Special

Hot R&B Singles Review: 1996

Welcome back to another Hot R&B Singles Review. Let’s get started.

LINK TO 1996 HOT R&B SINGLES CHART

Before You Walk Out Of My Life/Like This And Like That-Monica: We start with not one, but two songs from Monica, Before You Walk Out Of My Life and Like This And Like That. The former is a solid enough ballad about trying to fix a broken friendship before it ends while the latter is an okay new jack swing song that features a verse from one-half of rap group Illegal. I give Before You Walk Out Of My Life a 3.5/5 and Like This And Like That a 3/5.

Not Gon’ Cry-Mary J. Blige: Here’s another song that came out of the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack, Not Gon’ Cry by Mary J. Blige. Inspired by the plot of the movie, this is a woman who’s through with her insignificant other cheating and her declaring that she’s done shedding tears over him. While I wouldn’t call it one of my favorite songs, it’s a pretty good song that captures that somber and exhausting feeling when someone’s had enough and Babyface providing the appropriate production. I give it a 4/5.

Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)-R. Kelly ft The Isley Brothers: While we’re on the topic of infidelity, we have this track from R. Kelly called Down Low (Nobody Has To Know) featuring the Isley Brothers. It’s R. Kelly having an affair with a girl who’s already in a relationship. I don’t really care for this song. Yeah, the singing’s good, but I’m not a fan of the production, especially the synth choices, and it’s still a song about cheating and it’s not even a great one. It’s a 2.5/5 for me.

You’re The One-SWV: It’s a cool song. Not one of my favorites from SWV, but it’s good. It’s a 3.5/5.

Always Be My Baby-Mariah Carey: A pretty good pop song that happens to be another number one single for Mariah Carey. She was pretty much unstoppable in the 90s. This gets a 4/5.

You’re Makin’ Me High/Let It Flow-Toni Braxton: We got our second two-for-one special courtesy of Toni Braxton. She’s one of those artists who I respect more than I like as while she has uniquely huskier vocals compared to her contemporaries, most of her music doesn’t have much replay value for me. You’re Makin’ Me High is an okay song with decent singing and production. Apparently, it’s about masturbation. Seriously. Let It Flow comes from the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack and like most songs from that soundtrack, it’s also okay as an acoustic guitar ballad. Both songs get a 3/5.

I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I)-R. Kelly: Meh. 2/5.

Twisted-Keith Sweat: Twisted is my favorite song from Keith Sweat. I like the smooth keys played alongside the heavier beat that makes up the production. And just as smooth is Keith Sweat himself, who sounds so goddamn cool on this track. The interplay between him and the female backing vocals works on what’s basically mixed messages in a relationship. There’s also a rap verse from a guy named Pretty Russ, which doesn’t really do much for me, but it doesn’t ruin the song for me. I give Twisted a 5/5.

Hit Me Off-New Edition: In 1996, New Edition reunited, including Bobby Brown and Johnny Gill, for a new album with the first single being Hit Me Off. It’s a good song. The guys still sound great even after a decade in the business and the production fits the time like a sock. I don’t even mind the rapping. Not a bad comeback single at all. I like it. I give it a 4/5.

If Your Girl Only Knew-Aaliyah: Now, we’re at the second phase of Aaliyah’s career, where she teams up with Timbaland and Missy Elliott for her second album One In A Million. The lead-off single is If Your Girl Only Knew, which is Aaliyah dogging a dude trying to get with her even though he has a girlfriend. She makes him aware of that fact and basically tells him, “you know you’re screwed if your girl found out you were trying to holler at me, right?” Timbaland’s production fits Aaliyah the best as it has that R&B smoothness with a hip-hop edge and pop appeal that signifies some of her best songs. I give this song a perfect 5/5.

Last Night-Az Yet: This song is kinda boring. Not a fan. It’s a 1/5.

No Diggity-Blackstreet ft Dr. Dre & Queen Pen: Teddy Riley has produced a bunch of hits for various hip-hop and R&B artists, but his best work is with his group Blackstreet, who scored a number one hit with No Diggity and it awesome. It’s another perfect R&B/hip-hop fusion that slaps at any time with the help of Teddy Riley’s production that has those heavy piano chords. It exudes coolness that most players think they have when it comes to picking up women. Dr. Dre shows up to add some street cred to the song and so does Queen Pen. No Diggity gets a perfect 5/5.

Pony-Ginuwine: Everyone has their unpopular opinions and longtime readers know I have my fair share of them. So let me give you one of mines: I don’t like Pony by Ginuwine. I know a lot of people like this song, but I find it really annoying. My biggest issue with the song comes in the sound. The beat is typical Timbaland production, but it features one of the worst basslines of the whole decade. That shit sounds like a drunk frog stumbling onto itself. And it constantly repeats the same notes over and over throughout the song. Also, I find the phrase “ride my pony” as a metaphor for sex kinda lame. I have nothing against Ginuwine, I really like his song Differences, but this particular horse isn’t exactly thoroughbred material. It’s a 1/5 for me.

Nobody-Keith Sweat ft Athena Cage: Here’s the other big hit that Keith Sweat is known for, Nobody. It’s a great slow jam. The production is smooth and the chemistry between Keith Sweat and Athena Cage is real strong as they sound like two people who are in love with one another. I really like this song and I would give it a 4.5/5.

I Believe I Can Fly-R. Kelly: Believe it or not, I Believe I Can Fly, straight out of the Space Jam soundtrack, was my first ever introduction to R. Kelly. I was really young. I didn’t know that he had more explicit material, I didn’t know about his personal life, and I really loved this song. Still do. I like how uplifting the song is with its soaring semi-gospel production and how inspirational it is. It’s one of those songs that makes you feel like you can do anything you put your heart into. That explains why this song became so huge and why it still (kinda) resonates. For years, I’ve questioned to myself if I could still enjoy this song knowing that the guy behind it did some disturbing things in real life and I came to the conclusion that with this song, I can rationalize it by using the “separate the artist from the art” notion here. I named I Believe I Can Fly the best hit song of 1997 and that’s not changing anytime. I give it a 5/5.

BEST

I Believe I Can Fly

HONORABLE MENTIONS

No Diggity, If Your Girl Only Knew

WORST

Pony

DISHONORABLE MENTION

Last Night

And those were the number one songs on the Hot R&B Singles chart of 1996. Next time, we’ll be looking at the number one Hot R&B Singles of 1997.

Peace!!

SONG OF THE WEEK

A Boy Is A Gun-Tyler, The Creator

2 thoughts on “Hot R&B Singles Review: 1996

  1. 1996 was a bland, languid time for R&B in my opinion. While I liked the lyrics of “I Believe I Can Fly,” I found it to be plodding and tedious musically. I did enjoy Monica’s single but not much else that year. I had a crush on a woman named Maria that fall, and the Blackstreet song hit number 1 on her b-day. I enjoyed the Mariah Carey song when it first came out; it had that classic end-of-school feel. Most of the other songs were close to 5 on my 10-point scale.

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  2. Both Monica songs were alright. Not Gon Cry was fine. Down Low (Nobody Has To Know) was meh and a title like that doesn’t really hold up with what we know about R. Kelly. You’re The One was meh. Always Be My Baby is another solid Mariah song. Agree with you about Toni Braxton. She’s a good singer but the songs themselves don’t leave much of an impact on me though I did like Un Break My Heart and I can see why that’s her biggest hit and the song she’s mostly remembered for. And like what billboardguy1 said, her deeper voice almost makes me mistake her singing for a guy. You’re Makin’ Me High was alright though I didn’t realize it was about what you said. Don’t care for Let It Flow though. I Can’t Sleep Baby (If I) agree is meh. Twisted was pretty solid. Hit Me Off is a good comeback song for New Edition. If You’re Girl Only Knew was good. Not feeling Last Night. No Diggity is a fun hip-hop/R&B collaboration and another great 90s classic. Also don’t like Pony. That beat sounds like a guy burping a lot which makes it fun to imitate but gets really annoying after awhile. And the whole pony metaphor is pretty laughable and lame. Nobody was a nice duet. I Believe I Can Fly is probably R. Kelly’s most recognizable song mostly thanks to the popularity of Space Jam. Despite his disturbing actions, I still really enjoy this song. I like how grand and epic it sounds and the inspirational lyrics that anyone can apply to themselves.

    Here’s the latest number one review I was reading Friday that I thought you’d like
    https://www.stereogum.com/2045758/the-number-ones-paul-ankas-youre-having-my-baby-feat-odia-coates/franchises/the-number-ones/

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