For some time now the R&B market-place has been dominated by cookie-cutter like male vocal groups. While none of these groups posses the harmonic maturity that framed the success of Boys II Men or with the exception of Next’s RL, dominant leads in the vein of Jodeci’s KC and Jo Jo Hailey, they all have managed to create small niches where they shine one or two singles at a time and then disappear in the pack. This niche was of course created by New Edition damn near 20 years ago. Boyz II Men and Jodeci are partially the offspring of the creative and image meltdown experienced by New Edition because of puberty, Hip-Hop, and Bobby Brown’s ego. The names read like a list of fleeting and ultimately forgettable three minute and 50-second memories: Color Me Badd, Lo-Key, Troop, All 4-One, Hi-Five, Shai, Silk, Intro, UNV, Soul for Real, Solo, Ol ‘Skool, H-Town, Ideal, After 7, Dru Hill and 112. The same can be said for Jagged Edge, who latest release J.E. Heartbreak, references perhaps New Edition’s most complete recording.
Released in 1988 NE Heartbreak marked New Edition’s break from the bubble gum Soul of their youth into a world where thuggish-lover appeal was just coming into vogue (think Big Daddy Kane as opposed to Ja Rule or DMX). Sans Brown and introducing Johnny Gill to share vocal leads with Ralph Tresvant and Ricky Bell, NE Heartbreak would dramatically impact the style and substance of contemporary male R&B groups. While the grown-up New Edition, who Jagged Edge members refer to as their “Beatles,” paled in comparison of the Temptations or Isley Brothers, Jagged Edge does little to distinguish themselves from the host of wannabes who currently vie for whatever mantle of success New Edition could even hold claim to. Largely produced by Jermaine Dupri and new-comer Bryan-Michael Cox, J.E. Heartbreak, the follow-up to the groups gold selling debut A Jagged Era is as polished as most contemporary R&B production. Most of the songs were written by group members and brothers Brandon and Brian Casey.
Public response to the project’s lead single and video “He Can’t Love You” correctly suggest that it is Jagged Edge’s moment. The lead single is one of the project’s strongest songs. Both “He Can’t Love You” and “Healing” another strong track feature the kind of Spanish guitar riffs that were so refreshing in R&B about four years, but now seem dated and overused. “Can I get with You” makes interesting use of Marcus Miller’s “Much Too Much” as a sample and “Keys to the Range,” which initially appeared on the soundtrack of the film In Too Deep, is a nice male counter to current R&B staples like TLC’s “Scrubs” and Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills.” The ballad “Let’s Get Married” (no relation to the Al Green classic) is also a solid single and likely follow-up to “He Can’t Love You.”
While “He Can’t Love You” is rightfully in heavy rotation on BET’s Midnight Love and the Soul of VH-1 and probably more than a few house parties, that fact of the matter is that a year from now, it, like Jagged Edge themselves, will probably be forgotten. Not so much a commentary on the talents of Jagged Edge, but more on the sorry state of most contemporary R&B.