in today’s r&b scene there are several artists that you feel like you’ve grown up with. and there is a good reason for that – you have.the rise of teenage r&b singers in the early and mid 90s probably wouldn’t unfold in quite the same way today. it wasn’t entirely a new phenomenon – there have always been child stars but they usually made age appropriate music, or acted younger than their age. but representing real teenagers is a bit more difficult. we know they do the same things as adults, but it’s illegal so we don’t talk about it too much.
before the spice girls changed the rulebook, image and identity were just an added facet of celebrity rather than something you planned in great detail, either to complement talent or disguise a lack of it. it was possible to make music and be a bit vague about who you were and more importantly, how old you were.
the fact that these singers were the same age or even younger than they audience they were targeting, wasn’t immediately apparent. their songs dealt with adult issues, they collaborated with adults and existed within adult spaces. in some cases, this did impact on their personal lives by accelerating their development. we’ll never really know the truth about aaliyah and r.kelly‘s alleged underage marriage, unless it surfaces in the fallout from his court case.
ten 90s jailbait anthems – download here
brandy – baby
born 1979, debut 1994 at age 14
poor old brandy. until recently, one of the most successful of the 90s ingenues, having completed 4 successful albums, a tv show, movie and a panel spot on ‘america’s got talent’. after the birth of her first child, her marriage was exposed as fake and she is currently awaiting trial for manslaughter after a crash that killed another driver. we won’t even go into her errant brother ray j, those tapes and the whitney thing…
tevin campbell – can we talk
born 1976, debut 1990 at age 13
tevin‘s first taste was as a guest performer on prince‘s 1990 album ‘graffiti bridge’. a year later, his first album hit and he became an overnight star. he famously dated tatyana ali, both on and off-screen, after a cameo role playing himself in the fresh prince of bel air. there has been considerable speculation about his sexuality and he has been arrested for a george michael-style incident with an undercover cop.
aaliyah – the thing i like
born 1979, debut 1994 age 15
since her tragic death in 2001, aaliyah‘s popularity has spiralled. before, she was a popular yet often overlooked singer on the verge of superstardom as an actress. she blossomed as she broke away from r.kelly and hooked up with visionaries missy elliott and timbaland. aaliyah’s smooth, caramel-like voice sounds even more soothing against many of the melismatic, shrill and shouty copycat acts she’s inspired since.
usher – think of you
born 1978, debut 1993 age 14
in 1991, 13 year old usher‘s appearance on star search led to a contract with laface. precocious beyond his years thanks to an ill-advised internship at bad boy, usher was well known on the circuit by 1992 and in 1993 his first track appeared on the soundtrack to poetic justice. in 1994 he released his eponymous debut, but didn’t hit paydirt until worldwide smash ‘you make me wanna’ in 1998.
monica – angel
born 1980, debut 1995 at age 14
in 1991, 11 year old monica started work on what would become her 1995 debut ‘miss thang‘. an astonishingly mature effort given that fact, it remains her best album to date and stood confidently alongside offerings from more mature artists. like many of her peers, monica has suffered significant personal trauma with the suicide of her boyfriend, and has been criticised recently for dressing her three year old son as a thug. these critics best not visit croydon. despite being only 26 now, she looks much older thanks to a dodgy bleach job.
smooth – mind blowin‘
born “1979”, debut 1990 age “11”…
ok, something here doesn’t quite add up. if her alleged birth year is correct, mc smooth debuted at age 11 in 1990 with an album produced by her brother, chris stokes who also produced b2k and iMx. we’ll suspend disbelief…in 1993 she recorded a sophomore effort, now as smooth, ‘you been played’, but it was her third album at age 16 in 1995, that broke her. now recording under an alias, ‘needa s’. her real name is juanita stokes if anyone can be bothered to uncover the truth…i hear she was born in 1973 but having viewed a clip on youtube that would have been recorded in 1990, i find it a stretch to believe she was even 17 at the time.
mona lisa – can’t be wasting my time
born 1979, debut 1995 age 16
had no idea she was so young at the time. if she was – she named her debut album ’11-20-79′, her birthdate, so more likely than the aforementioned ms stokes. if that picture’s anything to go by, mona tried a bit too hard to labour the point about her youth by wearing bunches. at the age of 16. her second album was shelved but a comeback is imminent and several tracks have leaked.
destiny’s child – no no no
born 1981/2 – debut 1997 ages 15
so, despite ongoing allegations that beyonce was born as early as 1974, and not 1981 as drilled home during recent bday promotion, it doesn’t seem as odd looking at the rest of this list. after several members and incarnations, which would later prove to be just the tip of the iceberg, their arrival in 1997 heralded the new era of jittery tracks overlaid with rhythmic rather than melodic vocals.
immature – feel the funk
born 1981, debut 1992 age 11
after a childish debut, immature, including future actor and r&b star marques houston, had to wait for their third album and er, puberty, before gaining success in 1995. several years later they realised that their name was perhaps not doing them any favours and they became IMx.
kris kross – i missed the bus
born 1978/79, debut 1992 ages 13/14
research has failed to uncover an earlier example of clothes being worn backwards. therefore, millions of fashion crimes can be traced back to a pair of early teens, both called chris, in 1992. just to clarify, an entire culture took style cues from a 13 and 14 year old. never in 2007. i have resisted the temptation to put ‘jump’ on here. it’s usually played in clubs right after ‘jump around’ if you seriously can’t remember it…