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THE 39TH ANNUAL GRAMMY NOMINATIONS | R & B / RAP

It's the 'Babyface' Show

January 08, 1997|CHEO HODARI COKER

The R&B Grammys should be renamed the "Babyface" awards.

Kenneth "Babyface" Edwards, a partner in LaFace Records and perhaps the most influential producer of the '90s, wrote four of the five songs in the best female R&B performance category and three of the five nominees for best R&B song. Talented newcomer Tony Rich--up for best R&B male vocal performance, best new artist and best male pop vocal performance--is signed to Babyface's label; Babyface himself even is nominated as a performer, for "Slow Jams" along with Tamia, Barry White and Portrait.

The big surprise was that the Babyface-produced "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack wasn't nominated for best R&B album (though it did receive a best album nod). Fortunately, three more-deserving albums were: Maxwell's "Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite," Me'Shell Ndegecello's "Peace Beyond Passion" and the Tony Rich Project's "Words."

On the hip-hop front, the academy's taste has improved; now the commercial is balanced by the cutting edge. Previous rap solo performance winners Coolio and LL Cool J are predictable choices, but Nas and Busta Rhymes are two of the most respected members of New York's rap underground to make critical and commercial breakthroughs.

For best rap performance, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are the clear favorites for "Tha Crossroads" but will face severe competition from the late Tupac Shakur with his multiplatinum duets "California Love" (with Dr. Dre) and "How Do U Want It" (with K-Ci and Jo-Jo). Best rap album is a toss-up between the Fugees' "The Score," Shakur's "All Eyez on Me" and A Tribe Called Quest's "Beats, Rhymes, and Life," all equally deserving.

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