Under The Covers: The Greatest 90's R&B Cover Songs

Under The Covers: The Greatest 90's R&B Cover Songs
COVER STORY |The best cover songs are the ones you don’t know are covers. Throughout the 90’s, many artists we loved took time to pay homage to the songs that influenced their sound. Adding their own flavor to familiar tunes, these updated renditions birthed new classics that would become time capsules for the next generation. Let’s review the top 10 cover songs in 90’s R&B.

At Your Best (You Are Love) 

A self-professed fan of The Isley Brothers, Aaliyah followed up her 1994 debut single, “Back & Forth” with this sweet serenade lifted from the group’s 1976 album, Harvest for the World. From the first notes in acapella, we were all enraptured by Aaliyah’s feathery vocals and comforting, mature delivery which hinted that this girl has been here before. The R. Kelly-produced rendition rose to No. 6 on the Billboard Top 100 Charts and nestled the late singer into our hearts.  Aaliyah would revisit The Isley Brothers catalog on her sophomore album, One In A Million, for cover of the band’s “Choosy Lover”.

Who Can I Run To

There is no 90’s R&B female group that has had more growth than Xscape. Members LaTocha Scott, Tameka Harris, Tamika Scott, and Kandi Burrus stepped on the scene, defined by producer Jermaine Dupri, as “the female Jodeci”. Powerful vocals paired with gritty style, the quartet’s 1994 debut “Just Kickin’ It” represented girls who loved hard and sang just as hard as the street’s circumstances. For their second LP, Off The Hook; however, the ladies tapped deeper into their femininity on this unforgettable cover of The Jones Girls’ 1979 ballad, “Who Can I Run To”.  Gone were the girls in baggy jeans, flannel shirts, and bandanas; we were now in the presence of women. This song was a game-changer and earned Xscape their second platinum-selling album.

Ribbon in the Sky

It is hard to deliver a Stevie Wonder song, much more deliver it nearly better than the musical genius. It may be a bold statement but there is great weight behind it. Such is the case for Intro’s victorious cover of 1982’s “Ribbon in the Sky.” Every note is perfect, every harmony blended evenly among members Buddy, Kenny and Jeff. It is a contemporary reimagining that feels as earnest and heartfelt as the original ballad. The Brooklyn trio even received blessing by Stevie Wonder in the song’s music video.

Giving Him Something He Can Feel

The ladies of En Vogue reincarnated this cover of the Curtis Mayfield-penned opus from the 1976 film Sparkle. Originally recorded by Aretha Franklin for the film’s soundtrack, the funky divas breathed new life into this sultry classic while maintaining its retro soul.  Featuring flawless harmonies and lead vocals by Dawn Robinson, “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” introduced listeners to this Mayfield’s genius composition while becoming the second single of En Vogue’s 1992 sophomore studio album to top the Billboard charts. With a video just as iconic, the group’s form-fitting red dresses sit on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

This Woman’s Work
When neo-soul entity Maxwell gave a performance for MTV Unplugged in 1997, he premiered an angelic cover of Kate Bush’s hit “This Woman’s Work”. Harps and violins as way-finders for notes that levitated, his ownership left many of us ignorant that this was not an original composition. As both versions saw success on the charts, Maxwell introduced this folk song to an urban audience. The chanteur later recorded and released the a studio version of the song that appeared on the Love & Basketball soundtrack in 2000 as well as his 2001 LP, Now.

Angel of Mine

Shortly before gliding to #1 for four consecutive weeks on Billboard Hot 100 charts, Monica’s “Angel of Mine” belonged to British R&B group , Eternal. Written by Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter Rhett Lawrence, the group topped the UK Singles charts and earned Eternal’s Greatest Hits compilation triple platinum-selling status in 1997.  Produced by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Monica’s rendition was released just one year later with equal success, certifying her own sophomore album, Boy Is Mine, platinum in 1999.

If You Think You’re Lonely Now
The iconic sound of Jodeci is defined by the voice of K-Ci Hailey.  In 1994, the R&B mad band’s lead vocalist gifted us with a solo appearance on the Jason’s Lyricsoundtrack. “If You Think You’re Lonely Now”, a cover of the Bobby Womack hit, was a brief and perfectly crafted mark of independence with timeless lyrics, a bluesy bass-line, and harmonious background chorale. A fan favorite, the reinvention paid homage to Womack’s original groove while suiting K-Ci’s signature, gospel-bred vocals. Although was the crooner was still in Jodeci, it was justified that K-Ci could stand firmly on his own if necessary. 

Slow Jam

Something magical happened when the voices of Monica Arnold and Usher Raymond took on this Midnight Star 1983 duet. Written by Babyface, the master songwriter also produced the remake which appeared Usher’s 1997 album, My Way. Both growing into their maturing voices, Usher and Monica rose to the occasion to deliver a worthy tribute to a romance that starts on the dance floor. Although not a single, this was a album cut that was never skipped.

I’m Goin’ Down

Even if you’d never heard it before, as soon as “I’m Goin’ Down” by Mary J. Blige begins, you are sure that it is not new. You are also sure that it is something special. Written by classic soul-songwriter Norman Whitfield, the ballad feels as relevant on 1994’s My Lifealbum as it did when Rose Royce originally recorded the song in 1977. Like a well-aged wine, it is beautifully vintage and poured with unfiltered emotion behind each note.  Surprisingly, “I’m Goin’ Down” didn’t secure any accolades at the time of its release nor did it break the Top 10 on R&B charts; but it remains an anthem that continues to secure the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul’s reigning position upon the throne.

I Will Always Love You
There isn’t much that needs to be said about Whitney Houston’s tour-de-force, “I Will Always Love You”. It is Houston’s greatest vocal performance and if you were present during its dominating rise on the charts in 1992, you still recognize your blessing today. Recorded for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, the film in which Houston made her starring debut with Kevin Costner, it was Costner who contacted original singer and songwriter Dolly Parton for permission to repurpose her 1974 single. The country singer was honored and we are so grateful that she gave clearance. Executed with sentimentality, vulnerability, and powerhouse bravura, it is no wonder why it is the most lauded and monumental recording by the greatest voice of our generation.  In a recent interview, Dolly Parton shared that she first heard Houston’s version while driving and had to pull over.  “I could not believe how she did that. I mean, how beautiful it was that my little song had turned into that, so that was a major, major thing.” #RIP Whitney.

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