Just when y’all were ready to boycott Lifetime after the atrocity know as Aaliyah: Princess of R&B, the favorite channel of crazy cat ladies everywhere redeemed itself with “Whitney,” the biopic dedicated to the incomparable Whitney Houston.
Now I know the film had its critics — yes, the gated-community version of Bobby Brown portrayed in the film seemed slightly suspect — but come on, this is a Lifetime movie. We aren’t talking Academy Awards here.
Easily the best part of the film was the music. Playa, you didn’t think Yaya DaCosta was actually singing those songs, did you? No, there is only one voice worthy of being compared to Whitney’s — the tones of the great Deborah Cox.
Where has she been, you ask? Actually she’s been a lot more active that you’ve probably realized. Especially if you like dance music.
Deborah Cox, a native of Scarborough, Toronto, didn’t take long to find the limelight — she started singing in commercials at age 12. As she matured, she transitioned into singing at talent shows and nightclubs. She even went on tour with Celine Dion as a background singer. She knew she had the skills for solo success.
After getting rejected by Canadian record labels, she moved to LA, LA, big city of dreams. She was accompanied by her producer, writing partner and husband Lascelles Stephens. It was there when she was signed to Arista Records by the legendary Clive Davis, and a star was born.
In 1995, Deborah released her self-titled and when I saw the cover, I proudly proclaimed “THAT’S GONNA BE MY BABYMOMMA!”
I mean, just look at it one more ‘gain:
Look, if the wifey can drool over Jesse Williams and homie from Arrow and Idris, y’all can let me have this one.
If you’ve read my if you’ve read my What Ever Happened to… pieces on Mona Lisa and Claudette Ortiz, I’ll put it like this — the level of thirst I showed for those two was but a drop in the bucket when compared to my 90s Deborah crush.
And it wasn’t just because she was fine, she had talent too. First single “Sentimental” is still one of Deborah’s most recognizable tracks, climbing to No. 4 on the R&B charts. The follow up, “Who Do U Love” became the first of MANY No. 1 Dance hits for Deborah. Long before Usher and Ne-Yo started chasing those dance-club dollars like stripper looking for college tuition, Deborah perfected the art of remixing her R&B songs into dance-friendly tracks.
The third single, “Where Do We Go From Here,” was the official song of my high school senior class. Originally, I believe Brandy’s “Missing You” won the initial vote, but she got kicked out and replaced with Deborah because DEMOCRACY.
The album itself was a success, giving Deborah her first gold plaque.
In 1997, Deborah contributed to the Money Talks soundtrack, producing what would be my favorite song from her to date, “Things Just Ain’t The Same.” The original version did OK on the R&B charts, reaching No. 28, but once again the dance remix was another No. 1 hit.
In 1998, Deborah returned with One Wish and any fears of a sophomore jinx were promptly destroyed. And that’s all thanks to Montell Jordan.
You know the moment I mentioned his name that song jumped in your head.
Anyway, Montell teamed with Anthony “Shep” Crawford to write a song meant for Patti LaBelle. Patti passed on it and it made its way to Deborah. That song was “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” and it was a SMASH.
Whoo lord that video. Lascelles is a lucky brother.
“Nobody’s Supposed to be Here” stayed at No. 2 on the pop charts for eight weeks, one of the longest stays ever, and had an unbelievable 14-week run at the top of the R&B charts. And this isn’t like today, when finger puppets like Iggy Azalea only top the charts because no one else released a song in three weeks. Nah, Deborah dominated when the competition was unbelievably stiff. And of course “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” was a No. 1 dance hit because Deborah can crank those out in her sleep. It’s truly one of the best songs of the 90s.
But she wasn’t done. The highly underrated “It’s Over Now” landed at No. 20 on the R&B charts (and No. 1 on the dance charts because, duh). And her duet with RL of Next, “We Can’t Be Friends,” was another No. 1 R&B hit. I like the song now but it drove me crazy back in college — I knew about 10 whiny girls and pitiful guys who swore this was their theme song and recited it constantly. Yeah, I didn’t wanna be friends with them either after that.
And oh yeah, “I Never Knew” was YET ANOTHER No. 1 dance hit. Chill with all these dance hits, Deborah, you’re getting greedy.
It’s no surprise that One Wish became Debroah’s biggest album, eventually going platinum.
Between One Wish and her next album, Deborah teamed with Whitney in 2000 to release “Same Script, Different Cast,” from Whitney’s greatest hits compilation. There aren’t too many who can go note to note with the queen herself, but Deborah more than held her own. It climbed to No. 14 on the R&B charts. The next year, Deborah dropped “Absolutely Not” from the Dr. Doolittle 2 soundtrack. It also landed on the dance charts. I’m sure by now you know where it peaked.
By 2002, R&B started to lose a bit of steam, but that didn’t discourage Deborah from dropping her third album, The Morning After. First single “Up & Down (In & Out)” was OK, but I preferred the remix with Jadakiss. Both it and the title track charted pretty low on the R&B boards. But the “Play Your Part” dance remix, predictably, hit No.1 on the dance charts. I think Deborah Cox’s iPhone voicemail would go No. 1 on the dance charts. The Morning After reached No. 7 on the R&B charts — a record high for Deborah’s albums. But its sales didn’t match its predecessor.
In 2007, after a few acting gigs, Deborah tried something new — a jazz album dedicated to the great Dinah Washington. Most of the album was recorded live and cover Washington’s greatest songs. This album flew under the radar of most fans and that’s unfortunate. If your favorite songs are about disloyal hoes and going to the club on a work night, you’re probably not gonna feel it. But for grown folks, it’s magic. Her vocals are spine-tingling. The album didn’t yield any singles but rose to No. 3 on the Jazz charts.
The following year, we got a proper R&B album from Deborah, The Promise. Like The Morning After, the album itself was uneven, but I thought the first single “Did You Ever Love Me” was a pure gold. The follow up, “Beautiful U R” was YET ANOTHER No. 1 Dance single. Because it’s not truly a Deborah album without at least one No. 1 Dance joint. Besides that success, the album was largely unnoticed. Check out my review here.
The Promise was our last album from Deborah, who instead has focused on acting and dropping No. 1 Dance singles like Cosby drops babies (enough to make a brother go craaaaaaazy). “If It Wasn’t For Love” in 2011 and “Higher” in 2013 both topped those dance charts.
Should She Come Back: DUH. Thanks to her stirring Lifetime vocals, Deborah is back on the minds of R&B fans and clearly her voice is as strong as ever. I’m sure she’s writing some No. 1 Dance hits as we speak, but give us some R&B love too!
Also, anything that puts this face back on TV is fine with me.