Throwback to 2002: Honouring 4 Underrated R&B Classics 15 Years Later...

The early 2000s can arguably be recalled as R&B’s swan song, its final curtain call if you will. I won’t extend this belief that R&B is dead as it is both inaccurate and reductive. If you look hard enough and monitor the appropriate mediums, one will find there is still an abundance of superb R&B music around. However, in terms of widespread appeal; it is definitely no longer the force it was once was. 

2002 was unquestionably a year that substantiates claims of the genre’s former glory. Aaliyah who had passed away the year before was enjoying success with a series of posthumous offerings. Usher and Alicia Keys were running victory laps with their multiplatinum 2001 releases ‘8701’ and ‘Songs in A Minor’. Jennifer Lopez was a radio darling remaining a mainstay in the Billboard Top 10 with her run of remix singles and B2K quickly shot to superstardom with their debut album.

In the midst of all this happening, 4 female artists dropped albums that would forever mark 2002 as a distinguished and notable year in R&B’s history. New talents Ashanti, Amerie and Tweet all released their debut albums. Meanwhile Brandy, one of the 90s leading names dropped her magnum opus. With all of these albums celebrating their 15th anniversary this year, I felt it was an apt time to look at the legacy and influence of albums that I feel are underrated classics. 

Brandy – Full Moon (Released March 5th 2002)

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By 2002, Brandy’s career was undergoing immense metamorphosis. The end of the 90s had seen her stock rise to incredible heights following the blockbuster success of her sophomore album ‘Never Say Never’ selling a sweet 17 million copies worldwide. A year prior the beloved sitcom she fronted ‘Moesha’ had come to an end. Allowing Brandy to fully dedicate herself to new music. 

Reuniting with Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins to executive produce the project, the final result was ‘Full Moon’. This was the album that reflected her transition into adulthood, no longer was Brandy the innocent teenager from ‘I Wanna Be Down’. She was a young woman who wanted to express matters pertaining to sensuality, heartbreak, and spirituality. Sonically it was also a stark change from her previous works; it was edgier, boasted futuristic sensibilities and incorporated elements of UK Garage.

Perhaps most emblematic of this album is the drastic change in Brandy’s voice. Her voice had fully matured and developed a honeyed yet husky tone. Two signature elements which are now synonymous with Brandy’s musicality were first employed on this album; complex vocal arrangements and her renowned runs and riffs. Brandy’s status as “The Vocal Bible” was founded on her vocal performances from this album. Artists such as Chris Brown, Rihanna, Jazmine Sullivan, Tank, Ariana Grande, India Arie among a sea of others have credited this album as being influential on their work.

'Never Say Never’ may have given Brandy her biggest success but musically ‘Full Moon’ is her greatest accomplishment.  

Standout Tracks:

  • ‘I Thought’

  • ‘Like This’

  • ‘It’s Not Worth It’

Tweet – Southern Hummingbird (Released April 2nd 2002)

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While ‘Oops (Oh My)' and ‘Call Me’ are undeniable jams and served the purpose they were meant to, they were not truly representative of Tweet’s talent and artistry. The contrast between these singles and the many hidden gems on the album is startling. It’s almost as if they came from two completely different artists. 

Consequently, this is why I partially feel this album isn’t recognised as much as it should be. ‘Southern Hummingbird’ is the stunning showcase of a complete artist. Tweet’s skill as a vocalist, arranger, songwriter and guitarist is something that should be celebrated so much more. ‘Southern Hummingbird’ was soulful, nuanced and contemplative.

A testament to staying power, Tweet’s career has endured largely off this critically acclaimed album. Still to this day her concert setlists are principally comprised of songs from this album. Tweet continues to find new fans through word of mouth. In addition to songs by the likes of GoldLink and Ty Dolla Sign, both who have sampled selections from her catalogue – introducing her to a new generation of music consumers. And of course, Tweet was most notably solicited to provide her inimitable brand of background vocals for Solange’s sensational ‘A Seat at the Table’.

Simply put: Tweet’s music is a gift we should all be grateful to have available to us.

Standout Tracks:

  • ‘Smoking Cigarettes’

  • ‘Make Ur Move’

  • ‘Beautiful’

  • ‘Heaven’

  • ‘Best Friend’

Amerie – All I Have (Released July 30th 2002

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When your song is annually heralded as a signifier that summer is approaching, that’s when you know you’ve created something bigger than you. A level of cultural influence few artists can brag about. Amerie’s ‘Why Don’t We Fall in Love’ stands tall on its own as a modern R&B classic, however little retrospective attention has been afforded to its parent album ‘All I Have’. A collection of delicious summery jams brimming with celestial buoyancy. 

The album’s brilliance stems from how as a listener it is comes across as something that wasn’t overtly thought out. It’s straightforward. Nor does it rely on weighty and overbearing production. The songs were just excellently crafted and as result possesses considerable repeat value. Many albums claim to have no filler but this is legitimately an album that confidently make such a statement. Every song is a triumph.

Helmed solely by Rich Harrison, it was Harrison’s coming out party as much as it was Amerie’s. Despite penning a pair of songs for Mary J. Blige, it wasn’t until this album that his talents were becoming enlisted on a more frequent basis. Following the success of his album, Rich Harrison would go on to become a go to producer throughout the 2000s writing hits for Beyoncé, Usher, Jennifer Lopez and Toni Braxton.

All I Have’ is unequivocally one of the best R&B albums released in the last 20 years. Give Amerie her flowers, she’s more than deserving.

Standout Tracks:

  • ‘Nothing Like Loving You’

  • ‘Can’t Let Go’

  • ‘Need You Tonight’

  • ‘Show Me’

  • ‘I Just Died’

Ashanti – Ashanti (Released April 2nd 2002) 

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Who can forget the reign of Murder Inc? The hits coming from Ashanti, Ja Rule, Irv Gotti were virtually inescapable at one point. In the years since their heyday they have maintained a lasting place in the heart of many people who grew up or came of age during that period. They are almost symbolic with the landscape of black music from the early 2000s. 

Ashanti was irrefutably one of the biggest female artists in music at the time. In 2017 she still holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest selling debut album for a female artist…ever. Though some may argue her title as the “The Princess of Hip Hop & R&B” was extremely inaccurate and premature, I saw it as shrewd marketing. During this era collaborations between rappers and singers were becoming more and more common and Murder Inc was at the apex of this movement.

However, unlike some other female features artists of the era; Ashanti could hold her own when it came to producing her own material. Case in point: her overlooked debut album. Outside the mega hits “Foolish”, “Baby” and “Happy” (which is still my all-time favourite Ashanti song), this album housed many worthwhile tracks. Proving that Ashanti’s rule at the time wasn’t a fluke or due to luck; there was ample quality behind the propaganda surrounding her.

In a peculiar juxtaposition, many of the songs merged the sophisticated and lowkey ambience of Quiet Storm with the rugged knock and bass of Hip-Hop. Impeccably fitting mood music for the night-time. Moreover the album was a platform for Ashanti to showcase her first-rate abilities as a more than capable songwriter. An effortlessly sequenced project. One of the most cohesive R&B albums in recent memory. A body of work that warrants more critical recognition beyond its surplus of commercial achievements. 

Standout Tracks:

  • ‘Leaving (Always on Time Part II)’

  • ‘Call’

  • ‘Rescue’

  • ‘Movies’

  • ‘VooDoo’

Tell us what your favourite of these albums are and what other 2002 albums you love in the comments below!