In hip-hop, 1997 was the year the Shiny Suit. Yes—there were great, decidedly non-shiny albums; but we all know what defined that year's sound and image. From "Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It" by Will Smith to Ma$e's "Feels So Good," the death the Notorious B.I.G. that March had sparked an outpouring gleefully upbeat rap hits that championed superficial levity in the wake the darkness the East/West rap feuding that defined 1995-96.

But in R&B, much more interesting things were happening.

Mary J. Blige learned to let go some her pain; Mariah Carey was looking to reinvent herself after years adult contemporary commercial dominance; Usher re-emerged after the false start 1994 as a much more assured artist; the neo soul revolution continued to roll with a strong debut album from singer-songwriter Erykah Badu and the unexpected commercial success the Love Jones soundtrack; and Janet Jackson bore her soul and a whole lot more on her stellar sixth album.

It was a helluva year in R&B; so we decided to take a look back at what was a seminal year and rank the best R&B albums. Break out your FUBU and pop in your detachable-faced CD player. Check out the gallery above.