Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
Although New Edition’s legacy has long been cemented within the pop and R&B canons, the renewed interest and resurgent nostalgia that has enveloped the group within the past few weeks, largely due to BET’s wonderful—albeit long overdue—The New Edition Story, has been remarkable to behold. Like millions of my fellow music heads who grew up in the ‘80s and entered their teenage years with the advent of the ‘90s, New Edition was an indispensable part of my childhood soundtrack, dating back to the moment I first heard their debut single “Candy Girl” and was instantly hooked back in 1983.
Arguably inspired by the legacy of the original soul boy band, The Jackson 5, group members Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill redefined the R&B group aesthetic and sound for a whole new generation during the final two decades of the 20th century. Through their unrivaled penchant for slick songcraft and spirited performance, the Boston-bred ensemble raised the bar of professionalism for aspiring R&B and pop acts to incredible new heights. Indeed, New Edition became the prototype for that oh-so delicate balance between success and quality, offering the creative and commercial blueprint that all others attempted to replicate in the years that followed.
But with five acclaimed albums under their belts by the end of the ‘80s, leaving little left for them to prove, the individual members of New Edition grew increasingly restless and opted to explore their musical independence. Brown had already set the precedent for autonomy when he left the group in 1985 to launch his solo career. His stellar 1988 sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel—amazingly released by MCA Records on the same day the label released New Edition’s equally superb Heart Break LP – was a tour de force. Aided in large part by a handful of crossover radio hits like “My Prerogative,” “Every Little Step,” “Roni,” “Rock Wit’cha,” and the title track, Don’t Be Cruel sold millions, while becoming one of the seminal long players that defined the new jack swing era.
Meanwhile, Bell, Bivins, DeVoe, Tresvant, and Gill (who debuted with the group on Heart Break) were able to witness first-hand through their former colleague’s breakthrough success that creative vitality and commercial viability were not necessarily contingent upon preserving the group dynamic.
So they each took the leap of faith in exploring their own music, with Bell, Bivins and DeVoe uniting to release their debut effort Poison under the Bell Biv DeVoe moniker in March 1990, Gill unveiling his self-titled third LP the following month, and Tresvant flying solo with his stellar, self-titled debut album released later that year. Propelled by multiple chart-busting singles, each album was successful in its own right and signaled that New Edition had pulled off the rare feat of extending their prowess as a group to the solo careers of not just select members, but rather all of them.
To keep the New Edition love going strong and to further indulge our fondest memories of their unforgettable music, we’ve compiled an expansive playlist featuring more than 60 tracks spanning their prolific group and solo discographies. Unlike our previous “Portrait of the Artist” playlists which don’t necessarily stick to the chronological sequence of artists’ catalogs, we decided to buck that trend with this mix, in order to trace the group’s musical evolution from 1983’s Candy Girl all the way to Bell Biv DeVoe’s fourth studio album Three Stripes, released just twelve days ago.
We hope you enjoy this special tribute playlist, and in case you missed BET’s The New Edition Story, you can watch all three installments online here or during the encore marathon slated to air on BET February 20th.