Babyface turns 30 this year. Sure, the Man Who Would Be Babyface — Kenneth Edmonds — was born in 1959, but the singer, songwriter, producer, and all-around hit maker extraordinaire began taking baby steps up the Billboard charts the year Michael Jackson’s Thriller dominated every chart. Join Robert Cass, Jeff Giles, and Mike Heyliger as they take a look back at the first three decades of Babyface’s career, with various detours along the stream of consciousness.
Robert: Of the four singles from Tender Lover, “My Kinda Girl” was the least successful, stalling at #3 on the Billboard R&B chart and #30 on the pop chart. Those aren’t terrible numbers, of course, but on the R&B chart “It’s No Crime” and the album’s title track both went to #1 and “Whip Appeal” peaked at #2, while on the pop chart “It’s No Crime” and “Whip Appeal” were both top-ten hits and “Tender Lover” reached #14. Why do I care? Because “My Kinda Girl” was obviously the best song out of the four. I mean, c’mon. Still one of my favorites.
Jeff: Oh, I love this song. Always have. Like “Don’t Disturb This Groove,” it’s a track I don’t mind having twice on my iPod — one original, one remix.
Robert: I have three versions of it myself: the album cut; the single version, which you can hear in the song’s music video; and the 12-inch, or “Scratch Mix,” which can be found on the 2001 reissue of Tender Lover. I think the single version improves on the original by upping the dosage of new jack swing, but the bridge on any version of “My Kinda Girl” — the part that begins with “I get a real good feeling deep inside my soul / Girl, when you’re around I just lose control” — is what makes the song still sound fresh to me two decades later. It’s like a runaway train. Except it’s the bridge. (I’m no good with similes and metaphors.)
That’s the future Mrs. ‘Face, Tracey E. Edmonds, playing his kinda girl in the video. They married in 1992, the year ‘Face and L.A. Reid scored big with the Boomerang soundtrack, produced some movies together, including Soul Food (1997) and Josie and the Pussycats (2001), and divorced after 13 years. On New Year’s Day 2008 she married Boomerang star Eddie Murphy in a private ceremony near Bora Bora, but two weeks later the couple released a statement to the press calling the ceremony a “symbolic union,” and said it wasn’t “necessary to define our relationship further” with a ceremony officially sanctioned by U.S. law. Too bad — I would’ve loved to see Eddie and ‘Face perform a special duet rendition of “Party All the Time” at the reception.
Mike: A solid reminder of how consistent and plain old good the Tender Lover album is. Certainly Babyface’s most cohesive statement.
I hadn’t listened to “My Kinda Girl” in a while. Still my fourth favorite of the four singles, but really, you can’t go wrong with any of ‘em.
Robert: Fourth? No way! I still like “It’s No Crime,” but it sounds very much of its time to me now, especially the echo-y percussion effects and the “Calling all cars!” bit, whereas “My Kinda Girl” feels timeless in spite of its new-jack bells and whistles because the melody and performance are so strong.
To recap, you like “My Prerogative” the most out of the five Don’t Be Cruel singles and “My Kinda Girl” the least out of the Tender Lover singles, and you won’t admit you’re wrong about any of those opinions. This is very troubling.
Mike: I never said I liked “My Prerogative” best!!
“Don’t Be Cruel” > “Rock Wit’cha” > “Every Little Step” > “My Prerogative” > “Roni”
Robert: Let me check the archives … Ah yes, you said that “Roni” is your least favorite of those singles and that “My Prerogative” is “awesome,” but nothing more. Okay, so you’re not a liar.
Mike: All four Tender Lover singles are great. There’s a lot less space between, qualitatively, with the Don’t Be Cruel songs than there is with those singles.
Robert: Don’t you mean the opposite?
Mike: Yes, I mean the opposite. STOP STRESSING ME!! IT’S EARLY IN THE MORNING!! I HAVEN’T HAD COFFEE YET!!
Jeff: Go brew up a pot! What’s wrong with you?
One hour and 11 minutes later …
Mike: I went to Dunkin’ Donuts. Felt like having someone make the coffee for me today.
Jeff: As long as I live on the east coast, I will never understand why people love Dunkin’s coffee so much. We need to hook you up with a French press.
Mike: Dunkin’s coffee is good. And cheaper than Starbucks. Plus, there’s a Dunks right across the street.
Robert: I buy Dunkin’s hazelnut coffee for home and Starbucks when I’m out. I’m glad I could share that with our tens of ‘Face Time readers — so good to get it off my chest!
Jeff: I really like Babyface’s ballads, but I almost enjoy it more when he deigns to get a little bit funky, like with “My Kinda Girl” or “For the Cool in You” (1993). I wish he did this kind of thing more often.
Mike: Uh, remember the record he did with the Neptunes?
Robert: Though I haven’t heard Face2Face (2001), the album Mike’s referring to, I agree with Jeff. Maybe ‘Face would too — he was the King of Radio by 1996, but I wonder if he ever felt trapped by his own success, i.e., “It’s nice that everybody wants me to write and/or produce for them, but I wish they’d stop asking for ‘one of those slow songs you do so well.’”
“My Kinda Girl,” “Rock Steady,” Pebbles’s “Giving You the Benefit” and “Backyard” — all evidence that he knew how to lay down a good groove.
Mike: Regarding the whole Tracey Edmonds thing, is it me or does that completely reinforce the notion of Eddie Murphy being a total asshole around women?
Robert: Actually, he’s really nice to them if they happen to be men. Does that count for anything?
I hope my comment about coffee preferences didn’t come across as bitchy; I like when our ‘Face Time conversations veer off course.
Mike: You are SUCH A BITCH, Robert Cass. Gawd.
Robert: Good. All better. I’m glad we could have this talk.
Mike: It’s what I do.
For an in-depth look at Kenneth Edmonds’s discography as a solo artist, see Mike and Jeff’s Popdose Guide to Babyface.