“Can We Talk” by Tevin Campbell (1993)

If you’re a songwriter and you’re called upon to rescue pretty much everyone making hits during a given time period, you’re gonna burn out. By 1993, Babyface was already on his way to doing so. Since The Whispers scored a top 10 pop single with “Rock Steady”, ‘Face (occasionally in partnership with Daryl Simmons) was tasked to write lyrics for songs by…(draws a deep breath…)

Sheena Easton, Pebbles, Karyn White, The Whispers (again), Shalamar, Boyz II Men, Ralph Tresvant, Toni Braxton, TLC, After 7, The Jacksons, Damian Dame, Johnny Gill, Gladys Knight, Bell Biv DeVoe, The Boys, Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and more (exhale.) And he hadn’t even reached his peak level of requests yet! That would come from 1995-1997, when the name “Babyface” was damn near shorthand for “whatever is on top 40 radio”. And let’s not forget that by the time “Can We Talk” came out, ‘Face already had three solo albums (four if you count the remix album) of his own under his hit-packed belt. After seven years (and especially considering he already had an identifiable songwriting/production style), his songs were starting to become quite indistinguishable from one another.

“Can We Talk”, sung by another vocalist, would be just another ‘Face song, as Chris Rock famously lampooned on one of his comedy records. ‘Face even references one of his other songs (Bobby Brown’s “Roni”) in the very first verse! However, young Tevin, not even 17 yet, takes these simple lyrics about gathering up the courage to talk to a girl, applies a healthy dollop of teenage angst and then takes the motherfucking song to church. It’s as good a vocal performance as has come from any major label artist under the age of 18 who didn’t grow up with brothers named Jermaine, Tito and Jackie,

Although I’m Ready, “Can We Talk”’s parent album, went double platinum, I (and others) have always wondered why Tevin’s career went off a cliff just a couple of years later, leading to his unofficial retirement by the age of 25. One clue might be found when, a few months after “Can We Talk”’s release, Tevin won a Soul Train Award for “Best R&B Single Of The Year, Male”. An Afro-ed, flannel outfitted Tevin leapt out of his seat as his name was announced, flashed a huge yellow cheese grin, and the closet door that’s essential to young people in the public eye (at least it was back then) swung right open as Tevin sashayed to the podium for his acceptance speech. Six years later, shortly after the release of his fourth studio album, Tevin was busted for marijuana possession AND soliciting an undercover cop for sex. A male undercover cop. Tevin laid low for quite some time following, resurfacing to give a messy interview to Jamie Foster Brown in which he described himself as “try-sexual”. Since then, he’s gone the Freddie Jackson “I know I’m gay, YOU know I’m gay…but damned if you’re gonna make me say it” route publicly. Which is his prerogative, I guess. Doesn’t change the fact that the boy had (and the man still has) pipes for days.

And that Soul Train awards clip has disappeared! Damn it.

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