I’m a child of the ’90s, which means that I grew up on R&B that wasn’t rappers harmonizing or singers talking with melody from their souls. Not that I don’t enjoy that; to the contrary, I love it all. But there was nothing like an actual solid slow jam.
You know what I’m talking about: a song with a slow beat where somebody is singing their heart out about some lost love, or some love they got that kind of sucks, or some love they can’t quite get that will probably suck once they get it, which will lead to them lamenting about it being lost.
You know, that good shit.
Now, the difficulty with a lot of R&B is that it’s mood music and isn’t really meant for ridin’ down the block and knockin’ pictures off of walls. It’s meant for creating an atmosphere. While I love Future’s “Trap Niggas” as much as the next person, it’s not really romantic, nah mean?
But some R&B slow jams are actually sneaky whip bangers. I’m talking about songs that sound even better when turned up to super-high volumes, and though folks might wonder why you’re blasting a ballad at top volume, they kind of get it (if they’re over a certain age, anyway). Or maybe not.
These songs bang in the whip even if people wonder what’s wrong with you.
1. “Freek’N You,” by Jodeci
Kind of a no-brainer. Possibly the most no-brainer of all time. DeVante made bangers, period. His reign at the top was short like leprechauns, but what a reign it was. His songs were all meant to be played at high volumes, preferably in residential areas. See also songs 1-6 on Diary of a Mad Band, especially “Feenin’.”
2. “I Wish I Wasn’t,” by Heather Headley
I was in line at Taco Bell the other night and I heard some yelling behind me. It turns out it was two women yodeling at the top of their lungs to this song. They sounded fucking terrible, like two hedgehogs caught in a blender, screaming for dear life. But it was 11:15 p.m. and it made me decide to turn on “I Wish I Wasn’t,” and because I had about 25 minutes before getting home, I cranked the volume.
And listen, when she hits those notes toward the end to let you know that she REALLY wishes she wasn’t in love with your ass? That shit knocks. And if you listen to that extended version where she’s like, “You’re knocking at the door again ... ,” until the end of the song? Bruh. You’ll be head-nodding like, “Yaassssssss!” It’ll have your head nodding because your neck knows it’s phat.
3. “What Am I Gonna Do,” by Tyrese
He can’t spell and is
probably an idiot, but this n-word knew how to make a dope song. And “What Am I Gonna Do” is a dope one that, when turned up in the car, sounds EXTRA right. That kick drum, yo. In fact, I think this was meant to be played in the car or at a picnic, where the music comes from the cars because Uncle Junior forgot the extension cords and nobody bought batteries, which was Auntie Sister’s job.
4. “Never Make a Promise,” by Dru Hill
“You told me what you wanted, I gave you what you need. I told you that I loved you, make it good for you and me.” The end of this song goes SO hard in the paint. And it’s one of the few of their hit songs where Sisqó doesn’t yell out his name on it, making it a win for everybody.
5. “Not Gon’ Cry,” by Mary J. Blige
I DARE you to try to listen to this in your car and not want to crank it JUST so you can yell over her voice with all the feelings you have in your spirit. When she says “11 years,” even I get mad all over again. I scream-yell this song for all to hear, which means it got to be turnt up. Nothing can stop me; it’s all the way up—the only way to truly listen to (and sing along with) “Not Gon’ Cry.”
6. “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes),” by Mint Condition
If you know a (black) person who doesn’t love this song, you need to excommunicate that person from your life immediately. I’d actually like to interview the person who doesn’t like this song, unless that person is Kanye West. Also, if you ain’t tried to bump this in the ride already, I’d be surprised. It goes hard in the paint.
7. “Tender Kisses,” by Tracie Spencer
You may be able to make the case that this is more midtempo than a slow jam. But this made it on all early-’90s slow-jam tapes. So I’m putting it here because all ’90s slow-jam tapes need some car time.
8. “Can You Stand the Rain?” by New Edition
I mean, duh. It sounds so awesome turned all the way up, and there’s a better-than-50 percent-chance that you’ll get neighborhood participation. You might even have enough to argue over who gets to be Ralph and who has to be Ricky.
9. “He Can’t Love You,” by Jagged Edge
No list about R&B slow jams created by Panama Dontavious Jackson would be complete without a song by the third-greatest R&B group of all time, Jagged Edge. Do me a solid. When you get off work, hop in the car and pull this up on whatever streaming service you use and crank the volume. Tell me this doesn’t sound absolutely fucking amazing in the whip. It bangs. Like Ricky Martin bangs.
10. “When You Cry,” by SWV
How I feel about Jagged Edge? I feel the same way about SWV. SWV were better at hip-hop/R&B than ANYBODY but maaaaaybe Mary. And I’m just trying to be respectful here. But this song, from Release Some Tension, goes so hard in the paint and is one of the few without a rapper on it. It’s not a ballad and is sample-based, so it may be a bit more uptempo than others. But good gracious. Just trust me.