The final entry in DeepSoul's salute to singer/songwriter/producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds looks at one of the most unfairly underrated tracks in his extensive catalog: "I Care 'Bout You," the smooth ballad by the one-off supergroup Milestone. A producer of the 1997 film Soul Food, Babyface assembled the group for a scene in the film; the song performed during the film then appeared on the successful soundtrack. While Milestone never recorded another single together, the song represents Babyface at the height of his 1990s powers. His brand of old school soul featuring modern touches played a huge part not only in 90s soul, but also paved the way for the neo-soul movement led by Maxwell, Erykah Badu, and Jill Scott.
After establishing himself as a top producer/songwriter, Babyface and then-wife Tracey Edmonds coproduced the film Soul Food. The film centers around a family trying to cope with the death of the family matriarch; as marriages fall apart, the group attempts to maintain their weekly Sunday dinners (their mother's dying wish). One of the characters, Miles, is a struggling musician trying to salvage his dying marriage to attorney wife, Teri. At one point during the film, Miles and his band perform a new song he has composed. His "band" was, in fact, Milestone: Babyface, younger brothers Kevon and Melvin Edmonds (also from After 7), and K-Ci and JoJo (best known for their group Jodeci).
In a September 6, 1997 interview with Billboard, Babyface discussed recording with his brothers as well as K-Ci and JoJo. "It was a lot of fun recording that song as a producer, because I had all the tools to make it work," he said. "It was fun working with my brothers and putting them to the test." As for the Jodeci members, he added that "you don't just stand there [in the recording booth] . . . you've got to come up with some real vocals, and I thought they went toe-to-toe. And as you can hear [on the single], I kinda kept my mouth shut and let the others do their thing."
During the interview, Babyface expressed an interest in working with the group again, perhaps recording an entire album. Unfortunately, this never occurred. Kevon Edmonds explained the cause in an interview with Rapidindustry.com: "Well, at one point it did seem as though it could have gone from a fictional group to something real," he said. "However, it got a bit convoluted and became more about company politics between two labels than it was about the musical act itself. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted!"
Indeed, "I Care 'Bout You" is a tour de force of passionate singing, with the track gaining intensity as each singer contributes their sections. The Edmond brothers begin, gently crooning that "sometimes I feel all alone" and begging the unnamed woman to "tell me . . . what's deep in your heart." In the second verse, K-Ci and JoJo add passion and desperation, asking why the woman cannot care for him as much as he cares for her. "I make sure that I give you quality time" they wail. "Still I'm gonna try, you're the love of my life." As he mentioned in the Billboard interview, Babyface mainly provides backing vocals and ending ad-libs, his trademark "whoo!" punctuating key points in the song. The smooth keyboards and strong yet simple percussion keep the focus on the voices, the singers channeling Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass in their passionate delivery.
"I Care 'Bout You" symbolizes Babyface at his best, delivering modern touches like hip-hop-inflected beats while including overtly romantic lyrics and vocals recalling Motown and Philadelphia soul. Other than hip hop, Babyface's style of R&B dominated the 90s and left a lasting impression on today's music. Today artists such as Ariana Grande and Toni Braxton still seek out his glossy sound, knowing that Babyface's deft touch virtually guarantees crossover appeal.