20 Albums 20 Years Later

Joe’s Sultry Sounds Served As The Soundtrack Of Love At All Stages Of The Relationship Game

Joe’s “All That I Am” turns 20 this year.

Joe's sophomore album All That I Am sounds dated by today's standards. Not necessarily sonically, mind you, but because many consider R&B to be a dying art due to the amount of it they hear on the radio. But the genre thrived in 1997 thanks to torchbearers such as Erykah Badu with her neo-soul, Usher with his hip-hop-flavored jams, and Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey with their pop-styled offerings, among others.

Joe filled the niche of bedroom balladeer, serving up much of the middle ground and foreplay some will say is missing in today's "straight to the bedroom" soul. On this particular compilation, Joe crooned tunes about love, romance, sex, and commitment on slick-crafted pop melodies, grimy street beats, and seductive quiet storm tracks that probably served as the soundtrack for many a school dance and hot-and-heavy make-out session.

“All the Things (Your Man Won’t Do)”

All That I Am kicks things off with a tune listeners were already familiar with: "All the Things (Your Man Won't Do)," which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1996 film Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Though comically played over a love scene between Shawn Wayans' Ashtray and Tracey Cherrelle Jones' Dashiki, the single hovers above lust-filled desire while coasting through the waters of romance, loyalty, and putting your woman on a pedestal. "Tell me what kind of man / Would treat his woman so cold / Treat you like your nothing / When you're worth more than gold," he sings, offering further on to "light a thousand candles all around" and "put a string of pearls right in your hand." You're forgiven if you're already swooning, as it's hard to see how anyone could resist these come-ons, despite the fact Joe is unapologetically trying to steal you away from your current beau. Then again, maybe that's what makes the whole scenario so sexy as he offers to bring more to the table than what's currently being served.

“Don’t Wanna Be a Player”

Another soundtrack hit was "Don't Wanna Be a Player," from the Jamie Foxx-starring comedy Booty Call. Over a Roger and Zapp-esque vocoder track, Joe lists out all the things he's willing to give up (the "ta-ta bars," going home with multiple women, and running with homies) in order to become the settle-down type for that special lady. The most club-ready of the disc's singles, the Rodney Jerkins-produced "Don't Wanna Be a Player" became one of Joe's most recognizable songs, and was only further ingrained into pop culture thanks to the late rapper Big Pun's less-romantic collaboration with the R&B singer called "Still Not a Player," which rearranged some of the words but retained Joe to sing the hook. On All That I Am, though, "Come Around" — which feels like some sort of response-meets-sampling of Tupac's "I Get Around" — is a playful, melodically similar cousin to "Don't Wanna Be a Player," while "U Shoulda Told Me (U Had a Man)" utilizes the time period's hip-hop sounds to add some funk to the album. (Bonus points, also, for Joe's nod to Bill Withers' "Who is He? (And What is He to You)" with the line and add-on "You're too much for one man / But you're not enough for two / You should've been straight with me / Before I hooked up with you.")

“The Love Scene”

Lots of people, including this writer, appreciate when an artist lumps recent hits onto their next project (trust — we notice when you don't, ahem, Bruno Mars, ahem, no "Uptown Funk" on 24K Magic). But instead of letting All That I Am serve as a "mini-recent greatest hits" set, he made sure to include another strong single on the album in the form of "The Love Scene." The step-by-step screenplay laid out by Joe is one that's all about romance, and maybe a little second- and third-base action, and beyond. With Joe's silky voice, few will resist, but many will be rewarded along the way, much like he himself wanted to be on the track "How Soon."

“Good Girls”

One of the most tender moments on All That I Am is the "I gotta find me a girl" anthem "Good Girls," in which Joe waxes poetic about the beauty, brains, and personality of the perfect woman … only to learn upon meeting her that she's already spoken for. The frustration is palpable, but made all the more acceptable to the listener courtesy of the half-whispered, half-crooned chorus "Why are all the good girls / Taken every time / Why do I keep falling for / Someone else's dime / Every time love says hello / Then they say goodbye / So why are you good girls / Taken every time." Sung from a slightly different perspective is "No One Else Comes Close," a pop ballad co-written by Joe that can claim the title of being the purest song on the set … so pure, in fact, that label mates the Backstreet Boys covered it on their sophomore album, Millennium, in 1999.

"No One Else Comes Close"

And, of course, after getting to know Joe so well throughout this album, it's only fitting to make mention of the song's title track, in which he explains exactly who he is when in a relationship over a soft, guitar-strummed melody.

"All That I Am"

'97 was a very good year for Joe and All That I Am, which has been certified platinum since its release. Despite being up against a strong crew of male R&B contemporaries — Brian McKnight ("Anytime"), K-Ci & JoJo ("All My Life"), Jon B ("Are U Still Down"), Mark Morrison ("Return of the Mack"), Keith Sweat ("Nobody"), Levert Sweat Gill (LSG, "My Body"), Somethin' for the People ("My Love is the Shhh!"), Ginuwine ("Tell Me Do U Wanna"), Rome ("I Belong to You"), among others — the album is one of the best from this time period at encapsulating some of the diversity found within the genre, its potential to score hits, and reflects how prevalent it was on radio. And Joe himself also previewed much of the sound from which his later albums would borrow, including the Mystikal-featuring "Stutter," playful "Let's Stay Home Tonight," sing-along-y "I Wanna Know," sensual "More and More," the G-Unit team up "Ride Wit U," and "Thank God I Found You," a collaboration with Mariah Carey and 98 Degrees. In essence, All That I Am properly introduces us to Joe as we know him today, and certifies his place as a staple of the genre in the two decades since its release.

All That I Am is available on AmazonGoogle PlayiTunes, and Spotify.

Cover image: Jive Records

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