DAR Music: Toni Braxton's Debut vs Mary J. Blige's What's The 411

By @TrueGodImmortal

The 1990s are seen as the greatest decade in the history of entertainment. While we acknowledge 90's hip hop as being the golden age of the genre, the most prized genre of the decade has to be R&B. The early to mid 90's saw the debuts of two amazing women that have maintained longevity and stood the test of the time in the genre. In 1992, we got the arrival of the eventual Queen of Hip Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige, and in 1993, we got the debut of one of the most incomparable voices of our time, Toni Braxton. Both of these women arrived on the scene with some of their absolute best work on their first projects, and they never looked back. Today, I wanted to look at those two debut albums and compare which is better. Does Toni have the better debut album or did Mary bring the fire with her amazing arrival in music? Let's take a look.

*Toni Braxton

1. Another Sad Love Song
2. Breathe Again
3. Seven Whole Days
4. Love Affair
5. Candlelight
6. Spending My Time With You
7. Love Shoulda Brought You Home
8. I Belong To You
9. How Many Ways
10. You Mean The World To Me
11. Best Friend
12. Breathe Again (Reprise)

Whenever you get the production prowess of Babyface and L.A. Reid together, you're bound to have something special. Look no further than the debut of Toni Braxton for proof of that. With the amazing talents of those two writers and producers by her side, Toni was destined for success. Signed to their label, LaFace, there was a level of importance played on her project, and in July 1993, her album would arrive and the R&B world was never quite the same again. Truthfully, this album didn't take off right away sales wise, but it eventually would take the world by storm, hitting the top of the charts weeks after the release. The album would go on to be one of the most successful albums of the decade, as it cracked the near 6 million copies mark sales wise in the United States with 11 million copies sold worldwide. Toni was riding a wave of huge success and with one listen to her album, it was clear to see why.

The album kicks off extremely well with the huge single "Another Sad Love Song", and though I am a bit surprised in retrospect that they led off with this one, in essence, it works. Babyface is undefeated as a songwriter and producer, and this song is just yet another testament to it, as Toni delivers vocally. The next song is yet another single, this one being another successful hit in "Breathe Again", and I'll be honest, this is not one of my favorite songs from Toni. It's not a bad song by far, but I think I've heard it so much over the years that it eventually got old and now when I hear it, I'm not really interested to listen for long. This is actually the only song on the album that I feel this way about, but make no mistake, in the prime of this album, the song was a monster and undeniable. On the opposite end of that, the next track is one of my favorites on the entire album, and it might be my all time favorite Toni Braxton track. As soon as the beat for "Seven Whole Days" drops, and the hook comes in, you're already captivated. The melody is smooth and Toni just brings you in vocally. The hook is a nice harmonic blend and of course, it sounds like you can hear Babyface in the background, which is usually a nice touch to any Babyface penned and produced single.

The next few tracks definitely keep the flow of the album going and with the smooth ballad "Love Affair", the album never loses a step. A truly underrated track on the album has to be "Candlelight", as I think it's one of the more slept on gems here. The same could be said for "Spending My Time With You", which is just one of the few songs not produced or written by Babyface. Babyface and L.A. Reid do contribute to yet another hit on the album next, as the Boomerang soundtrack gem "Love Shoulda Brought You Home" follows, and we all know this song well. It's a timeless classic and one of the biggest songs of Toni's career. Another popular single follows with "I Belong To You", which is actually a solid track and has more of an upbeat feel than the majority of the ballads here. It should be worth noting that the second half of her album doesn't feature as much from Babyface and LA Reid, but it doesn't take the quality down at all. In fact, one of the best songs on the album, "How Many Ways", is actually co-written and produced by Vincent Herbert. The song is actually an amazing listen, and it's a pretty well known single, and it flows very well into the cohesion of the album overall.

As the album comes to an end, of course, Babyface and LA Reid hit us with one more mega hit for Toni, as they craft the incomparable single "You Mean The World To Me", which I think is one of the most infectious singles that Babyface has ever penned and that's saying a lot. The final two tracks feature a simple reprise of "Breathe Again", and a solid song in "Best Friend", both of which are enjoyable. Toni came along in 1993 and took over everything for R&B and became a huge success, and when I look back at this debut, it's evident that Toni released one of the greatest debuts ever from a female R&B artist and possibly R&B period. Just like her competition. Speaking of which....

*What's The 411

1. Leave A Message
2. Reminisce
3. Real Love
4. You Remind Me
5. Intro Talk
6. Sweet Thing
7. Love No Limit
8. I Don't Want To Do Anything
9. Slow Down
10. My Love
11. Changes I've Been Going Through
12. What's The 411

When we look back at the arrival of Mary J. Blige, the biggest thing that sticks out to me is how quickly she captivated the world and the hip hop audience. Usually, singers were treated as separate for the hip hop artists, and from time to time they would end up taking a dip into each other's world, but when Mary J. arrived, she seemed to have both worlds on lock. The hip hop audience embraced her and the R&B world welcomed her, and with her debut What's The 411, she delivered something beyond special. With Puff Daddy helping to craft the album as the executive producer, alongside production help from Tony Dofat, Devante Swing, and Dave Hall, Mary's debut album is a beautiful mix of New Jack Swing music, traditional R&B, and of course the hip hop sound. Arriving in July 1992, a year before the debut of Toni, the album would hit no. 6 on the Billboard charts, eventually hitting triple platinum status, making this a mega success and setting Mary in a class of her own amongst new female R&B artists.

The album itself has some great music of course, kicking off with the solid "Leave A Message" before continuing with the smooth single "Reminisce". To be honest, the production of "Reminisce" carries it alongside the catchy hook and harmony, and it showcased everything we would come to love Mary J. for. After that hit, we get yet another hit, perhaps the biggest of her career in a way with the iconic "Real Love". With a booming drum pattern and an infectious melody, "Real Love" doesn't disappoint and is one of the best songs on the entire album, but it's not my top track here. That would be the following track "You Remind Me", which has a smooth rhythm provided by Dave Hall, which is beautifully complemented by the harmony that Mary displays on the track. If I had to pick the three best tracks on the entire album, I would likely pick the three I just discussed, as they all flow so smoothly and are very cohesive in order. After a Busta Rhymes interlude essentially, Mary tackles a Chaka Khan classic to great results with "Sweet Thing", a pleasant surprise on this album honestly. I didn't expect this song to come off as well as it did and I definitely enjoyed this track. As the album continues on, I'll admit, it takes a small hit in quality, but still managed to flow well enough and remain concise throughout.

Another single follows with "Love No Limit", another solid track that showcases Mary and her strengths as usual. She dominated the track and delivers a solid vocal performance and this is another catchy song of course. After that catchy hit, Mary delivers once again with a solid duet with K-Ci of Jodeci on the Devante Swing written and produced "I Don't Want To Do Anything".  Considering the things we know now about the relationship, this song is actually pretty interesting and sad in a way looking back at it. As the album begins to wind down, we get the solid track "Slow Down", and then another single with the smooth "My Love". I've always felt that "My Love" was an underrated Mary track and I think placing it near the end of the album was a nice touch. As the album enters the final moments, there are two more tracks, both of which have extremely different vibes. The first, "Changes I've Been Going Through" has a slightly upbeat tempo production wise, but is slightly somber in execution, while the title track closes out the album on an extremely smooth hip hop vibe as Grand Puba assists Mary to close the album out.

Overall, What's The 411 is about as perfect as a debut album can get. It blends sounds and styles together, sometimes to a small fault, but overall, this is an amazing album and a wonderful introduction to a woman who would go on to become one Of the most important names in black music over the last 25 years. Mary J. Blige is a true legend, and without this album, that legend wouldn't be possible. What's The 411 is a hard album to beat when in comparison. 

Now... here comes the tough part. Which album is better? This is the toughest question in R&B history for the 90's. If you asked me who had the better albums between Boyz II Men and Jodeci, I could give you an answer. Mariah Carey vs Janet? I could give you an answer. Toni vs Janet? I could probably give you an answer. Despite these two women being so different and having separate styles, the quality of their music matches up so well that it's almost impossible to make a choice. However, due to my affinity for the production and writing skills of Babyface, and the level of quality in the singles, I think I'm leaning towards the debut from Toni. Just by a little bit. Both debuts are as close to classic as you can get, but if I compare them by singles, Toni takes the cake barely. Her singles were just too strong and honestly, the overall cohesion of the album is just a tad bit better. Both of these ladies are legends and have amazing debuts, but if I have to make a choice, I'll go with Toni.



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