There is (almost) nothing better in music than 90s R&B. Rhythm and Blues has been around for decades, but there’s something about the 90s that just hits different, as the kids say nowadays.
The kids still say that, right? I’m still cool, right? Right!?
Anyway, with groups like Boyz II Men, New Edition, Dru Hill, and En Vogue and artists like Usher, Keith Sweat, Johnny Gill, and Mary J. Blige, the 1990s was a very loving and sexy time. Yes, I understand that in 1990, I was only seven, but in 1999, I was 16. Songs about intimacy had a very different impact at that age.
Hell, I remember my first love and how I used a lyric from LL Cool J to ask her out at age 12.
Shout to Rachel.
The point I’m making here is that a good R&B song from the 90s was one thing, but if you were able to get your hands on a good R&B album - man, that was gold.
Well, in this case, it wasn’t gold, it was Black. Blackstreet, that is! Blackstreet’s 1996 album “Another Level”.
This album was released off the heels of its first single, a BANGER of a hit that is still rocked in clubs and at parties to this day in 2023, “No Diggity”. The song starts off with an opening rap from none other than Dr. Dre, who has always been a mainstay in music, and also featured Queen Pen, someone I wasn’t familiar with and honestly, I’m still not.
Kicks off with a guitar followed up with a piano and a mellow beat one can groove to. Not dance. Groove. This makes the song great for social events where you just want to “chill” or “kick it” - meaning you don’t need to dance and it’s not uncomfortable if it’s just you and your friends, co-workers, or family.
“If you need a fix, let me be the one you can call on.”
The next song is “Fix”. This is one of my favorites on this album. Again, it’s got a great vibe. The tempo of the song promotes that groove I was talking about before. Honestly, this whole album is a wonderful groove, but this is that song where you’d pull your girl closer to you on the dance floor and let the rest of the room fade away.
Generally, a “fix” is a reference to a dose of your drug of choice, usually taking one out of withdrawal. In this context, the drug of choice is sex or “good loving” (with ironically is the name of the next song on the album, but I’m not going into that one) so he’s saying, if you need sex, please choose me to be your partner…
…see, how lame that sounds? That’s why we needed 90s R&B!
“What we gonna do is go back. Way back. Back into time!”
About this time in the 90s, two songs had used the same musical sample from “A Dream” by DeBarge - Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” and our next song, “Don’t Leave Me”. Do you know confusing when two popular songs are on the radio at the same time using the same music? I’m sitting here by the radio and the intro plays and there’s a good four measures before you know for sure which song you’re listening to so you can release the “Pause/Record” combo on your stereo so you can record the song to your blank cassette.
This is the song you played when you were in trouble with your lady. When you were in the dog house or when she was “spending the weekend at her mother’s/sister’s house”. Or worse, when some other guy dropped that Keith Sweat on her in the club and she decided to be with him instead of you. The song is a plea for his girl not to leave him, how much he loves her, and how losing her would emotionally devastate him. “You’re my heart, you’re my soul. You’ve got so much control” and “If you take your love away from me, I’ll go crazy.”
Yeah, it’s kinda manipulative, but what it was conveying was that he deeply cares for her and is emotionally devoted to the relationship and to her. It wasn’t commonplace for men to be emotionally vulnerable and songs like this aided in that space.
This album has a few little features that would be a crime to not mention here. After the song “I Wanna Be Your Man”, the track goes into a cute interlude with Teddy Riley’s daughter singing the chorus of the song, being hyped up by Blackstreet in the background. It’s adorable. Also, Deja, another of Riley’s daughters, recites a poem two tracks later.
What’s the track in between “Taja’s Interlude” and “Deja’s Poem”, you ask?
Another beautiful interlude at just over 2 minutes long, “My Paradise”.
“You take me up so high, higher up and high, I reach the sky, feel so good you’re in my life, My Paradise. You show love in a special way, just enough to make my day, you give more than I can take, My paradise. Keeper of the sun, keep it shining on the one who lights my life when the darkness comes, My Paradise”
A song where one expresses just how much they love the woman in their life and appreciates them for all they do in their life - something I know people don’t do enough of. If you haven’t expressed this feeling for that special person in your life, you might want to.
“Tonight gotta take these records off the shelf. Play something special for yourself. It’s over now. Gotta leave your trouble far behind. Or just enough to ease your mind. ‘Cuz only time can decide. Baby, you’ll be alright this time”
My favorite song on this album is “Happy Song (Tonite)”. The a cappella opening hits your first. Listening to those first words is encouraging and promotes what we today call self-care. Context of the song, the man is telling his lady that when she’s having a bad day or something is troubling her, call me and I will be there for you to help you through whatever is wrong. You don’t have to suffer in darkness or suffer alone. It’s important in romantic and committed relationships to know that your partner is there for you. They’re looking out for you and you’re looking out for them. This is important, really, in all your important relationships. Just listen to it.
The following track is another interlude and it’s a beautiful one. Preceding a gospel track, this interlude is of the mothers of the group members giving their sons love and encouragement and reminding them to keep God first and do right by people.
Now, to be clear, you don’t have to believe in God, but if you understand the meaning that God has in their lives, you can understand the power behind the messages.
“I know the Lord is real. Yes, He’s real, I know. He gave His life, He sacrificed, just to save my soul.”
“The Lord is Real (Time Will Reveal)” is the last track on the album and it’s basically a testimony of the power and influence that God has had on them. As a Christian myself, I can relate to the feeling that you are blessed, despite our trials and tribulations, and that someone is looking after us.
You may believe in God. You may believe in an Intelligent Designer that sways and influences the Universe. Maybe you feel the Universe itself is alive and in control of itself. Maybe you believe that there is an energy that naturally flows through all life everywhere. Maybe you don’t believe in anything at all. That’s all okay. For Blackstreet, it’s God and this is a song of devotion and dedication and it’s an incredible song.
All in all, this album is what, in my opinion, 90s R&B was about. You can drop this album in your stereo with the 24-disc CD changer and let it play out. Whether you’re hosting a party or just cleaning the house on a Sunday, this album will uplift your mood to “Another Level”.