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.
“Word to the Badd!!” by Jermaine Jackson [Amazon / iTunes] (written by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Jermaine Jackson, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, and Daryl Simmons; produced by the LaFace Family; from You Said, 1991)
Robert: I honestly tried to get our discussion of “Nothin (That Compares 2 U)” posted last Friday, but problems with WordPress that morning ate up my available time before I went out of town for the weekend.
Jeff: Oh no.
Mike: WordPress problems?
Jeff: Those were temporary, caused by WP’s update to 3.6; I ended up rolling it back to the previous version. My “Oh no” has everything to do with this song.
Robert: So, WordPress hiccups are bad(d), but “Word to the Badd!!” is decidedly worse?
Mike: I’m probably the only one of the three of us who has read Jermaine’s book, You Are Not Alone: Michael, Through a Brother’s Eyes (2011). He has some interesting things to say about “Word to the Badd!!” and L.A. and Babyface in general. According to Jermaine, he hired them (or, more than likely, Clive Davis did, as the head of LaFace’s parent company, Arista) to work on his new album and moved down to Atlanta to prep, when suddenly L.A. and ‘Face became unavailable. He soon found out they were secretly working with his brother Michael on the album that would eventually become Dangerous.
After the sessions with MJ proved to be unfruitful, L.A. and ‘Face headed back to Atlanta, pissed, and the frustration on both sides came out in the lyrics of “Word to the Badd!!” In You Are Not Alone Jermaine essentially says that the other songwriters put words in his mouth, and that he doesn’t know who leaked the original, venting-about-Michael version, but it was rerecorded with new lyrics for You Said. (Both versions appear on international editions of the album.)
Robert: Scandalous! So the version at the top of the page is the leaked version, not the rerecorded one?
Mike: Yep. That’s not the version that was released as a single or on You Said.
Dammit, I can’t find my copy of You Are Not Alone. Otherwise I would give you a direct quote.
Robert: Well, I did find a Los Angeles Times article from November 7, 1991, by Chuck Philips in which Jermaine says “Word to the Badd!!” was written out of frustration because Michael didn’t return any of his calls for eight months: “I understand he’s a very busy person, but after you repeatedly try to contact your own brother and he doesn’t call you back, you begin to wonder if he hasn’t just completely lost touch with reality.” That’s what made you think he’d lost touch with reality, Jermaine? The rich and famous obviously grade on a different curve than the rest of us.
He added, “The song was never supposed to come out in public. But now that it has, I am hear to say that, yes, I wrote it and I stand by it.” He denied leaking “Word to the Badd!!” to radio, as did everyone at LaFace and Arista (maybe J.K. Rowling had something to do with it?), but the song “deals with much more than any plastic surgery or any facial changes or this and that,” he said. “The bottom line here is that this song was written as a private message to help get my brother to heal our relationship.”
Again, the rich and famous see the world differently: how is a song recorded in a professional studio with Babyface and L.A. Reid considered “a private message”? If Facebook had been around 20 years ago, would Jermaine have settled for writing on Michael’s wall, “Hey, little brother, good to see you’re still alive, or has Billie Jean hacked your account again? Haha, well, if this is you, HOW ABOUT CALLING ME BACK FOR A CHANGE? FYI: sarcastically tweeting about this post to your ‘followers’ (yes, I know you have more than I do) doesn’t count as a reply.”
Mike: Jermaine is a fucking head case. I feel like he’s always thought that he should’ve been Michael.
Robert: I’d forgotten that he named one of his sons Jermajesty after Michael named his first son Prince. As for Jackson being a “head case,” his last name has officially been spelled “Jacksun” since February, for “artistic reasons.” Draw your own conclusions, people.
Here’s the rerecorded, watered-down album version of “Word to the Badd!!”:
As far as I can tell, You Said is the only album released by LaFace Records that credits “the LaFace Family” as its producers instead of ‘Face and L.A., who are listed as the executive producers, but Daryl Simmons and Kevin “Kayo” Roberson apparently fall under that “family” umbrella. I assume that TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes wrote the obligatory midsong rap, and that’s Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins repeating the song’s title over and over again, if I’m not mistaken.
Mike: Just pulled out my CD copy of You Said and realized it’s quite the star-studded affair. In addition to TLC — all three members make their first recorded appearance on the song “Rebel (With a Cause)” — it features Pebbles, Color Me Badd, and Vernon Reid. Too bad none of that helped make the album a hit.
Robert: Where does Color Me Badd show up on You Said?
Mike: They’re on the track “Treat You Right,” which also includes vocals by ‘Face himself.
Robert: Word to the Color Me Badd!! And speaking of Chuck Philips, how come Jay-Z disses him in Missy Elliott’s 2002 song “Back in the Day”? I thought he was the only journalist who really busted his hump to get to the bottom of Tupac Shakur’s murder in 1996. He certainly seemed to do more than any police department.
Mike: Because Philips at some point implicated Puff Daddy and the Notorious B.I.G. in the murder, saying that Biggie actually provided some Crips with the murder weapon — which isn’t really possible since Biggie was reportedly at home in New Jersey when 2Pac was shot.
Robert: What, you’ve never heard of overnight shipping?
Mike: Ha! I believe he said that Biggie was actually in Las Vegas and physically handed the Crips the weapon.
Robert: In 2011 LA Weekly published a timeline of Philips’s reporting on 2pac and B.I.G. and his ultimate downfall at the LA Times, including the item you mentioned:
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Chuck Philips writes a story for the Los Angeles Times [in September 2002] on Shakur’s murder. Mostly based on anonymous sources, Philips reports that Shakur was killed by Compton gang members from the Southside Crips — allegedly paid by Biggie and using Biggie’s gun. Philips’ story also says that Biggie was in Vegas that night, which many friends and family members later disclaim.
Meanwhile, the Times‘ ongoing coverage of the Notorious B.I.G. murder — and the rapper’s posthumous lawsuit against the city of L.A., filed by his mother — favors the theory that Biggie was killed by the Crips six months after Shakur.
Sounds like the Tupac story swallowed Philips whole, the irony being that if 2Pac were murdered today, the Times probably wouldn’t have enough money in its budget to support much investigative reporting. (For instance, Jeff’s absence from the majority of this discussion would likely remain a mystery.)
You Said is Jermaine’s last solo album — unless we count his 2012 collection of jazz standards, I Wish You L.O.V.E, which we won’t — and as we found out earlier this week, the Jacksons never recorded another album after 2300 Jackson Street, the family’s first collaboration with Babyface. Neither did Michael after 2001’s Invincible, of course, for which Babyface cowrote and coproduced the track “You Are My Life.” Was Babyface a bad-luck charm for this family?
Mike: Shit. Maybe.
Wait — Jermaine released an album? Of jazz standards? In 2012? [clicks on Robert’s link] Aha! In France!
Robert: If Jermaine were to record a duets album with Jerry Lewis, it’d be huge.