Bad Boy Records spun off a seemingly endless array of hit singles and albums from its 1994 kickoff through the early 2000s. Great. I think we can all agree that Puffy is a genius marketer. But how much of the music actually holds up fifteen-twenty years later? Opinions may vary, of course, but here’s what I think.
The two studio albums B.I.G. completed during his lifetime are indisputably excellent. “No Way Out” is solid. The first Faith Evans and 112 albums are very good but not great (both run about 1/3 longer than they should). I’ll give a pass to the New Edition album because it’s a New Edition album and also it was perhaps the last tolerable thing released on the label. What am I missing? Oh, Carl Thomas’s Emotional.
Best known for the inescapable hit single “I Wish”, Carl Thomas was Bad Boy’s first (only?) adult male solo singer (anyone remember Jerome, Puff’s attempt at creating a teen idol?). Anyway, his debut album Emotional boasted a smoother, more adult sound than a lot of Bad Boy’s oeuvre. Its musical high point was the title track (later released as the album’s third single following “I Wish” and the Heavy D-produced, Stevie Wonder-sampling “Summer Rain”). “Emotional” boasts an airy, almost new age-y sound, mostly due to a creatively manipulated sample of Sting’s 1993 album track “Shape Of My Heart”. Because Puff and his team are so well-known for pretty basic beat jacking (I mean, so many Bad Boy songs literally have the artists rap/sing over the instrumental of a previously popular song), it’s refreshing to a) hear a melody over an artfully re-arranged sample and b) to hear a single on Bad Boy with a loop that’s not immediately recognizable. I’m willing to bet I’m one of only a few people who owned a copy of Emotional AND Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales.
Thomas was (is??) a great singer perennially in search of great material, which you could say about thousands of other great singers. “Emotional” was one of the few times that he was given material that matched his vocal talent. Listening to this nearly two decades later, it’s only now striking me how much John Legend (who debuted about a half decade after Thomas’s heyday) sounds like him.