Come Back to Us: 90s Artists Who Left Too Soon
If you are like me and have your iPod divided by mood, feeling, or those awesome Genius playlists, you start to reminisce from time to time about what happened to some people in the music industry. I am not talking about down and out tragedies like the members of the 27 club. But I am talking about acts who were very talented and for some reason or another disappeared without much warning.
One thing I appreciated about growing up in the 1990s was the diversity of music offered. There was a pretty good equilibrium of Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop, Alternative, Country and Rock. Nobody was arguing about the uniformity of the radio or calling for the Death of Auto-Tune (Thanks Jay-Z!).
We were all happy to turn the dial in get our Shania fix or sing along to Sheryl Crow. And at the same time you could be feeling good to the grooves of Boyz II Men and the beats of the incomparable Dr. Dre. Everyone was happy for the most part.
But fore every long lasting and successful artist to emerge, there were those who had their shine but unfortunately due to record label issues, personal demons, or just a shift in the musical landscape they lose their place.
Crying for Jodeci
As much as I love Boyz II Men, you had to admit they were a little too square at times. Not that being square is bad, but sometimes you have to make things interesting. And that is exactly what Jodeci did for many of us R&B lovers for most of the 1990s.
Formed in the great city of Charlotte, North Carolina, the members (two sets of brothers) met through their high school girlfriends. Cedric and Joel Hailey (K-Ci and JoJo) and Dalvin and Donald DeGrate (Mr. Dalvin and Devonte Swing) came together and eventually decided to get serious about making music.
With combined skills in writing, producing, and singing, they made their way to New York where they were heard by Hip-Hip icon Heavy D. Heavy D talked to Uptown Records CEO Andre Harrell who heard them and decidedly signed them to the label.
The group made their debut on Father MC's single "Lisa Baby" but their own first single "Gotta Love" did not strike the right chord with audiences. They finally caught on with their first #1 R&B single of five, "Forever My Lady."
As one of the acts of Uptown Records, they helped redefine the label's image in the 1990s. Instead of polished R&B produced by acts such as New Edition and Boyz II Men- there was more of an emphasis on combining Hip-Hop and R&B.
New Jack Swing had caught on thanks to the help of other Uptown acts like Guy and Al B. Sure! but thanks to the influence of new and darker Hip-Hop, there was a push to take R&B even further.
Jodeci used the Bobby Brown template of bad boy R&B and added Hip-Hop swagger to create a more rough around the edges approach to their music. Sagging pants, backwards caps, and over-sized jerseys replaced suits, ties, and hats of previous generations.
But above and beyond that, Jodeci could sing. Lead singer K-Ci Hailey used his Pentecostal upbringing to help distinguish Jodeci from other acts at the time. And it worked. Their influence was almost immediate.
BET and MTV had their videos in heavy rotation. But what was most impressive was that they took to the mainstream through shows such as The New Mickey Mouse Club performing their own covers of these songs.
While Jodeci had several huge R&B hits that are now considered standards, they never had the mainstream appeal of Boyz II Men. This was mainly because they nor their label felt validated by doing so.
By 1997, even Jodeci was feeling the pull of a changed industry. Things were becoming slicker and more polished in Hip-Hop while R&B was staying afloat by going either mainstream via pop appeal or the Neo-Soul movement.
Their last album The Show, The After Party and The Hotel marked the end of an era. Brothers K-Ci and JoJo went on to have a super successful solo career with their own string of hits.
But by the early 2000s, they were gone as well. Drugs, alcoholism, and legal issues stood in the way of the group reuniting. Yet in 2009 the released a single "Knocking Your Heels" alongside fellow 90s group H-Town.
K-Ci and JoJo have since done a show on the TV One chronicling their recovery from addiction and there are tentative plans for the group to do another album.
Whatever happens, we at least have great memories and great tunes to remember them by.
Here Without Dido
If you happen to be reading this across the pond, Dido is still enjoying alot of success. But for those stateside of us who remember her back in the days of "Thank You," we long for those soulful pop ditties to get us through the day.
Dido first came to the attention of the American audience when her song "Here With Me" was the the theme to the cult WB hit, Roswell. I did not even watch the show but that song gut stuck in my head quite quickly.
Even though she had been around in the UK for a while, it was our first taste of what she could do with a few chords and her trademark breathy vocals.
But one song completely took us away and then some. "Thank You" is quite possibly the sweetest love song to not explicitly mention love ever. Written for her fiance at the time, she somehow managed to take a song that sounded like a journal entry and turn it into a a hit.
And then Eminem turned it into a bigger hit by using it as the chorus for his now classic single, "Stan." Dido appeared in the video as Stan's long-suffering pregnant girlfriend.
After that she released another album, Life for Rent, which spawned the hit single "White Flag." After this, many of us stateside saw less and less of Dido.
What happened? She maintained international success but for some reason or another she was never as big as she was in the US. For me, I think it was again the curse of fickle American ears. When you're hot, you're hot and when you're lukewarm, it's as good as being cold.
Her style of music also appeals to a more Avant Garde crowd that does not always show up during the first week of record sales.
But her influence is clear when you see artists with unique vocals getting attention more and more in the mainstream. She also helped pave the way for future cross-pond crossover artists like Amy Winehouse and Adele.
Can't Say Goodbye to Tevin Campbell
Before Justin Bieber came along, us 90s kids had a real child phenom on our hands. A guy who could truly sing and give us his heart and soul within four short minutes. Tevin Campbell had a dynamic voice that seemed misplaced for such a young kid.
And what was truly amazing about his reign was that his material was not only unique but his voice was definitely that of a prodigy.
His first album was released at the tender age of twelve but the soulfulness within his voice echoed a maturity and wisdom that was quite similar to Michael Jackson at the beginning of J5 mania.
Tevin Campbell was mentored and guided by Quincy Jones and also made his first appearance on the Prince soundtrack album for Graffiti Bridge(yeah, I didn't see it either, sorry Prince).
However, he continued to go through the 1990s releasing four albums. The most successful of which being I'm Ready released in 1993 which spawned four charting R&B hits, the most recognizable being "Can We Talk" which hit number one on the R&B singles chart.
Campbell became a household name making the rounds on BET's Video Soul and the now iconic Fresh Prince of Bell Air. His music was featured regularly on the Mickey Mouse Club performed by future superstars Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake.
Yet by the end of the 1990s, his career stalled due to lackluster songs as well as a run-in with the law. Campbell was arrested in the fall of 1999 for attempting to solicit a lewd act from an undercover cop.
Since then, he has not released or made an album but has definitely drawn a lot of interest from several fans. He has maintained a steady acting career portraying Seaweed in Broadway's version of Hairspray.
That being said, I am definitely hoping for a comeback. To me, he had one of the best and most dynamic voices of several generations but because of entering the entertainment industry at such a young age, he fell prey to the wrong material among other things.
But hearing him sing once will definitely leave you wanting more.