The 1997 music landscape was bittersweet. The bitter part: we lost the legendary Biggie Smalls to gun violence on March 9th, just a few months after losing Tupac. The sweet: a lot of classic albums came out that year. It’s the year the world was introduced to Erykah Badu, Usher as a grownup, Mariah Carey’s journey into creative autonomy, Wyclef as a solo artist, and more. The next best thing to discovering a classic album is revisiting that album and seeing how well it stands the test of time. So, here’s a list of 11 classic albums that aged well, 25 years later. Take a look and then start streaming!
Baduizm is the album that introduced us to a unique new singer by the name of Erykah Badu. The Texas-born singer entered the game when Neo-Soul was on the rise, with a sound that infused jazz, R&B, and elements of hip-hop.
She wore head wraps, stacked gold, and bronze jewelry, and sang about Five-Percenter math on her debut single, “On & On.” We were also introduced to interesting but relatable concepts like “Other side of the Game,” about the anxiety that comes with being with a man who runs the streets; “Apple Tree,” which compares wisdom and knowledge to the bounty of fruit; “Next Lifetime” about the one who got away in this lifetime possibly popping up in your next soul incarnation, and more.
Her vocals also garnered comparisons to Billie Holiday, but eventually, we learned that Miss Badu had a lot more range than Miss Holiday ever got to display before her untimely death. Badu has since gone on to flex her rapping skills, and her ability to genre bend effortlessly.
2. Supa Dupa Fly
Missy had been hitting us with the “hee hee hee ha” for years before she released her debut album, Supa Dupa Fly. Prior to releasing her personal bodies of work, her songwriting and production skills had already been utilized by a variety of artists such as Aaliyah, Jodeci, Ginuwine, and more. Supa Dupa Fly further cemented Missy Elliott as an icon with a sound that relied heavily on a blend of hip-hop, soul, and trip-hop vibes with oddball but titillating visuals to match.
3. Wu-Tang Forever
Wu-Tang’s second studio album took on a double-disc format, and was all the rage at that time in hip-hop. Its release was met with high enthusiasm and delivered singles like, “Triumph,” “It’s Yourz,” and “Reunited.” They rapped about various topics, from sexually explicit tales of catching gonorrhea from Maria to encouragement, on tunes like “A Better Tomorrow” and “Impossible.” RZA’s production shined once again, and several rap critics and fans regard it as one of the best double disc projects in hip-hop.
4. Life After Death
This is another double-disc project met with high anticipation and also critical acclaim, but unfortunately under sad circumstances. This year went down in history as the year the world lost the Notorious BIG to gun violence amid the East Coast/West Coast beef. However, the album delivered what fans had hoped for Biggie’s sophomore album. With production from DJ Premier, RZA, Easy Moe Bee, Clark Kent, and Puffy’s creative eye, this became an instant classic.
5. The Velvet Rope
The Velvet Rope is a very personal album for Janet Jackson. It’s full of sultry and sexy tales of BDSM, same-sex relationships, and other sexually explicit content, but there are also themes of loss, self-worth, self-harm, and domestic violence amid the R&B and pop grooves. That’s because, on a deeper level, according to Miss Jackson Herself, the album was created as a concept album using introspection as the theme. It was created during a time of great depression and emotional turmoil for Janet. The title speaks to people’s need to feel special but it’s also a metaphor for emotional boundaries. The 20-plus song album is Janet’s sixth studio album and she once again worked with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, among others, to create this genre-bending masterpiece.
6. In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Biggie’s death meant one less lyrical genius representing the East Coast, but also cleared the way for Jay-Z to claim the title of King of New York. Jay’s sophomore album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 was more commercial than its predecessor, Reasonable Doubt, with more polished production via Teddy Riley, Premier, and more. Via his hard-hitting lyrics, Jay reminded folk that he was still the ultimate hustler from Marcy Projects and not to be played with, lyrically or otherwise.
Butterfly is the Mariah Carey album that marked a turning point in her life. It was her first album after her separation from Tommy Mottola, which afforded her more creative control. This album, aptly titled, marked a time when Mariah’s image moved away from syrupy, sweet, and safe, and more toward versatile hip-hop and R&B boss vocalist, producer, and songwriter. She got deeply personal on this album as she stepped into herself as a creative genius.
8. Share My World
Mary J. Blige dropped her third album, Share My World, at a time when it was clear that “The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” was here to stay. At this point in her career, she was confident in her sound and ready to bring it with more mature and cohesive songwriting and production that felt smooth, organic, and polished, but still raw.
9. My Way
Usher stepped into his destiny as a millennial sex symbol with May Way. He was still very young, and barely legal, but at 18, he was technically a grown-up, and ready to romp with other R&B crooners with an array of seductive and romantic songs that ranged in tempo from ballads to funky and upbeat. Fun Fact: This is the album that gave millennials, many of whom are entering their fourth decade on Earth, “Nice & Slow.” The opening line of that song has become a meme. So, if you don’t know where Usher was at 7 o’clock on the dot, consider yourself a Spring Chicken.
10. Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival
Wyclef Jean followed up The Fugees’ masterpiece The Score with a solo album that doubled down on highlighting how skilled of a songwriter and producer he was. He was in his bag with this one with a seamless blend of reggae, soul, disco hip-hop, and other Caribbean sounds fused throughout the album.
11. No Way Out
Prior to releasing his debut No Way Out, Puffy, or Puff Daddy as he was known back then, was famous as the producer who was all up in the videos. He was a creative mastermind in a variety of capacities for artists like Jodeci, Usher, The Notorious B.I.G., Craig Mack, and more. However, in 1997, while Puffy was recording this album, Biggie, Bad Boy’s marquee act, was murdered. As a result, Puffy added the Biggie tribute song, “I’ll Be Missing You” with 112 and Faith Evans giving it a soulful boost on the chorus. The album as a whole established Diddy as an artist who could stand in his own right but thought it was fun to bring his friends and fam along for the ride too.