New Edition is still one of the most beloved R&B groups of all time.
The sextet (that’s often been a quintet and was even briefly a quartet) emerged in the early 1980s as a bubblegum kiddie act in the mold of the Jackson 5, eventually becoming mid-80s chart-toppers on the backs of hits like “Cool It Now,” “Count Me Out” and “Mr. Telephone Man.” Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Ronnie Devoe and Michael Bivins became teen idols for a generation of Black kids growing up in the age of MTV, before Brown’s dismissal in 1986. Johnny Gill would join the remaining members of New Edition in 1987, and the group would release the more mature, New Jack Swing-driven Heart Break album the following year, announcing themselves as a viable, adult R&B act. That same year, Brown would become a solo superstar on the heels of his multiplatinum album, Don’t Be Cruel.
Along with Bobby’s late 80s success, the splintering factions of New Edition would dominate R&B radio into the early 1990s, with a series of inescapable hits penned and produced by hitmakers like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, L.A. Reid and Babyface and the woefully underrated Wolf & Epic. Johnny Gill would resume his previously-established solo career with newfound vigor, as his self-titled 1990 album would be a smash; as would the solo debut of N.E.’s lead singer Ralph Tresvant, released later that year. Bell, Bivins and DeVoe would form BBD, a hip-hop-edged trio that would unexpectedly become chart-toppers themselves with their uber-successful debut album, Poison.
All six members of New Edition would reconvene in 1996 for Home Again, but their individual run of early 90s hits set a standard for New Jack Swing and arguably heightened the legacy of the group while it was on hiatus and as newer acts emerged. So with New Edition’s mini-series looming, we decided it was a good time to take a look at the non-N.E. hits from Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, Ralph and Johnny that defined an era.
“Who’s the Mack”
This midtempo groover didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it was released as the lead single from Tresvant’s poorly-received sophomore album It’s Goin’ Down. That’s a shame–because Rizz effectly plants Marvin Gaye firmly into a 90s groove, courtesy of Jam & Lewis.
“It’s Your Body”
In the mid-1990s, Roger Troutman was experiencing a resurgence via G-Funk; with releases from Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eazy E and 2Pac all featuring the legendary Zapp frontman. He also guested here; on a slinky banger from Johnny’s Let’s Get the Mood Right.
“Stone Cold Gentleman”
Ralph always had a little more edge than folks gave him credit for, and he reunited with N.E.’s superstar bad boy, Bobby Brown, on this dance-driven groove about, what else? Treating your lady right. Ralph loved playing the nice guy.
Bell Biv DeVoe’s music was described as “mentally hip-hop smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel to it,” and this underrated single probably best exemplified their sound. Full of sleazy come-ons and a heavy New Jack Swing groove, it embodies everything that made BBD so popular and influential on 90s R&B.
“When I Need Somebody”
Another woefully underrated single from Tresvant’s oft-skipped second album, this was another gorgeous midtempo track courtesy of Jam & Lewis, with a hook so effortlessly catchy, you can almost hear Janet Jackson singing it.
“Wrap My Body Tight”
The final single from 1990s Johnny Gill is another hit from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Despite his rep as a balladeer, “Wrap My Body Tight” is another classic upbeat dance tune–and the remix featured vocals from New Jack Queen Karyn White.
“Something In Your Eyes”
Compared to their domination from 1988-1991, N.E.-related acts stumbled a little in 1993, and BBD was no exception. Despite the lukewarm reception to their sophomore album Hootie Mack, Ronnie, Mike and Ricky delivered an underrated scorcher with this track–written and produced by L.A. and Babyface.
“There You Go”
One of Johnny Gill’s best ballads, “There You Go” was memorably featured in the 1992 Eddie Murphy rom-com Boomerang. Who wrote it? Take a wild guess: L.A. and Babyface.
“Word To the Mutha!”
After 1988’s successful Heart Break album and Bobby Brown becoming a superstar via Don’t Be Cruel, that same year, N.E.’s branching off made it unclear if the full group would ever reunite. They wouldn’t “officially” until 1996, but on this remix single from BBD’s Poison album, all six members of N.E. got together for some brotherly love–and a memorable video in Boston.
Yep–another hit from L.A. and Babyface. On this New Jack Swing classic, Johnny Gill pledges to be a lover devoted and loyal as a best friend. The video is unintentionally hilarious (Johnny Gill magically helping and singing into a crystal ball kinda makes sense. Sorta.) but the song is still a banger.
“I Thought It Was Me”
Wolf & Epic may not have the name-recognition of Jam & Lewis or L.A. and Babyface–but they did great work on BBD’s debut album. Look no further than this perfect groove–a song that combines hip-hop edge and pop catchiness over lyrics about a woman who isn’t what you think she is.
“Money Can’t Buy You Love”
While Johnny Gill was lending his vocals to the Boomerang soundtrack, Ralph Tresvant delivered one of the best songs on another major 1992 soundtrack–this one was for the not-at-all-successful Damon Wayans flick Mo’ Money. While the movie wasn’t great, the tune was–a supremely catchy midtempo track from Jam & Lewis.
“When Will I See You Smile Again”
BBD were the edgy faction of New Edition spinoff acts, but they showed on this uber-classic R&B ballad that they still knew how to deliver the tenderness. A showcase for Ricky Bell, who’d been little-used as a lead singer in N.E., “…See You Smile Again” became a 90s quiet storm staple.
Another highlight on the lengthy list of chart-smashing hits by Babyface, “Rock Witcha” became a standout on Bobby Brown’s classic Don’t Be Cruel album. And it’s not hard to see why; one of the best melodies and hooks of 80s R&B.
“Do What I Gotta Do”
A lush ballad from the pen of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the second single from Ralph Tresvant’s solo debut is a gorgeously rendered breakup song. Echoing the kind of sentimental fare Jam & Lewis would showcase on Janet Jackson’s albums, it’s still one of the best slow grooves of the era.
BBD solidified their raunchy image with this brazen (and kinda problematic, in hindsight) ode to groupie love. The trio was always the more sex-obsessed N.E. spinoff (yes, even more than Bobby, from a subject-matter standpoint) and they revel in playa come-ons here on their 2nd smash single.
Despite his reputation as the Bad Boy of R&B, this classic love song from Bobby Brown’s breakout album sounds positively innocent. Written/produced by L.A. and Babyface, it’s the album’s most sweetly sentimental moment and one of Brown’s most indelible songs.
“Rub You the Right Way”
Johnny Gill may have been more known for balladry, but one of his greatest songs is a sweaty, club-driven New Jack Swing banger. Gill’s aggressive vocal perfectly matches the high-energy groove provided by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis–but the “stroke applied with tenderness” lyric still gets a chuckle.
“Don’t Be Cruel”
A song that came to epitomize the late 80s/early 90s sound of L.A. and Babyface, the title track from Bobby Brown’s biggest album is one of the greatest New Jack tracks ever recorded. It was also the album’s first single-and, interestingly, it’s lowest-charting.
Ralph Tresvant’s signature song sometimes gets mocked for it’s title, but it’s one of the most definitive singles the superstar production team of Jam & Lewis ever produced. Another track that sounds like the kind of tunes they were producing for Janet Jackson in the late 80s and early 90s, “Sensitivity” is a smooth R&B staple for good reason–and a great showcase for Ralph.
The sweet melodies of L.A. and Babyface are showcased throughout Bobby Brown’s breakout Don’t Be Cruel; but the album’s centerpiece is inarguably this Brown-penned slice of aggressive New Jack Swing. Featuring synths from Teddy Riley and mirroring the sort of sound he was producing for Guy, it became Brown’s unofficial theme song and first No. 1 hit on the Billboard 200.
“My My My”
Johnny Gill had always been the most “grown up” of the New Edition singers and he’d already delivered quiet storm tracks in his pre-N.E. days. But Johnny got his most definitive showcase in this Babyface-penned ballad. A Top 10 pop hit, the tune became his signature song, one of Babyface’s most revered and a 90s standard.
“On Our Own”
The lead single from the Ghostbusters II soundtrack, this L.A. and Babyface hit has long outlived it’s would-be novelty status. Brown makes references to the movie’s themes, but the song still lives independently–an undeniably catchy melody and excellent production make it one of the best New Jack Swing singles of the late 80s and another high point in Brown’s career, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
“Every Little Step”
Yet another great song from the team of Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, “Every Little Step” was the fourth single from Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel and his most enduring. Bolstered by a classic video, the song was Reid’s ode to then-wife Pebbles, but it became the perfect showcase for Brown–who delivered one of his best performances on a record.
That rat-a-tat drumbeat. That grooving bassline. That hook. Bell Biv DeVoe’s first single was their greatest moment and quite possibly the greatest New Jack Swing song of all time. Featuring Ricky Bell’s vocalizing and raps from Mike Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe, “Poison” set the BBD template and opened the door to an entire generation of R&B singers embracing hip-hop imagery and attitude; and it’s appeal has never waned. It’s as effective a party-starter today as it was 25 years ago.