Hit Machines: The Ten Best Singles Runs From Post-Confessions R&B Albums
In his recent review of R&B singer Miguel's fantastic Art Dealer Chic series of EPs, The A.V. Club's Evan Rytlewski explained the singer's rise in popularity by floating the idea that his 2010 album All I Want Is You contained "arguably the most engaging singles run of any R&B album since Usher's Confessions." This argument is much closer to the truth than it may seem on first blush.
Though the genre has experienced a bit of a downswing in the past few years, it's been a reliable source of great pop music since Confessions' release in March 2004. But is Rytlewski's claim correct? Let's look at the R&B albums with the best runs of three consecutive singles since the beginning of 2004 and find out.
But first, some ground rules: The three singles must have been released consecutivelya dud single at any point breaks a stringand off a single album (sorry, Ciara and Ne-Yo); each must have charted on Billboard's R&B chart; and the three singles don't have to be the first off the album, though on this list they all ended up that way.
10. T-Pain, Thr33 Ringz ("Can't Believe It (ft. Lil Wayne)," "Chopped n Skrewed (ft. Ludacris)," "Freeze (ft. Chris Brown)")
The public's waning interest in T-Pain started to show in the response to Thr33 Ringz, which produced three top 40 singles, but nothing that hit the top five and only one ("Can't Believe It") that was a top 20 hit. That said, the three singles released off the album represented his best run since his debut Rappa Ternt Sanga, which would've been high on this list had a third single ever been released. The first two singles are perfect examples of Pain's zany songwriting, cheeky personality and ballsy approach to pop songcraft.
"Can't Believe It" floats along on a twinkly beat that is almost aggressively low key, features Lil Wayne so enamored by Auto-Tune that his lyrics are at times illegible and has a charming Pain famously rhyming "mansion" and "Wis-can-sin." "Chopped n Skrewed" uses Texas's famous rap sub-genre as a launching pad for a song about getting turned down by girls, and also managed to get a chopped-up chorus on pop radio. "Freeze" may seem like an afterthought, but the refreshingly cute dance-pop song about challenging a girl at a club to a dance-off may actually be the best of the three.
9. Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds ("SexyBack," "My Love (ft. T.I.)," "What Goes Around... Goes Around")
You can't really go wrong with any stretch of three singles off FS/LS. I was tempted to include "Summer Love," but the more I hear "SexyBack" in malls and at the gym (which is more often than you'd think), the more I appreciate how good the production is. It will live on because of its kitschiness, but it's a pretty fantastic piece of music. I hesitate to put FS/LS any higher, though, because all of its singles actually sound better on the album, where you can appreciate the extended intros or outros and really immerse yourself in the album's playfulness. In that sense it's the opposite of Justin's debut album, which still has the three most killer singles of his solo career, anyway.
8. Mariah Carey, Emancipation of Mimi ("It's Like That," "We Belong Together," "Shake it Off")
This album famously returned Mariah to the top of the pop world after the double-disaster that was the Glitter/Charmbracelet one-two. "We Belong Together" is maybe the best song on this entire list (hell, sometimes it's my favorite song ever), and it lords over the other two, both of which may be a bit underrated but aren't standout songs on this list or in Mariah's career. "We Belong Together" is so awesome that it gets Emancipation here by itself, but there's also a distinct, radiant warmth coursing through all three singles that make them really nice to go back to, especially in the summer.
7. Chris Brown, Chris Brown ("Run It (ft. Juelz Santana)," "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)" "Gimme That (ft. Lil Wayne)")
Before Chris Brown rightfully became music's most reviled shithead, he was just another young kid perfectly wedding the Ferris-wheel innocence of puppy love to pop's grownest genre. "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)," a ballad with achingly sweet synths, is the best song of his career. "Run It," with its post-"Yeah!" keyboard vamping, and "Gimme That," with its string riff courtesy of one Scott Storch, are fossils of bygone eras, but they're still really fun songs, assuming you can stomach even old Breezy nowadays.
6. Keyshia Cole, Just Like You ("Last Night (w/ Diddy)," "Let it Go (ft. Missy Elliot & Lil Kim)," "Shoulda Let You Go (ft. Amina)")
"Last Night" is more famously known for being a single off Diddy's Press Play, but it also appeared on Just Like You, so we'll count it. Cole can definitely go off-the-rails with melisma, but she reins herself in just enough on that and "Let it Go" that she falls on the right side of raspy emotionality. There's also a nice contrast between the two, with "Last Night" being cold, mechanical and distant and the "Let it Go" getting over heartbreak by bringing in Keyshia's friends to quote Biggie. "Shoulda Let You Go," one of the last great Darkchild productions, is a sleeper in the third spot.