In the fall of 1993, New Jack Swing was still the dominant style of music in R&B. 1993 would be the last year that New Jack Swing would dominate the soul music landscape. In the fall of 1993, several classic New Jack Swing albums were released. The first we will focus on is Tevin Campbell’s “I’m Ready.”
The album “I’m Ready,” was not only one of the greatest New Jack Swing albums of that era, it was one of the greatest R&B albums of the 1990’s. Sixteen year old Campbell was already a music veteran, having scored a number one R&B hit at the tender age of 12, 1989’s “Tomorrow,” producer by the legendary Quincy Jones. Campbell’s debut album, 1991’s “TEVIN,” went platinum and scored him two more number one R&B songs, one of which was one of my favorite songs of the New Jack Swing Era, “Tell Me,” written and produced by Narada Michael Walden. Like his debut album, Campbell had a who’s who of music heavyweights writing and producing on “I’m Ready”: Burt Bacharach, Babyface, Darryl Simmons, Walden, and Prince. With such a legendary group of writers and Quincy Jones as the executive producer, this would be the ingredients for a classic album.
Tevin’s falsetto vocal style was heavily influenced by both Michael Jackson and Prince. It is probably why both Jones and Prince took a liking to him and helped mode his career. Jones signed him to his Qwest Records label, and Prince wrote and produced several songs early in Tevin’s career. “I’m Ready,” showed Tevin’s falsetto come to a crescendo, as this was easily the best vocal work he’s ever done.
The first single off the album, “Can We Talk,” written and produced by Babyface and Simmons, turned out to be the biggest hit of Tevin’s career, going to number nine on the Billboard Pop charts and his fourth number one R&B hit. The song is similar to Jodeci’s “Come and Talk to Me,” in which a man has a huge crush on a woman yet doesn’t know what to say to her or how to approach her: “Last night I, I saw you standing. And I started, started pretending. That I knew you, and you knew me too. And just like a roni, you were too shy. But you weren’t the only cause so was I. And I dreamed of you ever since. Now I built up my confidence. Girl next, next time you come my way. I’ll know just what to say…Can we talk for a minute? Girl I want to know your name. Can we talk for a minute? Girl I want to know your name.” Tevin being 16 at the time, was perfect for this song as it could be seen as a teenage boy’s innocent crush on a girl. However, there was nothing innocent about the next single off the album.
The next single, “Shhh,” written and produced by Prince, was a total departure from the wholesome image Jones had crafted for Campbell. It was the total opposite of the innocence of “Can We Talk.” Instead of being shy and scared, “Shhh” had Tevin being seductive and bold: “Shhh, break it down. I don’t want nobody else to hear the sounds. This love is a private affair. Interrupt the flow, no they better not dare. Shhh, we got to break it on down. In the day time, uh, uh, I think not. I’d rather do you after school like some homework, am I gettin’ you hot? In my bedroom? No, ’cause then we have to stop. Please don’t stop. I’d rather wait ’til everyone’s fast asleep then do it in the kitchen on the table top, oh we got to break it on down, oh baby.” Leave it to Prince to write a sexually provocative song for a 16 year old teenage boy. While a good song, it seemed to mature for Tevin at the time. It was probably the main reason why this song didn’t chart at all.
The next single, “I’m Ready,” the title track of the album, was written and produced by Babyface and Simmons. This song accomplished what the previous single couldn’t; elevating Tevin’s sound from a child to an adult. “I’m Ready,” is a coming of age love song about a young man attempting to win back his ex-girlfriend’s heart by promising to always love her: “Baby it was uncool to love me. Then leave me standing here now. Without a goodbye. And maybe I am the fool you call me. Cause I’ll be here standing, waiting to hear you say to me. I’m ready, (you know I’m ready). To love you (to love you). Forever (forever). Hey love now. Come and love me forever more.” “I’m Ready” reached number two on the R&B charts and number nine on the Pop charts.
The maturation of Tevin’s voice continued throughout the rest of the singles released off the albums. Another Babyface and Simmons collaboration, “Always in My Heart,” touched on how outside influences like friends can damage a romantic relationship. “Don’t Say Goodbye,” co-written by Walden and Bacharach, is Tevin begging in his incredible falsetto for his woman not to leave him and to give him another chance. In my opinion, it was the final single off the album that was the greatest song on the album, “Brown Eyed Girl.”
“Brown Eyed Girl,” written by Campbell, Walden and Sally Jo Dakota, is Tevin’s incredible falsetto at its best. Tevin is passionately singing about the woman he loves, his “brown eyed girl.” I have heard this song countless times and never have I gotten tired of it. It is one of the greatest love songs of the New Jack Swing Era, a song so passionately sung by Tevin that it will send chills up your spine: “Brown eyed girl come walk with me. Brown eyed girl come talk with me. I wanna do. All the things in love a man should do. All the little things you want me to. Brown eyed girl, brown eyed girl. Brown eyed girl now do you know. Brown eyed girl that I love you so. My whole life through, I’ve been waiting for a girl like you. Someone I can give sweet kisses to. Brown eyed girl, brown eyed girl.” This song hit home to me personally. At the time, I was in a relationship with a young woman with the most incredible brown eyes. Her eyes lit up the sky when she smiled. When I first heard this song, it was like Tevin was singing about her.
“I’m Ready” would go on to sell over two million copies. Unfortunately, that would be the end of Tevin’s run as a big time artist. Instead of the all star cast of writers and producers, his next album “Back to the World,” was completely overseen by Sean Combs. This album was both a financial and artistic failure. This, coupled with Tevin getting caught having sex with a transvestite, ended his career at the tender age of 21.
“Can We Talk” (Babyface, Daryl Simmons) – 4:44
“Don’t Say Goodbye Girl” (Burt Bacharach, Sally Jo Dakota, Narada Michael Walden) – 4:30
“Interlude” – 0:13
“The Halls Of Desire” (Prince) – 4:36
“I’m Ready” (Babyface) – 4:45
“What Do I Say” (Dakota, Johnny Gill, Walden) – 4:55
“Uncle Sam” (Prince, Paula Sherield) – 3:57
“Interlude” – 0:29
“Paris1798430” (Prince) – 3:37
“Always In My Heart” (Babyface, Simmons) – 5:40
“Interlude” – 0:09
“Shhh” (Prince) – 4:55
“Brown Eyed Girl” (Campbell, Dakota, Walden) – 3:48
“Infant Child” (Walden) – 2:42