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: ‘Face Time has officially moved to Fridays! Please pretend to make a note of it.
Jeff: Love the placement of the LaFace Records logo toward the end of the video.
Robert: And I loved “Right Down to It” when I first heard it on the radio at the tail end of 1991, but I didn’t know until years later, just like other songs we’ve discussed here, that Babyface had something to do with it. In fact, until I used Napster for the first time in 2000, I didn’t even know who sang it.
Jeff: I miss 1991.
Robert: Damian Dame, a duo consisting of Bruce “Damian” Broadus and Debra “Deah Dame” Hurd, was the first act signed to LaFace, Babyface and L.A. Reid’s Arista-distributed label. Hurd was already an industry veteran by that point, having recorded a self-titled album for Geffen Records in ’83 — one of its singles was a spirited cover of Prince’s “Gotta Broken Heart Again” — before providing background vocals on the Deele’s final LP, Eyes of a Stranger (1987), which put her on ‘Face and L.A.’s radar; the duo then hired her to sing background on Karyn White’s 1988 debut. She even inspired Person of Interest star Taraji P. Henson and First Lady Michelle Obama to grow out their bangs (okay, not true).
In addition to “Right Down to It,” Damian Dame’s first album spun off the singles “Exclusivity,” which hit number one on Billboard‘s R&B chart, and “Gotta Learn My Rhythm.” Sadly, there was no second album: before they could record a follow-up, Hurd died in a car accident on June 27, 1994, at the age of 35, and Broadus died exactly two years later, at 29, from colon cancer, after releasing one solo LP, 199SEX.
Here they are on BET’s Video Soul in ’91, being interviewed by the smoothest of the smooth, Donnie Simpson:
Mike: Simpson was a bad brother, wasn’t he?
Robert: I remember reading an interview with Chris Rock maybe 15 years ago in which he said he worked up an impression of Simpson for Saturday Night Live, but apparently it went over the heads of the show’s writers at the time. Too bad — Rock wasn’t the greatest sketch performer, which even he’s acknowledged, but it would’ve been fun to at least see him try out his Simpson impression. (I also remember him promoting his first stand-up album, Born Suspect, on Video Soul in ’91, and showing the video for its tacked-on single, “Your Mother’s Got a Big Head.”)
Mike: I wasn’t nuts about “Exclusivity,” but “Right Down to It” is a fantastic song. Some of Babyface’s best lyrics — real relationship talk right here.
Robert: Was the song’s bridge written by Babyface, or was it Baby-fucius? Riddle me this, R&B fans:
When you love what you touch
And you touch what you want
Then you want what you kiss
And you kiss what you miss
When you diss what you want
And you want what you diss
Then you miss what you love
And you love what you diss, baby
Mike: Ah so(ul) …
Robert: BAM! (Minus two points, of course, for implying that Confucius was Japanese. But in a surprising turn of events, plus two points for political incorrectness.)
Jeff: Not every ‘Face-produced song we’ve covered has sounded like a Babyface number in every way except the lead vocal, but “Right Down to It” definitely qualifies. This could have easily ended up on one of his own records — or the first After 7 album, for that matter.
Robert: The other night I was listening to his solo debut, Lovers (1986), and wondering who was sharing lead vocals with him on the track “Faithful.” Turns out it was Hurd, so I guess she was on Babyface’s radar even before the Deele’s last album.
Mike: The circumstances of her and Broadus’s passings are so sad.
Robert: Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, also gone too soon, and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins of TLC, another act signed to LaFace, show up on Damian Dame‘s antiwar track “Sixty Seconds (The Conclusion),” which they cowrote with Broadus, Reid, and Simmons. However, they’re credited as “Q.T.” and “Boz,” respectively, of “TLC-SKEE.” Luckily, by the time the group’s first album, Ooooooohhh … On the TLC Tip, was released in February of ’92, all was right in the world of R&B acronyms, initials, and nicknames.
Mike: Glad they worked that all out.
Robert: I wonder if “Q.T.” stood for “cutie” or for “quiet tip.” But since Lopes burned down boyfriend Andre Rison’s suburban Atlanta mansion in 1994, probably not the latter.
The Deele’s Kevin “Kayo” Roberson produced four tracks on the double Ds’ LP with Daryl Simmons, and lends his talents on bass. (When we talked about Bobby Brown’s “Roni” in February, I said that Simmons didn’t have a cool nickname like Babyface, L.A., and Kayo, but I was wrong — in the liner notes of Damian Dame he’s referred to several times as “DeRock.”) However, it’s Babyface who holds down the rhythm section with drummer L.A. Reid on “Right Down to It,” and that’s him on keyboards as well.
Mike: “Don’t you be influenced by your girlfriends jocking me on the side” — classic line.
Robert: “But are you only jocking me because my fashion sense is so heavily influenced by Nick Ashford? I thought so.”
Mike: Damian had better hair.
Robert: Yes, but did it help, Mike? The title of his solo album, 199SEX, makes it sound like he scored a woman’s phone number in a club only to realize she left out the final digit.
Jeff: That dude’s hair is fucking spectacular. I’m only surprised he was never sued by one of the ladies from 227.
Mike: You mean Grandma Dame?
Robert: That must be who inspired Hurd to grow out her own bangs. Thanks for the fact-checking, Mike!
For an in-depth look at Kenneth Edmonds’s discography as a solo artist, see Mike and Jeff’s Popdose Guide to Babyface.