20 R&B albums that defined the last 20 years
1Xtra is celebrating 20 years of R&B with a best R&B songs poll - vote for your favourite here.
As part of 1Xtra's R&B celebrations, we're taking a look back on two game-changing decades for R&B albums.
Between 2002 and 2022, UK R&B went Stateside, U.S. R&B broke new ground, and some of the world's most forward-thinking artists put their stamp on the genre.
Scroll down for a selection of iconic records released between 2002-2022, handpicked by some of your favourite DJs...
Aaliyah - 'I Care 4 U' (2002)
Jamz Supernova: "A posthumous album that really highlighted Aaliyah’s legacy whilst being a sad reminder that she was taken too soon! She was a pioneer and a game changer. For the Gen Z / Alpha coming across her music on streaming services for the first time, this is a great album to start with!"
Standout tracks: 'Miss You', 'Rock The Boat'
Amerie - 'All I Have' (2002)
Rampage's Treble T: "This was Amerie's breakout album. I love the way her and her producers would merge the loud hip-hop beats and breaks with her soulful vocals. She has mad tunes on that album! Big Up Richard Harrison, a producer pivotal to giving her that unique sound!"
Standout tracks: 'Why Don't We Fall in Love', 'Show Me'
Floetry - 'Floetic' (2002)
Next to Craig David - and most recently Ella Mai - South-east London duo Marsha 'Songstress' Ambrosius and Natalie 'Floacist' Stewart - aka Floetry - were the most successful British R&B act to have properly 'broken' America. They moved from the UK and laid foundations in Philadelphia, becoming pivotal members of the Neo-Soul, Philly scene of the early noughties (check out Jill Scott, Musiqsoulchild and Bilal to name a a few).
Their debut album 'Floetic' married the gritty sound of London - with their unapologetic London accents - over smooth American R&B productions. Such was their critical music acclaim within their circles stateside that Marsha Ambrosius co-wrote 'Butterflies' for Michael Jackson, which featured on his 'Invincble' album and as well as on Floetry's debut album.
Standout tracks: 'Floetic', 'Say Yes', 'Getting Late', 'Butterflies'
Ms. Dynamite - 'A Little Deeper' (2002)
Sian Anderson: "A timeless album that I carry with me through adulthood. Ms. Dynamite is a pioneer and she was spitting those real raw facts from the very get-go! She talked about morals, self respect, loving yourself from early, and I wasn't hearing much of that when I was a teenager. I love her and am inspired by her to this day."
Standout tracks: 'It Takes More', 'Dy-Na-Mi-Tee', 'Put Him Out'
Justin Timberlake - 'Justified' (2002)
Remi Burgz: "Justin Timberlake was the stew to my rice growing up! He came from his band NSYNC and blossomed like he deserved. Not only did this album signify that his place in R&B was appreciated, it gave a pizzaz and funk to R&B that lil’ old Remi appreciated back then because it wasn’t all sways and slo motion. He had me pop locking to ‘Rock Your Body’, he had me using the space around my house in ‘Cry Me A River’ and he created one of the best ‘call and response’ activities integrated into a song ever with ‘Senorita’."
Standout tracks: 'Like I Love You', 'Cry Me A River', 'Rock Your Body', 'Last Night'
Tweet - 'Southern Hummingbird' (2002)
Trevor Nelson: "I could choose so many albums like Floetry, Teedra Moses or Alicia Keys, but I've gone for Tweet’s debut album because I rinsed it in my car for a whole year! The sparse production with her harmonies is what appeals to me. That run of slow jams from 'My Place', 'Smoking Cigarettes' to 'Best Friend' is a ridiculous vibe."
Standout tracks: 'Oops (Oh My)', 'Boogie 2Nite', 'My Place'
Beyoncé - 'Dangerously In Love' (2003)
Rampage's Treble T: "I love Beyoncé's debut breakout album. She had just left Destiny's Child, and we're wondering if she was going to really, really smash it as a solo artist, and, well we didn't need to worry because 'Dangerously In Love' was a banger of an album and we all know the tunes - they all became anthems in their own right!"
Standout tracks:'Crazy In Love', 'Me, Myself and I', 'Baby Boy'
Erykah Badu - 'Worldwide Underground' (2003)
There are many iconic albums that the undisputed queen of Neo-Soul, Erykah Badu released during her near three decade reign (this is more than a career guys!) but 'Worldwide Underground' (Ms Badu's third studio album) had that extra special 'something'.
Etheral, spiritual and melodic, the album effortlessly partners hip-hop and funk beats with soulful lyrics. While not a commercial sucesss like her debut album, 'Baduizm', 'Worldwide Underground' is a staple R&B fans should have in their collection.
Standout tracks: 'Bump It', 'I Want You', 'Danger', 'Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop)'
JoJo - 'JoJo' (2004)
Sian Anderson: "This was the first album I knew word for word back to front. I grew up on this album and I thought JoJo was so cool - especially because "OMG she knows Bow Wow!" This was when I was going through the teenage girl phase of wishing I was an American girl who went to an American school and lived the American dream, it looked so fun when I was 14."
Standout tracks: 'Leave (Get Out)', 'Baby It's You'
Usher - 'Confessions' (2004)
Trevor Nelson: "This is a crossover masterpiece! Usher was an artist at his peak, and the songs, his masterful delivery and the ultimate production - second to none.
There is a reason that it was the last R&B album to sell over 10 million copies in America - and some of the best songs weren't even released as singles!"
Ace: "Amazing body of work from one of the greatest R&B artists of all time. The 'Confessions' vs. '8701' (album) argument is still one of the hottest debates in Black music."
Standout tracks: 'Yeah!', 'Burn', Caught Up', 'My Boo'
Jazmine Sullivan - 'Fearless' (2008)
Sian Anderson: "No matter what situation I am in, or I am going through with a man, there is a song on that album that gets me in my feels about it! It’s a rollercoaster listen; you go from happy to sad to angry to mad to impressed to shocked, like Ms Sullivan really puts me through my motions on this one!"
Rampage's Maurice: "This is Jazmine's debut album and was produced by the legendary producer Salaam Remi (produced for the likes of Amy Winehouse, Nas and Miguel). There was so many big tunes on that album, I actually worked on that album and got to take Jazmine and her mum around London to radio interviews - and even lent her £20 for a cab! Lovely girl, amazing album."
Standout tracks: 'Bust The Windows', 'Need You Bad', 'Lion, Tigers & Bears'
Frank Ocean - 'channel ORANGE' (2012)
Trevor Nelson: "R&B was going through an identity crisis in the industry. Then came Frank Ocean - and sense and purpose was restored! (In my opinion) the single most important album since D'Angelo had the same effect a decade earlier (with ‘Voodoo’). Cool, left of centre, weird and wonderful at times but importantly, he sounded like no one else."
Standout tracks: 'Thinkin Bout You', 'Sierra Leone', 'Bad Religion', 'White', 'Lost'
Bryson Tiller - 'T R A P S O U L' (2015)
Ace: "This album began the end of the “R&B is dead” narrative. [In my opinion] the album made being a R&B fan cool again."
Standout tracks: 'Don't', 'Overtime', 'Let Em' Know'
Solange - 'A Seat at the Table' (2016)
Jamz Supernova: "An album that speaks to Black womanhood. Is as important now as it was when it came out. Fave track has to be 'Cranes In The Sky'".
Standout tracks: 'Cranes in the Sky', 'Mad', 'Don't Touch My Hair', 'F.U.B.U.'
H.E.R. - 'H.E.R.' (2017)
The San Francisco Bay Area native was somewhat of a child musical prodigy growing up. An accomplished pianist, guitarist and singer-songwriter, Gabi Wilson - better known as H.E.R. (an acronym for Having Everything Revealed) - is part of the new wave of other-worldly talented R&B divas in the making (think Summer Walker, Ari Lennox, Jazmine Sullivan, SZA) who are taking R&B to the next level.
Her 2017 album, 'H.E.R.' was a compilation of her previous EP projects, 'H.E.R., Vol. 1' (2016) and 'H.E.R., Vol. 2' (2017) - plus six new songs. Reminiscent of R&B classics from the 80s and 90s, tracks such as 'Focus' and 'Best Part' cemented her place in the genre's top tier. Such was its deserved hype, it won Best R&B Album at the 61st Grammy Awards.
Standout tracks: 'Focus', 'Best Part', 'Lights On'
SZA - 'Ctrl' (2017)
Remi Burgz: "The ‘Ctrl’ (pronounced Control) album is the stamp of SZA, it will be spun for years to come. Parents will pass this on to their kids and say "You don’t know how good music used to be back then!" Not one song on the album is sung without support from holding your own chest."
Ace: "The perfect blend of sweet, toxic, ratchet and beautiful lyrics and vocals on amazing production too."
Standout tracks: 'Drew Barrymore', 'The Weekend', 'Love Galore'
Summer Walker - 'Over It' (2019)
Nadia Jae: "I haven’t felt this way about a nu-school album in decades! I had this album on repeat for months and Summer went to number 1 (in the U.S.) with this album. It went Gold and Platinum… For a debut album it’s one of the best I’ve heard from a R&B artist."
Standout tracks: 'Girls Need Love', 'Playing Games', 'Come Thru'
Cleo Sol - 'Rose in the Dark' (2020)
Jamz Supernova: "Hard to choose between the albums 'Mother' (2021) and 'Rose in the Dark', but on this day 'Rose...' takes it! Cleo Sol is your favourite artist's favourite artist. Lowkey, humble with it, but one of the most talented musicians in the UK right now. 'Rose in the Dark' is perfectly written and sung encapsulating the vulnerabilities of love!"
Standout tracks: 'One Love', 'Why Don't You', 'When I'm In Your Arms'
Bellah - 'The Art of Conversation' (2021)
Remi Burgz: "Bellah is a beautiful addition to the new form of contemporary R&B. She hit the nail on the head with the concept of ‘The Art of Conversation’ but what’s even more interesting is these songs are conversations with herself.
Standout tracks: 'Home', 'If I Were U', 'Cause U Can'
Jazmine Sullivan - 'Heaux Tales' (2021)
For many people, Jazmine Sullivan's 'Heaux Tales' was the album of 2021! Somewhat of a veteran in the R&B field, and for many of her fellow peers; she was seen as a vocal and songwriting genius, 'Heaux Tales' viewed as an ode to Black womanhood, sexual empowerment, self love and healing.
With features from some of modern-day R&B's biggest stars such as Ari Lennox, Anderson .Paak and H.E.R., the album was a critical and commercial success - so much so, 'Heaux Tales' won Album of the Year at the 2021 BET Awards and 2021 Soul Train Awards - plus Best R&B Album at the 64th Grammy Awards.
Standout tracks: 'Pick Up Your Feelings', 'On It', Price Tags', 'Lost One'