First things first: legendary recording group New Edition is releasing their eighth album, One Love as a part of the hit-making, trendsetting Bad Boy family. The songs-mostly produced by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and a host of young masterminds-are phenomenal. New Edition, celebrating twenty years as a group, again live up to their name: One Love is a classic, but it is the very definition of new.
Ronald DeVoe Jr., Ricardo Bell, Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant and Michael Bivins wish to remind everyone that One Love is not a reunion album. “It feels like a reunion to the public,” says Ronnie, “but we never considered ourselves broken up.” “We might have separated for a minute,” says Johnny. “But,” adds Ricky, “we never got the divorce.”
No. As each of them say, in different ways, the members of New Edition are closer than they are to some members of their own families. Most of the crew have been friends, partners and road-dogs since elementary school. Together they have gone from “boys to men” — they finish each other’s sentences, challenge one another to PlayStation matches, eat each other’s food, give each other space. “Don’t get it twisted,” says DeVoe. “We do fight.” Yep. Like all siblings.
New Edition came together in the Roxbury area of Boston. Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Bobby Brown, friends from the neighborhood, started singing while still in elementary school. In due course, they drafted Ralph Tresvant, and after acing a talent show in 1980, added Ronnie DeVoe. The quintet signed with an independent label in the hopes of creating a new Jackson 5. “We’d perform on tables back then, with just a couple of spotlights,” says Tresvant. “And we loved it.”
The group’s vision of becoming the “new Jackson 5” were realized with the 1983 release of the first single, “Candy Girl,” when the members ranged in age from 13 to 15-and it was a #1 hit. “It’s my favorite old-school NE song,” says Tresvant, “because that’s what kicked it all off. The song and video was us, from top to bottom. We even had on our own clothes for the video”
New Edition’s success came quickly; the release of their debut album Candy Girl (1983) spawned two other massive hits “Is This the End” and “Popcorn Love,” and solidified them as a teen pop phenomenon with hits on both the Pop and R&B charts. In 1984, they signed to MCA Records, and released New Edition that same year which included the #1 R&B hits “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Cool It Now” which was also a Top 5 Pop hit. 1985’s All For Love yielded another Top 5 hit on the Pop chart, “Count Me Out,” and yet another #1 R&B hit “A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes).” The holiday card from NE that year came in the form of the seasonal album, Christmas All Over the World. The next year, Bobby Brown left New Edition to go solo, and New Edition recorded Under the Blue Moon, a collection of R&B songs from the 1950s and ’60s as a quartet. Two years later, in 1988, Johnny Gill, who’d long admired the group, joined New Edition for the group’s fifth album Heart Break, for which NE went to work also with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. “That,” says Ronnie DeVoe, “was one cold, cold winter in Minneapolis.” But when winter was over, NE had cuts like the immortal “Can You Stand the Rain?”
Soon after, the members of New Edition decided they’d branch out-Ricky, Michael and Ronnie formed Bell Biv DeVoe (their first album, 1990’s New Jack swingy Poison, sold ten million), Gill recorded Johnny Gill, for which he won a Grammy, and Ralph Tresvant had R&B hits like “Sensitivity” from his double platinum, self-titled solo debut. Michael Bivins also evolved into a talented executive in the music business, discovering and nurturing the phenomenon that came to be known as Boyz II Men.
In 1996, all six members of New Edition re-grouped for Home Again. It debuted at #1 on the pop charts, and the lead single, “Hit Me Off” went straight to #1 on the R&B charts.
In reflecting on the group’s humble beginnings to the long, winding but prosperous road to the present, Michael Bivins says, “Our little crew outta Boston- together we’ve sold over 40 million records. It’s something we appreciate and we’re proud of,” says Bivins. “We hope One Love reminds our fans of our past accomplishments and they can appreciate where we are now musically.”
One Love marks the beginning of a new association with Combs and Bad Boy Records. “It’s him and us, right down the middle,” says Bivins. “I credit us with being New Edition, and I credit him with knowing what’s relevant now.”
The first single from One Love, “Hot 2 Nite,” produced by newcomer Castor Troy, is a classy club-banger, unabashedly sexy and grown-up. The second “Hot 2 Nite” hit the radio airwaves longtime NE fans were excited: Sought-after film director Hype Williams, who rarely directs videos these days, directed the sensual video for the song in Mexico City. “He wanted to, because he’s a fan,” explains Ricky.
Throughout the album, listeners will hear all of the elements that make New Edition an enduring force: their trademark harmonizing, stormy, triumphant vocals, sensual falsettos, and sexy raps. Super-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis re-teamed with New Edition offering three solid tracks: “Re-write The Memories,” which showcases the timeless New Edition harmonizing, the gem, “Come Home With Me,” and the “feel good,” aptly titled “Newness.”
Another stand-out, “Leave Me,” devastatingly-produced by Mario Winans, is a heartbreaking ballad in the tradition of NE’s “Can You Stand the Rain?” or “Is This The End?” The song is filled with dramatic, smooth vocals from a group not shying away from the seamlessness that comes from over twenty years performing together.
Perhaps lyrics from the first song on the album, “Been So Long,” produced by Stevie J. sum up One Love and New Edition in 2004 the best:
“Everywhere we go, people show us love…All we want to do is spread love. Music is our love.”