I’ve been blessin’ y’all with these “What Ever Happened to…” features for years now. And if you’ve been following the series from the beginning, at this point you know the road to stardom tends to follow a predictable path: Church-honed vocals catch the ear of an industry insider, hit singles follow, sudden tragedy strikes and then cold, lonely obscurity.
But I can’t think of a story more troubling than that of Sparkle.
No, not THAT Sparkle. I’m talking about Stephanie Edwards, protege of the toxic R. Kelly.
Whisper a prayer, cling to the old rugged cross and come with me as we revisit the ups and downs of Sparkle’s promising career.
Stephanie Edwards honed her vocals in her local church (see! I told you!) before a fateful meeting with Robert Kelly in the late ’80s. As Kellz’s start began to shine, Sparkle was right there, using her connections to R to collaborate with A-listers like Mary J. Blige and Aaliyah in the mid 90s and artists like Avant later on.
By 1998, it was time for Sparkle to bask in the spotlight.
That year, she dropped her self-titled debut, which was anchored by her infamous duet with R. Kelly, “Be Careful.” Kellz had fashioned himself as the voice for scorned women and, playa, was that song ever scornful. Sparkle is pissed because Kelly wants to call it quits, Kellz claims he’s tired of being disrespected because he’s out of work. The song works because it’s so emotional and so real – far from the cartoony tales of stuttering pimps and psychotic dwarfs in that horrible “Trapped In The Closet” fiasco.
This looks like Star Wars: Attack of the Coons.
The singles that followed “Be Careful” weren’t nearly as memorable. “Time to Move On” was way too subdued and while “What About” tried to capture the pissed-off spirit of “Be Careful,” it couldn’t quite get there.
Needless to say, the No. 1 R&B hit “Be Careful” was the crown jewel of Sparkle, which climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum.
A few years later, the bond between Kelly and Sparkle began to strain. After creative differences over the direction of her new project, Sparkle cut ties with Kelly’s Rockland label and signed with Motown Records. In 2000, she dropped her sophomore set Told You So.
“It’s A Fact” pretty much followed up where “Be Careful” left off – another bluesy song about a no-good man. It wasn’t bad but it certainly lacked the spirit of the original. The single and album underperformed.
Sadly, here’s where things go horribly, horribly wrong.
Unless you were hiding under a Rockland in 2002, you most certainly remember R. Kelly’s sex tape scandal. You know, the one where some deluded underage girl thought it would be cool to be used as a urinal.
That young girl was Sparkle’s niece.
Yes, Sparkle identified the 14-year-old as her sister’s daughter and that the girl was engaging in filth with the Pied Piper of R&Pee. Sparkle testified against Kelly in 2008 but, as we all know, he was found not guilty.
But let me chill.
As you can imagine, all this drama derailed Sparkle’s career. In 2012, though, she returned with “So Bad,” and I gotta say, it’s pretty fun. Yeah, once again she’s singing about heartbreak, but it’s much more energetic and rejuvenating than many of the songs from her glory days.
A year later, after R. Kelly hopped on Kelly Rowland’s “Dirty Laundry” remix, Sparkle dropped her own version of the song, publicly addressing her struggles with Kellz: “Regretting the day I put my family in my business/A tape, a trial, and guess who’s a star witness?”
Should She Come Back?: Sparkle seems tailor-made for a show like R&B Divas, an artist who had a promising career shot down by unfortunate circumstances. While I wouldn’t mind hearing new music from her (“So Bad” shows she has gas left in the tank), she’s probably better off writing and supporting rising artists, a role she excelled at in the past. Most importantly, she can use her experiences to ward impressionable young women away from the evils of the industry.
“Be Careful” takes on a whole new meaning that way.