DAR Music: Tony! Toni! Tone! vs Mint Condition

By @TrueGodImmortal

In the 90s, we were blessed with a large group of talents in the R&B genre. As we discussed last week, there were some amazing R&B groups who helped the shape the decade musically, and some who wear the label of unsung heroes. Two groups that are seen as unsung heroes to me in the genre are Tony! Toni! Tone! and Mint Condition. While both groups are two of the greatest, they are both extremely underrated. For Tony! Toni! Tone!, their legacy is well known and appreciated, but the group isn't necessarily mentioned alongside the Jodeci and Boyz II Mens of the world, like they should be. The same could be said for Mint Condition, as they've maintained a level of consistency musically over the last 25 years, but haven't seen their name in the lights like the other legendary groups in the genre. With both groups being so slept on yet iconic, we thought it would be a fun comparison to see who has the best catalog and made the better music. Two underrated legendary groups, two different styles, which is better? Let's examine.

*Tony, Toni, Tone
The Oakland, California group came to fruition in the 80s, debuting with their first single in 1988 titled "Little Walter". The track was a solid introduction for them, as it led to the release of their debut album "Who?", which garnered some attention for the group and a gold plaque. It would spawn a few other hits from the album, such like "Born Not To Know", "For The Love Of You", and "Baby Doll". Though the group didn't exactly take off with their debut, they set the tone for a career with a solid album, and showed they could make hits. As the group experienced success, they would soon prepare their second album and a breakthrough was on the way.

Their second album, which is really their best album, The Revival, arrived in 1990 and instantly changed the fortunes of the group. The album is one of those rare gems in music that hits you as soon as you hear it from top to bottom. What made this album so classic to me is the execution of every track and how they maintained a cohesive sound throughout the project. Songs like the iconic New Jack Swing tinged single "Feels Good", the Vanessa Williams featured "Oakland Stroke", "The Blues", the smooth "Whatever You Want", and of course the classic "It Never Rains (In Southern California)" helped make this album such an amazing listen. It went double platinum, helped to boost the profile of Tony! Toni! Tone!, and set them on a path to all time greatness.

The group would keep their success rolling with their 1993 album Sons of Soul. After a successful single on the soundtrack of Boyz N The Hood ("Ask Of You"), the group delivered another classic album, with a smoother soulful sound. This album featured their most iconic single in "Anniversary", but also had a diverse sound that included tracks like "If I Had No Loot", "Lay Your Head On My Pillow", "Leavin", and of course "Slow Wine". The album had the group reaching levels of popularity that they hadn't before, as Sons of Soul went platinum, but soon after, the group would experience what every legendary group does: a strain and subsequent breakup. Their fourth and final album, the solid House of Music was different than their last three. The group worked on the album separately and there is a lack of cohesion in the project. Still, there are good songs like "Thinking Of You", "Let's Get Down", "Don't Fall In Love", and a few others, but it was a lackluster way for a group on such a roll to leave music.

After their eventual breakup and The departure of lead singer Raphael Saadiq, the group never released another album. Still, Tony! Toni! Tone! captivated the world for the first half of the 90s and went on a legendary yet small run as one of the best groups in the genre. The group would experience one last moment of relevance without Saadiq as they reunited and worked together with Alicia Keys on her hit "Diary", but since then, they've been touring sporadically with Amir Khalil taking on the duties of Saadiq. Regardless, Tony! Toni! Tone! are legends and will always be remembered as such.

*Mint Condition
Hailing from Minnesota, Mint Condition is a band that tested the limits of R&B and soul, with some of the best music in the genre through the 90s. Arriving in the game back in 1989, the band originally signed to the Perspective Records label and worked under Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Minnesota was known only for their eclectic musical talent at the time, and Mint Condition fit perfectly in that lane. Musically versatile and extremely talented, Mint Condition would release their debut album Meant To Be Mint in 1991. The album wasn't necessarily a huge success, but they did breakthrough on the strength of their greatest and most well known song, "Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)". The song is one of the most iconic 90s R&B songs ever, and is the first thought that comes to mind when someone mentions Mint Condition. Every time the opening drum hits of the song come on, you're inclined to sing along instantly. That song along with the singles "Forever In Your Eyes" and "Are You Free", and solid album tracks like "She's A Honey" and "Try My Love" helped to introduce themselves to the world.

However, the group would reach a better creative height musically with their sophomore album in 1993, From The Mint Factory. This album was their peak, and even though it didn't possess an iconic hit like "Breakin' My Heart", there are some great songs on the album from the hit single "U Send Me Swingin", "Nobody Does It Betta", and "Someone To Love". The group would be seen as a solid band, but they still hadn't cracked the charts at a high level or sold enough albums. That would change with the release of their 1996 third album, Definition Of A Band. It would be their final album under Perspective Records, and it would be their biggest album thus far. Though it wasn't as cohesive as their previous release, Definition Of A Band would sell well over 600,000 copies, earning the group a gold plaque. Tracks like their huge single "What Kind Of Man Would I Be", the smooth "Let Me Be The One", and another hit single "You Don't Have To Hurt No More" finally garnered the group the attention it deserved.

As the group finally began enjoying the fruits of their labor, they would take things even higher after signing with Elektra Records for their fourth project, Life's Aquarium. The album would be successful, but would be one of my least favorite projects from the group. It's not a bad album, and the sound of tracks like their hit single "If You Love Me", "Tonight", and "Pretty Lady" definitely worked, but clearly the Mint Condition sound was better suited for an independent situation than under the major labels. The group would never release another album on a major label, and would take a hiatus after their keyboardist left the group in 2000. After a six year hiatus, the group would release Livin' The Luxury Brown in 2005, E-Life in 2008, their seventh project (aptly titled 7....) in 2011, and their most popular project of the 2000s, Music At The Speed Of Life in 2012, which spawned a moderate hit in "Believe In Us".

Since 2012, Mint Condition hasn't released any new music, but lead singer Stokley recently released a solo album that is pretty enjoyable. Still, the fact remains, Mint Condition was a force to be reckoned with it in the genre and one of the best groups of the 90s and beyond. They deserve more credit for always giving the genre quality music with a diverse sound and creative touch.

When comparing these two eclectic groups, it's hard to measure them by their time together, as Mint Condition has remained together over the years. If we were going strictly off of longevity, Mint Condition wins by far. However, the focus of this is music, and if we compare albums, Tony! Toni! Tone takes this discussion easily on the merit of their 2nd and third albums. However, in terms of singles and solo songs, I would tip the scale to Mint Condition. It all comes down to their best song and biggest single, and when we arrive at a debate of "Anniversary" vs "Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)", it is impossible to make a decision. This is probably the closest matched set of groups ever in the genre, but because of their classic albums, I will very slightly give the nod to Tony! Toni! Tone! this time. That takes nothing away from Mint Condition, and as I said, I think they made better singles. Of course, This all comes down to personal preference and opinion, but the fact remains that these are two legendary groups who deserve to be discussed among only the best.



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