Happy 30th Anniversary to Anita Baker’s sophomore album Rapture, originally released March 20, 1986.
On March 20, 1986, singer Anita Baker released her second (and first major label) album Rapture, a sultry assemblage of eight songs that proved Eighties R&B could be both elegant and classy. It’s also the same effort that marked the beginning of Baker carving out a niche for herself as one of music’s most distinctive vocalists, delicately belting out an unprecedented contralto vocal style from a petite frame that’s both rotund and bedazzling, but far from being overproduced.
Released by Elektra Records, Rapture was the follow-up project to the Toledo-born, Detroit-bred singer’s 1983 solo debut The Songstress, commissioned by Beverly Glen Records. The Songstress spawned a trilogy of memorable ballads (“No More Tears,” “You’re the Best Thing Yet,” and the Baker standard “Angel”), but has yet to rival the critical acclaim and commercial success that Rapture would eventually garner.
Arguably one of the most comforting collections of music with vocals on wax, Rapture’s album cover features Baker with her eyes closed, seated in a semi-fetal position in front of a charcoal grey backdrop. Gripping her left arm with her right hand, Baker clenches and grips her long black dress, inferring that the full-length set clocking in at around 37 minutes is a repertoire of songs suitable for black radio stations’ quiet storm formats or a candlelit evening, spent either in solitude or with that special someone.
On the other hand, Baker’s formal arrival onto the music scene also signaled somewhat of a musical rebellion, affording her voice and its range to shine front-and-center. Rapture is filled with slick and sophisticated production, pairing Baker with producer Michael J. Powell, the keyboardist and her former bandmate from funk/R&B outfit, Chapter 8. Together, Baker and Powell concocted material that married R&B with smooth jazz arrangements to produce a tastefully executed adult contemporary essence with a hint of crossover pop sensibilities.
Rapture’s appeal remains a relatively simple one, as the album doesn’t try too hard to sound contrived with catchy hooks, acrobatic (or synchronized) dance routines or opulent theatrics. Powell produced seven of Rapture’s eight tracks, while Baker acted as the project’s executive producer and co-writer on three of the songs.
Opening single “Sweet Love” fades in with a gospel-styled piano melody that plays well into the song’s latter percussive backbeat that bolsters Baker’s optimistic, glowing vocals that explore her admiration for her significant other. The single cracked the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at Number Eight and landing one slot shy of grabbing the top slot on the R&B charts. That very same non-secular essence from the ivories that conjoins with the affection Baker displays toward her love interest continues on “You Bring Me Joy.” “Caught Up in the Rapture,” which reached number 37 on the Hot 100 and number six on the R&B charts, opens with Baker scatting the song’s soothing melody that effortlessly caresses the soul like a warm bubble bath or glass of cabernet. The track settles into a bass-accompanied romantic groove that ultimately gives the acoustic guitar a shining moment towards the end.
On “Been So Long,” Baker longs for her lover over a rich, buttery jazz soundscape. She covers Manhattan Transfer’s “Mystery,” originally penned by Heatwave member and hitmaker Rod Temperton, starting with slightly haunted harmonies before its soulful arrangements anchor Baker’s siren vocals. The gentle “No One in the World” (No. 44 pop, No. 5 R&B), produced by Marti Sharron and Gary Skardina, represents another moment in which Baker croons with full assurance about the perfect love interest, yielding impressive crisp, choir-arranged background vocals over some slick funk guitar chops.
Toward the end of Rapture, Baker tries her hand at deviating from ballads, favoring more midtempo fare. “Same Ole Love” (No. 44 on pop, No. 8 R&B) is a feel-good ditty fueled by sparse funky bass slaps and a steady beat that give Baker ample room to revisit the good times in a relationship. Replete with whirring acoustics, the album closer “Watch Your Step” (No. 23 R&B) acts as a cautionary tale with Baker addressing an unfaithful lover.
To date, Rapture has sold over eight million copies worldwide, unequivocally making it Baker’s breakthrough release. More importantly, Rapture propelled Baker into the rarefied pantheon of black pop artists like Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Prince, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Sade, Luther Vandross, and Tina Turner that dominated the airwaves and revolutionized the conventions of American popular music throughout the 1980s.
Peaking at Number 11 on the Billboard 200 album chart and Number One atop the R&B Albums chart, Rapture was certified multi-platinum in the U.S., selling more than five million units. Baker earned her first pair of Grammy Awards at the 1987 ceremony in the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (Rapture) and Best R&B Song (“Sweet Love”) categories, subsequently securing a total of eight trophies throughout the course of her career to date. Baker was also awarded a pair of American Music Awards for Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist and Favorite Soul R&B Album.
In the two decades following the monumental success of Rapture, Baker never slowed down or even attempted to abandon her musical comfort zone. She knows her strength as a vocalist and performer, and continued to make grown folks music by delivering tender ballads and jazz-inspired R&B sprinkled with a dash of pop appeal. The end results were a timeless canon of best-selling, Grammy-winning releases: 1988’s Giving You the Best That I Got, 1990’s Compositions, 1994’s Rhythm of Love, and 2004’s My Everything.
To this day, however, Rapture holds the crown for being Baker’s finest moment, and an important one that reinforced that R&B vocalists, particularly females, needn’t overproduce their sound or subscribe to being mere eye candy to sell records. It’s an album that wins based on one essential element: the unparalleled passion that defines Baker’s voice.