Babyface—who will perform at ESSENCE Festival, June 30-July 3 in New Orleans—has given away more great songs than he has kept for himself. Here are 10 of the best tunes that he wrote for other people:
Mary J. Blige, “Not Gon Cry”
From Whitney Houston’s “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” to Brandy’s “Sittin’ Up in My Room,” there were an embarrassment of riches on the all-star, all-sister Waiting to Exhale soundtrack that Babyface wrote and produced. But it’s tough to beat MJB digging deep into the pain and anger of Angela Bassett’s Bernadine while defiantly refusing to shed any tears.
Boyz II Men, “End of the Road”
Babyface also worked on much of the Boomerang soundtrack, which spawned this epic breakup ballad that spent 13 weeks at No. 1. Although he penned other memorable tunes for Boyz II Men, such as “I’ll Make Love to You” and “Water Runs Dry,” this is the one that we still can’t let go.
Toni Braxton, “Breathe Again”
Toni Braxton was and always will be Babyface’s ultimate muse. And while it’s hard to pick a fave out of all the songs he wrote for her—from her debut solo single “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” to Grammy winners “Another Sad Love Song” and “You’re Makin’ Me High”—this achingly beautiful ballad never fails to take our breath away.
Madonna, “Take a Bow”
Babyface’s hitmaking mojo has extended from R&B to pop, and he worked the powers of his pen on this 1994 No. 1 single for the Queen of Pop. One of the best ballads that Madonna has ever recorded, the song boasts a sweeping romantic grandeur and pillowy background vocals courtesy of Babyface himself.
TLC, “Red Light Special”
TLC was never sexier than on this bump-and-grinder from their smash 1994 album CrazySexyCool. Indeed, this red-hot slow jam showed that T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli had grown up a lot since Babyface first collaborated with them on 1992’s “Baby-Baby-Baby.”
Tevin Campbell, “Can We Talk?”
First off, can we talk about whatever happened to Tevin Campbell? Listening to the way he slays his vocals as a teenager makes us wish he hadn’t faded later in his career. But at least we have this classic Babyface production to remind us of his glory days.
Karyn White, “Superwoman”
White is another artist who fell off after a promising start to her career. Babyface and then-partner L.A. Reid were all over her 1988 self-titled debut, from “The Way That You Love Me” to “Love Saw It,” a duet with the man of honor. But on this ballad she took a superpowerful stand for every woman who ever felt unappreciated.
Whitney Houston, “I’m Your Baby Tonight”
Before Babyface showed love for all of the ladies on Waiting to Exhale, Whitney had him all to herself on this 1990 No. 1 hit that returned Houston to her R&B roots. Riding a new jack swing groove and Houston’s soulful, sassy vocal, it still gives us ecstasy every time we hear it.
Mariah Carey, “Melt Away”
Babyface has always known how to write and produce for powerhouse divas, but he also knows how to get them to tone it down and give us some nuance. On this deep cut from her 1995 blockbuster Daydream, Carey plays it sultry and subtle before belting it out at the end.
Ariana Grande, “Baby I”
Babyface originally wrote this song (from Grande’s 2013 debut Yours Truly) for Beyoncé. But it really sounds more like a lost Mariah joint, with Grande doing her best mini-Mimi vocalizing over a skittering ’90s beat. It demonstrates that, while Babyface may be 57, he still knows how to write for the Millennials.