At the time of its release, the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack was extolled as “The Chronic of R&B albums.” In his Los Angeles Times review, journalist (later turned screenwriter) Cheo Hodari Coker wrote, “Like Dr. Dre’s rap opus, it’s basically one writer-producer’s vision as delivered by a variety of voices.” Indeed, Babyface managed to successfully wrangle some of the most premiere R&B vocalists of that day with newcomers we’ve since never heard from again to offer a dynamic set of songs that span every facet of R&B yet manage to still flow seamlessly forever.
As most know, Whitney Houston delivered the subtle yet sensational “Exhale (Shoop, Shoop),” the heartache-inducing “Why Does It Hurt So Bad,” and that call ya homegirl and tell her you love her duet “Count On Me” with CeCe Winans. Then there was Brandy’s sweetly sang crush-themed “Sittin’ Up In My Room” along with Toni Braxton’s “Let It Flow,” which was initially intended for Houston but thankfully found a home with Braxton’s beautiful alto.
I still listen to all of these songs regularly. The same goes for TLC’s “This Is How It Works,” which I think ranks as one of the best songs of their catalog that very few outside of core fans acknowledge. Ditto for SWV’s “All Night Long,” which I hope the still going strong girl group puts back into their playlist. Faith Evans should do the same with “Kissing You.”
I don’t know what ever happened to the singer Shanna, but if anyone has a way of reaching her, tell her I’m eternally devoted to “How Could You Call Her Baby.” Please also send my regards to For Real in reference to “Love Will Be Waiting At Home.”
And even though she’s mostly scatting for much of “Wey U,” the song highlights Chanté Moore’s sensational voice (even in its modest presentation here) and makes me wonder what might’ve been for her music career had she worked with more songwriter-producers on the level of Babyface.
Before you stab me, I could never, and would never forget Mary J. Blige’s “Not Gon’ Cry.” It was Mary at her finest – highlighting her vocal growth and making everyone in the song’s path ready and willing to burn down their partner’s car (even if they didn’t have one at the time).
This album is not only one of the best R&B albums ever, it takes me back to a period in my childhood when soundtracks were often the best albums of the year.
The album suffers from its own growing stigmas of being a relic, but the soundtrack has been virtually extinct for some time now. When I talk to younger friends and relatives, they don’t truly grasp the concept. They don’t have a Waiting To Exhale soundtrack. They don’t understand others either: soundtracks for The Bodyguard, Above The Rim, Jason’s Lyric, Space Jam, Boomerang, Set It Off, Sunset Park, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, and so on.
There are no longer top-notch movie soundtracks anymore. They’re not even moments like the song “U Will Know” from the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack or “Freedom” from the Panther soundtrack where the top male and female acts of R&B would unite for some necessary song the times call for.
Some of that can be pointed to the decrease in black films that started in the early 2000s, but even with somewhat of a resurgence, the soundtrack still lingers by the wayside with the rest of the throwbacks like the butterfly, Positive K, and Clear Pepsi.
I’m not sure that’ll change, but I do know on the 25th anniversary of the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack, I’m not only cherishing the accomplishment of Babyface and the women who lent their talent to his vision, I’m appreciating the period in which it was allowed to flourish.