The fifth Whitney Houston album Just Whitney is perhaps her most underrated. Although it was successful my most standards Just Whitney was overlooked my many and did was not promoted like her previous work. The more urban/hip hop influenced sound was a retreat from the smooth pop styles of the past and had shown that Whitney was once again capable of connecting with her base in the ‘black community’.
The album featured a virtual who’s who in studio with Babyface, Missy Elliott and Kevin Briggs handling most of the production duties. Amazingly, songs from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis did not make the cut. The choice of so many producers clearly push Whitney into new territory, as she seldom if ever worked with a team so large on any one album.
Just Whitney might have caught some of her fans off guard. The strong R&B and hip hop influence was done in good taste for the most part like on the smart sounding “Dear John Letter”. The only thing that cheapened the album was the obligatory inclusion of Bobby Brown, whose tone deaf quasi raps and notorious boasts were childish and out of place on an otherwise street smart album.
The ghetto trappings interwoven into the production did work however when Whitney used the old hip hop tactic of sampling. One of the albums most enjoyable songs was “One of Those Days” with its smart use of the Isely Brother’s “Between the Sheets”.
The soaring voice might not have soared so high on Just Whitney, but even with issues, Houston still had some of of the best chops in the business. “Try It On My Own” and the Debbie Boone cover “You Light Up My Life” hit at some of the elegance of her debut album.
Unfortunately, the album got mixed reviews. The external pressures from her decaying marriage to Bobby Brown, drug use and other issues seemed to overshadow what was good about the album. Houston herself even alleged that it was under promoted on purpose.
All her attempts at debunking rumors (on nearly every song) deflated the joy usually associated with her more pop music and may have turned off some listeners. I suppose an album with so much to proclaim (on the defensive) would have turned worse if the lush production associated with Clive Davis was used. So in a way the hip hop styled proclamations seemed appropriate.
Just Whitney is by no means a train wreck. Years ago artist like Shakira, Christina Aguilera or Jennifer Lopez would have died to have this album to their credit, but each of them outsold Just Whitney in 2003. For Whitney, it clearly was not up to her normal standards, but better that would might have been expected considering the turmoil in her personal life.
Maybe it was the shock of hearing a once proud Diva turn defensive, but whatever it was,something was clearly wrong. As history records, things got worse. Like Michael Jackson’s Invincible,which was grossly under appreciated when new, Just Whitney was the last good album from her catalog and may gain fans over time.
Future audiences might learn to accept that Just Whitney was Houston trying to show a true side of herself that many had not seen or heard before.