Go on, Ms. Toni…
Whenever we spill music tea about the beloved music of the ’90s, it’s impossible not to bring up the deep, husky, soulful Grammy winning music catalog of the lovely, Ms. Toni Braxton. For a good portion of the decade, Ms. B got to werk as one of the most popular and commercially successful female R&B singers, thanks to her ability to straddle the seemingly opposite worlds of pop and R&B music. Her grooves were soulful enough for R&B audiences, but smooth enough for adult contemporary. While achieving the ultimate mainstream success, Braxton managed to score not one, but two albums that sold over eight million copies; naturally, they were accompanied by a long string of memorable hits on the pop and R&B charts, with one of them– “Un-break My Heart” — ranking among the longest-running number one pop hits of the rock era. Sigh…
The daughter of a minister, Braxton was raised mostly in the strict Apostolic faith, which banned not only all popular culture, but also pants in women’s wardrobes. Encouraged by their opera singing mother, Braxton and her four sisters (we know and love them.) began singing in church, although gospel was the only music permitted in the household. But, not ones to not explore their craft, the gals often snuck in some Soul Train when their parents went out to get them really living that music life. Because of her husky voice, Toni often used male singers like Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, and Michael McDonald as models, as well as the ultimate diva herself, Chaka Khan. Braxton had some success on the local talent show circuit, continuing to sing with her sisters, and after high school she actually studied to become a music teacher. However, she soon dropped out of college after she was discovered singing to herself at a gas station by songwriter Bill Pettaway (who co-authored Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True”). With his help, Braxton and her sisters signed with Arista Records in 1990 as a group who simply called themselves The Braxtons.
In 1990, the lovely ladies released a single called “The Good Life,” and while it went nowhere near the Billboard charts, the song and Toni caught the attention of L.A. Reid and Babyface, who at the time who had just formed their own label, LaFace. Braxton became the first female artist signed to LaFace in ’91, and the following year she was introduced to us with a high-profile appearance on the soundtrack of Eddie Murphy‘s Boomerang. Not only did her solo cut “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” become a moderate pop and R&B hit, but her duet on the album with Babyface called “Give U My Heart” also gained the singer loads of buzz. In fact, when Braxton’s debut set hit headphones, it was an across-the-board smash, climbing to number one on every chart possible. It spun off hit after hit, including three more Top Ten singles in “Another Sad Love Song,” “Breathe Again,” and “You Mean the World to Me,” plus the double-sided R&B hit “I Belong to You”/”How Many Ways.” With sales skyrocketing over eight million, it only made sense that her follow-up, Secrets would also go on to monumental chart status.
Toni’s sophomore set was released in the summer of 1996 and it was another enormous hit. The first single, “You’re Makin’ Me High,” was her most scrumptious offering to date;complete with a fun accompanying video that was all wrapped up in the weirdest, sexiest card game you’ve ever seen. However, the success of “High” was soon eclipsed by follow-up single, the Diane Warren-penned ballad “Un-break My Heart.” The soul-shattering number was an inescapable juggernaut, spending an amazing 11 weeks on top of the pop charts (and even longer on the adult contemporary charts). While further singles “I Don’t Want To” and “How Could an Angel Break My Heart” fared well on the chart game, they came no where near close to matching just what a behemoth single “Un-break My Heart” was.
However, after Secrets told everyone the music truth, it was then that things took a dramatic turn in Braxton’s career. In 1997, the songbird filed a lawsuit against LaFace Records, attempting to gain release from a contract she felt was no longer fair or commensurate with her status. It was when LaFace counter sued that Braxton filed for bankruptcy, a move that shocked many fans and critics (who wondered how that could be possible, given her massive album sales) but the filing actually afforded her protection from further legal action. The following year, Braxton spent most of in legal limbo, and passed the time by signing on to portray Belle in the Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (a role originally held by former teen queen Deborah Gibson). Braxton and LaFace finally reached a settlement in early ’99, and the singer soon began work on her third album, The Heat. While lead single “He Wasn’t Man Enough” was a smash, follow-ups “Just Be a Man About It” (Hey, Dr. Dre. ) and “Spanish Guitar” didn’t keep the album’s momentum after it started out selling briskly.
After The Heat cooled down, the diva appeared in the VH1 movie Play’d (LOL) in early 2002, and soon released More Than a Woman later that year. A notable record, its sales weren’t as strong as previous sets, in which the same can be said for 05’s Libra and 2010’s Pulse. But, Braxton did further boost her comeback profile by participating in the smash reality TV series, Braxton Family Values, which candidly focuses on her relationship with her mother and four sisters. Also, just last year she teamed up once again with Babyface to record the duets album Love, Marriage & Divorce, which was met with glowing reviews.
While her chart prowess may not be as glowing as it once was, there’s no denying that Ms. Toni delivered a set of classic jams that are perfect for dealing with heartbreak, falling in love, making some babies and everything else in between.These 15 tracks represent not only the late-’90s/early ’00s, but a time when Toni Braxton ruled the music world with a voice that was–and is still–like no other in the music game.
Ready…set…make some babies.