Actually, Gabi [Wilson, better known as H.E.R.] came through the studio when she was 11 years old. I saw her when she was very little, and nobody could figure out this little girl. She was a bit too young. And obviously she figured out her thing. It just took long. But sometimes it’s just about that right moment, finding the right music and finding your voice.
You mentioned that hearing Ariana reminded you of Mariah. When Yours Truly came out, people were pitting them against each other.
Did you ever feel like you were caught in the middle of it?
No, I think it’s ridiculous. The same thing happened with Mariah, when she came out, with Whitney. They were completely different singers. And it is not until later where people kind of figured out, “Wait a minute, they aren’t the same. And they both have their own thing.”
One of my personal highlights is probably being able to record them together [on their duet “When You Believe”]. That’s one thing I can claim that no one else can claim in this world. And clearly shows the difference who Mariah is, and who Whitney is.
What I really love about that song is how they really harmonized together. And one harmony would be like, Mariah would be on top and then Whitney at the bottom, and then the next line they’d switch. That’s crazy.
It was work. It wasn’t easy.
Do you mean the women, or was it more of a record label thing?
Both. Clive [Davis] was fighting for Whitney and Tommy was fighting for Mariah, and then Whitney was making comments and Mariah was making comments, “I don’t want this, I want that.”
I had to figure out how to make them both work. And the funny thing is, I was called for that specific purpose because when I first met with [Dreamwork’s] Jeffrey Katzenberg, he said, “We have this idea. We want to put these two together.”
And both of them said, “We will only do it with Babyface,” because “I don’t trust Walter” [Afanasieff, a close collaborator of Carey’s in the ’90s] and “I don’t trust David Foster” [who produced some of Houston’s biggest hits]. Because they’re in the [other’s] camp. I was in both camps, but they knew I would be fair. I’d look out for both of them. And look, we got an Oscar with that.
I think about a line Whitney said in her thank-yous in the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack liner notes: “To my Babyface. TLC thinks you belong to them, but we know you’re really mine. I’m so proud of you.” I think it’s so cool that they all think you’re theirs.
Yeah, that’s good. I never read that. [Laughs]
Puffy called and said he wanted to work with me. He said he wanted to do a song about Kim, but he said, “I don’t want this to be in remembrance. I want to write a love song to her, and I want to write a song that takes me back to the feeling that I had when I was with her.” He said, “I used to dream about her and she would come and visit me in my dreams, and she stopped visiting me in my dreams. I need this song to be so good that she’s going to want to come back and visit me in my dreams. I want it to be a song that’s just about yearning for that moment. And we’re together.” And that’s the basis of how we start to write the song. We created it together, and he helped guide me through it with his emotions and what he wanted from it. And so, he was producing me as well.