You know who Rodney â€˜Darkchild’ Jerkins is.
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He’s the guy behind some of the greatest songs you’ve ever danced to. He’s a super-producer, a talented musician and songwriter, and a blessing to the world, most recently winning a Grammy for his work on Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”.
Here is an important — and unarguable — ranking of his best work.
19. Telephone – Lady Gaga Ft. BeyoncÃ©
Bombast and pyrotechnics, this. But the chorus is fire, and the entire Bey feature is a jam all on its own.
18. Feedback – Janet Jackson
Yes, this goes hard. But there’s something missing from this for me. It just sounds a little cold, even with the divine Ms Jackson doing her thing over the skittery beat.
I’d dance to it in a club, though.
17. I Can Love You – Mary J. Blige Ft. Lil’ Kim
This earlyish Darkchild (1997!) is just the easiest track to nod along to, so effortless.
Mary J’s keening vocals (at one point she modestly tells the object of her affection: “I can love you/a little better than she can,” which is quietly heartbreaking) are the perfect accompaniment to the simple groove. It sounds both completely of its time, but also timeless.
Shoutout to Lil’ Kim’s verse, too (with its gentle reference to Biggie).
16. Holler – Spice Girls
This late Spice Girls single (minus Geri, and before the Grand Hiatus) really works, but that’s not because of the especially great vocals (Mel C excepted). In fact, Mel B’s adlibs almost kill it.
But it’s catchy as hell, and so danceable.
15. Revolution – Kirk Franklin
Political gospel? Why the heck not?
Darkchild can do anything.
14. Cater 2 U – Destiny’s Child
Dodgy lyrics aside (“My life would be purposeless without you,” Bey sings in the opening verse, earning a sharp side-eye), this is a flawlessly produced slow jam with one of the most laidback and romantic grooves Darkchild’s ever made. There’s no beating Passionate Bey on vocals, and she’s out here in force.
13. If You Had My Love – Jennifer Lopez
Here’s how you know Jennifer Lopez was not playing around: This was the debut single on her debut album. So casual.
The lyrics are not the strongest, and it’s not even the best ever J-Lo vocal offering (that’s a list for another day) but it is a mid-tempo silky jam, and catchy as hell, so it’s easy to forgive its flaws.
Perfect to sing with one hand on your heart, in the mirror.
12. Say My Name – Destiny’s Child
If Drake is sampling you almost 15 years later, chances are you did something extremely right. This track is unnaturally right.
It’s the mixed-upness of “Say My Name” (perfectly telegraphing the up-and-down play of the lyrics: are you cheating or nah?) that make it a straight up banger. And the production is so tight and sure of what its doing, it steals your attention away from the fact that the band recently changed lineup, and this is the video in which you meet Farrah and Michelle for the first time. Plus! The break – “yea, yea, yea yea” – is poetry is song. A stone cold classic.
PS: shoutout to the most iconic Darkchild tag of them all: “Darkchild nine-nine”.
11. DÃ©jÃ Vu – BeyoncÃ©
“Bass…Hi-hat…Jay” It’s the classiest of openings, isn’t it?
On an album as jam-packed with bangers as B’Day, Déjà Vu is for me, one of the finest Bey singles ever produced. Darkchild went BIG on this, throwing everything at Beyoncé, who brought in some magic of her own. The high energy is infectious, and gives the feeling of having been a blast to record.
Big vocals, big production, big tune.
10. Can’t Leave â€˜Em Alone – Ciara Ft. 50 Cent
This is not one of Ciara’s best-known, but it should be.
Darkchild gives her a classic handclap beat, plus the twinkliest of R&B accents. They are the perfect accompaniments for Ciara’s whispery soft vocals. “I can’t leave ‘em alone/I tried that good boy game/But the dope boy’s turning me on,” she sings like a lovefool. And then 50 Cent shores it up with bars like: “My intentions are good/I can’t help it, I’m hood/I wouldn’t change if I could/you shouldn’t tell me I should.” So at least they’re well-matched.
So fresh, it sounds like summer.
9. I’m Good – Blaque
This 2004 banger was too good to soundtrack a film as terribly bland as Honey (which, full disclosure: I saw at the cinema). Side note: There is a depressing number of now-defunct black girl groups from the mid-2000s.
This is low key girl empowerment (“I don’t like what you’re kickin’ son/ now leave,” they dismiss some unworthy creature), wrapped up in Darkchild’s beat wonderland. And the hype tag on this one is an idiosyncratic “Darkchizzle!” Which is fun.
8. You Rock My World – Michael Jackson
I was full of trepidation when they announced a new MJ record. What I loved of his music was either my age or older than me, and I worried. But then I heard this, and realised my own foolishness. How could Darkchild fail with MJ?
This is so smooth! The once sweet voice sounds as fresh as it ever did, and Darkchild’s production is sympathetic to MJ’s legacy, with lovely harmonies in the chorus.
Shoutout to MJ’s last great single.
7. Don’t Wanna Be A Player – Joe
I know it can’t be true, but this feels like this is the only thing I listened to in 1997.
The vocoder intros us to what would become the R&B love song to beat for the next 15 years, when Joe’s smooth and slightly nasal crooning takes over. “I think I’ve found someone I could live my life for, “ he sings, “I’m giving up the booty calls”. Only if you’re sure, mate.
And even though people don’t belong to people – and you know this – you sing along, sighing, when Joe finishes the hook with: “I’m yours, you’re mine for sure”. Aah, memories.
6. Still Not A Player – Big Pun Ft. Joe
I mean, technically, this isn’t a Darkchild jam per se. But it builds on one of his best ever productions, Joe’s “Don’t Wanna Be A Player”.
Joe’s falsetto opens it up, but that Brenda Russell keyboard loop – calibrated perfectly to make you bounce – runs away with the song. It’s such a canny song: Big Pun’s sometimes breathless bars (that don’t bear listening to too closely) married to Joe’s smooth R&B voice. By the time you’re singing along to “Boricua/morena” with Joe, the work’s already done.
What a jam.
5. He Wasn’t Man Enough – Toni Braxton
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? From the moment Toni says his name in a husky whisper (followed by a laugh) right at the top of the song, you know you’re in for a treat. “Who do you think I am?” she asks this lesser rival. I don’t know, Toni. I DON’T KNOW.
Again, the beat is king here, as are Toni Braxton’s slinky vocals. And then comes the bridge, when he strips it back, and lets Toni fly. She soars.
A thousand hen nights rejoice.
4. What About Us – Brandy
And then Brandy launches into an impassioned but also somehow detached verse about how her man’s done her wrong, and should “close the door behind you”, but also, how about all these broken promises? “What about us?” she implores.
This is made for dancing with your girls at a house party, after too much food and drinks, when you’re skirting the line between genuine heartbreak and trying to just shake it off.
3. Top Of The World – Brandy
I was 16 when this came out, and it is so good I developed a crush on Ma$e. MA$E! That’s how good this is.
The drums are ridiculous, and Brandy pours her honeyed gospel voice all over it. It sounds exactly like a song a teenager would sing (Brandy was 19), except this teen was a huge-selling pop star to boot. “My life is real so please don’t get it twisted/Problems the same and got to be dealt with/These are the things I wish you knew”.
By the time Ma$e comes back for his verse at the end, Brandy’s “top of the world” refrain is permanently etched on our brains. “Slow down, Ma$e – you killin ‘em,” she instructs coolly.
Too late. This is perfect.
2. It’s Not Right But It’s Okay – Whitney Houston
Whitney’s voice was not what it used to be by this 1999 album, but you couldn’t tell when she damn near snarled out the first line of this: “Friday night/you and your boys went out to eat…” And then right after she talks about finding his credit card receipt, the beat kicks in, bringing with it the chorus (of women): “It’s not right, but it’s okay/I’m gonna make it anyway”.
It doesn’t matter if your partner is the height of loveliness and attention, after hearing this song, you’re going to pick a fight when they get home.
Everything is just spare enough in order to amplify the simmering rage of the lyrics. This is The Lick. One of his finest.
1. The Boy Is Mine – Monica and Brandy
That hazy keyboard opening is like the harp effect in the dream sequence on a teen sitcom; it is also the start of perfection that doesn’t let up for four minutes.
It’s unequivocally his greatest, right? His work with Brandy always seemed a cut above the rest, and this is their finest collaboration. There are no missteps; it’s all killer, no filler. A duet that favours no one singer, and everyone on their A game.
What. A. Song.