[18 November 2007]
It was rough reading an interview with producer Jermaine Dupri in Vibe magazine recently and seeing him call his proteges Jagged Edge “the last R&B group standing”. It’s not really a false statement; the landscape for black groups (let’s forget about black bands, who disappeared nearly a decade and a half ago) has emptied out considerably since the glory days of the ‘90s. The majority of the groups that were popular have split up, and the handful that are left (Silk, Boyz II Men, graddaddies like The Temptations, Isleys and New Edition) are in a radically faded state. It’s gotten so bad that this year’s American Music Awards neglected to include a category for Favorite R&B Band, Duo or Group for the first time ever.
Jagged Edge’s ascension to the top of the R&B heap is completely by default. Not to say they’re not talented. They’ve got a rich harmonic blend with a churchy kick. However, it’s probably safe to say that the group hasn’t expanded much creatively in the decade since their first album was released. Matter of fact, it would be pretty difficult to tell any of Jagged Edge’s six studio albums apart from one another if you removed the hit singles. Hell, as the hit medley that serves as the intro to their new Baby Makin’ Project reveals, you can hardly tell their hit singles apart! It’s a curse of sorts, which continues to manifest itself on this latest effort.
All of the songs on Baby Makin’ Project follow the same general outline. They file along unobtrusively at the same medium pace. There’s not a club banger on this album-which would offer a bit of stylistic variety, although (as is typical of the R&B group) their forte is definitely not the up tempo track. They’ve also maybe learned a lesson or two from the debacle that was their self-titled 2006 CD, a CD whose lack of success hastened the end of their Sony Music deal (this album is their first release on Def Jam, which boasts mentor Dupri as president). There are no guest rappers, and the crassness that marked songs like “Ass Hypnotic” on their last album has been left at the side of the road here in favor of love songs that still wallow in thug cliché, although without going completely overboard.
So what you wind up with is a typical boilerplate R&B album. One of Jagged Edge’s other faults is that they lack a powerhouse lead vocalist. No Beyonce, no Sisqo, no K-Ci. Without a superstar in their midst, or the clean-cut pop appeal of a Boyz II Men, their music lacks personality. Of course, the absence of a real “lead” figure just might be why they’ve stayed together so long. At any rate, it’s certainly not a painful listen (like much of their last album), but it’s not particularly exciting, either. There are little tidbits that pop up every now and then to jolt you into paying attention, like the equally boring Ashanti’s guest verse on “Put a Little Umph in It”, or the fact that “I’ll Be Damned” completely recycles the melody from their first ballad hit, “Gotta Be”.
There’s the obligatory “girl, you made me look like a fool” song (“Whole Town’s Laughing”, actually one of the album’s better tracks), the slightly racy sex song (“Get This”, where they ask their girl to “do that thing with your lips”), and let’s not forget the album’s last track, “Turn U On”, which manages to be the album’s designated Internet-sex song and then ups the ante by borrowing liberally from the group’s own “Promise”, Usher’s “Nice & Slow” (which was co-written by members of the group) and Zapp’s ‘80 classic “Computer Love”. As the cherry on top, they employ that annoying vocoder trick that T-Pain has brought back into style of late.
In a way, Jagged Edge are like the R&B version of the Backstreet Boys. They found huge success with a particular sound, and they’re going to continue exploiting that sound long after it’s stopped paying commercial dividends. While there’s a lot to be said about not compromising or following trends, you’ve gotta think that after making the same record six times in a row, a lot of folks have to have stopped listening. And after this album, you can probably place me onto that pile as well.