Traces of My Lipstick may not have been Xscape’s most critically-acclaimed album, but it was essential in their lineage and relayed much of the growth the group experienced during the mid-to-late ‘90s.
The famed R&B quartet, consisting of Kandi Burruss, Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, Tamika Scott and LaTocha Scott, released their third and final studio LP as a collective on May 12, 1998. It was their first project release in three years (since 1995’s Off the Hook) and marked a relative stylistic change as their mainstay topics of love became a tad more sensual and provocative.
Evidence of this came from the LP’s second single “My Little Secret.” Told from the perspective of a mistress or “the other woman,” the track is bold and executed to the point where listeners may believe Jermaine Dupri, TOML’s executive producer and the song’s unfaithful protagonist, was cheating with them.
The album’s Diane Warren-written and co-produced first single “The Arms of the One Who Loves You” is a slow-building ballad that further exemplifies the group’s ability to go full church choir when the song calls for it. It was also the last Gold-certified and top 10-charting Billboard Hot 100 single Xscape released.
“Softest Place on Earth,” Traces of My Lipstick’s third single, was one of the better-written efforts on the album, providing the perfect soundscape for anyone amid a passionate romantic relationship. LaTocha’s second verse alone is a prime example of this as she sings: “Overflowing with emotion / I will make you feel so sensual / When I touch you, you'll lose all control / Come on, baby / Kiss me all over / From my mountains to my valley low / There's an ocean of love / Just for you, just for you, yeah.”
TOML’s lush sounds and excellent production were backed by some of the biggest heavy hitters in hip-hop and R&B at the time. With the studio boards helmed by Dupri, legends like Daryl Simmons and Manuel Seal, Jr. helped steer the ship while the sonic structure was the doing of Babyface, Joe Thomas, Keith Sweat and Warryn Campbell. Their collective effort, along with Kandi, Tiny, Tamika and especially LaTocha’s strong vocals, satisfied Xscape fans upon the LP’s release.
Much like most of the time they were together as a quartet, the album also consisted of some behind-the-scenes tension as LaTocha had been considering going solo while it was still being created. During an interview published earlier this week with Rated RnB, the singer noted that Dupri had encouraged her to build out a solo catalog and use that potentially added stardom to a future Xscape album. It was an opportunity pitched to Dupri while Off the Hook was in production, but one LaTocha says she ultimately turned down at the time.
“It didn’t work out for me in that way, so I stuck with the group, and we just made history,” she told the outlet.
Upon its release, Traces of My Lipstick was met with generally positive reviews. However, it was marred by a perceived lack of exceptional songwriting that filled their two previous and more commercially successful LPs. That said, it was still a strong competitor to other R&B group albums like Destiny Child’s self-titled debut and Next’s Rated Next which were also released around the same time.
TOML would be the third and final album for Xscape, who would break up just after its release. LaTocha would eventually pursue a solo career and later join Tiny and sister Tameka in a feeble comeback attempt in the mid-2000s, during which they attempted to record a new album, Unchained, that would not be released due to a lack of promotion from their label.
Eventually, and during the 2017 BET Awards, Xscape performed together as their original quartet for the first time in over 18 years. They would also perform at Essence Festival and Chene Park in Detroit.
For nostalgia purposes, run Xscape’s third and final studio album Traces of My Lipstick in honor of the 25th anniversary below.