In hip-hop, 1997 was the year of 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 of the Notorious B.I.G. that March had sparked an outpouring of gleefully upbeat rap hits that championed superficial levity in the wake of the darkness of 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 of some of her pain; Mariah Carey was looking to reinvent herself after years of adult contemporary commercial dominance; Usher re-emerged after the false start of 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 of 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. 

10 Reminders: Janet Jackson Slays—Anytime, Anyplace...

Mary J. Blige Changed R&B Forever

Virgin