How Jodeci’s ‘Forever My Lady’ Influenced Generations of Male Singers
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.
The next piece of the puzzle that would double as the group's secret ingredient would come in the form of Sean "Puffy" Combs, then director of A&R for Uptown. Charged with turning the southern choir boys into stylish guys from around the way, Puffy drew inspiration from his own love affair with hip-hop culture, dressing the group in the latest street-wise fashions and housing them in one of the rougher neighborhoods in Harlem so that they could soak up the vibe of the streets. Before long, Jodeci was a walking embodiment of all things edgy and deemed as the flyest group in all of R&B.
Cutting their teeth with appearances on Father MC's single "Treat Them How They Want To Be Treated," Andre Harrell finally unleashed Jodeci in the winter of 1990, via a performance at Uptown's annual holiday bash. The group failed to disappoint and soon had industry tastemakers chatting about this new promising group that had the potential to be the next big thing in R&B.
Those predictions may have raised the stakes - and anticipation - for Jodeci's debut album, Forever My Lady, but the quartet rose to the occasion, delivering an album that would be one of the most successful releases of 1991.
Led by the group's debut single, "Gotta Love," which landed in February of 1991, Forever My Lady touched down on May 28, 1991, but wouldn't receive much of its fanfare until the group released their follow-up single, "Forever My Lady." Produced by DeVante Swing and Al. B Sure, the classic ballad would be Jodeci's first chart-topping R&B single.
Forever My Lady was also beginning to gain the approval of critics, who may have overlooked the group due to the tepid reception of "Gotta Love." Critic Arion Berger wrote, "A grown-up’s Bell Biv DeVoe with more church and less street, Jodeci are four young Southern men looking for — and finding — the smoothest soul sound around. With writing and production help from new-jack loveman Al B. Sure!, Jodeci have made a forceful and assured debut on Forever My Lady." in his 1991 review of the album for Entertainment Weekly.
Jodeci would dropped two additional No. 1 R&B hits with "Stay" and "Come And Talk To Me," the latter of which would also help usher in the era of the remix, a practice where a revamped version of a song was released, usually with a different beat/lyrics from the original. Those two chart-toppers, along with "Forever My Lady," may have pushed Jodeci's debut album past the three million copies sold mark and be the first tracks to come to mind from Forever My Lady, but the album is much more than three classic singles mixed in with unforgettable singles.
One example of this is "I'm Still Waiting," a slow-jam in the vein of their popular radio records that sees K-Ci shine with his impassioned vocals and his groupmates backing him up on the hook with lines like "I'm still waiting for you to come back to love / To fulfill this life we're dreaming of." The track, which comes on the heels of their three fan favorites, blends seamlessly into "U And I," another tender ballad that serves as a winner. Many listeners would peg Forever My Lady as an album full of sexy slow-burners, but that couldn't be farther from the truth, as the album is jam-packed with uptempo songs for the clubs. "My Phone," is a pulsating number that sees the group lamenting the loss of love, while "Play Thang" is Jodeci's best Guy impression.
Aside from the singles, Forever My Lady's most addictive selection is "It's Alright," which engages listeners with his infectious hook and masterful arrangement. JoJo Hailey gets some solo airtime on "Treat U," which also features a funky rap, courtesy of DeVante Swing, before the crew closes out the ceremonies with the gospel-tinged tune, "Cherish," which misses the mark by a wide-margin and holds the distinction of the most underwhelming cut on Forever My Lady. Jodeci would go on to release two more albums, 1993's Diary of a Mad Band, and their third and final album, The Show, the After Party, the Hotel, in 1996, completing one of the more memorable runs in r&b of the '90s.
At their peak, Jodeci had stiff competition from another R&B quartet, Boyz II Men, whom were seen as the polar opposite of the "Bad Boys of R&B" and were mainstays on the upper rungs of the pop charts. While Jodeci would never reach the same mainstream success of Boyz II Men and would implode before the decade was over, the blueprint they helped lay by mixing velvety R&B vocals with a gritty aesthetic that spoke to the streets has been studied by a majority of the more popular male vocalists of today.
Forever My Lady serves as the genesis of it all and is arguably the most influential R&B album of the past 25 years.