It’s amazing how music will stir a memory inside of you that hasn’t crossed your mind in years. I was grooving to Faith Evans’ debut a while back and began reminiscing about the days of old that were my high school years. I must say it’s funny how time flies.
Picture it: Hampton, Virginia, August 1995.
Hot on the heels of getting my driver’s license, I hopped into Dad’s big ol’ Buick Regal on a thick, sticky afternoon and headed over to the Musicland store that would soon be my first employer on a mission. The hottest new chick in the game had just dropped her first album, a collection that left all of us abuzz about “the girl who sounds like Mary.” I walked through the door and there it was, prominently displayed with the new releases. Just a few moments later, “Faith” was on its way home with me.
Like most black folks in my age bracket, Bad Boy Entertainment provided the soundtrack to my angst-ridden teen existence. Musically there was no time like the mid-’90s, and a lot of the credit for that belongs to the house that Sean Combs built. The round of debut albums that emerged in Bad Boy’s golden era – Craig Mack’s “Project: Funk da World,” “112,” “Total,” Biggie’s “Ready to Die” and “Faith” – are some of the greatest R&B and hip-hop records of the last two decades. (Mase’s “Harlem World” came a bit later, but deserves a mention too.) A mix of glossy, sample-sprinkled beats, infectious hooks and New York City attitude, the label’s output was the musical equivalent of a Molotov cocktail, lighting fires in street kids and suburbanites struck by their potency. When a Bad Boy record came on at a party or dance, for one moment in time, everybody was riding in the same lane.
Faith’s style was an excellent vehicle for the label’s reach and range, and it wasn’t surprising that her debut won pretty much everybody over immediately. Much like Mary J. Blige, her synthesis of hip-hop and soul was pretty universal: The young, the old, the female, the male, the hood and the high-end loved this album. There was a little something there for everybody. From the hard edge of her first single “You Used to Love Me” to the Quiet Storm leanings of “Soon As I Get Home,” there really wasn’t too much this girl couldn’t sing. Her voice wasn’t hard or smooth, it was just right. I’ve always been partial to “Give it to Me,” “Fallin’ in Love” (which samples my favorite Patrice Rushen jam, “Remind Me”) and her and Mary’s cover of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” Such great songs make the album quite the time capsule, a reminder of why we all thought the greatness of Bad Boy was infinite.
But, like a lot of good shit in life, it just didn’t last. It seemed that Biggie’s death signaled the end of an era and the beginning of a downslide in the label’s material that reigned unchecked. All of a sudden Diddy got the itch to become a recording artist, the label’s marquee acts began to jump ship and a once innovative hit factory was awash in gimmicks. (I was officially through when he released that damn song for the “Godzilla” soundtrack. I knew it was a wrap at that point.) Though Carl Thomas did release two fire albums for the label later in the game, things just weren’t the same. Sometimes I still can’t believe how quickly it all seemed to end.
When you look at Bad Boy today, it’s hard to not shake your head. While I can deal with Cheri Dennis, the loathsome abomination that is Danity Kane and the “Making the Band” franchise that birthed them are too much for me to take. (Don’t even get me started on Cassie or Yung Joc, okay?) The jury’s still out on Day 26, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll be among my favorites either. I give Diddy his props because he’s a sharp businessman, but the music that’s coming out of his camp just isn’t cutting it these days. How things have changed.
Maybe I’m just becoming an old head holding onto my past. Or maybe Bad Boy has just done what many labels with a brand do and morphed into the sound of the moment’s young America.
Regardless, I’m thankful I can still reach for “Faith” and those other dusty discs and reflect on a time when I had it bad for Bad Boy, and it was damn good.