Top 10 R&B Artists of the 1980s

In my last article – The Top RnB artists of the 1990’s – I went through some of my personal favourites.  But in this article I wanted to take it back even further, when R&B was just starting to mature.  Some of the greatest R&B songs in the history of music were made in the 1980s when music was more about content than beats. It was before rap and hip-hop became mainstream, and most lovers of music leaned towards the R&B genre. In that era, the billboard charts were dominated by hot R&B singles that are still a great listen even now. These are some of the top ten R&B artists that set trends and topped charts in the 1980s.

  1. Billy Ocean

The British singer had a string of hits in the 70s and 80s. He was one of the most popular British recording artists in the 1980s and had several chart-topping songs both in the US and the UK. His worldwide hit, “Caribbean Queen”, was a crossover success and won him a Grammy award for the Best R&B Vocal Performance in the male category. He is considered as one of the greatest R&B artists of all time.

  1. Tina Turner


Despite her drama with Ike Turner, Tina Turner was one of the top R&B artists of the 1980s. She was consistent in her brand of music and gave us great hits like “What’s love got to do with it” and “Proud Mary.” This was also the decade of her great comeback in music.

  1. Luther Vandross

When he released his first solo album “Never too much” in 1981, it was clear that he was destined for success. Luther Vandross released several hit songs during the 80s and was one of the most notable male R&b artists during that period.

  1. Janet Jackson

Her brother might have dominated the music charts in the 80s, but she surely held her own. Janet Jackson was one of the most dominant female R&B artists in the 80s and fans always compared her to Whitney Houston, a factor that elicited some rivalry between the two artists. Nevertheless, she still had several hits such as “What have you done for me lately” and “When I think of you.”

  1. Stevie Wonder


He never let his disability deter him in his quest to make great music. Stevie Wonder has a list of great R&B songs to his credit and just to underscore his important place in that music genre; he has won twenty-five Grammy Awards which is the most by any male solo artist. He gave us the edgy sing-along songs “Happy Birthday” and “I just called to say I love you.” He is undoubted among the greatest R&B artists of the 80s.

  1. Chaka Khan

She has had a long and successful career in music and has inspired many artists. The rapper Kanye West paid tribute to her in his song “Through the Wire” which he did after surviving a freak road accident. The 80s was a very good era for Chaka Khan because she had so many charts topping hits. She is recognized as the first musician of the R&B genre to feature a rap artist in a single. She did so in the song “I feel for you” which was released in 1984. She also won several Grammy awards during that time to add to her credentials as a great performer.

  1. Lionel Ritchie

Lionel Ritchie was in the zone in the 80s as far as great music is concerned. Coming from a successful group to launch his solo career, he proved his versatility as an artist by the numerous hits he released. The 80s was a particularly great time for him because he released some of the best R&B songs during that period. Some of the notable hits include “Hello”, “Stuck on you,” “All night long” and “Endless love” among other hits.

  1. Diana Ross

Her musical influence in the 80s was far and wide. Dubbed the original diva, Diana Ross used her powerful vocal range to record and perform great R&B songs like “Upside down” and “Endless love” which was a duet with Lionel Ritchie.

  1. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston introduced herself to the world in the most perfect of ways. Her debut album in 1985 became the best-selling debut album by a female solo artist in history. She was by all standards, one of the best female R&B artists of the 80s. With such hits as “How will I know” and “Saving all my love for you” she had the demeanor of a legend who would change the game. She is one of the most awarded artists in history, and many young, and upcoming female musicians still look up to her.

  1. Michael Jackson

He is known as the king of pop music but in the 80s Michael Jackson also dominated the R&B charts. He was literally in a league of his own, breaking barriers and outselling fellow artists. It was especially this time that his legendary status was cemented in the history of music. He is the top R&B artist of the 1980s.

Top R&B songs from the 80’s – Enjoy!

The Top 10 R&B Artists Of The 1990s

Machine-tooled funk, hip-hop soul, and sexually charged new jack swing- here is a whistle-stop tour of the best R&B artists that defined the 1990s as follows:

  1. TLC


Originally conceived as the female equivalent of Bell Biv DeVoe by executives at Atlanta’s LaFace Records, TLC would soon go on to eclipse their male equivalents. Their early sound was classic new jack albeit with a rowdy, girly edge: Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins harmonizing sweetly with Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas while Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes dropped nasal, feisty rap verses about sisterhood and safe sex. TLC’s sound quickly matured, taking the genre to a new level with their critically acclaimed CrazySexyCool in 1994- the first girl-group album in history to reach diamond status. Although their later hit Waterfalls would go on to become their signature, it was the darker, Billboard charting bap-and-trumpet boom hit, Creep, which was 1990s R&B at its finest.

  1. SWV

The 1990s golden age for all-woman R&B trios was ushered in by New York’s Sisters With Voices comprising Taj, Coko, and Lele who were choir-honed Singers (gospel) and who crafted melismatic, sweet harmonies that were given an inimitable edge by Coko’s almost Martian soprano. While their biggest hit, Right Here, was radio-friendly, wholesome gold, the sisters were equally adept at churning out feminist, provocative do-me classics such as Black Pudding, Downtown, and the joyously quintessential but often overlooked New Jack hit, Give It to Me.

  1. Adina Howard

By the mid-1990s, Foxy Brown and Lil Kim had managed to bum rush the hip-hop boys’ club with a pornographic, aggressive breed of femme-fatale rap that would soon be perfected by R&B’s solo vocalists- notably Joya, Smooth, and Michigan’s Adina Howard. The latter’s 1995 single indeed established a new benchmark in raunchy urban pop with Freak Like Me widely acknowledged as a pheromone-fuelled, hood romance at its most graphic- degrading or empowering, depending on which feminist set you belonged to.

  1. Total

R&B-Rap hookups may be ubiquitous now, but in the early 1990s, hip-hop artists making guest appearances on an R&B song was daring new territory. Such collaboration required singers who could hold their own next to their more established MC peers and Pam, Keisha, and Kima- the New Jersey trio who made their debut on the hook of Notorious BIG’s Juicy proved they could mix it with the best with their song No One Else. Their 1996 debut album was romantic, tender, and occasionally filthy characterized by their pre-Matrix chic style of sleek leather trench coats, black shades, and cropped hair.

  1. Aaliyah

R&B Singer Aaliyah

By the mid 1990s, R&B’s baby girl- a Timberland boots and baggy jeans wearing tomboy with a soulful, smooth falsetto- was collaborating with Missy Elliot and Timbaland, the duo responsible for the dislocated, eerie cyber-funk that would soon become the bedrock of hip-hop and R&B for the next decade, propelling the likes of Destiny’s Child and Ginuwine to success. Her single One in a Million set the benchmark for this new breed of sound- a cosmic, spacious slow jam founded on stuttering triple-time/ slo-mo percussion and established the late star as the undeniable voice of a new R&B age.

  1. Lauryn Hill

Politics, faith, and motherhood were the overriding themes in Lauryn Hill’s breakthrough album- The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. While New Jersey’s finest had made her name with the Grammy Award Winning Fugees under the nom du rap of L Boogie, Miseducation drew on West Indian flavors including her reworking of the classic Bob Marley hit- Turn Your Lights Down Low. This polymath vocalist’s skill in gifting R&B with erudite, rich, ghetto-soul heart anthems remains unparalleled.

  1. Jodeci

The album Diary marked the pinnacle of Jojo, K-Ci, DeVante, and Dalvin as R&B’s leading Romeos. Here, they delivered an album full of exquisite harmonies with seduction and swagger, especially Cry For You, later sampled by the Isley Brothers, which saw them turn male vulnerability into high devotion. Also, a later single- Freak’n you- epitomized this quartet at their lusty best.

  1. Mary J Blige

Signed to Uptown/MCA Records aged just 18, this Bronx-raised gospel choir star pioneered hip-hop soul (a sub-genre of R&B that fused hip-hop instrumentals with streetwise soul songs). While artist Miche’le had laid the groundwork for hip-hop soul in 1989, Mary J Blige’s 1992 debut- What’s the 411?- was the undeniable game changer with elements of swing and a melancholic Lady Day vibe that made her stand out from her peers. Also, 1995’s My Life established her skill set in mining the darker aspects of the 1990s living such as addiction abuse, depression, gang violence, HIV/Aids, etc.

  1. Monica


Despite being eclipsed somewhat by 90s artists such as Mariah Carey, Monica was, undoubtedly, one of R&B’s round-the-way sweethearts with hits such as Don’t Take It Personal proving that she could do hip-hop sampling jams for the club and the jeeps. Before this, however, was Miss Thang from her 1995 debut album- chaste mid-1990s R&B at its most sublime- a sappy, bittersweet soundtrack to moving on.

  1. D’Angelo

By the time D’Angelo appeared on the scene in the mid-1990s, fans were beginning to feel desensitized by swing’s processed, bombastic vibe and yearned for something more grounded. Neo Soul was to sate this desire with an Afrocentric, mellow jazz sound that valued live instrumentation while at the same time paying tribute to past greats such as Curtis Mayfield and Marcus Gaye. Although Erykah Badu is widely considered neo-soul’s de-facto Queen, D’Angelo was just as instrumental in this genre coming of age as he could write, perform, and produce as evidenced in his 1995 classic debut album.

Enjoy a nice mix of all the best R&B Songs from the 1990’s