R&B is undoubtedly one of music’s most expansive genres. Since the mid-1940s, the genre’s love songs have undergone several cultural shifts, stemming from early rock n’ roll influences to present day fusions with electronic music. Despite all its changes, R&B at its best is a soulful musical expression that has become the go-to genre for those falling in and out of love.
In the early 2000s, R&B was hallmarked as the era in which tilted caps, basketball jerseys, dance formations, velour suits and the now-popular rap/sung collaboration thrived. Naturally, the music and its accompanying visuals have since evolved, yet still manage to make long-lasting impressions on eager music listeners today.
While artists like SZA, dvsn, Jhené Aiko, and SiR are pioneering the genre today, R&B arguably had its heyday at the turn of the century. With the growth of online platforms such as Youtube and Spotify, revisiting your favorite throwback jams has never been easier.
For those looking to get their nostalgic juices following, check out our list of the best R&B love songs from the early 2000s below.
Amerie – “Why Don’t We Fall in Love”
Featured as the lead single from her debut album All I Have, Amerie’s summertime-jam “Why Don’t We Fall in Love” was one of 2002’s greatest gifts. Written and produced by Rich Harrison (who also produced Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”), the song’s saucy marinade of honeyed vocals and hopeful lyrics made for a radio-friendly track on readily embracing love. The song was then matched with a soft and sensual video directed by Benny Boom.
B2K – Girlfriend
If you happened to watch MTV or BET in 2003, you probably came across this R&B number at least once or twice (or ten times). B2K’s “Girlfriend” was the anthem that allowed young eligible bachelors everywhere to proudly declare they were looking for love. In their career, the group released four albums and went onto star in the dance film You Got Served. Sadly, the group eventually disbanded in 2004, but lucky for fans, lead singer Omarion launched his solo career shortly after.
Aaliyah – “Rock the Boat”
Aaliyah is perhaps one of the most notable voices from the early 2000s era. Her signature soprano vocals and timeless work with Timbaland and Missy Elliott pinned her as an R&B icon for the ages. Released in 2002, “Rock the Boat” was one of the final songs Aaliyah recorded before her passing. With lyrics like, “Ever since our voyage of love began / Your touch has thrilled me like the rush of the wind,” it’s not hard to see how quintessential a love song this is.
Bobby V. – “Slow Down”
In 2005, Bobby V. captured our hearts with his debut single “Slow Down”. The song follows V on his way down Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles where he spots a woman he would like to get to know. Before he can begin the whirlwind romance, she first has to “slow down” and pass along her digits. As expected, V’s vocals and penchant for smooth-talking lyrics pushed the single to the top of the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart for four consecutive weeks.
Ashanti – “Foolish”
Ashanti’s lyrics often spoke on heartbreak and her 2002 song “Foolish” was no different. Detailing the story of a love turned sour, the debut single used music samples from Big L., DeBarge, and Notorious B.I.G. Signed to Def Jam sub-label Murda Inc. at the time, the song’s release made significant airplay and was nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance at the 2003 Grammy Awards. While she sadly lost out to Mary J. Blige, “Foolish” is still a trusted go-to in times of hardship.
Usher – “U Remind Me”
Back in the 2000s, the word on everyone’s lips was whether or not Usher was dating TLC’s Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas. Having already been linked to numerous other singers at the time, “U Remind Me” spoke on the singer’s apprehension about pursuing a relationship. In the end, Usher entered a two-year relationship with Chilli and landed his first Grammy award for this spicy R&B jam.
Craig David – “Fill Me In”
Long before Canada’s lothario Drake graced the charts, London’s very own Craig David was making a name for himself as a young Casanova. Prior to releasing his debut album in August 2000, the then 18-year-old dropped his lead single “Fill Me In” which fused the popular 2-step Garage with R&B vocals. In 2002, the track became the 10th best selling single in the UK.
Chingy – “One Call Away”
While not strictly an R&B Song, we couldn’t resist including this rap/sung melody. Known for rocking baggy jeans, a nameplate belt, white Air Force 1s and a two-way, Chingy was literally the 2000s personified. In “One Call Away”, we get to see a softer side to the rapper where he speaks on a slow blossoming relationship with a lady he meets at the bank. Not exactly your typical meeting spot, but nonetheless, the guitar-led track featured one of the most catchy R&B hooks to date.
Sean Paul – “I’m Still in Love With You” feat. Sasha
Originally performed by rocksteady singer Alton Ellis, “I’m Still in Love With You” was given a contemporary twist by Sean Paul and Sasha in 2004. Sticking to the song’s original melody, Paul turned the track into a duet, allowing Sasha’s input to tell a more rounded story of a long-lost relationship. With a dance-heavy music video that followed, both Paul and Ellis’ version of the song is likely to be a favorite among listners of all ages.
Next – “Wifey”
If you happen to be familiar with the “Why You Lyin’?” meme, then you ought to know R&B trio, Next. Their debut single “Wifey” was released in the summer of 2000 and immediately became a club hit. Although the song did manage to reach number 1 on the US R&B chart, nothing compares to the success of the group’s song “Too Close” which resurged into pop culture following the viral video.
Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together”
While Mariah Carey has given us many bops during the course of her career, one that really cemented her place in the R&B canon was 2005 track “We Belong Together”. Making a feature on her comeback album, The Emancipation of Mimi, the single was released at a time where critics had effectively dubbed her career as over. The song featured a Bobby Womack sample and showcased Carey’s vast vocal skills.
Omarion – “Touch”
Former B2K member Omarion broke away from his boy band image with the release of “Touch” in 2004. Featured as the second single on his album O, the dance-ready track was produced by The Neptunes and penned by Pharrell Williams. Chart-wise the song only peaked at 94 on the US Billboard Hot 100, but don’t let that influence your listening experience.
Destiny’s Child – “Cater 2 U”
It goes without saying that Destiny’s Child is one of R&B’s most iconic musical trios. Back in 2004, the group teamed up with longterm collaborator Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins and Ric Rude to drop the ballad “Cater 2 U.” While the song’s lyrics elicited received mixed reviews, the track did claim Best R&B/Soul Single, Group, Band or Duo at the 2006 Soul Train Music Awards. With each member getting their chance to shine, “Cater 2 U” is both soft and sexy.
D’Angelo – “Untitled (How Does it Feel)”
D’Angelo might have withdrawn from the limelight in the mid-to-late 2000s, but prior to his departure, the singer/songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist dropped the timeless steamy sex-anthem “Untitled (How Does it Feel)”. Originally composed as a tribute to Prince, the song was penned and produced by Raphael Saadiq and D’Angelo himself. Featuring D’Angelo’s signature falsetto vocals and a catchy guitar riff, the song made headlines on account of the accompanying music video in which he lip-synched half naked.
Pharrell Williams – “Frontin'” feat. JAY-Z
Following the success of his group N.E.R.D., Pharrell Williams made his solo debut in 2003 with the release of “Frontin'”. At the time, Williams insisted the song was a one-off solo-project but went onto release full-length album In My Mind three years later. With a notable feature from JAY-Z, the song peaked at number 1 on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. For those who grew up in the early 2000s, it’s not hard to remember where you were when this groove came on.
Have we missed anyone? Let us know in the comments below who else should join the list.
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- Main & Featured Image: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images