The music industry has a phrase known as the sophomore slump, which means the second or sophomore album of an artist fails to generate an equal or higher level of acclaim than the first album. One notable example from a hip hop standpoint includes Mase’s 1999 Double Up, which failed both creatively and commercially.
However, in the case of the nineties R&B groups, the sophomore album was usually a more substantial complete body of work. Boyz II Men’s “II” album, which not only sold 12 million copies in the US alone, was also the first winner of the Grammy Award for Best R&B album. Sadly, while not every group could achieve the same feat from a sales point, these releases were usually always reliable. Shai’s sophomore album Blackface is one of those albums.
The group previously sold three million copies for their 1992 debut …If I Ever Fall in Love. After almost two and ½ years of touring, and following the summer 1994 single “The Place Where You Belong”, which had an appearance on the Beverly Hills Cop III soundtrack, the group returned to the studio to begin recording its follow up which they entitled Blackface.
Released on September 26, 1995, Blackface is vastly different from the group’s debut. Blackface was actually in stores before the group had a chance to even release a single. The album’s first official single “Come With Me” was a ballad written by group member Carl Martin, who also sang the first verse on the song. The video showed all the members expressing feelings for their lady loves and reminded fans that the group really had four lead singers.
Another ballad “I Don’t Wanna Be Alone” was the album’s second single. It featured group member Darnell Van Rensalier on lead and is easily one of my favorite Shai songs. Despite being twenty-five years old, the album version, the video version (which is the Karlin & Soulshock remix), and the Marley Marl remix of the song, featuring a pre-fame Jay-Z, still sounds better than some artists’ entire catalog who preceded the group.
Similar to the first album, Shai made the wise choice to feature the slow jams and ballads on the first half of the CD. “During the Storm” opens with a smooth acapella that will remind listeners of the group’s first signature song “If I Ever Fall in Love”, and then transitions into a modern-day doo-wop sound.
“Mr. Turn U Out” was a sexy slow jam that avoided venturing into R. Kelly territory and was a staple on my quiet storm mixes CDs during my DJing days. While the gospel-inspired interlude “Concert a (The Hidden One)” with its theme of male maturity, provided a perfect Segway into the Garfield Bright led “Falling,” a ballad where a man realizes he’s in love.
The first half of Blackface is the more substantial portion of the album and has aged the best. The group does have some gems on the second half that 90’s R&B fans will love. “95” is a summertime groove that will feel welcome at any cookout or pool party, while “To Get to Know You” and “Will I Find Someone” have a head-bopping sound that will have listeners cracking a smile. The album closes with another flavored gospel track “If I Gave (A Confession of Hope)” that shows off the group’s four-part harmony.
I’ve had the pleasure to interview three members of the group, and all three share the same sentiment that staff changes led to a weak promo campaign for the album. While outside of R&B fans, Blackface isn’t that well known, however it did eventually go platinum. With sentimental ballads, gospel-inspired interludes, and up-tempo grooves, Blackface still holds up as one of my favorite albums from 1995.
Final re-listen grade – A-
Stream worthy Tracks – The first six songs, “The Place Where U Belong,” “95.”