A couple of weekends ago, the Internet decided to have a large ranking party regarding R&B groups. This is rather normal given that it: a) occurred on a Saturday night; and b) was spurred by New Yorkers bored to tears because of a snowstorm. The crux of the argument began to question where seminal ’90s group Jagged Edge belonged in a class with 112 and others. The answer is such: If there were a class of 112 R&B groups from the 1990s, Jagged Edge would be group 112. The actual group 112 may wind up somewhere in the Top 10.
Of male groups in the ’90s, the definitive rank is Boyz II Men at No. 1 and Jodeci at No. 2. Tony! Toni! Toné! at No. 3, Mint Condition at No. 4 and Dru Hill at No. 5. Argue it all you want, but those are the facts. Apologies to H-Town and Ideal, hometown groups that brought sex (H-Town) and pettiness (Ideal) to the conversation, but they still look up at everyone else on the list.
As the night progressed, many a fan decided to lump New Edition into the discussion. Which is partially untrue and incorrect for a number of reasons. One, New Edition, regardless of personnel, found their biggest fame as a group in the 1980s. They peaked with Heart Break, their first album after Johnny Gill replaced Bobby Brown. The two subsequent albums from the Boston Boys (sorry, New Kids on The Block) — 1996’s Home, produced mostly by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and 2004’s One Love — debuted at No. 1 and No. 12, respectively. Much of the group's '90s appeal came as the members became more famous while not in New Edition.
But why was New Edition such a persistent name that kept coming up, even if their rank seemed only to incorporate what all six members of the group had done? To put it plainly, New Edition took the baton from the Jacksons as the quintessential African-American boy group. Ronnie, Bobby, Ralph, Ricky and Mike were molded as squeaky-clean Boston teens with smooth vocals and even smoother charm and faces. Only thing was, New Edition’s drama, both internal and external, made them legends. On Monday, the group was honored with its very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On Tuesday, BET will begin airing a three-part miniseries on the group, aptly titled The New Edition Story.
Before we get to why you should watch The New Edition Story, an anecdote needs to be told. During my freshman year in college, I dated a girl. She was sweet and somehow found enough patience to agree to date me. My first relationship fail? Going to see Black Snake Moan as a first-date film. Here’s a lesson, kids: Don’t go see a movie in which Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake and a ton of racial and sexual tension/abuse are plot devices for a first date. Anyway, this girl and I dated for six months, standard early-college stuff. Only problem was, I lied about a lot of stuff. It also wasn’t that much fun at 19 years old when you’re juggling concepts of whether or not someone’s rather conservative life gels with your moderate one. Also, you have zero idea to do anything since you didn’t have a solid job for the entirety of the relationship. Point is, after we eventually broke up (because we were most certainly going to break up), my friends piled into my car and we scrolled through songs on my iPod. The song that frequently came up just to tease me about my breakup? New Edition’s “If It Isn’t Love." College friends are a-holes, but they at least have great musical taste.
Back to the point at hand. The New Edition Story is going to be outright, must-see television for everybody. You’ve got a young cast, all viable young faces who literally went through New Edition boot camp in order to nail the roles. Whether or not you consider watching TV while also on social media a thing, The New Edition Story will be the first non-sporting event of 2017 that a large chunk of people will be live-tweeting.
“New Edition is the alpha and the omega of this shit,” one could readily argue. Make an emotional, adult album that sheds all of the prior labels of you being teeny boppers and more like men? That’s Heart Break. Have all of your members enjoy a form of success, whether in their own groups or solo? That’s all New Edition. The “R&B Wu-Tang,” according to Phonte Coleman, managed to release only six albums as a group. However, New Edition’s DNA can be found in the following groups: Bell Biv Devoe, Boyz II Men, Another Bad Creation and 702. That is not even counting every group from here on out that mimicked every thing that they did. Or the fact that another Boston teen group, NKOTB, was a white rip-off of what New Edition had been.
What should non-NE diehards expect from The New Edition Story? Simple: drama. Label drama, general boys coming-of-age drama, Bobby. Brown. Drama. The miniseries will probably leave some things out but they’ll get the basics. They’ll probably nail down how screwed up NE’s label situation was throughout their career. And they’ll harp big-time on Brown's getting voted out of the group, returning with his own solo album (1986’s King of Stage) and the creation of Heart Break. Are they going to dish on the fact that MCA Records detonated a New Edition bombshell when it released Heart Break and Don’t Be Cruel on the SAME DAY in 1988? Or how contentious the New Edition/Guy beef was? Or the 1988 tour in which Al B Sure! had to deal with both New Edition at their peak and Bobby Brown at his? I hope so.
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Groups tend to go by this weird archetype where there’s a tough one, a sensitive one and a cool one; basically, how anyone would cast a typical teen drama. New Edition didn’t operate like that, regardless if Ralph Tresvant’s solo track “Sensitivity” is as literal as one could get. We joke about Johnny Gill, but “Rub You The Right Way” and “My My My” secured his spots as a solo star. Bell Biv Devoe doesn’t really need any further discussion; we’ve been questioning the alternative fact of trusting a woman with a big butt and a smile for more than 25 years now. Even a secondary group like mid-'90s trio LSG found success as Gill, Keith Sweat and Gerald Levert gave way to other groups such as TTG with Tyrese, Tank and Ginuwine. Thing is, all of the success leads back to the five boys from Boston and the D.C. balladeer they picked up when all seemed for naught.
New Edition walked in nearly every facet that 1980s popular music produced. They moved from bubblegum to traditional doo-wop, and right when Brown found his edge solo-wise, Janet Jackson and Jam & Lewis's Minneapolis sound had won over the world with Control. It almost crippled the group, but the maturity of Heart Break saved them. Don’t Be Cruel effectively made Bobby Brown, and then opened us further into a world that was as breathtaking as it was self-destructive. Remember, Bobby Brown gave us a karate kick out of a helicopter in Ja Rule’s “Thug Lovin’” video. Never forget it.
Monday was the perfect time for New Edition to get their just due on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Even if theirs should have come way before New Kids on the Block's did, their legacy in music is secure. This week is a celebration of that legacy.
The New Edition Story airs Tuesday at 8 central on BET. Want to check out the New Edition Story with a group of New Edition fans? Day & a Dream — disclosure: I am editor-in-chief — will host a large watch party all three nights beginning tonight at Kro Bar, 4803 Main. For details see here.