Despite domination by the likes of Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey in the early ’90s, Toni Braxton broke through and established herself as a diva to be reckoned with on her self-titled debut, released 25 years ago on July 13, 1993.
The LP hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, notched three top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and won Braxton three Grammys (including best new artist). In honor of its 25th anniversary, we rank all of the songs on one of the defining R&B albums of the ’90s.
This midtempo track doesn’t hold a candle to the other cuts here produced by the power trio of L.A. Reid, Babyface and Daryl Simmons, perhaps because none of them had a hand in writing it. All easy-listening lushness, it feels more like background music to help set the mood, but it ultimately doesn’t create any real sparks.
10. “Spending My Time With You”
Toni Braxton is all about the slow jams, but the album does switch it up with a couple of uptempo numbers, including this new jack swinger. The production sounds dated now with those cheesy beats, but it’s nice to hear the singer breaking out of sad-love-song mode.
9. “Love Affair”
On this smoky torch song, Braxton refuses to have a side dude. “I ain’t down with O.P.P.,” she insists in a now-dated reference to the 1991 Naughty by Nature banger. But hey, the girl has still got eyes. The sax swirls around her as if to ratchet up the temptation.
8. “I Belong to You”
Released as a double-A-side single with “How Many Ways,” this track rides a buoyant new jack swing groove. It wants to be “Emotions”—like Mariah Carey’s 1991 hit, it nods to the Emotions’ “Best of My Love”—but it doesn’t reach the dog-whistle heights of that Mimi classic.
7. “Best Friend”
If there was one more Toni Braxton song that could have been a single, it’s the final track before the “Breathe Again” reprise. One of two tunes cowritten by the singer, it’s an elegant, elegiac ballad that captures the double whammy of losing a lover when they are also your best friend.
6. “How Many Ways”
The other song that Braxton cowrote for her debut was penned with producer Vincent Herbert long before he dated and eventually married Toni’s sister Tamar. And while “Seven Whole Days” may smolder because Braxton is seething, this cut is just straight-up sexy.
5. “You Mean the World to Me”
The five best tracks on this LP were all produced by L.A. Reid, Babyface and Daryl Simmons, and all three of them cowrote this big ballad, which hit No. 7 on the Hot 100. Braxton’s heart may have been wounded before, but here she remains a resilient romantic.
4. “Love Shoulda Brought You Home”
This track may have been ranked even higher except for the fact that it’s more associated with the blockbuster Boomerang soundtrack as one of the singles from that 1992 album. Still, the lyrical drama—conjuring visions of Halle Berry telling off Eddie Murphy in Boomerang—and sumptuous soul bring it all home.
3. “Seven Whole Days”
Braxton was often compared to Anita Baker in her early days, and rightfully so. But if there is one song on her debut where she out-Anita’d Anita, it’s this one. She takes her time breaking down the reasons why “I’d rather be on my own,” strolling and swooping around with a jazz singer’s flair.
2. “Another Sad Love Song”
Who knew that the first single and opening track of Braxton’s debut LP would turn out to be the theme of her entire career? There was no denying this was her sweet spot. And the midtempo melancholy of her first top 10 hit on the Hot 100 not only won her a Grammy for best female R&B vocal performance, it earned her the right to make as many sad love songs as she wanted.
1. “Breathe Again”
The highest-charting single off this album went all the way up to No. 3 on the Hot 100 and won Braxton another Grammy for best female R&B vocal performance. Written solely by Babyface, it perfectly captures their chemistry as songwriter and muse. An undulating groove serves as the song’s heartbeat amidst all the fragile beauty, giving the sense that, even if love ends, Braxton will still breathe again after all.