Rhythm and Blues Music in the 90s

rnb music 90s

R&B music in the 90s was an eclectic blend of timeless hits and innovative movements. From Bell Biv DeVoe’s New Jack Swing album to Toni Braxton’s Waiting to Exhale soundtrack ballads and midtempos, these albums helped shape an entire generation of Black female singers.

Erykah Badu’s classic track, “Poison”, marries R&B, jazz and funk to create an irresistibly sensual track that remains popular today.

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye epitomized Motown during its golden era in the 1960s and helped define its sound both as a singer and songwriter. His influence can be heard across several R&B subgenres such as quiet storm and Neo-Soul; many consider him one of the most influential musicians alive today. Although an accomplished artist, Gaye struggled with mental illness and drug dependency throughout his life before dying tragically at only 34 after being shot by his own father during an argument.

Gaye first achieved fame as part of Motown artist Harvey Fuqua’s group The Marquees; later they changed into Harvey and the Moonglows before finally signing with Berry Gordy Jr.’s Tamla label owned by Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. At first Gaye was reluctant to break out as an R&B performer instead aiming for success similar to Nat Cole or Frank Sinatra; however his debut solo release What’s Going On broke free from Motown’s tight creative control and cemented him as one of Motown’s premier artists.

Gaye became one of the greatest Motown hits during this era. He co-wrote and sang on numerous hits for Smokey Robinson such as “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Martha and the Vandellas (“Pride and Joy”). Gaye also found great success working as a duet singer alongside Mary Wells and Tammi Terrell; these timeless love songs such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love” will always remain timeless classics.

After experiencing some success with his previous recordings, Gaye returned in 1982 with Midnight Love and Sexual Healing as a single. It spent ten weeks at number one on Billboard’s R&B charts and three on pop. Gaye’s album went on to become an immense success; earning his first two Grammy awards. Unfortunately, however, his comeback tour was cut short on April 1, 1984 when his father shot and killed him due to a domestic dispute; still considered one of the great musical artists ever and inspiring generations of new performers ever since his passing on April 1.

Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men rose to become one of the premier boy bands during the ’90s. Formed at Philadelphia’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts under the name Unique Attraction in 1988, they soon changed to Boyz II Men after graduation and found success creating emotive ballads and soulful harmonies.

Their self-titled debut album released in 1991 rode the wave of New Jack Swing to great success, giving rise to three hits: “End of the Road”, “I’ll Make Love to You”, and a duet with Mariah Carey called “One Sweet Day”, selling over nine million copies worldwide.

II followed in 1994 and proved an instant hit despite not including as many hit singles from its predecessor. II still enjoyed great sales success and received two Grammy awards as a result of it.

Boyz II Men was outraged that its follow-up, 1995’s The Remix Collection, featured remixes that used hip-hop beats and New Jack Swing style dance music as cash grabs to generate sales; therefore they decided to sign with Sony instead of Motown, and released Evolution which was also successful.

Boyz II Men was an immensely successful group throughout the 1990s, releasing multiple albums and winning multiple top ten singles. 1998’s Collide featured high-profile collaborations with longtime peers Brian McKnight and Charlie Puth; later they continued touring while recording albums such as The Remix Collection II and The Ultimate Collection featuring remakes of classic tracks.

Recently, The Band hasn’t experienced the same level of commercial success seen during their early ’90s heyday; nevertheless they remain one of the top male vocal groups and R&B acts of all time – featured on shows like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Moesha, Celebrity Wheel of Fortune as well as commercials for Geico, Wendy’s and Old Navy – plus four members have created successful solo careers!


Rhythm and blues has long held sway over black audiences, yet the 1990s saw an explosive transformation. Influential producers like Babyface, Jermaine Dupri, Rico Wade, Darkchild and Teddy Riley combined contemporary R&B with hip hop and New Jack Swing into an identifiable style that defined this decade – emphasizing sensual artists with irresistibly grooved tracks like Rihanna or Sade for an infectious sound now synonymous with 90s R&B.

Girl groups were all the rage during the 1990s, and TLC led this movement. Composed of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas from Atlanta – these Atlantan trio members blended post-New Jack Swing R&B with pop and rock sounds to become one of the most successful girl groups of all time. Oooooohhh…On the TLC Tip was released first and immediately reached #1 on Billboard’s R&B charts before their sophomore effort CrazySexyCool redefined divine confidence with hit singles like “Creep” and “Red Light Special”.

TLC’s music resonated strongly with young females as they embarked upon adulthood, providing songs that mirrored their independence and challenged a music industry that often cast women as scorned lovers, vixens and heartbreakers.

TLC became an international cultural phenomenon through their music, outrageous fashion choices and visually striking videos. TLC were among the early adopters of intergalactic-themed videos and performances during this era of pop music history.

TLC continues to influence modern R&B and pop with their timeless classics, leaving an indelible mark. Their music continues to define modern R&B and pop music alike – listen to some of our favorite 90s RnB tracks below to hear how TLC helped pioneer an entirely new era of the genre! NPR’s World Cafe celebrates Black History Month all month with shows that showcase artists and styles from this pivotal decade in r&b music history.

Janet Jackson

The 1990s witnessed the birth of several iconic female R&B artists. Janet Jackson stands out among these names with her increasingly mature approach to dance-pop music. After her first two albums failed to chart well, Janet found what she needed with producer Jimmy Jam and songwriter Terry Lewis collaborating on sensual Janet Jackson which debuted at number six and produced multiple hit singles. In 1995 she collaborated with Michael for “Scream,” which hit No.1 on the charts and resulted in an elaborate space-age video costing $7 million to produce, making it the most costly music video at that time. Soon thereafter she released Design of a Decade compilation album featuring lush tribute to travel “Runaway”.

After her brief marriage to James Debarge, Jackson began work on her third studio effort, Control, which quickly become her signature album selling more than five million copies worldwide and cementing her status as a superstar. Following this success came Rhythm Nation 1814 which featured more socially conscious music selling eight million copies; Jackson would go on to star alongside Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice drama film.

Janet then collaborated with Darkchild and Dallas Austin on Smooth Criminal, one of the most iconic songs from this era. A classic ballad, Janet delivered it with class and grace – eventually going on to become one of her biggest hits and becoming a number one hit in its own right. This song remains Janet’s signature work to this day.

From Bell Biv DeVoe’s New Jack Swing to Aaliyah’s Electro-R&B, the 1990s gave us some timeless classics in R&B music. Their albums continue to influence modern R&B acts while being sampled by hip-hop acts worldwide. For Black History Month 2019, World Cafe correspondent John Morrison looks back on this influential period of R&B music history.