Many legendary figures in the history of the world, whether it be in sports, politics or music, have adapted to the times in order to continue their career. When Muhammad Ali lost a step, he became more reliant on his incredible chin and heart. When Pedro Martinez lost some zip off his fastball, he became more of a finesse pitcher. When Michael Jackson and his brothers left Motown in the mid 1970’s, they signed a deal with CBS Records and the legendary music label, Philly International, headed by the legendary songwriting duo of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. Philly International was dominating the 70’s urban music scene not unlike Motown dominated the 60’s urban music scene. The Jacksons, led by Michael, adapted to the Philly sound and created some of their greatest music. It’s a formula that Michael used when he approached Teddy Riley to help produce the album “Dangerous.” The result: the single, biggest selling album of the New Jack Swing Era in which it sold over 30 million albums worldwide. More
On May 28, 1991, the debut album of the single, greatest group of not only the New Jack Swing Era, but of 1990’s R&B music period was released. Upon hearing this album for the first time back then, I was taken aback by the vocals of the group’s lead singer. The group was Jodeci, and it’s lead singer was Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey. K-Ci’s voice was raw and powerful in that rich southern R&B tradition. His voice was David Ruffin meets Bobby Womack. Jodeci would set the standard for R&B groups to come. From 1991-1995, there wasn’t a greater R&B group on the planet. Their debut album, “Forever My Lady,” was in my opinion, the single greatest album recorded by a group in the New Jack Swing Era. More
During New Edition’s 1989 concert tour, five high school friends from Philadelphia snuck backstage at the Philadelphia Spectrum to meet them. While security attempted to remove them from the premises, the five young men began singing in acappella “Can You Stand The Rain.” Michael Bivins was so impressed, he gave the group his phone number and told them to call him. This resulted in Bivins becoming their manager and the group was signed to Motown Records. The five young men consisted of Marc Nelson, Shawn Stockman, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Michael McCary. They would name their group Boyz II Men after a song off of New Edition’s “Heart Break” album. Nelson left the group just before they commenced recording of their first album, “Cooleyhighharmony.”
“Cooleyhighharmony” was the second consecutive album released under new Motown honcho Jheryl Busby that was an immediate hit. Released on Valentine’s Day 1991, this album was an integral part of Motown’s last great glory era. The first single off the album, “Motownphilly,” was a prototypical New Jack Swing uptempo track, complete with the sound and rap lyrics featuring Bivins. This single, an infectious dance track, went to number three on the Billboard Pop charts and number one on the Billboard R&B charts. It was the beginning of a historic five year run that was only equalled in history by legendary acts Elvis, The Beatles, Whitney Houston, and The Rolling Stones. The second single would be one of my favorite songs ever recorded by them. More
As a child, the first two singers that caught my attention were Teddy Pendergrass and Donny Hathaway. They were, in my opinion, the most soulful singers of the 1970’s. The 1980’s were dominated by soul singers with falsetto and soft tenor type voices. The New Jack Swing era brought back the baritone style that both Pendergrass and Hathaway displayed a decade earlier. Johnny Gill, from his early solo work and with New Edition, was the first singer since Teddy and Donny with an explosive, seductive baritone. It would all come together with Gill’s Motown Records debut album, the self titled “Johnny Gill.” More
After the tremendous success of “Heartbreak,” each member of New Edition decided to take a sabbatical from the group to work on their own individual projects. Ricky Bell, Ronnie DeVoe and Michael Bivins formed the group Bell Biv DeVoe, or BBD as they are better known, a more seductive, adult oriented offshoot of New Edition. The result was one of the most provocative R&B albums of all time, 1990’s “Poison.” More
Following the spectacular success of Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds were in huge demand throughout the music industry to help write and produce songs. However, Babyface made a concerted effort to concentrate on releasing a solo album. With help from Reid and childhood friend Darryl Simmons, the three of them created a masterpiece. “Tender Lover” was released on July 23, 1989. This album would showcase not only the incredible writing and producing skills of the three man hit squad, but would display the incredible tenor/falsetto voice of one of the greatest singers in the history of soul music. It would be Babyface’s greatest solo work in his illustrious career. More
Back in January, BET premiered a three part miniseries on the life and times of one of the greatest R&B groups of all time, New Edition. It was one of the greatest television biopics ever produced on a musical act. The biopic chronicled just how Bobby Brown was fired from the group and eventually replaced by Johnny Gill. When New Edition’s album “Heart Break” was released in June of 1988, not only was the group in transition, it was at a crossroads career wise. This album would be crucial in either extending their run as a big time group or having them fall to insignificance. It turned out to be the greatest selling album in New Edition’s illustrious career.
New Edition was New Jack Swing before New Jack Swing was ever formed. Beginning in 1983 with their first single, “Candy Girl,” New Edition were implementing rap lyrics into their R&B bubblegum songs. It was only fitting that they would be tailor made for the New Jack Swing sound. Turning to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the producers who wrote and produced Janet Jackson’s incredible 1986 album “Control,” New Edition created an album that perfectly combined both their signature sound along with the New Jack Swing sound. With the addition of Gill, they were also able to sound more mature. The group’s members ranged from ages 19-22 at the time of the album’s release. It was apropos that Gill was at 22 the oldest member of the group, as his baritone voice was one of the main reasons the group sounded more mature than before. In my opinion, this version of New Edition: Ralph Tresvant, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie Devoe and Gill were a greater version than the one that had Brown sans Gill.
“Heart Break” was almost entirely written and produced by Jam and Lewis. This album had everything a signature New Jack Swing would contain: infectious dance tracks and incredible ballads. The first single , “If It Isn’t Love,” was the perfect single to debut off the album. This song was the typical New Edition uptempo sound that their mostly female fan base was used to with Ralph on lead in his signature falsetto. The next single, “You’re Not My Kind of Girl,” would be the first song where Ralph, Ricky and Johnny would share the lead vocals. The song is about a man who’s physically attracted to a woman who’s very into him, yet he doesn’t take it further then friendship because she’s not his type. When this song first came out, I was 20 years old and living in New Orleans. There was a young woman who I took out on a date. She was very pretty, and although she was into me, the feeling was not mutual on my part. I’m only 5’6″, she was 5’10 and her being much taller than me was the main reason why I didn’t take it any further. She was highly offended and upset when I explained why our height differential was the reason why we could only be friends. The next single released off the album would be, in my opinion, the single greatest song ever done by New Edition.
Released on December 14, 1988, “Can You Stand the Rain?” was New Edition’s fourth R&B number one hit. It is also the song that finally transitioned them from teenage boy band to a full fledged adult group. The song is about a man who asks his woman will she be there for him through stormy times, just not the good times. Expertly written by Jam and Lewis, it is essentially a song detailing the turmoil and uncertainty New Edition was going through after Brown left and Gill entered the group. The music video shows the group reading a newspaper headline asking if it was over for New Edition. The group was wondering if the women in their lives would stand by their sides during this time of uncertainty. The song begins with the baritone vocals of Gill: “On a perfect day, I know that I can count on you. When that’s not possible. Tell me can you weather the storm?” The song blends Ralph, Ricky and Johnny’s lead vocals perfectly. All three shine in this classic ballad. It is the signature song on their greatest album.
There are several other great songs on “Heart Break.” “I’m Comin’ Home,” is a ballad in which Ralph sings about how after a long tour he longs to come home to be with his lady. “N.E. Heart Break,” is an uptempo melody about groupies falling in love with the group while on tour and subsequently getting their hearts broken by the quintet. Finally, “Boys to Men,” is a song with Johnny on lead. It’s a coming to age song perfectly fitting what the album is essentially about: New Edition going from being boys to men. Four high school friends in Philadelphia who idolized the group named their group after this song. They would also enlist Bivins as their manager. That’s a story for another day.
The success of “Heart Break,” which went on to sell over four million albums, would have each member have spectacular success on their own individual debut albums. Each album was a New Jack Swing album. Each album delayed the release of another New Edition album. It wouldn’t be until 1996 when another New Edition album would be released.
NEW EDITION-HEART BREAK
That’s The Way We’re Livin’ 4:03
If It Isn’t Love 5:10
N.E. Heart Break 5:45
You’re Not My Kind Of Girl 4:01
Can You Stand The Rain 4:58
I’m Comin’ Home 5:06
Boys To Men 4:11
After initiating the New Jack Swing Era with Keith Sweat’s “Make It Last Forever,” Teddy Riley formed a group with his friend Timothy Gatling and Gatling’s friend Aaron Hall. After acquiring local hip hop and R&B producer Gene Griffin as their manager, Griffin in turn got them a deal with Uptown Records. Uptown Records would be the single leading force throughout the New Jack Swing Era. Riley’s group would be named Guy, and alongside Heavy D, would become the signature stars on the fledgling label. Guy’s self-titled debut album would set a high standard for the label. A standard that would continue with acts like Jodeci, Father M.C. and Mary J. Blige. More
In this new series of articles, I’ll be focusing on my all time favorite era of R&B music: The New Jack Swing Era. In chronological order, I will review the greatest and most essential albums of this era. We begin by critiquing the album that launched this era: Keith Sweat’s “Make it Last Forever.” More