Here’s the definitive list of the best R&B groups in the 1980s to 1990s
If there’s one thing we love to argue about as Black people, it’s music. We debate the merits of Motown versus funk. Jill Scott versus Erykah Badu. Biggie versus Tupac. So to help put one of the age old debates to rest, I’m giving you the 100% iron-clad, irrefutable, undeniable, definitive list of the best music groups from the 80’s-90’s.
To be fair, I’m judging this list based on a specific list of metrics (i.e. the only things that matter):
No one hit wonders here. To be a truly great group you’ve got to put a lot of years in the game.
Music groups are notorious for having a lead singer that can blow and a bunch of backup bodies just to fill the stage and hold a note. Not here. Even more, you can’t just have a good singer or even bonafide sanger to top this list. You’ve got to have a deep bench of vocalists that can riff and run with the best of them.
# of Hit Singles and Albums
Some groups have long careers without the true success to show for it. The best have a long list of both hit singles AND hit albums.
Die hard fanbase
This metric is the wild card. Great artists attract lifelong, devoted fans. This can be one of the biggest deciders to separate the good from the great. Can the group still sell out a tour? Do their fans verge of Bey Hive levels of fervor? Are folks still clamoring for them to get back together? Meet any if those qualifications and you just might make the cut.
Now, without further ado, here is the list of best groups from the 80’s-90’s.
Honorable Mentions: Tony! Toni! Toné!, Brownstone, Shai, Silk, Mokenstef, Guy, and DeBarge
They might not have performed well enough to make the top list, but these groups still left a lasting impression.
TLC scores high in 3 out of our 4 scoring categories. Their career seems to have no end. Even after Left Eye passed away, T-Boz and Chili have managed to keep the hits coming. And their fans are so devoted that they funded their next project through Kickstarter. Still, while T-Boz has a great tone and Chili tries really hard, there is a reason TLC is known more for the content of their songs than their actual delivery,
Who doesn’t love SWV? After years out of the spotlight, they were able to stage a comeback that included 2 albums, a reality show, and successful tours. And as far as I’m concerned, “Weak” is one of the best R&B songs of all time. But SWV suffers from a weak bench. Coko’s voice is arguably one the best in R&B history, but Taj and Lelee have never been able to compete.
Xscape could have been so much more if they were better managed and kept the group together. They all can sang. Every project they have produced has been successful. But their career was cut short due to infighting and solo aspirations. Maybe now that the group has reformed, they can revive the magic.
I couldn’t tell you how many members have been in how many configurations of this group, but their music was always great and the harmonies were always tight. Whether you prefer the Dave Hollister “Before I Let You Go” days or the Chauncey Black “No Diggity” era, Blackstreet was a staple of early 90’s R&B. Now if only Teddy Riley could actually sing …
When you take a hard look at Jodeci, it really shouldn’t have worked. But somehow K-Ci’s crooning and wailing became a hallmark of the group instead of a hindrance. And I don’t care what anybody says; Jodeci has some of the best opening lines of any musical act ever. “So you’re having my baby”. “Everytime I close my eyes, I wake up feeling so horny”. “I’ve been watchin you for so very long”. “Take my money. My house and my car”. We all know those.
Who knows what could have been if drugs hadn’t come into play?
4. Mint Condition
Mint Condition is the band that never quit. While best known for their early work like “What Kind Of Man Would I Be?”, this true soul band has continued to produce new music and tour for decades. That track record alone gets them high on the list, even though they are short on major hit singles or albums.
3. New Edition
If there is one shortcoming for New Edition, it’s that they only ever had 1-2 solid singers in the group at one time. They have the hits, the fanbase, and the longevity. But outside of Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill (and Bobby Brown to a lesser extent), the group was definitely not known for their voices.
2. En Vogue
The original funky divas were everything back in the 90’s. They stayed true to the genre with “Giving Him Something He Can Feel”, showing that they had the pipes. And they were shockingly progressive for their time with “Free Your Mind”. Throw in the fact that they still can get on stage and shut it down and you’ve got a winning act. I like to think that in some alternate dimension the original group members stayed together.
There was some tough competition, but nobody can beat Boyz II Men. This group pretty much defined the 90’s with their impeccable harmonies and unforgettable songs. From “I’ll Make Love To You” to “Water Runs Dry” to “Motownphilly” to “One Sweet Day”, this group was unstoppable. They all could and can still sang. They’ve continued to release music and even held a Las Vegas residency. Boyz II Men is not only one of the best groups from the 90’s, they are one of the best groups of all time.
Photo credit: Twitter; album art
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