Welcome back to TGJ Replay!
Designed much like our ‘Retro Rewind’ and ‘From the Vault’ features, ‘Replay’ is That Grape Juice‘s newest reflective segment to act as a written quest to re-spin the gems and jams of yesterday. Unlike its TGJ retrospective predecessors, ‘Replay’ looks to dust off and showcase entire albums (and eras) from a library of pop and Urban pop music hits.
The dreaded sophomore slump: a huge fear of artists (and fans of said artists) who see “overnight” success from the beginning of their careers. And, with 3 top 10 Hot 100 singles and a #1 run on the Billboard 200 courtesy of her self-titled debut LP, 1993-1995 saw Toni Braxton put herself in the same boat.
Breaking free from the plague of endless comparisons to Queen of Quiet Storm Anita Baker – whom many of her hits at the time were originally written for (see: ‘Love Shoulda Brought You Home,’ ‘You Mean the World To Me,’ and ‘Give You My Heart’ with Babyface), Braxton developed her own identity to become a force all her own in the industry. Add to this a bevy of critical acclaim and industry recognition (see three Grammys including ‘Best New Artist’ at the 1994 ceremony), the success of her inaugural project put some serious pressure on her next release to match or outperform it.
Her 1994 interview with Ed Gordon shone as proof of her awareness of this.
“…God can take this from me at any time and I’ve only had one album. So many artists have had successful first albums and you’ve never heard from them again. Not to say I’m an exception to that rule, but I’m going to do everything I can to ensure I have a career. But, there are no guarantees. Toni Braxton, 1994”
Anita Baker comparisons (4:05)
Fear of Sophomore Slump (5:55)
Some three years after her debut, 1996 would see elements of the sonic formula that brought her first opus to fame thrown in the equation of crafting its follow-up. Tapping LaFace label heads, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, to executive produce the project, the duo aided Braxton in birthing her long-awaited sophomore release.
Titled ‘Secrets,’ the album was kicked off by the sultry single ‘You’re Making Me High’…
Delivered courtesy of a double A-side which featured the tune ‘Let It Flow’ (also found aboard the 1995 ‘Waiting To Exhale’ soundtrack), the song lived up to its titling by getting “high” on charts worldwide (including a skyrocketed trip to #1 on the Hot 100).
Gifting the songstress with her very first chart-topper, ‘High’ and ‘Flow’ flew Braxton right to the ownership of her 4th Grammy (‘Best Female R&B Vocal Performance,’ 1997).
Leading the album to an impressive #2 debut in summer 1996, its commercial acclaim was only bested by rave reviews from critics. Unknown to them at the time, the success of ‘High’ and ‘Flow’ were only the quiet before the storm.
For, songwriting and production giants Diane Warren and David Foster – who’d penned megahits for the likes of Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and more – joined forces for the stirring ballad ‘Un-Break My Heart.’ Story has it, the song was originally presented to Dion while her 1996 hit, ‘Because You Loved Me,’ was initially supposed to be for Braxton. Dion opted to record ‘Because’ instead, leaving ‘Heart’ to be offered to L.A. Reid for Braxton. Reid was impressed with the song and thought it would be an excellent inclusion on ‘Secrets,’ but Braxton, on the other hand, made it no secret she was not a fan of it.
Despite initial protests, the contralto diva eventually relented and recorded the song – a move that later proved lucrative. Selected as the second single from ‘Secrets,’ ‘Heart’ was an instant knockout with listeners.
With its sweeping low notes to its gripping climax, the ballad shot Braxton straight to the top of the Hot 100 for a jaw-dropping 11 weeks. Going on to double platinum certification, ‘Heart’ – the 3rd #1 hit of her career – also helped her nab her 5th Grammy award (‘Best Female Pop Vocal Performance,’ 1997).
To date, the song not only remains her “signature” song, but also shares the record for most weeks spent in the Hot 100’s top 3 by a female artist (tied with Mariah Carey‘s ‘We Belong Together’) with whopping 18 week runs.
‘Heart’ was a undeniably tough act to follow. But, Toni and team forged on with selections from ‘Secrets’ by tapping the R.Kelly-penned/produced number ‘I Don’t Want To’ as its follow-up. Much like the project’s inaugural releases, ‘Don’t’s delivery came as a double A-side, sharing billing with mid-tempo groove ‘I Love Me Some Him.’
While not nearly as successful as its predecessors, the tunes still managed top 20 placement (#19 peak).
To round out the record, Braxton and co. called upon ‘How Could An Angel Break My Heart.’ Though delivering some respectable numbers, ‘Angel’ wouldn’t exactly soar on charts like its predecessors. In fact, while it missed the Hot 100 all together, it did still manage to score top 20 placement on the Adult Contemporary charts.
We’re sure the misstep was hardly noticed. By the time ‘Angel’ was lifted from ‘Secrets,’ the album had already been certified 8x platinum. To date, it sits at a cool 15 million worldwide.
‘Secrets’ is undoubtedly Toni Braxton’s magnum opus. One of the “must hear” albums of the past 20 years, this collection of modern R&B classics is simply representative of Braxton at her best.
Now, as we press play on our jams ‘Why Should I Care’ and ‘I Love Me Some Him,’ you tell us: