After his stint with the Deele in the late '70s, Babyface (along with co-conspirator L.A. Reid) almost single-handedly set the standard of commercial adult contemporary R&B since the early '80s, when he rose to prominence as an in-demand songwriter and producer. He's been responsible for an armada of hits rivaled by only a few other producer/songwriters in modern commercial chart history, writing hits for Madonna, Boyz II Men, Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and a legion of other artists. However, within that span of time his solo efforts have been sorely overlooked by mainstream audiences, being primarily accepted only by die-hard R&B fans. This makes the Essential Babyface release all the more important, as it's a survey of just his works and not productions of other artists. It's a comprehensive look at his career, from the quiet storm ballads of his early years like "Whip Appeal" to the up-tempo urban radio hits like "How Come, How Long" (featuring guest vocals by Stevie Wonder), and leaves no stone unturned in between. Unlike his 2000 collection, Essential Babyface doesn't rely so much on his productions for other artists, which makes it instantly appealing to die-hard fans and gives casual listeners an appreciation of the depths of Babyface's talent. The only exception comes from his MTV Unplugged medley, featuring two of his all-time biggest productions: the Boyz II Men anthems "I'll Make Love to You" and "End of the Road." The Essential Babyface is easily the strongest representation to date of Babyface as an artist, and not just a producer/songwriter.
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AllMusic Review by Rob Theakston
feat: Stevie Wonder