R&B originated as an African-American genre of popular music in the 1940s, fusing jazz, soul, rock and roll and more. But as it moved through the decades, it shifted, evolved and was subsequently appropriated by numerous artists all around the world. Today, when we say R&B, we’re typically referring to contemporary R&B, which emerged in the 90s with drum machines, auto-tune and plenty of wonderfully dramatic vocal runs in tow.
Contemporary R&B draws on hip hop but it’s categorised by smoother instrumentals, emotive hooks, and pop melodies, as well as banging production that takes influence from house, techno and other electronic genres. It’s often feel-good, party-perfect music but the sad and sentimental numbers are in there too. This list of the best R&B songs of all time will offer you the best of the genre, as well as acting as a starting point to discover more.
45. ‘U Remind Me’ – Usher
There are so many Usher songs that could have made this list but ‘U Remind Me’ is the one for its melancholic soap opera-style tale and for the way it accentuates Usher’s syrupy vocals.
Best R&B lyric: “You won’t believe all of the things she put me through/this is why I just can’t get with you“
44. ‘7 Days’ – Craig David
The garage undertones and recognisable guitar line coupled with Craig David’s smooth-talking account of wooing a lady make ‘7 Days’ a bonafine UK R&B classic.
Best R&B lyric: “Monday, took her for a drink on Tuesday/we were making love by Wednesday, and on Thursday and Friday and Saturday/we chilled on Sunday“
43. ‘Them Changes’ – Thundercat
Using a sampled beat from the Isley Brothers’ ‘Footsteps in the Dark’ with Thundercat’s bubbly bass riff and woozy vocal lines, ‘Them Changes’ is a sterling R&B groove.
Best R&B lyric: “Nobody move, there’s blood on the floor/and I can’t find my heart“
42. ‘Blue Lights’ – Jorja Smith
‘Blue Lights’ was our first introduction to the talent that is Jorja Smith, when she posted the track on her SoundCloud back in 2016. Since then, she’s collaborated with Drake, toured with Bruno Mars, won plenty of awards and so much more.
Best R&B lyric: “I wanna turn those blue lights into strobe lights/not blue flashing lights, maybe fairy lights“
41. ‘Dumb’ – The 411
British girl group The 411 might not have been around for too long but ‘Dumb’, released in 2004, was the pinnacle of their time together.
Best R&B lyric: “Dumb diggi-diggi-di dumb di-dumb/and ‘though I know it would be fun to get some“
40. ‘Don’t Think I’m Not’ – Kandi
Kandi Burruss might be more recognisable as one of the main cast members of ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta’ but her debut solo single remains her finest work to date.
Best R&B lyric: “When you’re feeling good in somebody’s spot, getting hot, don’t stop/just don’t think I’m not ’cause I’m out getting mine“
39. ‘Passionfruit’ – Drake
Drake’s foray into tropical house was a success with ‘Passionfruit’, with the track giving off carefree, mellow vibes from start to finish,
Best R&B lyric: “Passionate from miles away, passive with the things you say/passin’ up on my old ways, I can’t blame you, no, no“
38. ‘If You Love Me’ – Brownstone
If you’re after an emotional, harmony-filled R&B ballad, you can’t go wrong with Brownstone’s 1995 second single ‘If You Love Me’.
Best R&B lyric: “But if you want my heart, then it’s time that you start/to act like you’re mine in the light and the dark“
37. ‘Case Of The Ex (Whatcha Gonna Do)’ – Mya
The pairing of ‘Case Of The Ex’’s dramatic, percussive keyboard and Mya’s sweetly seething vocals give the track just the right amount of rage.
Best R&B lyric: “Tell me what is it that she needs?/Did she hear about the brand new Benz, that you just bought for me?“
36. ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ – D’Angelo
Originally composed as a tribute to Prince, you can definitely hear the latter’s influence in the soulful style and funky electric guitar of ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’.
Best R&B lyric: “I wanna stop, silly little games you and me play/and I am feeling right on, if you feel the same way, baby“
35. ‘Where My Girls At’ – 702
Though originally meant for TLC, ‘Where My Girls At’ sounds right at home with 702, particularly as Missy Elliott was on production duties.
Best R&B lyric: “Where my girls at, from the front to back/well is you feelin’ that, well put one hand up, can you repeat that/tryin’ to take my man, see I don’t need that“
34. ‘End Of The Road’ – Boyz II Men
It may be a simple slow burner, but the gentle crooning, choral harmonies and a capella end all give ‘End Of The Road’ its strong, impassioned feel.
Best R&B lyric: “Although we’ve come, to the end of the road/still I can’t let go, it’s unnatural/you belong to me, I belong to you”
33. ‘Girl’ – The Internet
The smooth, neo-soul backdrop and alternative R&B of ‘Girl’ is made all the more alluring with the addition of Kaytranada’s production.
Best R&B lyric: “I can give you the life you deserve, just say the word, baby/and I got you, darling, I got you“
32. ‘Freak Like Me’ – Adina Howard
When Sugababes covered ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002, they brought Adina Howard’s track back into public consciousness. But her original suave, g-funk version can’t be beaten, even by legends like Sugababes.
Best R&B lyric: “I’ve got a freaky secret, everybody sing/cause we don’t give a damn about a thing“
31. ‘Dip It Low’ – Christina Milian
There’s a reason ‘Dip It Low’ is Milian’s most successful single to date – it’s playful, seductive and completely danceable.
Best R&B lyric: “Dip it low, pick it up slow/roll it all around, poke it out, let your back roll”
30. ‘Love Like This’ – Faith Evans
A bouncy Chic sample and Faith Evans’ soulful vocals make ‘Love Like This’ one of her biggest commercial successes, as well as one of contemporary R&B’s major highlights.
Best R&B lyric: “I never knew there was a, love like this before/never had someone to show me a love, love like this before”
29. ‘My Love Is Your Love’ – Whitney Houston
The album ‘My Love Is Your Love’ marked a return for the legendary singer as her first studio album in eight years. The reggae-tinged title track, released in 1999, proved that her talent remained on point all those years later.
Best R&B lyric: “If I wake up in World War III/I see destruction and poverty/and I feel like I want to go home/it’s OK if you’re coming with me“
28. ‘Lost’ – Frank Ocean
The fourth single from Frank Ocean’s brilliant ‘Channel Orange’ is a beautifully crafted, bouncy R&B bop, with a narrative that revolves around a narcotics smuggling girlfriend.
Best R&B lyric: “Miami, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Spain, lost/Los Angeles, India, lost on a train, lost“
27. ‘Foolish’ – Ashanti
Ashanti has plenty of noteworthy songs, as well as collaborations like ‘Always On Time’ with Ja Rule, but ‘Foolish’ takes the top spot for being her debut single and her first proper introduction to the world.
Best R&B lyric: “And though my heart can’t take no more/I keep on running back to you“
26. ‘Thong Song’ – Sisqo
Is there a more expertly constructed song about underwear in existence than Sisqo’s 2000 anthem? Absolutely not.
Best R&B lyric: “Not just urban, she like the pop/cause she was Livin’ la Vida Loca“
25. ‘Crazy In Love’ – Beyonce & Jay-Z
Released as Beyonce’s official debut single, ‘Crazy In Love’ remains a classic for its funk-soul backdrop, guest appearance from Jay-Z and those triumphant horn melodies.
Best R&B lyric: “Got me looking so crazy, my baby/I’m not myself, lately I’m foolish, I don’t do this“
24. ‘Trick Me’ – Kelis
‘Milkshake’ might have been the more obvious choice, but ‘Trick Me’ deserves the top spot for its funk-infused instrumentation and chilled reggae vibes.
Best R&B lyric: “Said I’ve paid my dues for all that I’ve done/and I showed you that I loved you more than once“
23. ‘Bleeding Love’ – Leona Lewis
With composition by Jesse McCartney and Ryan Tedder, there’s no way this song was going to be anything but a tear jerker. Written for Lewis’s debut studio album, it remains one of the best ballads of the early 00s.
Best R&B lyric: “But I don’t care what they say/I’m in love with you/they try to pull me away, but they don’t know the truth”
22. ‘Cranes In The Sky’ – Solange
The highlight of Solange’s incredible third album ‘A Seat at the Table’, ‘Cranes In The Sky’ is one of those pieces of music that will stop you dead in your tracks, no matter what you’re doing.
Best R&B lyric: “Well it’s like cranes in the sky/sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds“
21. ‘I Know What You Want’ – Busta Rhymes & Mariah Carey
The best way to amplify a ready-made R&B hit? Make it a duet with Mariah Carey and give the Queen of Christmas the song’s memorable refrain. Done.
Best R&B lyric: “Baby, if you give it to me, I’ll give it to you/I know what you want, you know I got it“
20. ‘Superstar’ – Jamelia
Originally released by Danish pop singer Christine Milton, Jamelia’s version of ‘Superstar’ is irresistible for that undeniable attitude and sass she brings to the forefront.
Best R&B lyric: “I don’t know what it is, that makes me feel like this/I don’t know who you are, but you must be some kind of superstar“
19. ‘Hit ‘Em up Style (Oops!)’ – Blu Cantrell
Blu Cantrell’s audacious debut single takes aim at cheating men, encouraging all women to take their revenge by finding “another way to make him pay for it all”.
Best R&B lyric: “Hey ladies, when your man wanna get buck-wild/just go back and hit ’em up style/get your hands on his cash and spend it to the last dime, for all the hard times“
18. ‘Freek’n You’ – Jodeci
‘The Bad Boys of R&B’, as they were known, had some of the most popular hits of the genre but ‘Freek’n You’ is their best and most sensual slow jam.
Best R&B lyric: “What must I say? What must I do?/to show how much I think about freek’n you”
17. ‘Fantasy’ – Mariah Carey
Another one on this list that heavily samples Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius Of Love’, ‘Fantasy’ was one of Mariah Carey’s best moments, only perhaps superseded by the track’s epic remix featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Best R&B lyric: “But it’s just a sweet sweet fantasy baby/when I close my eyes, you come and you take me“
16. ‘Return Of The Mack’ – Mark Morrison
Sampling Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius Of Love’ and utilising some tight soul production, ‘Return Of The Mack’ is solid UK R&B gold.
Best R&B lyric: “So I’m back up in the game, running things to keep my swing/letting all the people know, that I’m back to run the show“
15. ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’ – Fugees
Originally composed by Charles Fox, ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’ became a Number One hit for Roberta Flack in 1973. But when Fugees covered it in 1996, with additional synth sitar, drum-loop and reggae drop, they took the classic track in a stunning new direction.
Best R&B lyric: “I heard he sang a good song, I heard he had a style/and so I came to see him, and listen for a while“
14. ‘Pony’ – Ginuwine
Magic Mike aside, ‘Pony’ is a stone-cold sex jam, bolstered by Timbaland’s signature production and Ginuwine’s breezy vocals.
Best R&B lyric: “If you’re horny let’s do it/ride it, my pony“
13. ‘This Is How We Do It’ – Montell Jordan
As well as being Montell Jordan’s debut single, ‘This Is How We Do It’ was famously Def Jam’s first R&B release and luckily for them, it was a sure-fire hit.
Best R&B lyric: “I’m kinda buzzed, it’s all because/this is how we do it“
12. ‘Fallin’’ – Alicia Keys
‘Fallin’’ is Alicia Keys’ signature song, not only because it’s her debut but also because it displays all her best qualities: her wide vocal range, sombre lyrics and measured yet glorious piano melodies.
Best R&B lyric: “I never felt this way/How do you give me so much pleasure, and cause me so much pain?”
11. ‘Poison’ – Bell Biv DeVoe
With that bold percussive intro and rapid-fire snares all the way through, nineties American heartthrobs Bell Biv DeVoe came out fighting with their debut single ‘Poison’.
Best R&B lyric: “It’s driving me out of my mind, that’s why it’s hard for me to find/can’t get it outta my head, miss her, kiss her, love her, wrong move you’re dead“
10. ‘1 Thing’ – Amerie
Built around a sample of a 1970 Meters’ song, ‘1 Thing’ is unforgettable for its funk-based percussion and Amerie’s impressive vocal lines.
Best R&B lyric: “This one thing, your soul made me feelin’/it’s this one thing you did, oh-oh-oh-oh-oh“
9. ‘Family Affair’ – Mary J. Blige
This year’s hip hop heavy Super Bowl LVI halftime show was powerful but seeing Mary J. Blige rightfully taking her place up there and performing her biggest hit ‘Family Affair’ made it that more special.
Best R&B lyric: “Don’t need no hateration, holleration in this dancery/ Let’s get it percolatin’, while you’re waitin’, so just dance for me“
8. ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ – Ms. Lauryn Hill
The lead single from ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ was a multi-Grammy winner at the time of its release and more than 20 years later, there’s no question that it holds up.
Best R&B lyric: “Guys you know you better watch out/some girls, some girls are only about/that thing, that thing, that thing”
7. ‘Don’t Let Go (Love)’ – En Vogue
It’s understandable why ‘Don’t Let Go’ was En Vogue’s biggest international single – it’s female empowerment epitomised, with the group’s lush harmonies and sultry tones taking it to another level.
Best R&B lyric: “What’s it gonna be ’cause I can’t pretend?/Don’t you wanna be more than friends?/ Hold me tight and don’t let go (don’t let go)/you have the right to lose control (don’t let go)“
6. ‘Too Close’ – Next
We might know it better in the UK for Blue’s 2001 cover of the song, but Next remain one of America’s all-time greatest male R&B groups and ‘Too Close’ is a categorical jam.
Best R&B lyric: “Baby, when we’re grinding, I get so excited/oh, how I like it, I try but I can’t fight it”
5. ‘The Boy Is Mine’ – Brandy and Monica
When the media invents a rivalry between two young women, what better way to exploit such assumptions than by playing up to the drama? ‘The Boy Is Mine’ is Brandy and Monica flexing their range and contrasts while also highlighting their undeniable chemistry.
Best R&B lyric: “I’m sorry that you, seem to be confused/he belongs to me, the boy is mine“
4. ‘No Diggity’ – Blackstreet
From the Bill Withers sample and those prominent piano notes to Queen Pen’s fiery verse and each member of Blackstreet’s icy confidence, ‘No Diggity’ is arguably one of the best collabs to come out of the 90s.
Best R&B lyric: “Shorty get down, good Lord/baby, got ’em open all over town/strictly biz, she don’t play around/cover much grounds, got game by the pound“
3. ‘Waterfalls’ – TLC
While ‘No Scrubs’ is undoubtedly an R&B classic, ‘Waterfalls’ deserves praise for not only being a phenomenal track that allows Left Eye to truly shine, but also one that provides moving commentary on subjects like violence, drugs and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Best R&B lyric: Dreams are hopeless aspirations in hopes of comin’ true/believe in yourself/the rest is up to me and you
2. ‘Say My Name’ – Destiny’s Child
Let’s be clear; most of Destiny’s Child’s back catalogue could sit comfortably on this list but ‘Say My Name’ is quintessential R&B with its digs at a cheating boyfriend, theatrical synth strings and Beyonce’s syncopated vocal delivery.
Best R&B lyric: “Say my name, say my name/you actin’ kinda shady/ain’t callin’ me baby/better say my name“
1. ‘Try Again’ – Aaliyah
Released as the lead single for the 2001 film ‘Romeo Must Die’, ‘Try Again’ quickly became much more than just a track associated with a film soundtrack. As well as being one of Aaliyah’s most popular singles, it showcases Timbaland’s trademark production at its very best.
Best R&B lyric: “And if at first you don’t succeed (first you don’t succeed)/then dust yourself off and try again/you can dust it off and try again, try again“