R&B crooner Shanice may have had only one hit, but "I Love Your Smile" is arguably one of the catchiest — and most memorable — R&B tunes of the '90s. Really, who could forget a song whose chorus is "Do do do do do/do do do"? Complete with a brilliant saxophone solo by Branford Marsalis, the feel-good song climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991 and found massive success overseas. The song's midtempo jazziness certifies it as a quintessential early-'90s R&B classic.
Captions by Akoto Ofori-Atta
Canadian-born Darrin O'Brien, also known as Snow, found major commercial success with the reggae hit "Informer," which spent seven consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1992. Yes, the tune was catchy, but its irony might have had something to do with its success: A white Canadian man with no Caribbean heritage singing about police bias in patois is kind of hard to ignore. Snow failed to produce another chart topper, but he is said to have played a major role in the popularizing of reggae music in the 1990s. You know, real reggae music, of the Shaggy variety.
Digable Planets can take credit for one of the most popular jazz and hip-hop fusion songs of the '90s. "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" was a groundbreaking crossover hit for the subgenre, and it earned Digable Planets a Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or group. With an unforgettable horn riff, "Cool Like That" was a mellow and memorable antithesis to the edgier hip-hop of the early '90s.
If there was ever a song that exemplified the kind of music one would find on a Jock Jams compilation album, "Whoomp (There It Is)" would be it. Tag Team released this single after their comrades from the Miami bass group 95 South released a nearly identical tune called "Whoot (There It Is)" one month earlier. (True story.) "Whoomp," an annoyingly catchy electro-funk and hip-hop union, part of a genre often referred to as booty bass, was beat out only by Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" for song of the year in 1993.
There weren't many sexually explicit female R&B singers in 1995, one of several reasons that Howard could easily win for most raunchy one-hit wonder of the '90s with her first single, "Freak Like Me." She borrowed from the trend of mixing R&B with hip-hop, but where she parted from her contemporaries was in subject matter, dressing scantily and singing about sexual satisfaction while other songstresses were fully clothed and crooning about love. But the R&B audience bit and made "Freak Like Me" a certified platinum single.
Groove Theory, a duo made up of songstress-songwriter Amel Larrieux and producer Bryce Wilson, made magic with their first single, "Tell Me," a huge urban-radio hit in 1995. The song's simple melody, coupled with Larrieux's calm but strong vocals, made it an unforgettable hit for R&B lovers everywhere. The duo followed up with two noteworthy singles, "Baby Love" and "Keep Tryin'," but neither matched the success of "Tell Me."
In the mid-1990s, all-male quartets couldn't lose, and Soul 4 Real was no exception. If you count the moderate popularity of their second single, "Every Little Thing I Do," then Soul 4 Real might not qualify as a true one-hit wonder. But the four brothers are surely remembered most for their breakout single, "Candy Rain," which had tweens and adults alike humming along obsessively. Very much in the tradition of New Edition before them, Soul 4 Real perfectly straddled the fine line between teenybopper pop and soul.
British R&B sensation Morrison made a bold statement with his 1996 debut single, "Return of the Mack." As a lover scorned, he promises payback to the woman who broke his heart. The song reached No. 1 in the U.K., making Morrison the first black male solo artist to have a No. 1 single in that country in the '90s. The unforgettable ad-libbing ("Oh my God") and distinctive production made it clear that Morrison would never beat the success of this one, banishing him to the land of one-hit wonders forever.
Thompson's "The Things You Do" remix is most remembered as Missy Elliott's debut and the song that gave the world her indelible phrase, "He-he-he-he haw." Produced in 1996 by Bad Boy Records — back when Sean "Puffy" Combs ruled the radio — "The Things You Do" featured an easy melody and catchy percussion. While the single peaked at No. 41 on the Billboard charts, it was a popular radio hit and helped make Thompson's first album, Nobody Does It Better, go platinum.
Mista appeared on the music scene in 1996 with "Blackberry Molasses," a slow-tempo, gritty single about life's hardships that rose to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts. It was mature music for the youthful quartet, who struggled to sell an audience their take on grown-up subjects. The group disbanded in 1998, but all was not lost, since Mista gave lead singer Bobby Valentino the recording experience that would later prove useful in his pursuit of a successful solo career.
On their second album, Uptown Saturday Night, Camp Lo released "Luchini," a critically acclaimed hip-hop single that seemed ahead of its time. Rappers Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede channeled 1970's funk and jazz with this hit, and while "Luchini" was their only commercial success, Uptown Saturday Night has been praised as lyrically solid and a perfect blend of jazz and hip-hop.