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Diva Demolition Derby II: The 90s

The original Diva Demolition Derby was so popular (ahem) that I decided to update it using a new group of singers. In birth order, they are Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige - all born between 1963 and 1971 (coincidentally the prime years for original derby contestants Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick). You may feel that some of these names are not quite like the others, and frankly I agree with you, but having a wider field makes the comparison more fun. (TLC are about the same age and worked with a lot of the same people but that would've been too weird.)

The first derby compared performances of the same song by different singers, and while current singers almost never record each other's songs, they often (depressingly often, you might say) work with the same producers, so that's the way I ran the comparison.The scoring system is simple: the singer starts with -1 for each producer she worked with, and then gets one point for each singer she outdid. (I only ranked producers who've worked with at least three of the singers, though I've listed a few who haven't.) Results may be biased in favor of singers who worked with a lot of different producers, though the penalty for coming in last helps balance that out.

I got a lot of help from readers of the original derby pointing out things I'd missed - likewise, I hope you'll let me know if there are producers or tracks I've overlooked. (DBW)

Walter Afanasieff
Afanasieff is best known for co-writing and co-producing the bulk of Carey's recorded output from Emotions through Butterfly, and produced some huge hits for Dion (including "My Heart Will Go On"). Back in the 80s, though, he worked with Houston, and although he didn't write or produce any released tracks I'm going to penalize her for not getting more out of the collaboration.
Ranking: Mariah (+1), Celine (0), Whitney (-1)

Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds is a much better case study because he worked with all six vocalists and did important work with several of them. I have to rate "I'm Your Baby Tonight" for Houston at the top of the list, just ahead of "Melt Away" (with Carey) and "Not Gon' Cry" for Blige. I'm not as crazy about his songs for Braxton ("Love Shoulda Brought You Home") but they did put her on the map, which is more than you can say about "Thinkin' 'Bout My Ex" (Jackson) or "The Power Of The Dream" (Dion).
Ranking: Whitney (+4), Mariah (+3), Mary J. (+2), Toni (+1), Janet (0), Celine (-1)

Sean "Puffy" Combs
Not included in the rankings because, unless I missed something, he only worked with Carey ("Honey"; "Breakdown") and, more extensively, with Blige (What's The 411?). It's easy to mock the Diddster, and I often do, but I can't knock his contributions to those two.

Bryan-Michael Cox
Looks like another win for Mariah, unless you think I'm wrong to put "Don't Forget About Us" and "Shake It Off" ahead of "Be Without You" (Blige), "Trippin' (That's The Way Love Works)" (Braxton) and "Someone To Call My Lover (Remix)" (Jackson).
Ranking: Mariah (+2), Mary J. (+1), Toni (0), Janet (-1)

The "SexyBack" hitmaker did "Nothin' But Love" for Houston and "Migrate" for Carey, so he's one artist short of making this list.

Jermaine Dupri
I thought JD did something for someone in this group apart from his monumental Carey tunes ("Always Be My Baby"; "We Belong Together") and rather less inspired cuts for main squeeze JJ ("Do It 2 Me"; "Show Me"). But maybe not.

Missy Elliott
"Misdemeanor" Elliott and frequent partner in crime Timbaland have had their greatest success working with unknowns, but she did come up with the lovely "Never Been" (Blige) and the bouncy "The 1" (Jackson). I can't ignore her kick-ass "Heartbreaker Remix" cameo (Carey), though I wish I could ignore her 1998 donations to Houston ("Oh Yes"; "In My Business").
Ranking: Mary J. (+2), Janet (+1), Mariah (0), Whitney (-1)

David Foster
Personally I haven't enjoyed anything Foster's done since "After The Love Is Gone," but he did produce "I Will Always Love You," "Unbreak My Heart," and "The Power Of Love," plus something on Rainbow that definitely didn't make the impact of the other three.
Ranking: Whitney (+2), Toni (+1), Celine (0), Mariah (-1)

Dave "Jam" Hall
This guy faded away in a hurry, didn't he? He did "Dreamlover" and "Fantasy" for Carey, "You Remind Me" and "Reminisce" for Blige, half of Madonna's Bedtime Stories, and a "Scream" remix for Michael and Janet Jackson, all within a three-year period. Since then, nothing nearly as high-profile.
Ranking: Mariah (+1), Mary J. (0), Janet (-1)

Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis
A tough bracket: Jam & Lewis's partnership with Jackson produced some of the best singles of the 80s and 90s, and they also helmed Blige's excellent Growing Pains. I'm a staunch defender of Glitter and promote Charmbracelet's "Yours" every chance I get, but Carey comes in third in this crowd. Braxton brings up the rear with the creampuff "I Like It Like That."
Ranking: Janet (+2), Mary J. (+1), Mariah (0), Toni (-1)

Rodney Jerkins
I'm not Darkchild's biggest fan; he's had big hits but they always remind me of someone else's hits. Anyway, I have to say Braxton's "Wasn't Man Enough For Me" is memorable (albeit annoying), while most of Share My World was not, and "It's Not Right But It's Okay" is frightful. Carey and Jerkins both worked on Twista's "So Lonely," and I'll stick that in the middle somewhere.
Ranking: Toni (+2), Mary J. (+1), Mariah (0), Whitney (-1)

The Neptunes
I've already stated my preference for Williams and Hugo as a band rather than a production team, so rather than rehash that I'll say their work on Blige's Growing Pains leaves the other contenders - Carey and Nelly's "To The Floor"; Janet's guest shot on Beenie Man's "Feel It Boy"; Braxton's "Hit The Freeway" - in the dust.
Ranking: Mary J. (+2), Mariah (+1), Janet (0), Toni (-1)

In addition to several tracks on Growing Pains (good) and Discipline (eh), I believe Ne-Yo has product in the pipeline for Carey and Dion, so stay tuned.

Cory Rooney
Rooney co-produced Blige's first Top Ten hit "Real Love," Carey's "Babydoll" and "The Beautiful Ones," and Braxton's "Stupid," in that order.
Ranking: Mary J. (+1), Mariah (0), Toni (-1)

Everyone's favorite Norwegian soulsters have done their most notable work with younger artists, but they've also cranked out tunes for Blige ("What Love Is"), Jackson ("2Nite"), Houston ("Call You Tonight") and Carey ("Bye Bye").
Ranking: Mary J. (+2), Janet (+1), Whitney (0), Mariah (-1)

Tricky Stewart
In just two years Stewart's already worked with Blige ("Just Fine"; "Roses"), Carey ("Touch My Body"; the dreadful new single "Obsessed"), Jackson ("Greatest X"), Houston ("I Look To You") and Dion ("Skies Of L.A."). Is Braxton in his future?
Ranking: Mary J. (+3), Mariah (+2), Janet (+1), Whitney (0), Celine (-1)

Scott Storch
I find Storch's production style over-obvious and under-original, rather like Jerkins's. In this comparison, "Island Life" (Jackson) is an easy winner ahead of "Please" (Braxton) or "Side Effects" (Carey).
Ranking: Janet (+1), Toni (0), Mariah (-1)

Swizz Beatz
I've heard a fair amount from this Bronx-born producer, but I have no good sense of his strengths, weaknesses or general approach. Do you? Anyway, he's worked with Houston ("Million Dollar Bill"), Blige ("Where I've Been") and Carey ("O.O.C.").
Ranking: Whitney (+1), Mary J. (0), Mariah (-1)

Ric Wake
Wake produced tracks for Carey ("Someday") and Dion ("Love Can Move Mountains"), but did you know he also remixed Houston's "Love Will Save The Day"? Me either.
Ranking: Mariah (+1), Celine (0), Whitney (-1)

Narada Michael Walden
No rankings for this one-time Jeff Beck drummer, but his productions for Houston ("How Will I Know"; "I Wanna Dance With Somebody") easily outshine the Carey ballad "I Don't Wanna Cry," itself a #1 single.

Kanye West
So far West has worked with Carey ("Stay The Night") and Jackson ("Strawberry Bounce") but no one else.

I'm tempted to give Carey and Blige each a bonus point for getting an Ol' Dirty Bastard guest shot, but they're doing pretty well in this survey already so I'll refrain.

Final Tally:

  1. Mary J. Blige (+15)
  2. Mariah Carey (+7)
  3. Janet Jackson (+4)
  4. Whitney Houston (+3)
  5. Toni Braxton (+1)
  6. Celine Dion (-2)

You've gotta be kidding me.

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