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Black Music Month: 100 Best Songs Of All Time – The 1990s

Welcome to the era of supa-dupa-fly where the marriage of R&B and hip-hop became a match made in heaven.
  1. "Poison" — Bell, Biv, DeVoe, 1990

    (Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
    (Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

    “Never trust a big butt and a smile...” is probably one of the most iconic lyrics of this decade.“Poison” became one of the most successful songs of 1990, spending 10 weeks in the Top 10 on mainstream radio and the video in constant rotation on MTV. Sampled and referenced repeatedly since its release, the song was even listed at the Number 2 spot on Billboard’s Complex list of the greatest New Jack Swing songs of all time. 

  2. "Bonita Applebum" — A Tribe Called Quest, 1990

    (Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
    (Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

    The second single from their debut album, “Bonita Applebum” highlights member Q-Tip’s attempt to woo an around-the-way girl with...a rather large posterior. The song also marks a sonic change in hip-hop as “alternative hip-hop” became a popular sub-genre, following the emergence of ATCQ. In the years since it’s become a hip-hop classic that has been sampled and referenced by everyone from JAY-Z to The Fugees.

  3. "Summertime" — DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, 1991

    Before Amerie, the Fresh Prince (Will Smith)  and DJ Jazzy Jeff  (Jeffrey Townes) set the tone for quintessential summer anthems. Produced by Hula and  K. Fingers, Smith effortlessly narrates the fun nostalgic summer days in Black neighborhoods all across America. The song reached Number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, stayed at Number 1 on the R&B / Hip-Hop U.S. charts for a week, and won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1992. 

  4. "I Will Always Love You"— Whitney Houston, 1992

     (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Getty Images)
    (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Getty Images)

    With over 20 million copies sold, making it the best selling single by a woman of all time, Whitney Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” for The Bodyguard soundtrack is more than just an influential song for young Black girls to sing at talent shows. It cemented the fact that Black women had become the heartbeat of popular music. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks, won Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1994 Grammys, and in 2020, was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation on the National Recording Registry. 

  5. "Weak" — SWV, 1993

    (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
    (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

    Arguably their most famous song, SWV’s third single from their debut album has become an essential song on the playlists of many young Black girls.  Written by Brian Alexander Morgan, “Weak” lyrically portrays the emotion of falling in love for the first time. The single topped the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts for two weeks, sold over 1 million copies, landed at Number 72 on Billboard’s list of 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time and was been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). 

  6. "Forever My Lady"— Jodeci, 1991

    Jodeci’s second single from their debut album, “Forever My Lady” marked a significant change occurring within the world of R&B. Released around the same time as Boyz II Men’s debut album, the duality of the groups allowed for Jodeci to represent the men in a more gritty and sexualized manner. However, the title track, written by Al. B Sure for then-girlfriend Kim Porter not only showed off the group’s vocal ability but laid a blueprint for acts such as Tyrese, Chris Brown, and Usher to come. It peaked at #25 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and Number 1 on its R&B charts.  

  7. "Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang"— Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg, 1992

    “One, two, three and to the fo’’” is all that needs to be said. This iconic West Coast anthem marks more than just a monumental moment in hip-hop: it’s also become a part of American pop culture. From Glee and Family Guy to Mariah Carey and Silk the Shocker, "Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang" is quite literally one of the greatest songs of all time. This lead single from The Chronic, has been certified platinum by the RIAA, peaked at Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, topped the R&B/Hip-Hop charts, was nominated for a Grammy, ranked Number 427 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time, was featured on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list and was named the Greatest Rap Song of the ‘90s by XXL magazine

  8. "Keep Ya Head Up" — Tupac, 1993

    “Keep Ya Head Up: has become one of Tupac Shakur’s most quoted and well-known songs. Featuring R&B singer Dave Hollister on the chorus, Pac used his considerable influence to create a masterpiece that remains relevant nearly 30 years since its release. . The song peaked at Number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, Number 7 on the R&B/Hip Hop charts, and holds a spot  on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of Songs That Shaped Rock. 

  9. "C.R.E.A.M." — Wu-Tang Clan, 1994

     (Photo: Bob Berg/Getty Images)
    (Photo: Bob Berg/Getty Images)

    One of the most quintessential songs in hip-hop history, just the chorus lyrics alone are known by children as well as grandparents. “C.R.E.A.M.” (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) by Wu-Tang Clan was the third single from their debut album. Despite the song only peaking at Number 60 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and Number 32 on its R&B/Hip-Hop charts, the cultural impact of C.R.E.A.M. still resonates with hip-hop fans almost 30 years after it first dropped. 

  10. "Free Your Mind"— En Vogue, 1992

    “Free Your Mind” is a hard rock/funk anthem that denounces racism, sexism, and bigotry. Written as a “plea to humanity to respect each other,” it became a huge crossover hit and established the group as superstars. The song peaked at Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and garnered the ladies two Grammy nominations.

  11. "Fantasy Remix" — Mariah Carey, 1995

     (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)
    (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)

    For Mariah Carey, whose prior releases were labeled as pop or adult contemporary, this remix with Ol’ Dirty Bastard would prove to be a landmark move in popular music, giving way to such artists as Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Ariana Grande who would go on to successfully merge pop and hip-hop. The track reached Number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, making her the first female act to debut atop that list. 

  12. "Brown Sugar" — D’Angelo, 1995

    D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” marked the beginning of what became known as the Neo-Soul Movement.  Inside tip: even today, many aren’t aware that the song is actually about a strain of marijuana. It peaked at Number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, Number 5 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts, and was ranked Number 4 on Complex’s The Best Songs About Weed list. 

  13. "Waterfalls" — TLC, 1994

    (Photo: Tim Roney/Getty Images)
    (Photo: Tim Roney/Getty Images)

    This third single from their sophomore album was TLC’s resounding vessel of awareness and  created is arguably their most famous song. With a  haunting video as accompaniment, “Waterfalls” continues to linger in our cultural psyche. One of the first songs to directly address AIDS, “Waterfalls” became a staple on MTV, spent seven weeks at Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and earned the trio two Grammy nominations the year following its release 

  14. "Crush On You Remix" — Lil Kim, 1997

    (Photo: KMazur/WireImage)
    (Photo: KMazur/WireImage)

    Featuring one of the most memorable verses in hip-hop history, Lil’ Kim’s lyrics and video for “Crush On You Remix” laid the blueprint for other hardcore emcees such as Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Doja Cat to follow. The original song features only Lil’ Cease, as Kim was pregnant at the time of the recording. However, her presence on the remix has stood the test of time and been sampled by everyone from Drake to Mariah Carey. 

  15. "I Get Lonely" — Janet Jackson, 1997

    “I Get Lonely” was the third single from Janet’s magnum opus, The Velvet Rope. Lyrically, the song speaks to the demoralizing emotions surrounding loneliness and affection, while the music video itself has inspired a generation of entertainers, including Rihanna and Ciara. A top ten hit, it peaked at Number 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, giving Janet her 18th Top Ten hit. 

  16. "Mo Money, Mo Problems" — The Notorious B.I.G., 1997

    (Photo: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
    (Photo: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

    Breakout hit “Mo Money Mo Problems” featuring Puff Daddy and Mase, elevated all concepts of what hip-hop could be while generating a new sound and image that many would then follow. From the Diana Ross pop-friendly “I’m Coming Out” sample, to Kelly Price’s incomparable voice on the hook and chorus and the bullseye-hitting lyrics that have been sampled and reframed by everyone from Drake to Fabolous, Biggie’s posthumous masterpiece is one for the decade’s musical time capsule. . It peaked #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and gave Biggie true life after death. 

  17. "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" — Missy Elliott, 1997

    The collabo between Timbaland and Missy Elliott couldn’t have come at a better time. With the turn of the century on the horizon, the duo’s futuristic take on hip-hop was experimental and raw. . From the Hype Williams directed video to the Ann Peebles sample, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” pioneered a new generation of lyrically- and visually-advanced women in hip-hop, peaking at Number 4 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop charts. 

  18. "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See" — Busta Rhymes, 1997

    (Photo: Todd Plitt/Imagedirect)
    (Photo: Todd Plitt/Imagedirect)

    Following Biggie's death, many questioned where New York rap and hip-hop culture as a whole would go. The answer: as far as it wanted. The lead single of Busta Rhymes’ sophomore album, is an infectious crossover hit that solidified his place as an emerging visual and lyrical legend. Despite major airplay, the song only peaked at Number 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at Number 2 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts

  19. "Doo Wop (That Thing)" — Lauryn Hill, 1998

    (Photo: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)
    (Photo: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)

    “Doo Wop,” released as the first single from Hill’s  debut album,  carefully dissects gender roles, societal mores, and how to avoid being exploited by the opposite sex for “that thing.” The song was the first debut song to ever hit Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Lauryn Hill was the first woman since Debbie Gibson to have a Number 1 song that she wrote, produced, and recorded on her own. The song garnered two Grammys, for Best R&B Song, and for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.  

  20. "Are You That Somebody" — Aaliyah, 1998

    (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
    (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)

    The genius of Timbaland’s production and Aaliyah’s layered and sensual vocal performance, with assistance from Static Major, produced one of the best R&B/Pop songs of the late ‘90s. Marking the beginning of a sonic transition for the songstress, the single, featured on the Dr. Doolittle soundtrack,  and known for its trip-hop-inspired production and memorable choreography, has become a part of baby girl’s lasting legacy. It peaked at Number 21 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and ranked Number 24 on Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Songs of the ‘90s.   

  21. Visit BET.com for the next sampling of best songs from the 2000s and check out Black Music Month: 100 Best Songs Of All Time – The 1970s and Black Music Month: 100 Best Songs Of All Times - The 1980s.

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