New Edition: Call It A Comeback

When Boston grade school pals Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, and Bobby Brown formed a singing group in 1978, they may not have known the impact that their decision would make over the next two decades and beyond. Within two years of getting together, they added Ralph Tresvant and Ronnie DeVoe to the group, and were eventually discovered by Maurice Starr after a series of talent shows.

In 1983 they released the album Candy Girl independently on Starr’s Streetwise label with the hits “Candy Girl”, “Popcorn Love”, and “Is This The End”, and were eventually offered a deal with MCA Records. In 1984 they released their self-titled double-platinum MCA debut, which spawned the hits “Cool It Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man”. As the boys’ vocal maturity was beginning to progress, they completed the platinum All For Love album in 1985 before any of them had even turned 18.

Bobby Brown chose to pursue a solo career in 1986, and came so hard on his debut album that fans wondered what would become of New Edition without him. Nevertheless, the group was reborn in 1989 with the classic double-platinum Heart Break album, with Johnny Gill fielding the spot that Bobby left open. The success of “If It Isn’t Love” and “Can You Stand The Rain” further solidified the young legacy that New Edition had created for themselves. Meanwhile, Bobby Brown’s second solo album, Don’t Be Cruel, was on its way to selling an amazing seven million copies.

All the members split after touring for the Heart Break project to pursue other endeavors. Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill both enjoyed platinum status with their self-titled solo albums in the early 90’s. Ricky Bell, Ronnie DeVoe and Michael Bivins formed Bell Biv DeVoe, and catapulted to the top of the pop charts with their Poison album, churning out five hit singles and selling over three million copies.

More albums were released from each camp as the individual artists attempted unsuccessfully to match their previous sales numbers. Michael kept pace with his own label and management company, discovering groups like Boyz II Men and Another Bad Creation. Johnny linked up with Keith Sweat and Gerald Levert to form LSG. Ronnie got his real estate license. Bobby stayed in the headlines. In 1996, all six men, Bobby included, met up in the studio to record the Home Again album. The reunion gave New Edition two big hits with “Hit Me Off” and “I’m Still In Love With You”, however after a promotional tour for the album, they chose to go their separate ways once again.

In 2004, New Edition is back like a phoenix from the flames of perceived obscurity. Sean “Puffy” Combs signed the men on with Bad Boy to record again – this time without the notorious bad boy, Bobby. Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe took some time to speak with about the challenges that comeback kings face in today’s music scene. Talk to me briefly about signing to Bad Boy and coming back out - how has that been for you and how did that come about?

Ronnie: We were on tour in Summer 2002, touching all our die-hard fans, and Puffy happened to be one of the people at one of our shows, and saw that we still had it and were still relevant as a group. So he got in contact with Mike and asked questions about the present position of our record label, because we had some problems with our record label at the time. But Puffy was willing to do everything to smooth the situation out, along with our lawyers, Mike and our manager. We are here now and we have an incredible record out. ‘Hot To Nice’ is the new single, and you just shot the video right?

New Edition: Yes it is. What’s the theme of the video, what’s going on with that?

Mike: Well it is actually Hype Williams coming out of retirement to work with New Edition; we never had that opportunity before so that is very special. It is very sensual; it’s right there but still TV-friendly. I actually saw a Q-Tip video today, and it reminded me of how he got away with going right there, without them making him cut the stuff out. This is what Hype did with us - he brought the song out even more. He gave the song a look that you don’t hear or can’t really see when you just play the record, and I think he mastered that very well. Who are some of the producers that you guys worked with on the album?

Ronnie: We worked with some classic producers - Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, they handles their business with four joints on there. They are representing for the true new Edition fans. We also have Stevie J on there, which was a big thing for us. Some new and upcoming producers; Ryan Leslie has a few joints on there. We have tracks from the kid Nephew from the Dr. Dre camp so we have a little bit of the West Coast flavor. It’s a great balance of classic New Edition and the bounce of Bad Boy. As well as the Bel Biv Devoe Energy, a little Johnny Gill energy you know. So with the September 28th album, what’s the title of it?

Mike and Ronnie: One Love. Let’s talk a little bit about what happened on the radio in New York earlier this week. There was some conversation about New Edition’s relevance in the marketplace in 2004 and beyond. What do you guys have to say to those critics who are non-believers?

Mike: It’s just a thing that you have to understand here in New York City, they have taken a stance that a couple of the radio stations have taken; that it is important to program a lot of rap. You have a lot of R&B people who were on when we were off, that want to look like rappers. This really didn’t help the look of R&B. When you have a group like New Edition, when we walk in the radio station, the DJ looks like us, we look like the DJ.

When the New Edition name comes up, half of the people that work at the radio station were our age with no jobs when we were younger working. So when they see us coming, now they are thinking about when they were younger, and we were in the business. But that has nothing to do with the music that we make, the clothes that we wear and how we conduct ourselves as professionals. You cannot judge us by our name and our longevity, stamp that and say that our music is not relevant. It makes no sense. Nor can you call the shots on what we do and what our fans mean to us if you don’t leave your station and go to another concert. There was a ten-year-old who was standing next to me, who said she knew all about New Edition because her aunty told her, and she loved all of you guys.

Mike: She can relate to our music because it has some measure of youth to it, she can listen to ‘Candy Girl’, enjoy the song and feel comfortable playing it in the house. A child can hear all our albums; we never really had a ‘sticker album’. Do we have any comments on our friend Bobby Brown? What do you have to say?

Ronnie: There is a sixth mic on stage every night and if Bobby wants to come on stage and do his thing that it is totally up to him. Unfortunately we didn’t get him on this record, because he was out there doing his thing, filming his reality TV show, but the door is always open for him. Right now there is the five of us doing our thing, but there is another level that we can take it to, on a next record so you know so that’s a good thing. What are some your of favorite things to do when you come to New York? Favorite Places to eat? Do you like to just do your show and just chill out?

Mike: I like to eat at the Church on 125th and 8th; the Church has some soul food, the ladies’ in the white outfits.

Ronnie: We all do different stuff, he goes uptown to eat, and I go uptown for a haircut. I always call Herb around 11pm and let him know we are going to do a half an hour popping at one of the hot spots. You broker those real estate deals in the morning?

Ronnie: Yes I do. A lot of people have been supporting New Edition for a long time, and I was able to get my real estate license and learn a few things on that level so that I could help and support people. Help them to get into financial empowerment, that’s the best thing about living right now, being able to own something. We got to get into that a bit more, and teach our kids that at an early age. It’s not about working for the rest of your life, for the man you got to be the man. What do you want your fans to take away from this album?

Mike: Keep doing with you normally do with the album, play it, you know the voices, learn the parts and get ready to go sing them at the show. I heard that there might be a possible tour with Heavy D, and I heard that he might be in studio with New Edition as well?

Ronnie: There are a lot of guys. You have Guy, you got Jodeci, Boys II Men, Usher, Mase, the whole Bad Boy family, they all will probably be on our TV Special. Talk to me a little bit about that.

Mike: We want to know to do a 20th anniversary TV special and we want to invite a lot of people from the 80’s and the 90’s. It might be an LL, Doug E and Slick thing, a show that gives live artists a chance to give the people something else to choose from. We get a chance to celebrate with people who we came up through the ranks with. We did shows with all of those artists and it just seems now, when you watch TV you are near to watching the video. At least with these artists you can see the difference between the studio, the video and the live show. Just getting the opportunity to work with Guy again is going to be big. We are going to bring R&B back; R&B singers put your clothes back on!

Ronnie: we need Tony Toni Tone’, we need SWV, we going to bring all that back!

Mike: R&B is definitely making a comeback!