Hit Machines: The Ten Best Singles Runs From Post-Confessions R&B Albums
5. Maxwell, BLACKsummers'night ("Pretty Wings," "Bad Habits," "Cold")
Maxwell scoring two of the biggest hits of career and two of the biggest R&B hits of 2009 while not compromising his music is a testament to both how good of an artist he is and how good "Pretty Wings" and "Bad Habits" are. Those two songs were omnipresent on R&B radio three years ago, and there was something so nice about hearing a voice as good as Maxwell's as well as live instruments and real humans playing music on the radio. Which would be a really rockist thing to say if I didn't have Ciara beating this out. This album is knocked down a peg on account of "Cold" coming in between "Bad Habits" and "Fistful of Tears," the fourth single, and only song on the album that scrapes the titanic heights of those first two.
4. Miguel, All I Want Is You ("All I Want is You," "Sure Thing," "Quickie")
So, no, Miguel's debut doesn't feature the most engaging singles run of any album since Confessions, but it's pretty close. Aside from all three songs being flat-out awesome, each sounds different from the other, and that helped ring unpredictability back to R&B radio. Most people favor "Sure Thing" but the best track of the three is "Quickie," which nods at Bob Marley and Babyface equally and features spindly, squiggly guitar lines that are my favorite production flourish in recent memory.
3. Ciara, Goodies ("Goodies (ft. Petey Pablo)," "1, 2 Step (ft. Missy Elliot)," "Oh (ft. Ludacris)")
The crunk&b of Goodies might sound a bit dated eight years on, but these three songs (all of which went top two on the Billboard Hot 100) are still absolutely impossible to fuck with. If anything, listening back, it makes me a bit sad to think that dancey, club-oriented R&B like this would have no shot at being a huge crossover hit unless it was produced by Dr. Luke, Stargate or RedOne. Ciara only hit the heights of these three songs a few more times across her career, but the quality of her singles discography still runs really deep, and her last album, Basic Instinct, would've been on this list somewhere if not for the (obviously arbitrary) "one album per artist" rule.
2. The-Dream, Love/Hate ("Shawty is a Ten," "Falsetto," "I Luv Your Girl")
The-Dream would go on to make more critically acclaimed albums and songs, but the dirty secret about his discography post-Love/Hate is that the singles off those albums (save "Rockin' That Shit") kinda suck. Everything here, though, is pretty close to perfection, from the bouncy, summery pop of "Shawty is a Ten" (which got easily the biggest response during his tour this year) to the wordless chorus of "Falsetto" to the flippant, slyly tuneful snap music of "I Luv Your Girl."
1. Ne-Yo, Year of the Gentleman ("Closer," "Miss Independent," "Mad")
Stargate are currently a few of the most demanding producers in pop, but not too long ago they were anonymously churning out hits for British pop groups that had no impact on American soil. But in 2005 they began working with an unknown songwriter named Shaffer Smith, and the sessions birthed the bulk of the debut album by Smith, who adopted the stage name Ne-Yo. Stargate's early work with Ne-Yo could arguably occupy this spot, but they collectively hit god status with the run of singles that powered Year of the Gentleman, his third album.
Lead singer "Closer" predicted that urban radio would soon begin to approach dance music, but instead of the bludgeon-house that we're largely subjected to now, the song reworks the muted, acoustic guitar-inflected funk of previous collaborations like "Because of You" and "Sexy Love." The airy synths of "Miss Independent" sounded so good that Stargate would eventually rip them off for Rihanna songs like "Rude Boy" and "What's My Name," but they never were as novel as they were here. The same can be said for Ne-Yo's detail-oriented songwriting, which peaked on "Miss Independent" and its followup "Mad," a piano ballad that's a bit unassuming comparatively but really blooms during the chorus.
Unfortunately, Ne-Yo hasn't really written a great song since those three singles. It's hard to complain, though, after the run he had with Stargate, which culminated in the best string of three singles from any R&B album of the past eight or so years.