Top R&B Songs of the 80s and 90s: A Nostalgic Look Back at the Best of the Genre

Top R&B Songs of the 80s and 90s
Written by Corey Morgan

The 80s and 90s were a golden era for R&B music, with some of the most iconic songs and artists emerging during this time. From Whitney Houston to Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross to Mariah Carey, the R&B genre was defined by its soulful melodies, smooth vocals, and heartfelt lyrics. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the top R&B songs from the 80s and 90s, exploring what made them so special and enduring.

During the 80s and 90s, R&B music was characterized by a fusion of different styles, including funk, soul, and hip hop. This led to a diverse range of sounds and influences, with artists experimenting with new techniques and approaches to create a fresh and exciting sound. As a result, R&B music became increasingly popular during this time, with many songs topping the charts and becoming instant classics.

Whether you’re a fan of slow jams, upbeat dance tracks, or powerful ballads, there is something for everyone in the world of 80s and 90s R&B. From the infectious rhythms of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” to the emotional intensity of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road,” these songs continue to captivate audiences and inspire new generations of musicians.

Defining R&B Music of the 80s and 90s

Rhythm and Blues (R&B) music of the 80s and 90s was a unique blend of soul, funk, and pop music. It was characterized by its smooth melodies, soulful vocals, and groovy beats. This era of R&B music was a golden age that produced some of the most memorable and timeless songs in music history.

One of the defining features of R&B music of the 80s and 90s was its focus on love and relationships. The songs were often about the joys and pains of love, and the lyrics were heartfelt and relatable. Artists like Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, and Anita Baker were known for their powerful vocals and emotional delivery, which helped to make their songs even more impactful.

Another defining feature of this era of R&B music was its use of electronic instruments and production techniques. Synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic instruments were used to create a unique sound that was both modern and timeless. This helped to distinguish R&B music of the 80s and 90s from other genres of music and gave it a distinct identity.

In addition, R&B music of the 80s and 90s was heavily influenced by the civil rights movement and the struggle for equality. Many artists used their music to address social issues and promote positive change. Songs like “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy and “Rhythm Nation” by Janet Jackson were powerful statements that resonated with audiences and helped to shape the cultural landscape of the time.

Overall, R&B music of the 80s and 90s was a unique and influential genre that left a lasting impact on music history. Its smooth melodies, soulful vocals, and groovy beats continue to inspire and influence artists today.

Top R&B Artists of the 80s

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson is widely regarded as one of the most influential R&B performers ever. “Thriller,” his 1982 album, holds the record for the highest-selling album of all time, with over 66 million copies sold worldwide. Jackson’s exceptional singing, dancing, and fashion sense have served as an inspiration for numerous artists who have followed in his footsteps.

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s soulful ballads and commanding vocals established her as one of the most prosperous R&B performers of the 80s. Upon its release in 1985, her self-titled debut album became the highest-selling debut album by a female artist at that time. Houston’s chart-topping hits such as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Greatest Love of All” remain popular even today.


Prince was a multi-talented musician, singer, and songwriter who created a unique blend of funk, rock, and R&B. His album “Purple Rain” released in 1984 became one of the most iconic albums of the 80s. Prince’s flamboyant style, provocative lyrics, and electrifying performances made him a legend in the music industry.

Top R&B Artists of the 90s

Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men, a vocal R&B group from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, emerged in 1988 and rose to fame in the early 1990s. They are celebrated for their seamless harmonies and romantic ballads. Boyz II Men had numerous hits in the 90s, such as “End of the Road,” “I’ll Make Love to You,” and “One Sweet Day.”

Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige, an American singer, songwriter, and actress, started her career in the early 1990s and quickly gained recognition for her commanding vocals and poignant lyrics. Blige delivered several chart-toppers in the 90s, such as “Real Love,” “Not Gon’ Cry,” and “Family Affair.” She is frequently hailed as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.”


TLC, an American girl group, was formed in Atlanta, Georgia in 1990 and consisted of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas. TLC was recognized for their exceptional fusion of R&B, hip-hop, and pop music. They delivered numerous chart-toppers in the 90s, such as “Waterfalls,” “No Scrubs,” and “Creep.”

Influential R&B Songs of the 80s

Billie Jean

This was a revolutionary R&B track that had a significant impact on the music industry. The song’s infectious beat, catchy lyrics, and unforgettable music video made it an instant classic. “Billie Jean” was the second single from Jackson’s legendary album “Thriller” and swiftly became one of the most prominent hits of the 80s. The song’s message about false accusations and the weight of fame resonated with audiences worldwide.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody

The song’s lively tempo, catchy chorus, and Houston’s commanding vocals made it a classic. The song’s music video, which featured Houston singing and dancing in a vibrant setting, was also a hit with audiences. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” is widely considered one of the best R&B tracks of the 80s.

Purple Rain

Prince’s “Purple Rain,” released in 1984, is widely regarded as one of the greatest R&B songs ever. The song’s haunting melody, powerful lyrics, and Prince’s signature guitar playing made it a timeless classic. The song was the title track of Prince’s iconic album “Purple Rain” and was also the inspiration for the hit movie of the same name. “Purple Rain” is an enduring masterpiece that continues to inspire and influence R&B artists today.

These three influential R&B tracks of the 80s established the benchmark for the genre and remain a source of inspiration for contemporary artists.

Influential R&B Songs of the 90s


One of the most influential R&B tracks of the 90s is TLC’s “Waterfalls.” Released in 1995, the song confronts issues such as drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, and the dangers of promiscuity. The song’s unforgettable chorus, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to,” has become a cultural reference and a cautionary tale against recklessness.

No Scrubs

TLC’s “No Scrubs” is another influential R&B track of the 90s. Released in 1999, the song confronts men who are financially unstable and have nothing to offer in a relationship. The infectious chorus, “I don’t want no scrubs, a scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me,” has turned into a trendy catchphrase and an emblem of female empowerment.

I Will Always Love You

“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston is an iconic R&B track of the 90s. The song was originally written and recorded by Dolly Parton in 1973, but Houston’s version, released in 1992, became a massive hit. The song’s powerful vocals and poignant lyrics have made it a timeless classic and a go-to choice at weddings and funerals.

These three tracks have not only influenced the R&B genre but have also made a significant impact on popular culture. They continue to be celebrated and remembered as some of the best R&B songs ever.

R&B’s Impact on Other Genres

R&B music has had a significant impact on various other genres that have emerged over the years. The genre’s influence can be seen in the way other artists have incorporated R&B elements into their music. Here are a few examples of how R&B has influenced other genres:

  • Hip Hop: R&B and hip hop have always had a close relationship, with many hip hop artists sampling R&B songs for their beats. R&B’s smooth melodies and soulful vocals have also been incorporated into many hip hop tracks, creating a unique sound that has become synonymous with the genre.
  • Pop: R&B’s influence on pop music can be seen in the way many pop artists incorporate R&B elements into their music. From Michael Jackson’s ’80s hits to Beyoncé’s contemporary chart-toppers, R&B has been a major influence on pop music.
  • Rock: While rock music and R&B may seem like very different genres, they have more in common than one might think. Many rock artists have incorporated R&B elements into their music, creating a sound that is both soulful and edgy. Examples include Prince, Lenny Kravitz, and The Black Keys.

Overall, R&B’s influence on other genres is a testament to the genre’s enduring popularity and impact on the music industry.

Legacy of 80s and 90s R&B Music

R&B music in the 80s and 90s was a golden era for the genre. It was a time when soulful ballads and upbeat dance tracks ruled the airwaves and dominated the charts. The legacy of this era is still felt today as many of these songs continue to be sampled and covered by contemporary artists.

One of the defining features of 80s and 90s R&B music was its emphasis on vocals. Singers like Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, and Mariah Carey became household names thanks to their powerful and emotive performances. These artists set a high standard for vocal ability that continues to be emulated by singers today.

Another hallmark of this era was the fusion of R&B with other genres, such as hip-hop and pop. This led to the creation of new sounds and styles that appealed to a wider audience. The emergence of new technologies, such as the synthesizer and drum machine, also played a significant role in shaping the sound of R&B music during this time.

The impact of 80s and 90s R&B music can be seen in the continued popularity of artists from this era. The music has also inspired a new generation of R&B artists who are building on the legacy of their predecessors. With its emphasis on vocals, catchy hooks, and innovative production, the music of the 80s and 90s continues to be a source of inspiration for musicians and fans alike.