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Time Out's Best Old R&B Songs Ever Including Usher, Miguel and Rihanna

The 20 best old R&B songs ever

Get slow, smooth and sexy with our ultimate playlist of the best old R&B songs.


The best old R&B songs have beats as crisp as a city-slicker's collar, so it's no wonder many of them have become dancefloor favourites. And yet, this enduringly popular genre can also be smooth and seductive – perfect baby-making music, you could say (our list of the 50 best sexy songs is great for setting the mood too) – so we've made sure our list covers every base. Whether you want to bump 'n' grind to some R&B love songs or bust a few bootylicious moves to the best party tunes, you'll find only classic old school R&B songs here. 

The 20 best old R&B songs ever

‘Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)’ – Lumidee

20. ‘Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh)’ – Lumidee

It’s a marvel of simplicity. There are only two things at work on this deep, seductive 2003 old school R&B song: a dubby vocal and a smoking-hot beat. The latter is actually a well-worn mix of kicks and claps, created in Jamaica by dancehall producer Steven Marsden and known as the ‘Diwali’ rhythm. Though used numerous times by Sean Paul, ODB, Elephant Man and more, it never sounded better than when Harlem-born singer Lumidee blessed the track with a vocal so haunting and hazy it practically invented hipster R&B at a stroke. Oliver Keens


‘My Boo’ – Ghost Town DJs

19. ‘My Boo’ – Ghost Town DJs

Heavily influenced by Miami bass (an amped-up hybrid of hip hop and ’80s electro), ‘My Boo’ was the first and only hit from the little-known outfit Ghost Town DJs. Filled with silky vocal harmonies layered over punchy beats, it’s instant and infectious, and remains a classic underground old R&B song. Tristan Parker

‘Bump N’ Grind’ – R Kelly

18. ‘Bump N’ Grind’ – R Kelly

The second single off Kelly’s 1994 solo debut ‘12 Play’, ‘Bump N’ Grind’ keeps it slow and simple. It’s got a bedroom-friendly beat, some sexy synth and straightforward, unapologetic lyrics (unlike some of Kelly’s later R&B songs, in which sex is creatively compared to, um, ‘Jurassic Park’). R Kelly knows what you want, he knows what you need and frankly, he sees nothing wrong with it. Kate Wertheimer


‘Adorn’ – Miguel

17. ‘Adorn’ – Miguel

Smooth-singing Miguel toes the line between lothario and sweetheart: in his voice, one can hear shades of a young Marvin Gaye. The dichotomy is laid plain in his impassioned 2012 breakout single, ‘Adorn’, a song about love and sex in equal measure. Andrew Frisicano


‘Climax’ – Usher

16. ‘Climax’ – Usher

Usher Raymond IV has a brace of potential entries into the pantheon of best old R&B songs. So, why 2010’s ‘Climax’? Well, firstly, factor in the uncharacteristically restrained production from Diplo (not to mention the string arrangement from Björk collaborator Nico Muhly). Then, add that falsetto: a thick stream of high-pitched, sadsack emoting that only a few men on the planet could pull off without serious injury. Mix them together and you have the perfect modern R&B record – one that proves the genre has the ability to reinvent itself for generations to come. Oliver Keens


‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ – D’Angelo

15. ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ – D’Angelo

If R&B be the music of sweet, sweet love-making (yes, that’s the word we’re using here), then for God’s sake let’s cue up some D’Angelo. Specifically, this glistening anthem from the ‘Brown Sugar’ singer’s 2000 album, ‘Voodoo’. Seduction is everything here, and what’s so glorious about ‘Untitled’ is that for all D’Angelo’s intimate (okay, explicit) come-ons, the music takes its sweet time, slow-building to an ecstatic climax. And then there’s that videoSophie Harris


‘What's My Name?’ – Rihanna

14. ‘What's My Name?’ – Rihanna

Following the infuriatingly repetitive hook of 'Umbrella', which sent Rihanna to Number One pretty much everywhere, the prolific Barbadian singer dropped another in 'What's My Name?'. This time in the form of 'oh na-na', which she intones in the video at Drake while flashing her come-to-bed eyes. Asides from her sex appeal, which Rihanna's never been afraid to flaunt (see: 'Rude Boy'), this track showcases her knack for fluidity. The beat is undeniably danceable, yet Rihanna maintains a gentleness throughout that's endlessly easy on the ears. Danielle Goldstein


‘Freak Like Me’ – Adina Howard

13. ‘Freak Like Me’ – Adina Howard

The slow, sultry grooves and anthemic, gospel-indebted chorus of Adina Howard’s Sly And The Family Stone-sampling debut single still sound just as slinky today as they did in 1995. She never really came close to bettering ‘Freak Like Me’ (though she certainly tried to out-sex it in songs like ‘Buttnaked’ and ‘Sexual Needs’), but she never really needed to. Tristan Parker


‘This Is How We Do It’ – Montell Jordan

12. ‘This Is How We Do It’ – Montell Jordan

Did anyone happen to wonder, back in 1995, how a young, Def Jam-signed singer got his sexy A-game on before a weekend of partying? If they did, Montell Jordan was only too happy to explain, via his unashamedly raunchy, upbeat, Billboard Chart-smashing debut R&B song. Tristan Parker


‘Milkshake’ – Kelis

11. ‘Milkshake’ – Kelis

Who’d have thought that anything on the McDonald’s menu could inspire something this funky? An edgy Neptunes beat keeps it pumping, while star-in-the-making Kelis gets braggadocious about her dairy drinks. Other highlights: the twerktastic video (with a cameo by Kelis’s future husband Nas), an excellent use of the word ‘thee’, the blasting bass synth pushing up against the delicate darbuka drum percussion, and the inexplicable ‘ding’ noise every few bars that you can’t unhear now. You’re welcome. James Manning


‘Poison’ – Bell Biv Devoe

10. ‘Poison’ – Bell Biv Devoe

A title card at the start of this 1990 video declared, ‘Our music is mental,’ which (depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re reading this) can mean two separate things – both applicable here. With ‘Poison’ the three-least-likely-to-succeed-from-New Edition shut the door on the ’80s, smartly pushing teen bubblegum into sex-hungry rap territory. It’s the sound of boy bands coming out on the other side of puberty, with the shuffling rhythm of synthetic snares – the epitome of New Jack Swing – prefiguring jungle and trap. It’s also just as silly as it is AIDS-conscious, with Ricky Bell shouting one of pop’s greatest non sequiturs in the chorus: ‘Never trust a big butt and a smile!’ Brent DiCrescenzo


‘Bootylicious’ – Destiny’s Child
Image: Columbia Records

9. ‘Bootylicious’ – Destiny’s Child

Kelly, can you handle this? Underpinned by the distinctive guitar riff from Stevie Nicks' 'Edge of Seventeen' (it apparently reminded Beyoncé of a 'voluptuous woman'), 'Bootylicious' is one of Destiny's Child's most infectious and energetic floor-fillers. This whole R&B song shimmers with a very feminine kind of sexual confidence ('You gotta do much better if you're gonna dance with me tonight') as it rolls out a dazzling succession of vocal, lyrical and musical hooks. Released in 2001, it became such an era-defining hit that the term 'bootylicious' has since been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Nick Levine

‘Fantasy’ – Mariah Carey

8. ‘Fantasy’ – Mariah Carey

Mariah is rightly lauded for her multi-octave vocals and late-career reinvention as the Queen of Christmas, but as a songwriter, she's still somewhat underrated. This effervescent mid-'90s R&B song shows off her formidable musical brain: sampling Tom Tom Club's 1981 hit 'Genius of Love' is a total boss move, and refashioning it into all-time great summer jam is pure class. Mariah: we salute you. Nick Levine

‘Doo Wop’ – Lauryn Hill
Image: Ruffhouse

7. ‘Doo Wop’ – Lauryn Hill

The simplest two-chord piano riff, a few familiar shoop harmonies and a burst of horns announced the former Fugee as a formidable, rare talent in 1998. Ms Lauryn Hill in her prime was a force like no other: some 15 years later, few artists – hip hop, R&B or otherwise – have been able to approach ‘Doo Wop’s combination of political empowerment and pure musical pleasure. Andrew Frisicano


‘Waterfalls’ – TLC

6. ‘Waterfalls’ – TLC

Conspiracy theories involving members of The Beatles are mostly tedious and ridiculous. Still, it’s hard to deny the strange lyrical similarity between Paul McCartney’s 1980 song ‘Waterfalls’ and TLC’s 1995 hit R&B song of the same name. So was Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez actually Macca in disguise? Definitely not. Treading a tasteful line between bumping neo-soul and classic balladry, TLC’s world-weary tale of sex, drugs and death has aged significantly better than Macca’s tank top. Oliver Keens

5. ‘Can't Feel My Face’ – The Weeknd

Following the seductive 'Earned It' that The Weeknd wrote for softcore erotic film 'Fifty Shades of Grey', he released something that is so hot it literally set him on fire. Well, in the video that is, where he channels Michael Jackson both physically and musically while alight. Funk guitar wah-wahs behind a disco beat on 'Can't Feel My Face' that complements The Weeknd's outrageously silky vocals so well you'll be humming this infectious number until your face goes numb. Danielle Goldstein



4. ‘Candy’ – Cameo

I defy you to find an R&B club out there that won't have at least one person in it who knows the 'Candy' dance. More often than not when this funk-laced, smooth groove old R&B song drops a flash mob kicks off. Even if you don't know the moves, you won't be able to resist body popping to its ’80s drum machine and the slick sax at 'Candy's climax. Danielle Goldstein


‘Pony’ – Ginuwine

3. ‘Pony’ – Ginuwine

At 15 years old, budding hip hop producer Timothy Mosley was shot in the shoulder at a Red Lobster restaurant and was temporarily paralysed on his right side. So he taught himself to DJ with his left hand. Even after moving from Virginia to New York and being christened Timbaland by mentor DaVante Swing, Mosley continued to craft beats that sounded curiously leftist. Tasked by Swing to produce a track for Swing Mob crooner Ginuwine, Timbaland revolutionised R&B into pure studio art, replacing drum machines and guitars with beatboxing and cartoon sound effects. The low grind of ‘Pony’ is all belching and Looney Tunes boings. ‘You’ll be on my jockey team,’ Ginuwine sings from his hips. Sex can be silly. Brent DiCrescenzo



2. ‘Oops (Oh My)’ – Tweet

One-hit-wonder Charlene Keys, aka US singer Tweet, set hearts racing when this sexy strip-off old R&B song featuring Missy Elliott came out. 'Oops, there goes my shirt…oops, there goes my skirt,' Tweet coos over Timbaland's pounding bassline. It probably made grans blush worldwide when it hogged the airwaves in 2002, but in its intended setting on the dancefloor it never fails to get hips thrusting. Danielle Goldstein


‘No Diggity’ – Blackstreet

1. ‘No Diggity’ – Blackstreet

The word ‘diggity’ has many meanings, but let there be no confusion as to how it’s meant in Blackstreet’s stone-cold R&B smash featuring Dr Dre and Queen Pen: no diggity, no doubt. And indeed everything about this 1996 hit is as flawless and clean as a diamond, from the instantly recognisable piano riff that kicks the song off to the hummed refrain that underpins it (courtesy of Bill Withers’s ‘Grandma’s Hands’) – and of course, that unforgettable chorus. Play on, playa. Sophie Harris



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