(April 21, 2020). Last night, the epic battle (finally) took place on the Instagram stage between legendary producers Teddy Riley and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
First scheduled for three weeks ago and then again last Saturday, the twice-delayed, but heavily hyped battle took place on Monday to the delight of many fans of old-school R&B. The night was plagued by technical difficulties – mostly on Riley’s end of things – but the bulk of it was carried out sufficiently enough for us Tuesday morning quarterbacks and prognosticators to declare winners…both for each matchup and for the overall war!
It was good to see Babyface in action, too, as his whole family had been plagued by the coronavirus only weeks before and he seemed to have pulled through it fine.
What follows is DJROBBLOG’s quick analysis of each song match by the two 20th-century icons with a vote on which one was the winner in each round, followed by an overall tally and a decision on who won the whole shooting match.
Here’s the blog’s analysis – round by round:
Round 1: SWV’s “Right Here (Human Nature Remix)” (Teddy Riley) vs. Toni Braxton’s “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” (Babyface)
The original “Human Nature” from Michael Jackson’s 1982 Thriller album is sublime, of course. His wistful wails of “whyyyy…oh why” punctuated the song’s ambiguous pondering of what made him the way he was (and who was making him that way).
Teddy Riley took MJ’s track and refashioned SWV’s 1992 R&B hit “Right Here” from their debut album, completely transforming it to become one of the greatest mashups of the ‘90s. The remixed song reached No. 1 on the R&B chart for seven weeks (and No. 2 on the pop chart for three) a full year after its original release.
In the other corner was Babyface’s contribution to the Boomerang soundtrack and the song by Toni Braxton whose title memorably captured the line famously delivered by Halle Barry’s character to an unappreciative lead played by Eddie Murphy. ”Love Shoulda” was classic mid-tempo R&B that introduced the world to Ms. Braxton, and that alone deserves points.
But in the end, even those credentials can’t compete with one of the many great remixes that made SWV one of the most under-appreciated acts of the ‘90s.
Winner: Teddy Riley. Tally: 1-0, Riley.
Round 2: Keith Sweat’s “Make It Last Forever” (Riley) vs. Babyface’s “Soon As I Get Home” (Babyface)
Teddy Riley practically singlehandedly created a whole genre with New Jack Swing’s emergence in 1987. Most of that was courtesy of Keith Sweat’s debut album that year, which included several New Jack hits but also this classic title track ballad featuring Jacci McGhee on the assist. How many slow-dances and weddings were soundtracked by “Make It Last,” one of the most memorable songs of the ‘80’s second half?
In the other corner was Babyface’s classic ballad from his own debut album in 1989. It’s hard to believe that this track was never released as a single, but that becomes easier to fathom when considering all of the other monster hits that were on the album, including “Whip Appeal,” “Tender Lover” and “Its No Crime,” with all three reaching the top two on Billboard’s R&B chart. ‘Face would have done better to pair one of those against Riley’s Keith Sweat/Jacci McGhee Classic. As it stands, he didn’t.
Winner: Riley. Tally: 2-0, Riley.
Round 3: Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid” (Riley) vs. The Whispers’ “Rock Steady” (Babyface)
Could Teddy go three-for-three with this matchup? In his corner was another No. 1 jam, the classic celebration of Friday paydays (at a time when we could celebrate such things en masse). The late Johnny Kemp (who drowned in 2015) took this to No. 1 R&B and top-10 pop in 1988, and had us all jumpin’ in delight.
In the other corner was Babyface’s comparable R&B classic by the veteran vocal quintet The Whispers. Like Kemp, The Whispers went to No. 1 R&B and top-10 pop (their biggest hit there) with “Rock Steady,” and while the song returned the group to the top 5 R&B for the first time in four years, it paled in comparison to previous (non-Babyface) hits like “In The Raw,” “It’s A Love Thing,” “Lady” and “And The Beat Goes On.”
Winner: Riley (again). Tally: 3-0, Riley.
Round 4: Foxy Brown feat. Blackstreet’s “Get Me Home” (Riley) vs. Babyface’s “Every Time I Close My Eyes”
In this round, Riley dipped into his hip-hop pool with this Foxy Brown sample of a similarly titled Eugene Wilde R&B classic from 1985. The song was the first single released from Brown’s Ill Na Na debut in 1996, but true to early/mid-‘90s form, had little creativity as it was essentially a straight rip of the Wilde hit.
In Babyface’s corner was one of his latter day hits from ‘97, in fact it was his last gold-certified single. It was a superstar collabo that included contributions from Mariah Carey, Sheila E., and Kenny G. This isn’t one of my favorite Babyface tunes, and it’s not much different from his other ballads, but I have to give him the edge because it didn’t straight jack a tune from the ‘80’s like his competition did.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: 3-1, Riley.
Round 5: Guy’s “Piece of My Love” (Riley) vs. After 7’s “Ready or Not” (Babyface)
In this round, Teddy put up one of the ballads from his group Guy’s debut album. The song was good enough to get a lot of airplay back in 1988-89, but not considered good enough by Uptown Records to be released as a single in its own right. As a result, it never charted.
On the other hand, Babyface put up one of his more classic ballads courtesy of his brothers Kevon and Melvin Edmonds (and third member Keith Mitchell) from the group After 7. “Ready Or Not” was their first No. 1 and their biggest R&B hit, and this matchup was a case of where the chart numbers were a good indicator of which tune was best.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: 3-2, Riley.
Round 6: Hi-Five’s “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)” (Riley) vs. Bobby Brown’s “Every Litte Step” (Babyface)
This matchup would be an example where the charts didn’t predict the winner. In one corner, you have Riley’s handy work on a ‘90s five-member boy band Hi-Five who topped both the pop and the R&B charts with the classic 1991 jam, “I Like The Way.”
In the other corner is Babyface with one of the songs that made former five-member boy band member Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel album the biggest seller of 1989, the evergreen “Every Little Step.” The song reached No. 1 R&B but stopped at No. 3 pop, which makes it the lesser performing of the two songs here. No matter though – few songs by Riley would have competed favorably with Brown’s classic.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: tied 3-3.
Round 7: Keith Sweat’s “I Want Her” (Riley) vs. Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk” (Babyface)
This may be the toughest match yet. Teddy Riley pulled one of his earliest hits from Keith Sweat’s debut album (again) to do battle with Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk,” the song that became the young singer’s signature tune.
“I Want Her” gets props for being one of the first big hits of the new jack era – if not THE first. By being first – and, as a result, coming from unknown entities at the time – it was a song that topped the charts on its own merits, not on star quality. “Can We Talk” also topped the charts, but by 1993 Campbell was a well-known entity. The slightest of edges thus goes to Riley on this one.
Winner: Riley. Tally: 4-3, Riley.
Round 8: Guy’s “I Like” (Riley) vs. Karyn White “The Way You Love Me” (Babyface)
In this round, Teddy Riley double-dipped again, this time going back to Guy’s first album for “I Like.” Where “Piece Of My Love” fell short, “I Like” picked up the slack. It was arguably the best track on a stellar debut album by a band that should’ve been around a lot longer than they were.
Babyface went to Karyn White’s “The Way You Love Me,” the first single from her debut album and also a No. 1 R&B/ top-10 pop hit (a recurring theme among many of these entries). Nice song, but she had better ones that ‘Face could’ve put in this battle (like “Superwoman” or “Love Saw It”).
Winner: Riley. Tally 5-3, Riley.
Round 9: Heavy D’s “Is It Good to You” (Riley) vs. Tevin Campbell’s “I’m Ready” (Babyface)
Teddy went to the late Heavy D for his 9th-round entry, a somewhat forgettable 1991 song the two talents co-wrote called “Is It Good to You.” Forgettable, but not a bad song that featured Heavy macking hard to a sample of Junior’s 1982 classic “Mama Used To Say.” New Jack had seen its better days by late 1991 when this song was out, but it still managed to reach the top 40 on both the R&B and pop charts.
Riley put that one up against another ‘Face collaboration with Tevin Campbell…his “I’m Ready.” The 1994 classic was a coming-of-age tune for the singer who was still only 17 when it was released. Yet the maturity he sang it with was convincing enough to send it all the way up to No. 2 R&B and top-10 pop.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: 5-4, Riley.
Round 10: Doug E. Fresh feat. Slick Rick’s “The Show” (Riley) vs. The Deele’s “Two Occasions”
How many of us remembered – or even knew – that Teddy Riley had a hand in producing “The Show,” one of the greatest classics of hip-hop’s golden era. On second thought, the song does have several early elements of new jack swing embedded in it, making the connection seem more palatable.
Nothing ‘Face could put up would top “The Show,” but he came with a respectable contender in “Two Occasions,” the classic by his band The Deele that would have fared better in some of the other rounds Edmonds lost. But here? No contest.
Winner: Riley. Tally: 6-4, Riley.
Round 11: Jay-Z feat. Blackstreet’s “The City Is Mine” (Teddy Riley) vs. Bobby Brown’s “Rock Wit’cha” (Babyface)
When it comes to street cred, Riley will always have an upper hand on Babyface, whose repertoire is more sophisticated soul music. So when Riley pulls out a song he did with rapper Jay-Z and BLACKstreet, there’s little ‘Face could do to counter it.
But when the song is as lame as “The City Is Mine” is (or at least as lame as it is now), Face had a window of opportunity. He nearly blew it though with one of the many single choices from Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel album, the last single “Rock Wit’cha.” There’s a reason some songs get released last from albums – all the great ones came before it. In this case, “Rock” is good enough to pull out the win.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: 6-5, Riley.
Round 12: Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own” (Babyface) vs. Michael Jackson’s “In the Closet”
‘Face going to a fourth Bobby Brown song from the same year (1989) for this epic battle of producers should never have had to happen: his catalogue is far too great for that. That he went to this million-selling tune from the Ghostbusters 2 soundtrack was nearly inexcusable, especially when he still had other (better?) Bobby Brown options from the era (“My Prerogative,” “Don’t Be Cruel”).
All Riley had to do was pull out the big gun with Michael Jackson’s “In The Closet,” an ace in the hole symbolizing Teddy’s big get on producing MJ’s 1991 Dangerous album.
Winner: Riley. Tally: 7-5, Riley.
Round 13: Babyface’s “When Can I See You Again” (Babyface) vs. Blackstreet’s “Before I Let You Go.”
Babyface needed a comeback victory here, so he got one with a tune that may be the purist song in the whole battle, his acoustic entry “When Can I See You.” The ballad won him a Grammy for R&B male vocal back in 1995 and became his biggest pop hit.
Riley countered with his group BLACKstreet’s auto-tuned classic “Before I Let You Go,” a song that was on the charts at the same time as ‘Face’s hit in late ‘94. It’s a crowd-pleaser, but musically it pales in comparison to ‘Face’s masterpiece.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: 7-6, Riley.
Round 14: Babyface’s “Whip Appeal” (Babyface) vs. Guy’s “Let’s Chill” (Riley)
Babyface started going to his own songs at this point in the contest, and he couldn’t have found a more representative track than the 1990 classic, “Whip Appeal,” which interestingly enough was the third (not the first) single released from his debut solo album. It was also the third-biggest on the R&B chart behind “It’s No Crime” and “Tender Lover.”
Teddy pulled up a ballad in the form of his band Guy’s hit “Let’s Chill,” a song that fared one position lower than “Whip Appeal” by peaking at No. 3 on the R&B charts in 1991.
That relative chart performance predicts this match’s winner as well.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: tied 7-7.
Round 15: Johnny Gill “My My My” (Babyface) vs. Blackstreet “Deep” (Riley).
The four singles from Johnny Gill’s classic 1990 album were split productions between Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis and Babyface/L.A. Reid/Daryl Simmons. ‘Face could have chosen either one of his two (“Fairweather Friend” or “My, My, My”) to win this matchup. He went with the latter, a signature ballad for Gill that became one of three No. 1 R&B hits from the album.
Riley went with “Deep” by BLACKstreet.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: Babyface 8-7.
Round 16: TLC’s “Red Light Special” (Babyface) vs. Janet Jackson feat. Blackstreet’s “I Get Lonely (TNT Remix)”
Damn, it started getting tough for Teddy. As this battle got into deeper rounds, Babyface just pulled out bigger weapons from his arsenal. This time it was TLC’s “Red Light Special” from their landmark 1994 album CrazySexyCool. “Red Light” was one of the most seductive tracks of that year (who could forget that video) and its a major reason the album is still the largest selling by a female group ever.
Babyface made it clear during the battle that he didn’t do remixes, something that Riley relied upon heavily during his career and during this war of producers. His entry for this matchup was the hit remix of Janet Jackson’s already stellar No. 1 R&B hit, “I Get Lonely” from her 1997 Velvet Rope album. The key here is that “Lonely” was already great before the remix.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: 9-7, Babyface.
Round 17: Karyn White’s “Superwoman” (Babyface) vs. Michael Jackson’s “Jam” (Riley)
Personally, I always thought “Jam” was the best song on MJ’s Dangerous album. It didn’t do nearly as well on the charts as many of the King of Pop’s earlier hits, but it was a jam nonetheless.
It did battle Monday night with Babyface’s second Karyn White pull, “Superwoman,” the draggy ballad that asserted the singer’s role in a failing relationship. Topically, White’s No. 1 hit connected with a lot of women in bad relationships, more so than Jackson’s frenetically paced bop.
It’s a toughy, but I’ll give Riley the edge here simply because I like MJ’s song better.
Winner: Riley. Tally: 9-8, Babyface.
Round 18: Toni Braxton’s “You’re Makin’ Me High” (Babyface) vs. Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rump Shaker” (Riley)
The song that essentially clinched this battle for ‘Face was Toni Braxton’s 1996 No. 1 pop and R&B smash, “You’re Makin’ Me High.” Truth be told, he could have pulled out any number of tunes he produced for Braxton (“Breathe Again,” “Seven Whole Days,” “You Mean the World to Me,” etc.) and it would have been tough for Riley to compete.
But he made a valiant attempt with his huge 1992 smash by another of his bands, Wreckx-n-Effect and “Rump Shaker.” Riley pumped the “Teddy 2” remix for this competition, but it still didn’t work.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: 10-8, Babyface.
Round 19: Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” vs…
This was where Teddy Riley began to run into technical difficulties. So he didn’t have an official contender to go up against the biggest chart hit ‘Face ever wrote.
Winner: Babyface. Tally: 11-8, Babyface.
Round 20: Whitney Houston & CeCe Winans’ “Count on Me” / Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey’s “When You Believe” (Babyface) vs. Blackstreet feat. Dr. Dre & Queen Pen’s “No Diggity” (Riley)
By this time, the battle was already over (by this blogger’s judgment), as Babyface had pulled off six of the previous seven matches and clinched the overall win with his eleventh victory by default. Still there was a final round to be waged and ‘Face pulled out two soundtrack contributions – both featuring the late Whitney Houston.
Riley went with his own personal biggest hit in the form of BLACKstreet’s “No Diggity.” No doubt, “Diggity” beats any of the two songs ‘Face put up, but at this point it was too late.
Winner: Riley. Tally: 11-9, Babyface.
Overall winner: Babyface.
One might have predicted this outcome, given Babyface’s wider catalog and the timeless quality of many of those hits. But Riley’s technical difficulties with his internet connection might have cost him in this one as he was clearly still in contention in the later rounds.
Regardless, both icons deserve praise for keeping us old-head music fans – with nothing better to do during quarantine – entertained with a light-hearted battle that was the best of the young Verzuz series to-date. For their part, as hard as it was to finally pull off, Babyface and Teddy Riley are both winners in our book.
More famous black producers: See where Babyface and Teddy Riley rank on this list of the 20 greatest black producers of the 20th century.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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