Not 'The End of the Road' for '90s R&B

The decade that brought grunge to the masses, put a stake in hair metal's heart and pushed hip-hop to the forefront of music culture also proved an especially fruitful decade for rhythm and blues.

During the 1990s, R&B dominated radio playlists, experienced record-breaking sales and provided consumers with a taste reminiscent of Motown's early years, while mixing in contemporary flavor.

"There are some times in musical history when there's like a perfect storm of music," Vibe magazine editor-in-chief Danyel Smith said. "There's just moments sometimes where everything coalesces."

For African-American R&B artists, that time seemed to be the '90s. In fact, in its January issue, Vibe, a music and lifestyle magazine, named 1993 R&B's best year ever.

By year's end, Whitney Houston claimed Billboard's No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 chart with "I Will Always Love You," with Janet Jackson's "That's The Way Love Goes" coming in at No. 4.

"It was just giving us a chance," comedian and actor Godfrey said. "Once we got a chance it was over; that was it."

Artists like Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Mariah Carey, En Vogue and R. Kelly alerted the world that R&B would not get lost or slowly give way to upcoming genres.

"I think it's an unheralded golden age of songwriting and production and performance," Smith said.

Of all of the artists associated with the period, one of the most popular was Boyz II Men. The quartet used its barbershop-inspired sounds to sweetly woo music lover's ears, allowing their vocal blends to take center stage.

"They're the balladeers of the 90s," Smith said. "Every slow song, every graduation, frankly, any song you would play at a wedding or a funeral — they were the soundtrack you would play to a lot people's lives," Smith said.

The group seemed to bank hit after hit, including "End of the Road," "I'll Make Love to You" and "In the Still of the Night." Their predisposition for chart-topping singles was so prolific that the group racked up five No.1 R&B singles between 1992 and 1997.

"They were great balladeers, they all had great voices," Godfrey said. "They were almost like doo-wop."

In 1995 the group's duet with Mariah Carey, "One Sweet Day," gave it the No. 1 record for 16 consecutive weeks.

Nathan Morris, Michael McCary, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris (who has no relation to Nathan) had voices that covered the gamut. From McCary's deeply distinct voice, to Stockman's falsettos and Wanya Morris' bravado, the "Boys" proved boy bands could do more than just sing a bubble gum pop tune.

"The brought doo-wop, hip-hop R&B together," Godfrey said.

With more than 60 million albums sold to date, the Grammy-winning singers have etched a spot permanently in R&B history.

Boyz II Men may have never experienced such rapid and astounding success without its predecessor Bell Biv DeVoe. The trio, which was comprised of former New Edition members Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe, brought an edge to the scene.

"They just had more of a hip-hop mentality," Smith said.

Whereas the clean-cut New Edition was about singing sugary sweet romance songs like "Telephone Man" and "Candy Girl," the then grown up BBD was not afraid to take a more explicit stance on matters of the heart and the group had no qualms about showing off its street credentials.

"They put the swagger in the 90s," Godfrey said. "They said, 'Let's just get down and dirtier on an R&B tip.'"

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