New Edition was the first (and really only) group of black American kids making music in the public spotlight during the early and mid-Eighties. I spun my “Is This the End” and “Popcorn Love” 45s like they were going out of style and looked up to Ronie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike and Ralph like big brothers.
By the time I was a teenager, although I was still a huge N.E. fan (Heart Break is an amazingly underrated album from the New Jack era), the fellas were just a wee bit too Theo Huxtable for my tastes. I needed a little bit of the polish to be worn off.
Enter Bell Biv DeVoe.
By the beginning of 1990, Bobby Brown was a superstar-arguably the biggest male singer in pop music at the time. A solo album from N.E.’s lead singer Ralph Tresvant had been in the discussion stages for several years by this point. And Bobby’s replacement, Johnny Gill, had already had a moderately successful solo career and it was no surprise that he was going to resume it now that he’d raised his profile via N.E. hits like “Can You Stand the Rain”. So what were the other guys-Ron DeVoe, Ricky Bell, and Mike Bivins-gonna do?
The answer-outsell Johnny and Ralph’s solo albums and lend a large hand towards blurring the lines between hip-hop and R&B with one of the Nineties’ definitive albums.
The first time I heard “Poison”, it was a Saturday afternoon, and I was watching “Video Music Box”, New York City’s long running (25 years plus) video program, which still runs on public television, and was one of only two places folks without cable could check out hip-hop videos. I missed VJ Ralph McDaniel’s introduction, but once I looked up at the TV screen, I did a spit-take. Ron, Mike and Ricky made a record? By themselves? And it was dope? Poison was easily the most authentic hip-hop record to hit the charts at that time, even though Ricky was doing much more singing than Mike and Ron were rapping. Nevertheless, at a time when Tone Loc and MC Hammer still represented hip-hop to much of middle America, BBD was a much needed shot in the arm as far as bringing urban culture to the masses without being threatening (or being too safe, either).
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Although subsequent BBD albums didn’t have the same impact, Poison (the song and the album) remains a classic. 21 years after the album went multi-Platinum, and with BBD now in their forties (good God, I’m getting old), the fellas still have it. I was fortunate enough to see New Edition at the Beacon Theater in NYC several years ago and they turned it out. Most recently, BBD popped up on the Jimmy Fallon show and performed their biggest hit to an appreciative audience who probably quite clearly remembered rocking overalls with one strap down (and/or one leg up) and trying to replicate the group’s dance moves in the “Poison” video. They were joined by the Legendary Roots Crew, and I wonder if the fellas had a chance to chat with ?uestlove about Philly’s finest jacking BBD’s studio equipment to record their first album Do You Want More?!?!?!? Check out the liner notes to The Roots’ anthology for more details.
You can check out the Fallon performance here.
You can also read a piece I did for Popdose celebrating the 20th anniversary of Poison last year here.