R&B music has always been soulful and melodic, but it was in the 2000s that the genre reached a whole new level of greatness. The decade saw artistes like Alicia Keys, Destiny’s Child and John Legend put out hit after hit.
Indeed, some of the best singers in the industry came together to create unforgettable tracks in the 2000s – some of which will forever be remembered as classics.
Here’s a roundup of some of the very best R&B songs from the era. Whether you’re looking for something mellow and melancholy or upbeat and feel-good, there is definitely something to love on this list.
1: ‘YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME’ – ALICIA KEYS
This song from Alicia Keys’ second studio album, The Diary Of Alicia Keys, was co-written by Keys and producer Kanye West.
The lyrics speak of unrequited love and longing from a woman’s perspective – a woman who’s in love with a man who doesn't know her name.
She works at a restaurant that he frequents, and she’s constantly fantasising about their life together. So she eventually musters up the courage to give him her number, and he doesn't call.
Keys conveys the song’s emotion perfectly with her haunting vocals with this one.
2: ‘ORDINARY PEOPLE’ – JOHN LEGEND
I remember the first time I heard “Ordinary People” by John Legend. I was flipping through the YouTube recommendations looking for something to listen to, and the song just came on.
Thanks mysterious algorithm. I was immediately hooked.
The combination of John Legend’s soulful voice with lyrics about relationships and life really struck a chord with me. Every time I hear the song, it brings me back to that moment.
It’s one of those songs that just speaks to you, especially if you’ve been through the ups and downs of a long-term relationship.
3: ‘SURVIVOR’ – DESTINY’S CHILD
This is pretty much an anthem with the message of self-reliance and female empowerment.
The lyrics apparently hint at how either LeToya Luckett or LaTavia Roberson believed the group (founded as a quartet) had only been successful thanks to its original core members.
We know that didn’t turn out to be the case, as Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams managed to find incredible success in the later years of Destiny’s Child.
The song reached the top ten in multiple countries and won a Grammy Award for “Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals” in 2002.
4: ‘4EVER’ – LIL’ MO FEATURING FABOLOUS
This mid-tempo love song was released in 2003 with lyrics that express Lil’ Mo’s dedication to her significant other.
The tune features a simple synth melody and 808 drums. Fabolous delivers a guest verse, in which he pledges his loyalty to his own partner. Together, the two artistes celebrate and showcase the strength of an enduring love.
With a wholesome message and sweet vocals, “4Ever” is a touching declaration of devotion that’ll resonate with listeners who are in long-term relationships.
5: ‘PRETTY WINGS’ – MAXWELL
This song was released as one of the singles from Maxwell’s fourth studio album, Blacksummers'night (2009). It won a Grammy Award for “Song of The Year” and “Best R&B Song”.
This tune talks about the end of a relationship and how the narrator regrets not having appreciated it more while it lasted.
The lyrics give off a nostalgic and regretful tone, almost as if like Maxwell was looking back on happier times and wondering what could have been. His falsetto vocals convey the sorrow of the lyrics.
As an atmospheric and subdued production with a slow R&B and neo-soul melody, “Pretty Wings” is a moving and beautiful song about lost love and regret. At least for me, that’s what it is.
6: ‘YO (EXCUSE ME MISS)’ – CHRIS BROWN
Written by Andre Harris, Vidal Davis and Johnta Austin and co-produced by Dre & Vidal, “Yo (Excuse Me Miss)” was the second single from Chris Brown’s self-titled debut album in 2005.
This masterpiece by Brown is about a young man who’s trying to get the attention of a woman he suddenly saw.
The song starts with this fella addressing the lady he doesn't know, but he likes anyway, telling her: “I don't know your name but excuse me miss (Oh yeah). I saw you from across the room. And I got to admit that you got my attention.”
In the end, he invites her to dance closer and closer, hoping it’ll be the beginning of a love story.
That’s pretty much what love at first sight feels like, isn’t it? Too bad Brown made us all believe that such simple moves would be enough to get the attention of the person we like.
7: ‘SO SICK’ – NE-YO
Released in 2006, Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” is an ode to a failed relationship and the difficulties of getting over a break-up. The song immediately shot to the top of the charts.
The lyrics describe the person’s pain and frustration at watching his ex move on while he’s still stuck in the past. He goes on to say that he’s “so sick” of love songs because they all remind him of her.
The chorus features the repeated line, “I'm so sick of love songs, so tired of tears. So done with wishin’ you were still here. And I'm so sick of love songs, so sad and slow. So why can’t I turn off the radio?”
But the song also has a certain sense of hope, telling of how one can eventually move on.
As for Ne-Yo’s smooth vocals, they just make this R&B hit even greater.
8: ‘REHAB’ – AMY WINEHOUSE
This is one of the most honest R&B/soul songs of the 21st century. Released in 2006, “Rehab” was inspired by Amy Winehouse’s own brushes with alcohol addiction that stemmed from her depression.
In the song, she unflinchingly details her struggles with addiction and her defiance in the face of those who would try to help her.
“They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said, ‘No, no, no.’,” she defiantly sings in the opening verse.
The song then goes on to chart her downward spiral as she tries (and fails) to stay clean.
However, despite its dark subject matter, “Rehab” is also an upbeat song with an irresistible groove. It’s a powerful portrait of addiction and a reminder that even in our darkest moments, we can still find reasons to reframe situations and dance.
9: ‘CRY ME A RIVER’ – JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE
You can tell Justin Timberlake’s world was crumbling when he wrote this song. He had just broken up with Britney Spears, and the track was like an outlet for his feelings.
You could say that he was hurting, and did what any good artiste would do – write a song about it.
Released in 2002, “Cry Me A River” was born out of pain, but it also had a beautiful message. It’s a reminder that even when the worst happens in a romantic relationship, we can always find our way back to the light.
This piece poured out of him, and it sounds like that really helped him to get over Spears – as if it were some sort of catharsis or maybe something therapeutic.
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN MORE R&B MUSIC FROM THE 2000S
There you have it, the top R&B hits to have defined the 2000s. They run the gamut of music styles and can really take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
With music being subjective however, everyone surely will have their own picks. But before you make up your mind, do check out this 2000s R&B playlist for more music nostalgia goodness.
For more articles on R&B, read:
Cover Credit: Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo
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Writer | Manuel Torrece
Manuel (or Manu) is a Gen-Z Latino content writer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. When he’s not researching and pushing all the buttons on the keyboard, he loves playing his Taylor acoustic guitar, writing Latin indie songs in Spanish, and exploring or supporting different projects around the world, mainly related to arts, business, and education. manueltorrece.com @manueltorrece