1. The Writing’s On The Wall by Destiny’s Child
If it weren’t for the amazing production of Destiny’s Child second record, The Writing’s On The Wall, Beyonce would’ve probably never happened. There would be no single ladies asking to put a ring on it, no halos, maybe even no Jay-Z! When the album was released, Destiny’s Child weren’t a big deal. They had one hit with Wyclef Jean called “No, No, No” and the rest of their shit was indistinguishable from all of the other R & B groups out at the time. The girls knew this was their last chance at being major so they pulled out all of the production stops by hiring Rodney Jenkins, Missy Elliott and Kandi Burruss to create the songs. Oh yeah, and I guess Queen B also wrote some songs but you know how that goes. “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Jumpin, Jumpin” and “Bugaboo” were on point/the soundtrack to my middle school career but “Say My Name” felt like the centerpiece. It was a beautiful mid-tempo slice of slinky heaven, and you best believe I played it on repeat. Even beyond the singles, the album was strong and cohesive. Many pop records have fillers but The Writing’s On The Wall was consistent in creating a cool vibe.
2. Autobiography by Ashlee Simpson
Don’t hate. Ashlee Simpson’s debut album, Autobiography, is shockingly good. Really good actually. It’s a pop/rock record full of heavy hooks and sing-along choruses. Of course, that’s no thanks to Ashlee. Super producer John Shanks and Kara DioGuardi made the bulk of the album while Ashlee just kind of hung out and wrote in her notebook. But in the game of pop, it doesn’t really matter who did what, just so long as it sounds good. “Lala” and “Pieces Of Me” are amazing pop songs and sort of had me alternately weeping and dancing. All of the songs are actually super cheesy but it’s sort of what makes the record great. They capture Ashlee as a teenager complaining about everything, which I appreciate more than something that’s drenched in lame metaphors. There’s nothing worse than a teenager acting like an old poet.
3. Self-titled by Third Eye Blind
Oh my god, Third Eye Blind’s first album is so good. I’m listening to it now over a decade later and it’s still flawless. It kind of represents the best 90s pop/rock, and even though it’s full of their poppy singles like “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper”, it also has stellar lesser-known songs like “I Want You” and “Motorcycle Drive-By”. Wanna hear something super cool? I saw Third Eye Blind when they were touring behind this record. I went with my best friend in 6th grade and I remember my mom went with us mostly to protect our lungs from the pot smoke in the venue. Oh man, it ended up being so much fun. I remember Stephan Jenkins said “fuck” like 8,000 times, which seemed so scandalous at the time. God, remember when curse words were shocking? Weird.
4. One In A Million by Aaliyah
One In A Millon is the reason why I cried when I heard the news of Aaliyah’s death. It is just a straight up magical record from start to finish. It’s also part of music history because it’s where Missy Elliott and Timbaland made a name for themselves. They were relatively unknown when Aaliyah scooped them up and had them produce the majority of the record. Singles like ‘One In A Million” and “If Your Girl Only Knew” didn’t sound like traditional R & B pop songs. The sound was fresh and unlike anything else out at the time. She ended up ditching them for her follow-up record though, which turned out to be a smart move. Instead, she hired a dude named Playa to produce her third and last record. The end result was similar to One In A Million: Unexpected, original and solid.
5. Mizzundastood by Pink
Before Pink made her second album, Mizzundastood, she was known as an R & B singer. Do you remember that? Because I try really hard not to. Anyway, Pink was clearly like, “I hate R & B and I’m not black, LaFace, so I’m going to do something different.” This time around, she brought in power lesbian/4 Non Blondes singer Linda Perry to produce a confessional pop record. At the time, everyone was making disposable pop albums but Pink dared to make something that was both catchy and personal. Sounds like a “no duh!”, right? Well, the album ended up being a major success. Afterwards, every pop singer was knocking on Perry’s door asking for help in making their own sappy raw album.