here, but here are some of my favorites. If you want something sweet, go with “Baby Baby Baby” or “Sitting Up in My Room.” If you want something with a bit more edge, try “Top of the World” or “U Don’t Know Me.” And, if you’re dealing with heartbreak of a sad breakup, you’ll always want to have “Have You Ever?” on repeat.
Among the teen R&B sensations of the 90s, Monica offered a more adult sound. That’s amazing considering that when her debut album was released in 1995, she was just 14! Monica had a sassiness that permeated through her music.
In “Just One of Them Days,” she’s telling a boy that she’s just not in the mood to be entertained, and in “The Boy is Mine” with Brandy, she’s telling her fellow songstress that she’s out of her mind if she thinks that she’ll give up the man who is rightfully and undoubtedly hers. Monica made it known that she is not to be messed with!
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You cannot have a proper conversation about the best female R&B artists without mentioning Mariah Carey. She’s simply essential.
Mariah released seven albums during the decade, many of which spawned a plethora of hit singles. Her voice is ethereal, reaching registers that many professional vocalists just cannot touch. She can also be credited with, in my opinion, merging the genres of R&B and hip hop (and pushing it into the forefront of mainstream music), as Mariah was never shy about working with popular rappers of the 90s.
If you’re looking for one of the best black female R&B singers of any generation, look no further than Mariah Carey.
- Best Mariah Carey Songs of the 90s: If you want a song with a great message, almost akin to an activist or socially conscious song, I highly recommend Mariah’s “There’s Got to Be a Way.” If you want a song with a bit more edge, check out “Make It Happen.” And if you just want a great love song about longing, and even a bit of regret, check out Carey’s excellent “Love Takes Time.”
In 1997, the R&B scene gained a jazzy and earthy presence in the form of Erykah Badu. Her sound was a bit different from the hip-hop infused jams that were popular of the time. Erykah’s music was more soulful; her voice felt cathartic, like a smooth caress you hadn’t really felt in a long time.
Badu’s debut album, Baduizm, covered ground that most female R&B singers shy away from. In “The Other Side of the Game” for instance, she belts out the stakes involved with being in love with a drug dealer, and in “Tyrone” she’s dumping a good for nothing man in a bluesy tone. This album made Erykah Badu an undeniable R&B star in the late 90s.
Coko of SWV
Strong lead singers are essential for any musical group’s success. In SWV, it was Coko who really helped the group breakthrough in the early 90s. Depending on what a song was about, she could either sound very sweet and child-like, or raunchy and flirtatious.
Nothing wrong with versatility! Of course, Coko shined on her own in most songs, but her voice also meshed well in harmonies with her fellow group members, Taj and Lelee. Undoubtedly, Coko helped make SWV one of the more memorable girl groups of the 90s.
Deborah Cox made her debut in 1995 with the single “Sentimental,” an infectious number about an ex she couldn’t stop thinking about. Her music was very relatable. In 1998, Deborah’s second album, One Wish, was released to wide acclaim.
The most memorable song was “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here,” a powerful ballad about love finding her when she was feeling beat down by it. Just about anybody could belt this song word for word once they hear it (maybe not as flawless as Deborah does). Once an artist has that signature song, it’s very hard to erase their success from the memory.
The iconic Whitney Houston could never in a million years be forgotten. She will forever be known as “The Voice.” In the 90s, Whitney’s music veered more towards an R&B/New Jack sound, and as always, fans were in awe of the things her voice could do. She could sing sultry and soulfully which made you get warm feelings inside, and she could also be snappy, which jolted you.
She even had a successful movie career, contributing to soundtracks like The Bodyguard, which brought in millions of dollars and was widely acclaimed. On top of that, with roles in movies like Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife, she further entrenched herself in the hearts of African American film fans of the 1990s, as well. In the end, Whitney reigned in the 90s like no other female artist had, and even wrecked shop when she sang The Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl.
- Best Whitney Houston Songs of the 90s: You can’t go wrong with “I Will Always Love You,” of course, but also check out something fun like “Shoop,” or something with a bit more edge like “In My Business” (featuring Missy Elliot).
Now Phyllis is probably most known for being a 1980s artist, as she unfortunately passed away in the mid-1990s. However, before Hyman died, she completed what I honestly consider one of the best R&B albums of the entire 1990s decade: Prime of My Life.
This album came out in 1991 and is full of nothing but great jam after great jam. Hyman’s vocal performance here is full of passion and yearning, as she no doubt had one of the best voices R&B music has ever seen.
If you’re looking for an R&B album full of love, desire, heartache and even a bit of confusion, “Prime of My Life” will be the one that runs you through a gamut of mixed emotions. Sadly, this album never received a vinyl record release.
Toni Braxton made her impact in R&B with her distinct husky voice. Her debut, self-titled album had several hit singles that had equal measures of spunkiness and passion. It earned her the 1994 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Toni would follow up with more music that gave listeners something to cry to, feel empowered by, among other emotions.
“Unbreak My Heart” is easily her most well-known song; it is haunting, prompting listeners of a love that may never find its way back to them. You couldn’t possibly think about 90s R&B and forget about Toni Braxton.
On top of that, of every talented woman on this list, I think Toni is the only one that’s equipped to carry the vocal torch, symbolically speaking, of the great Phyllis Hyman. In my eyes, if Hyman had a spiritual successor, it would be Ms. Braxton.
- Best Toni Braxton Songs of the 90s: If you’re looking for a song with a bit of an edge, or a little bit of a defiant tone, check out “Love Should’ve Brought You Home Last Night.” If you want a classic Toni ballad, you can’t go wrong with “Breathe Again” or “Unbreak My Heart.” With that said, I’d argue “There’s No Me Without You” and “Let It Flow” are just as great—if not better.
Mya entered the R&B scene in 1998 with a flirtatious charm. She added a hint of jazziness to the R&B/hip-hop sound that was well in effect by the time of her arrival. She also wrote some of the songs on her debut album including “It’s All About Me.”
In music videos, Mya showcased her wondrous dance skill. She proved herself a consummate performer, one to watch in the new millennium. And, if you’re an 80s baby that grew up in the 1990s, you no doubt loved watching the animated show “Rugrats.” When the series was turned into a film in 1998, Mya of course sang the hook on the endlessly enjoyable “Take Me There,” which also featured Blackstreet, Mase, and Blinky Blink.
Janet Jackson had her musical breakout in the mid-80s but continued to dominate the R&B scene throughout the 90s. Over time, her music became more mature, as Janet leaned more into her sensual side.
With songs like “Throb” or “Anytime, Anyplace,” or “Go Deep,” R&B fans got to hear the more erotic sides of Ms. Jackson. She was hardly the same cherub fans first met in the previous decade—and that’s the way Janet wanted to be seen.
Jackson is a monumental talent who’s highly revered in R&B to this very day. Her 90s work helped changed the course of sound within the genre, and it’s incredible that she was able to carve out a legacy that stands on its own given how famous her brother already was when Janet began making music.
- Best Janet Jackson Songs of the 90s: There’s of course far too many to name, but some of my favorites are “Because of Love” off the “Janet” album and “Together Again” off of “The Velvet Rope.” If you want a Janet track with a lot more edge, check out “What About,” as well. If desire something softer or more romantic, I’d recommend “Again,” or “Everytime.”
People still love 1990s R&B because it gives you all the feels. There are so many female R&B singers of the 90s that made some of the most memorable jams that everybody and their mama knows by heart! Of course, we couldn’t include everyone on this list, but I think this is a nice jumping off point if you’re new to 90s R&B music and are looking for some great singers to kick off your new obsession.
- This album was written by Whitney, with select additions by Michael.
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