Babyface set expectations high when he declared that his new album, Girls Night Out, bore a resemblance to the acclaimed 1996 soundtrack for Waiting To Exhale. R&B purists like myself were skeptical about comparing today’s R&B to a time when Whitney Houston was its vanguard. Could this new LP live up to such a highly-regarded cult classic?
The lead single, “Keeps On Fallin’” featuring Ella Mai, was a beautiful start to ushering in this new era for the 12-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter. The album was birthed from Face’s historic 2020 Verzuz battle against Teddy Riley, which he now calls “the perfect car wreck,” as its aftermath connected him to newfound, younger fans.
“Obviously, that was one of those things where you say, ‘Okay, now you’re supposed to take advantage of all this attention on you,’” he explained to VIBE over Zoom. At the recommendation of A&R Rika Tischendorf, Babyface sought to make an album with younger artists. He opted to approach the project like the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack, with an all-female supporting cast. But this time, the songs would be written by the featured artists, and he’d enlist the help of younger producers to “keep it relevant and new.”
Prior to Girls Night Out’s release, Babyface dropped two other singles: “Seamless” featuring Kehlani and “Game Over” featuring Queen Naija. The straight talk-no chaser of Ari Lennox’s “Liquor,” the daring passion on Tiana Major9’s “Say Less,” and Muni Long’s declarative plea on “The Recipe” are among the album’s standouts. The icon’s biggest flex, however, was his ability to sample songs he’s written and/or performed. He sampled Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk” on “Keeps On Fallin’,” his 1989 cut “Soon As I Get Home” on “The Recipe,” and his seminal “Whip Appeal” on “Whatever” with Tink.
Unlike the recording of the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack, Babyface had just one day to write and record with each artist on Girls Night Out. Opting for the more traditional in-person route, he was able to cater the records to each specific connection he made.
“We talked about what was going on in their lives and said, ‘Okay, let’s write something.’ Whatever it is, what that feeling is,” Babyface explained. “It wasn’t me handing them something and saying, ‘Okay, hey, you do this and be quiet. Go sing and do this.’ It was clearly a collaboration.”
Ella Mai, Kehlani, and Ari Lennox were the first to be recruited for the album. Unfortunately, one unnamed artist didn’t finish her record in time. Babyface smirked as he was nudged about who that person was, but remained tight-lipped about their identity. Tischendorf would later present other additions like Tiana Major9, a singer who “had a great voice” according to the iconic songsmith.
Babyface also worked with producers like The Rascals—composed of Khris Riddick-Tynes and Leon Thomas—and D’Mile. Despite their work together not yielding “traditional” Babyface records, the gumbo of moods on Girls Night Out makes the compilation fit for the times. Though a lot of the collaborators asked to make “a Babyface classic,” he ultimately denied their request.
“I didn’t want [that]. That’s why I sang very little on it,” he explained. “I just wanted to poke my head in a little bit. In terms of doing duets, so to say, I was very concerned about looking like the creepy uncle. ‘How do I sing on it? How do I come on without it looking like we’re coupling up and where it’s like I’m just there for advice?’” Though Tischendorf conceptualized the album’s foundation, Face found his way into the conversation as a fictitious bartender.
Overall, Babyface wanted to display “young women that I think are really good and I think have something to offer” on Girls Night Out. “For me to have worked with so many different female artists over the years, it was enlightening and promising to see a lot of the young girls, who they were, how they sounded, their work effort, their belief in themselves and the message that they wanted to say, wanted to give, and what they would say, what they wouldn’t say. There certainly feels like more independence from younger artists today, which I think is great. And that’s the biggest difference, I think, between, say, the [women of the] ’90s and today.”
“There’s always that possibility. Who knows? We’ll see how this goes,” Babyface teased. “Maybe the people that couldn’t finish their records can finish them. I won’t say who they are, but…”
That mystique is enough to keep us yearning for more.