Written by Reggie "Doc" Scott
Over twenty-seven years in the game. Countless legendary hits. Seven-time GRAMMY Award winner. That’s just the abbreviated version of Toni Braxton’s illustrious career. Now, the singer-songwriter is ready for you to really know her name with the release of her tenth-studio album Spell My Name.
The follow-up to 2018’s Sex & Cigarettes and being shuffled from Def Jam to Island Records under the Universal Music Group umbrella, the album title may reference an acronym she created for her name – Taking Out Negative Influence. Negativity is something that has tried to haunt her career and life, from illnesses, label issues in the past, the “B” word from back in the day, and the reality TV pressures on her family’s WEtv series ‘Braxton Family Values.’ But through it all, Toni has always pressed forward and pushed through to the other side. And that confidence is on display with this new album.
The album opens with the disco-flavored upbeat number and second single “Dance,” which finds the 52 year-old ready to forget about a breakup and hit the dance floor. Heartbreak is a genre Toni has been the queen of since her 1993 self-titled debut album, so you know she was going to be in her bag by sporting her signature short cut on a solo album cover of hers for the first time since then. Ms. Braxton then gives the play-by-play for those going through a friction in their relationship on the lead single “Do It,” which she co-wrote with longtime collaborators Babyface and Antonio Dixon while having Missy Elliott jump on the remix ready for a two-step on the Zoom club quarantine functions.
A highlight on the album is track number three, “Gotta Move On,” which was co-written by Jeremih. While she’s not vocally on the track, H.E.R. delivers a well-fit solo guitar performance on the cut that tells the story of when it’s time to finally leave a relationship. “Fallin’” has Toni keeping on with the same in and out of love cycle with the same guy but realizing the she can’t keep “f**kin’ with him this way.”
Spelling seems to be the way Toni is getting her point across on this album, because “O.V.E.Rr.” isn’t a typo in the title – she’s just putting the extra emphasis on the “R” to let her man it’s time to really go. Just because Toni is ready to move on doesn’t mean it’s an easy road. “Happy Without Me” is a classic piano pop Toni ballad that finds her getting through the rough patch and being happy that her man has moved on. But sometimes you want that old thing back because it’s hard to let love go, which Toni finds herself in that predicament on the cinematic ballad “Saturday Night,” co-written by Bibi Bourelly.
Through all of the heartache, Toni stands strong and let’s you know she’s still THAT top tier woman you need in your life.
“Wait, I’m used to being pulled up on the loving/Tell me young’s can you hang?/I’m a little older and I really kind like it that way” sings Toni on the sultry album title track which actually has her spelling out her name in the chorus. The song’s co-writer and R&B artist Johnny Yukon opens each verse with him trying to get at the legend, but it also sounds like it could’ve had Drake make a guest appearance on the track. Maybe a remix down the road?
With ten tracks and clocking in at just over 35 minutes, Spell My Name is an album that’s not trying to keep up with current trends. The production is high quality R&B music with even hints of a little country found on the bonus cut “Nothin’.” For a legacy act like Ms. Braxton, she’s staying true to her element without worrying about capturing the next hit because she has already sold over 67 million records worldwide throughout her long career (although “Do It” is rising up to number one on the R&B chart). Toni has the handbook of relationships that can resonate with any audience. While it’s hard to tell if any of the songs are autobiographical given that she’s still engaged to (or eloped as the streets are saying) to Birdman, one thing for sure is that Toni gives you all the emotional feels when it comes to her music. Longtime fans will be completely satisfied and for those just coming on board will now that this living legend is one of the artists still keeping R&B alive and well. It’s about time you put some “respek” on her name.
Spell My Name is now available on all streaming platforms and for purchase at digital music retailers via Island Records.