R&B (an abbreviation of ‘Rhythm and Blues’) is a genre of music that originated from urban African-American communities in the US in the 1940s.
R&B music was mainly marketed to black audiences, with a focus on jazzy, rhythmic songs, often featuring emotional lyrics designed to capture the struggles of African Americans at the time.
In the late 80s, a new form of R&B started to emerge, known as ‘contemporary R&B’, combining rhythm and blues elements with pop, funk, soul, and hip hop.
Some artists from the R&B genre are among the biggest stars in the entire music industry, including Beyonce, Rihanna, Chris Brown, and Usher.
We hope you enjoy this compilation of the 55 best R&B songs of all time!
1. “No Scrubs” by TLC
“No Scrubs” is a song from the American R&B girl band, TLC.
It was released in 1999 as the lead single for their third album, FanMail.
The group was described as ‘strong, independent women’, and the song’s lyrics sing of female empowerment and refusing to accept bad treatment from men.
The song went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list, staying there for four consecutive weeks.
2. “Always On Time” by Ja Rule, Ashanti
Ja Rule is an American rapper and actor that was raised in New York.
He released “Always On Time” for his third studio album, Pain Is Love, collaborating with American singer-songwriter Ashanti.
The song spent two weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list, making it Ashanti’s first number-one single.
3. “Ride Wit Me” by Nelly, City Spud
Nelly is a huge name in the R&B scene, beginning his career with the Hip-Hop group St Lunatics in 1993.
He began his solo career in 2000 with his debut album, Country Grammar, and released “Ride Wit Me” as a single.
“Ride Wit Me” remains one of his signature songs.
The song reached the number three spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains a classic song of the early 2000s.
4. “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child
Destiny’s Child was an iconic girl band of the early 2000s, spawning pop stars Kelly Rowland and Beyonce.
“Say My Name” is a song from their second album, The Writing’s On The Wall, released in 1999.
The lyrics are about a woman being on the phone with her boyfriend and noticing that he is acting suspiciously, making her believe that he is with another girl and so doesn’t want to say her name aloud.
5. “Pony” by Ginuwine
“Pony” is the debut single of American singer Ginuwine, who co-wrote with Timbaland and Static Major, marking Timbaland’s breakthrough as a producer.
The production was unique in the R&B world, using a start-stop rhythm pattern more similar to drum and bass music.
The song reached number one on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts.
In 2021, a mashup of “Pony” and Britney Spears’s “Toxic” went viral, leading to a resurgence of the song’s popularity.
6. “7 Days” by Craig David
“7 Days” is a song by British R&B singer Craig David, released in 2000 as the second single for his debut album, Born To Do It.
The song did well internationally, reaching the top ten across many countries.
It became Britain’s 17th best-selling single of 2000.
The song’s lyrics go through the experience of meeting a girl and getting to know her over the course of a week.
7. “Rock The Boat” by Aaliyah
Aaliyah was an American singer, known for her lasting impact on the R&B genre, earning her the nickname “the Princess of R&B’ and ‘Queen of Urban Pop’.
Aaliyah sadly passed away at the young age of 22 in a plane crash, where the pilot was found to have traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system.
The plane crash occurred when Aaliyah was returning from the Bahamas, where she had filmed the video for “Rock The Boat” for her final album.
8. “No Diggity” by Blackstreet, Dr. Dre, Queen Pen
“No Diggity” is a song from American R&B band Blackstreet, released as a single for their first album, Another Level.
The song ended the 14-week run of “Macarena” at the top of the charts.
It won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.
Upon the release of the finished recording, Tupac and Death Row responded with a diss track aimed at Dr. Dre over an instrumental sampling of “No Diggity”, but were forced to replace the production after they received a cease and desist order from Blackstreet.
9. “Love Like This” by Faith Evans
Faith Evans is an American R&B singer from Florida.
Aside from her own R&B career, she is best known for being the widow of renowned Hip-Hop artist Notorious B.I.G., who died in a drive-by shooting in 1997.
Evans’ relationship with Notorious B.I.G. led to her involvement in the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry that dominated the genre at the time.
Commercially, “Love Like This” was her biggest success.
10. “Yeah!” by Usher, Lil Jon, Ludacris
American R&B singer Usher came to fame in the late 90s, following the release of his second album, My Way in 1997.
He was submitted in singing competitions by his mother when he was twelve years old, leading to him being scouted by a talent scout.
“Yeah!” is one of his most well-known songs, featuring fellow R&B legends Lil Jon and Ludacris.
The song topped the US Billboard charts for twelve weeks, to be dethroned only by another Usher song, “Burn”.
11. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Fugees
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” was a song originally written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel in 1972, and recorded by Roberta Flack.
In 1996, a version was released by Hip-Hop group Fugees, with Ms. Lauryn Hill on vocals.
Their version became a number-one hit in 20 countries.
Since then, Flack and Fugees have performed the song together.
12. “Foolish” by Ashanti
“Foolish” was Ashanti’s debut single for her self-titled debut album.
The song samples DeBarge’s song, “Stay With Me”.
A promotional single was released called “Unfoolish”, featuring a verse from Notorious B.I.G.
The song was nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance at the 2003 Grammy Awards.
Billboard ranked the song number 19 on their list of the Hot 100 Songs of the 2000s Decade.
13. “Rude Boy” by Rihanna
Rihanna released her fourth album, Rated R, in 2009.
“Rude Boy” is an uptempo dancehall and R&B song, incorporating elements of ragamuffin, a subgenre of reggae music that typically features electronic instrumentals.
The song reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed there for five weeks.
The music video was directed by Melina Matsoukas and made use of green screens.
14. “Thong Song” by Sisqo
“Thong Song”, released in 2000, remains Sisqo’s signature song.
It was released as the second single for his solo debut album, Unleash the Dragon.
The song was an international success, charting across Europe as well as in the US.
Sisqo was a member of Dru Hill, an American R&B group known for their focus on soul, hip hop, and gospel music.
15. “Cry Me A River” by Justin Timberlake
“Cry Me A River” is a song from Justin Timberlake’s debut solo album, Justified.
Justin Timberlake found fame through his appearances on The Mickey Mouse Club, alongside fellow future stars Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling and Christina Aguilera.
He then went on to form part of the boy band NSYNC, breaking off into his solo career in 2002.
“Cry Me A River” is supposedly about the breakdown of Timberlake’s relationship with Britney Spears, with lyrics about being heartbroken over a girl that cheated.
The song’s music video features a Spears lookalike.
16. “Try Again” by Aaliyah
“Try Again” is another song from the “Princess of R&B”, Aaliyah.
The song was created for the soundtrack to the 2000 film Romeo Must Die.
It went on to top the Billboard Hot 100.
The accompanying music video received two awards at the MTV Music Video Awards.
17. “Naughty Girl” by Beyonce
Like Justin Timberlake, Beyonce also found fame within a group before beginning a solo career.
Beyonce rose to fame as part of Destiny’s Child, before releasing her first solo album, Dangerously In Love, in 2003.
“Naughty Girl” was a song from this debut album, released as its fourth single.
The song is influenced by Arabic music, dancehall, funk and reggae.
18. “How Deep Is Your Love” by Dru Hill
“How Deep Is Your Love” is a song by R&B group Dru Hill.
The song was released in 1998 and spent three weeks at the top of the US R&B charts.
The song remains Dru Hill’s highest-charting song.
A music video for the song was shot in Hong Kong, featuring clips from the film Rush Hour.
19. “Best I Ever Had” by Drake
Drake is a world-famous singer, rapper, and actor from Canada.
He has been credited with popularizing singing and including R&B styles in Hip-Hop music, creating an overlap between the two genres.
He first gained recognition as an actor in the Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation, before beginning a music career.
“Best I Ever Had” is one of his most known songs, released for his debut EP.
20. “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy
“It Wasn’t Me” is a single from Shaggy’s fifth studio album, Hot Shot, released in 2000.
The lyrics are about a man getting caught cheating with a girl next door and seeking advice from a friend, who tells him to deny it and say it ‘wasn’t me’.
The song served as Shaggy’s breakthrough into the mainstream pop genre.
It remains his highest-charting song to date.
21. “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan
Montell Jordan is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and pastor, who ultimately left music to become a worship leader.
The song was released as a single for his debut album.
It is thought to be representative of the Hip-Hop soul style that was popular at the time in the mid-90s.
The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
22. “Rich Girl” by Selwyn
“Rich Girl” was originally recorded by Daryl Hall & John Oates in 1977, becoming their first of six number-one singles.
Several years later, Hall read an interview with serial killer David Berkowitz, who claimed that “Rich Girl” had motivated him to commit the notorious “Son of Sam” murders.
However, the song was only released after the murders had started, which throws doubts into that claim.
Australian R&B singer Selwyn covered the song in 2002, replacing the second verse with two new verses but retaining the original chorus.
23. “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” by Blu Cantrell
“Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” was the debut single of American singer Blue Cantrell.
The lyrics have a story-telling aspect, creating a narrative about a woman who gets cheated on and plots her revenge, advising female listeners to take their boyfriends’ money if they do them wrong.
The song remains Cantrell’s most successful single.
The song takes a snippet sample from Frank Sinatra’s “Boys’ Night Out”.
24. “21 Questions” by 50 Cent, Nate Dogg
50 Cent is an American rapper, actor, and businessman.
He is notorious for his influence on the Hip-Hop genre.
He was born in Queens New York and began selling drugs at the young age of 12.
He later pursued a music career, creating a debut album with Columbia Records but getting shot before it could be released.
He went on to produce his first official studio album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, which featured “21 Questions” as a single.
25. “Whatta Man” by Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue
“What A Man” was originally written by Dave Crawford and recorded by Linda Lyndell in 1968.
The song was sampled and reimagined by the trio Salt-N-Pepa in 1993, and this version received more commercial success.
Salt-N-Pepa is a trio formed in New York in 1985, made up of Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa), and Deidra Roper (DJ Spinderella).
26. “Oops (Oh My)” by Tweet, Missy Elliot
Charlene Keys, better known by her stage name “Tweet”, is an American singer-songwriter.
She released her debut studio album, Southern Hummingbird, in 2002.
“Oops (Oh My)”, featuring R&B legend Missy Elliott, was released as the album’s lead single.
The song reached the number 7 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
It is an R&B song with a techno-reggae rhythm, built on a clarinet loop.
27. “Umbrella” by Rihanna
Rihanna is one of the biggest names in R&B with a huge portfolio of chart-topping songs, but “Umbrella” remains one of her signature pieces, paving the way for her future industry domination.
The song was released in 2007 for her Good Girl Gone Bad album.
It features rapper Jay-Z, who co-wrote the song with its producers.
The song was originally written with Britney Spears in mind, but it was rejected by the record label, before finding success with the Barbadian singer.
28. “You Make Me Wanna” by Usher
“You Make Me Wanna” was released as the lead single for Usher’s second album, My Way, in 1997.
It is an R&B song with pop and soul elements.
The lyrics are about the narrator wanting to leave his girlfriend for his female best friend.
The song topped the UK Singles chart and became the second-longest run by a male artist on the US Hot R&B Singles chart.
29. “Smack That” by Akon ft. Eminem
“Smack That” is a song by American rapper Akon, featuring rapper Eminem, for his second album Konvicted.
The album received three Grammy nominations.
Akon often features on songs as a featured artist, with over 300 credits to his name.
Following the theme of his album, the “Smack That” music video is a short-clip remake of the 1980s film 48 Hrs, which is about a convict being let out of jail by a prison officer to help him find a witness.
30. “She Ain’t You” by Chris Brown
Chris Brown is known as one of the most successful R&B singers of his generation.
His lyrics often follow themes of love, sex, desire, regret, and emotional conflict.
“She Ain’t You” is no exception, telling the story of someone that is comparing their current partner to the person they really want, their ex-girlfriend.
The song was praised by critics for its lyrics and production.
31. “Family Affair” by Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige is often referred to as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul”.
Her career began in 1988 when she signed with Uptown Records.
“Family Affair” was released in 2001 for her fifth album, No More Drama.
It was written by Blige and her brother Bruce Miller, alongside some other collaborators.
32. “Don’t Cha” by The Pussycat Dolls ft. Busta Rhymes
“Don’t Cha” by The Pussycat Dolls was written by Busta Rhymes and CeeLo Green.
The song was originally recorded by an ex–backing vocalist for Hip-Hop duo OutKast, Tori Alamaze before it was offered to The Pussycat dolls.
The Pussycat Dolls began as a burlesque dance troupe, before rebranding themselves as a pop music group.
33. “The Way I Are” by Timbaland, Keri Hilson, D.O.E.
Timbaland is an American musician, rapper, and producer.
He released “The Way I Are” for his second album, Shock Value (2007).
The song is an electro-pop song with R&B elements.
It reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100.
34. “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kingston
Sean Kingston is an American-Jamaican singer and rapper, and “Beautiful Girls” is one of his signature songs.
The song, as well as many of Kingston’s other songs, is reggae-inspired.
Kingston was seventeen when the song was released, as the debut single for his debut album.
The lyrics are about a boy feeling ‘suicidal’ about not being able to be with a beautiful girl.
35. “Milkshake” by Kelis
Kelis is an American singer, who is also a professionally trained chef.
She found fame through working with the music producer duo The Neptunes, resulting in her being signed by Virgin Records in 1998.
“Milkshake” was released as the lead single for her third album, Tasty, in 2003.
It reached number three on the Billboard charts, making it Kelis’s highest charting song to date.
36. “BREAK MY SOUL” by Beyonce
“Break My Soul” is a more recent piece, released in 2022 by Beyonce for her seventh album, Renaissance.
It was released as the first single for the album, which is set to be the first installment of a trilogy project.
The song samples “Show Me Love” by Robin S, and “Explode” by Big Freedia.
It has been received well by critics, who have marked the quality of the lyrics and production.
37. “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars
“That’s What I Like” is a 2017 song from Mars’ 2016 album, 24K Magic.
Vulture’s Craig Jenkins noted that the production resembles that of “Kitty Kat” by Beyonce.
It reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and has been certified diamond.
Mars performed the song at the 2017 Grammys and BRIT awards.
38. “American Boy” by Estelle ft. Kanye West
“American Boy” is a collaboration between British Estelle and American Kanye West, for Estelle’s second album, Shine.
The lyrics are about the singer meeting an American man.
It was written by Estelle and West, alongside some other famous musicians like will.i.am, John Legend.
It was Estelle’s breakout song in the US.
39. “Replay” by Iyaz
Iyaz is a singer and rapper from the British Virgin Isles.
He released “Replay” in 2009 as the lead single for his debut album, also titled Replay.
The single reached the top of the UK Singles chart.
An official remix was released, featuring a rap from Flo Rida.
40. “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd
“I Wanna Sex You Up” is a song from the American R&B group Color Me Badd.
It was released in 1991 as the lead single for their album, C.M.B.
It spent two weeks at the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains one of their signature songs.
It reached number one in the UK Singles chart.
41. “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” by Soulja Boy ft. Sammie
Soulja Boy is an American rapper, whose debut single “Crank That” debuted on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number one.
The song was released as the second single for his album iSouljaBoyTellEm in 2008.
It features American singer-songwriter Sammie, who is best known for his 1999 single, “I Like It”.
Chris Brown was originally Soulja Joy’s first choice to sing the hook, but he turned down the offer.
42. “Into You” by Fabolous ft. Ashanti
Fabolous is an American rapper and singer from Brooklyn, who gained recognition as a teenager, after performing live on American music executive DJ Clue’s radio show.
“Into You” was the third single from his second album, Street Dreams, released in 2003.
The song was originally recorded with Ashanti, but her record label refused to let her film a music video for the song.
Fabolous then re-recorded the song with Tamia, and both versions were successful on the charts.
43. “Your Love” by Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj is a huge figure in the music industry now, but “Your Love” was the debut single for her debut album, Pink Friday.
It was released by Young Money and Cash Money, record labels that are home to Minaj and fellow artist Drake.
“Your Love” samples Annie Lennox’s cover of “No More I Love You’s”.
44. “Jenny From The Block” by Jennifer Lopez, Jadakiss, Styles P
“Jenny From The Block” is a song about American actress and singer Jennifer Lopez.
Lopez found recognition through her appearances as a Fly Girl dancer on the sketch comedy show In Living Color.
Her work as a musician helped propel the Latin pop movement in American music.
The song is about her desire to stay true to her roots and remain humble, despite finding fame and success.
The song reached number three on the US Billboard Hot 100 and remains one of Lopez’s signature songs.
45. “Breathe” by Blu Cantrell ft. Sean Paul
Blu Cantrell found fame in the early 2000s with some of her R&B hits.
She released “Breathe” for her second album, Bittersweet (2003).
A remix version was released a few months later, featuring Sean Paul as a rapper.
The song didn’t do so well in the US, only reaching number 70 on the Billboard chart, but it did top the UK Singles chart.
46. “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland
Nelly Furtado is one of the most successful Canadian artists, having sold over 40 million records worldwide.
“Promiscuous” is one of her signature songs and became her first number-one single in the US.
Timbaland was one of the writers of the song and features as an artist.
The lyrics form a back-and-forth conversation between a man and a woman, with him describing her as ‘promiscuous’.
47. “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child
“Survivor” was written by Anthony Dent, Destiny’s Child group member Beyonce Knowles, and her father and manager Mathew Knowles.
The song was apparently inspired by a joke made by a radio presenter, who commented on the fact that three members had already left the girl pop group.
It was released as the lead single for the Survivor album in 2001.
It peaked at number two on the US charts and received critical acclaim, remaining one of Destiny’s Child’s most-known songs.
48. “Dirrty” by Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera is an American singer and actress, known for her incredible vocal ability and four-octave vocal range.
As a child, she was on Disney Channel’s The Mickey Mouse Club, alongside other famous stars like Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears.
Her hits of the late 1990s and early 2000s are often credited with reviving teen pop.
“Dirrty” was released by Aguilera in an attempt to show her real identity, as she was unhappy with the level of control over her image.
49. “Gold Digger” by Kanye West ft. Jamie Foxx
“Gold Digger” is a song from American rapper Kanye West, featuring Jamie Foxx as a featured artist.
Jamie Foxx is better known for his acting accolades, having received an Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe.
“Gold Digger” samples Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” for the line “she gives me money when I’m in need”.
It became West’s second number-one single, reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
50. “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy & Monica
“The Boy Is Mine” was recorded by American singers Brandy and Monica in 1998 as a duet.
It was the lead single for both singers’ second albums, Never Say Never by Brandy and The Boy Is Mine by Monica.
It is inspired by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s “The Girl Is Mine” duet from 1982.
The lyrics are about two girls fighting over the same guy.
51. “Get Ur Freak On” by Missy Elliott
“Get Ur Freak On” was written by Missy Elliott and producer Timbaland for her third studio album.
It incorporates elements of bhangra music, a Punjabi music style that originates from the Southall area of the United Kingdom.
A remix of the song was released not long after, featuring Nelly Furtado.
This version became a popular dance club hit.
52. “Switch” by Will Smith
“Switch” is a song written and recorded by American singer and actor Will Smith.
Smith began his career by playing a fictionalized version of himself, in the popular sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
“Switch” was released as the lead single for his fourth album, Lost and Found (2005).
It became a top ten single across many countries, including Australia and the US.
53. “CUFF IT” by Beyonce
Another song from Beyonce’s recent Renaissance album, “CUFF IT” contains an interpolation of “Ooo La La La” by Teena Marie.
The song has charted in more than ten countries and has received positive critical acclaim.
The track has been declared by critics as the “album’s stand-out”.
It is a feel-good and empowering song, in line with the style of the rest of Beyonce’s 2022 album.
54. “Watcha Say” by Jason Derulo
“Whatcha Say” was released by Jason Derulo as the first single from his debut album.
The song heavily samples Imogen Heaps’ “Hide and Seek”, adapting the melancholy chorus into a more pop/R&B style.
It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for one week and remains one of Derulo’s signature songs.
55. “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison
“Return of the Mack” was written and recorded by British Mark Morrison for his debut album.
The song topped the UK charts a month after its release in 1996 and reached number two in the US.
Not long after in 1997, Morrison was in trouble with the police and was imprisoned, despite receiving many award nominations that year.
Best R&B Songs – Final Thoughts
The songs in this list incorporate a range of styles, with tracks that span several decades.
While the nature of the R&B genre has changed as years have gone by, the songs ultimately remain true to an essential R&B quality.
With many R&B songs incorporating samples and elements of other styles, the genre is constantly shifting and innovating, and always offers something for every listener.