The sound of R&B today is a mixed-bag, by most accounts. Sure, there are plenty of vocalists still carrying on the tradition of soulful voices of the past, but there is also an abundance of R&B acts that are moving further and further away from the template set by their predecessors while veering towards the world of hip-hop. This evolution has more than a few listeners worried that the artists have lost sight of the line between sweet and street that was straddled by the acts of yesteryear, most notably R&B quartet Jodeci.
It was them that helped to usher in the era of the “Bad Boy” in R&B grabbing the baton from Bobby Brown, who famously flirted with hip-hop on his multi-platinum solo debut, Don’t Be Cruel, in 1988. But unlike Bobby Brown, who donned suits, Jodeci opted for a look that was more 125th Street than Fashion Avenue for the photo shoot for their 1991 debut, Forever My Lady, an album that would forever alter the landscape of R&B
Comprised of K-Ci and Jojo Hailey, and DeVante and Dalvin Degrate, the two sets of brothers may have been considered new jacks during their rise to fame, but were actually veterans at their craft, with many years of performances to their credit. Hailing from North Carolina, K-Ci and JoJo got their first taste of success as part of a family gospel group called Little Cedric & the Hailey Singers. Releasing three albums (Jesus Saves, I’m Alright Now, and God’s Blessings), with K-Ci being crowned as “the Michael Jackson of Gospel,” him and JoJo would make their transition into the world of secular music after meeting DeVante and Dalvin through K-Ci’s girlfriend at the time.
“There was this girl gospel group called UNITY and then the Don DeGrate Delegation, which Devante and I played in,” Mr. Dalvin recalled in an interview with Soul Culture. “So we met some of the girls from UNITY and their names were Barbara Jean and Poo-Poo… Well, Poo-Poo was dating K-Ci before we even met. Barbara Jean would always tell us that we need to meet K-Ci and Jojo.”
The group would hit it off and eventually move in together, the crew combined their production talents with the Hailey brothers’ vocal prowess, forming Jodeci. While DeVante’s first attempt to find an entry into the music industry, a pilgrimage to Prince’s Paisley Park Studios in Minnesota, was unsuccessful, the prodigious producer used the rejection as the fuel to power his ascent as a creative. But it would be DeVante’s second pilgrimage, this time to New York and with his groupmates in tow, that would prove to be the charm.
Traveling to New York with only $300 to their name, Jodeci caught their big break after giving an impromptu, live audition for Uptown Records’ CEO Andre Harrell, who – at the recommendation of Heavy D – decided to add the group to the Uptown roster immediately. “We went to the office that they were in, and Andre asked them to sing again. When they did, we were all blown away” Jeff Reed, an Uptown artist at the time, remembers.