I never heard an R&B duet that I didn’t like. Over the years there have been hundreds of performances, but the R&B duo as a musical entity, has been limited. Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton are the male and female who have done it right most recently with the song “So In Love,” from Scott’s CD “The Light of the Sun.” This was a track that no true program director in the genre of Urban music could deny — they did the damn thing.
Having said that, according to Billboard magazine, “the musical reunion of Toni Braxton and Babyface on their new album “Love, Marriage & Divorce” has proved profitable. The duo are aiming for the top five on this week’s Billboard 200 chart — the highest charting album since 2005 for Braxton, and the highest charting ever for Babyface. Industry forecasters suggested the collaborative set…” may have sold as much as 55 to 60,000 copies by the end of the tracking week, which ended this past Sunday, February 9th. The top 10 of this week’s Billboard 200 chart will be revealed on Wednesday, February 12th. Face and Braxton first got together by way if Arista Records waaaay back in the day ala the female group The Braxtons. It wasn’t long before he and his then partner L.A. Reid, saw that Toni was the distinctive one amidst the group. The record mogul duo signed Toni as a solo act to LaFace Records, and the first duet Kenny Edmonds and Toni Braxton did together was featured on the soundtrack for the Eddie Murphy movie “Boomerang.” The tune “Give U My Heart” captured the overall sentiment of the film, and Braxton’s solo contribution “Love Shoulda Brought You Home,” perked up the ears of the R&B aficionado. Babyface produced the bulk of Braxton’s first two albums, including the hit singles “Another Sad Love Song,” which went to number-seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Breathe Again” – it peaked at number-three, “You Mean the World To Me,” that also peaked at number-seven, and “You’re Makin’ Me High,” which went to number-one.
Fast forward 22 years later, and we find Babyface and Braxton “Back Together Again.” “Back Together Again” is the title of a song from another R&B collaboration of yesteryear from Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. It’s crazy to me that there hasn’t been an R&B duo to carry the torch of those that have paved the way. Braxton and Edmonds come to the table with history. When LaFace records began, Toni was the premiere female talent for the label. The “Boomerang” soundtrack and film were both very successful. Braxton’s debut CD followed, featuring the songs “Seven Whole Days,” the hits “Breathe Again” and “You Mean the World to Me.” Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds had a successful career as a solo artist, in addition to that of the front man for the group The Deele at the inception of LaFace. I can remember congratulating Reid and Face that year at the Grammys held at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. It was an exciting time for music, fashion and film, and there were other popular new brands. Terry Lewis & Jimmy Jam started Perspective Records; there was FILA and Karl Kanai (I still have a pair of KK sandals); and the soundtrack for “New Jack City,” which laid the ground work for “Boomerang” was still popular.
Way back in the day Otis Redding and Carla Thomas recorded the song “Tramp”; Brook Benton and Dinah Washington had hits with the songs “Baby (You Got What it Takes)” and “A Rockin’ Good Way”; and Micky & Sylvia dropped the hits “Love Is Strange” and “Bewildered.” During the Motown era, Marvin Gaye performed songs w/ Diana Ross, Mary Wells and Kim Weston, but his most popular duets were with Tammi Terrell. Ashford & Simpson started out as song writers for Motown, but are without a doubt the most dynamic duo to grace the genre of R&B as performers. Harold Melvin and Sharon Paige had only one song as their collaborative claim to fame, with “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon.” There was Billy Preston’s and Syreeta Wright’s smash “With You I’m Born Again”; Peaches & Herb had their 15 minutes with their songs “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Reunited”; and Luther Vandross and Cheryl Lynn did a cover of “If This World Were Mine,” that was a Marvin and Tammi fan favorite. Rene & Angela made significant contributions when they made their appearance on the music scene (Angela later dated and worked with Ron Isley). Damian Dame’s career was interrupted by the untimely death of Bruce Edward “Damian” Broadus; and Koffee Brown (the brain child of producer Kay Gee of Naughty By Nature fame) unfortunately never took off.
My hats off to Babyface and Toni Braxton for their new collaborative effort – I’m already hoping for follow-ups. It’s crazy to me that there hasn’t been an R&B duo to carry the torch of those that have paved the way. Babyface and Toni Braxton’s new CD “Love, Marriage & Divorce” features the songs: “Where Did We Go Wrong,” “Reunited,” “I Wish”, none of which are remakes, “Roller Coaster,” “Heart Attack” and “I’d Rather Be Broke” of the 11 tracks on the album. This is a very welcome contribution for R&B. Another recent R&B duo release is the reggae tinged CD “9ine,” featuring Syleena Johnson and Musiq Soulchild. It dropped in September of last year.
Other R&B duo contributions over the years have included the team ups of the late Rick James and Teena Marie. Their song “Fire and Desire” will probably never be matched, as it was steeped in emotional turmoil of not just R&B, but FUNK; the “New Jack” duet from Keith Sweat and Jacci McGhee for their hit “Make It Last Forever,” reflects an era of time when black music truly evolved; Diana Ross and Lionel Richie not only scored big in R&B with the song “Endless Love,” but it topped the pop charts as well.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the soulful collaborations of The Carpenters, Sonny & Cher, and Captain & Tennille. Although the music they released wasn’t R&B, Vandross made the song “Superstar” by the Carpenters his own; the title of Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” resonates with me on a daily basis; and the sentiment of the pop hit “Love Will Keep Us Together,” couldn’t BE any more R&B, no matter who sung it.
for the power and undeniable force of the Funky Duo