New Edition Celebrates 40 Years Of Music Greatness…Together

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Welcome to The Mothership, home of New Edition. For close to two months while N.E. has been touring close to three dozen cities as part of the Legacy Tour, the great, big, dressing room in every arena has served as inner sanctum for the legendary collective.

Everything in The Mothership is lined up immaculately and uniformly. Six chairs are set up against the wall and six different signs hang on the wall above each chair. Besides the “N.E.” logo, the sign has each member of the group’s name on it; (left to right) Johnny Gill, Ronnie DeVoe, Ralph Tresvant, Ricky Bell, Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins, designating which chair is assigned to who. Each sign also contains very specific instructions, “PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE ANYTHING FROM THIS AREA!!!!!!!!!” To the right of each chair are three pairs of black shoes and one pair of white sneakers.

Across from the chairs, laying neatly on a long wooden table, are six bathrobes, six toiletry bags with each member of New Edition’s initials on each bag, various toiletry items at each setting like mouthwash and lotion, six black belts, six white towels, and at Ralph’s station, there’s a pack of Sour Patch Kids and Welch’s Fruit Snacks.

There’s a wardrobe rack with several jackets for each member and an adjoining room that houses more parts of their outfits. That space is highlighted by various colored leather coats (each member has their name embroidered in coat to distinguish which coat belongs to who) and matching hats. In the hallway, Aaron Hall from Guy is walking by greeting people. A few feet away from the dressing room, two women are steaming New Edition’s shirts. Further down the hall, past Keith Sweat’s dressing room and the catering area, are a gaggle of MILFS and Aunties who undoubtedly favored themselves as Candy Girls back in the ’80s. The ladies are waiting patiently to gaze upon the former teen idols while various hits and beloved album cuts from N.E.’s catalog like “Delicious” play.

One by one, N.E. flows in. First Ricky Bell, 10 minutes later Bobby Brown and his friend, former Def Jam A&R Bimmy Antney. Mike Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe, Ralph Tresvant come next, Johnny Gill is running a little behind.

It’s April 20 and New Edition, Keith Sweat, Guy, and Tank have made their way to Long Island’s UBS Arena for the Legacy Tour. The previous night saw Bobby and Bimmy hanging out with Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks at the Times Square location of Brooklyn Chop House. This evening, it’s around 6 p.m., three hours before New Edition are to take the stage as headliners and the group’s ties to the culture are being further celebrated. Executives from The Universal Hip-Hop Museum are on hand, officially adding some of the group’s memorabilia to their engaging list of artifacts. It’s only right, New Edition came out of the womb representing Hip-Hop.

It was early 1983, a year before classic culture films “Breakin” and “Beat Street” would both hit theaters. Young Black kids got a to see a reflection of themselves in the form of five adolescent boys from Boston (famously, Johnny Gill wouldn’t join the group until almost a half of a decade later, as Bobby Brown left, soaring as a solo artist) appearing on their TV screens. It was the video for “Candy Girl” and New Edition literally entered our TV screens poppin’ down New York CIty subway stairs from the platform to the streets. They looked like every kid from the hood from themes to the clothes. Instead of rappin’ though, they hit us with a signature melody that would last the test of time. The song wouldn’t end, however, without the kids dropping rhymes. R&B and Hip-Hop, N.E. has always been about encompassing Black culture as whole.

“It was important to honor New Edition because so many people don’t understand that their roots began 40 years ago in Hip-Hop clubs,” details Rocky Bucano, Executive Director of the Board of Trustees of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum. “Their first shows when they were out there touring the first song ‘Candy Girl,’ those first club dates were all Hip-Hop clubs. So they’d perform with Run-DMC and Whodini, Force MDs and other groups that were coming out and prevalent at that time. Sal Abbatiello from the Disco Fever, which is one of the first clubs that they performed at, was there. So it was a great night overall, and we appreciate New Edition.”

“Although, you know, some may say, ‘Oh, they’re a boy band.’ We [in the culture] know that they’re R&B. We know that they’re also Hip-Hop,” says A. Troy Brown of the Black Promoters Collective. The BPC is an alliance made up of six of the top Black concert promoters and their companies. Besides tours by the likes of Mary J. Blige and Maxwell, the BPC are the ones who brought last year’s New Edition headlined Culture Tour and 2023’s Legacy Tour to major venues such as Madison Square Garden and the All-State Arena. “So when we talk about Teddy Riley and New Jack Swing and the melding of R&B and Hip-Hop and funk and all of that, New Edition sits right at the center of that. They made it possible for Hip-Hop artists to tour in arenas. New Edition and Run-DMC had to go out together in order for Run-DMC and a lot of those Hip-Hop artists to have insurance to be able to tour in the arenas.”

Flyer for  New Edition & RUN D.M.C. show. March 10th, 1984, Dayton, OH.
Flyer for New Edition & RUN D.M.C. show. March 10th, 1984, Dayton, OH.

From 1983-1985, New Edition operated like a well-oiled machine, dropping albums every year, going multiplatinum, touring non-stop (a young Madonna opened up for them early in their career) and becoming iconic with not just monster hit records like “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Count Me Out,” but being heralded for the way they delivered live. Accolades that still ring supreme today. No other group of their time back then or even now can see them on the stage with their precision dance move synchronization. Things were moving so fast and constant for them in the ’80s, they all agree it was “a blur.” 1988, though, was the year that solidified New Edition as legends. No more “boy band,” these were grown men now, gaining independence and a newfound sound and looks.

Bobby Brown changed the game with “Don’t Be Cruel,” while N.E.’s revamped lineup introduced a fresh dynamic to the group with Johnny Gill’s signature power vocals. Too much talent under one family tree. No fair.

In the 35 years since Johnny debuted on the classic N.E. Heartbreak (naysayers who had any reservations about J.G. joining the group ate pounds of crow after hearing “Boys To Men”), New Edition have all established themselves individually with classic songs and albums. With this as a feat no other group can boast, NE will tell you—thankfully for them and their “NE4LifeErs” fans—they all discovered what a blessing unity is. They all realized that together—all six—not only are they a multi-generational, transcending unstoppable force as performers, but they really are happier personally.

All six members of New Edition laugh at a joke from Ronnie Devoe.
All six members of New Edition laugh at a joke from Ronnie Devoe.

As all six members filed into the Mothership this spring to sit down with VIBE, the smiles and laughs didn’t stop. Brotherhood over everything. Here, they reflect on their 40 years in the game, tell us what they think about being called “The GOATS,” and reveal the one honor they feel they deserve.

VIBE: We’re here in New York. The whole city has been anticipating this tour date. I’ve had a chance to see a couple of the shows. A lot of energy, everybody is leaving happy. What’s your reflection of “The Legacy Tour” as it was coming to an end?

Bobby Brown: The last two weeks of the show. It’s been hype. It’s been a job, it’s been grueling. But at the same time, it’s been good to be out with your brothers, just enjoying the people coming out and seeing “The Legacy….”

One of the things that I enjoy about seeing you guys on stage is that—you know, we hear about when y’all were kids, there used to be arguments on stage—now I see nothing but smiles and laughs while you guys perform. It’s like y’all might have your little inside jokes— still getting the songs off and stuff—where everybody just looks extremely pleased to be on stage together.

Ricky Bell: Yeah. We’ve been through so much together. You know, at some point we’ve been through situations and challenges that we didn’t always have the answer to figure it out. It was only the grace of God that kept bringing us back together. And throughout all of those times, you just learn to accept and appreciate each other at another level that you wouldn’t have comprehended earlier on in your relationship. Now, we can just enjoy each other.

We have families and they’re friends and they’re all close. So this is bigger than our relationship with each other. It’s bigger than and more important than even the music and performing.

Yeah. It’s beautiful. I’ve seen family members; wives and kids backstage. 40 years guys. We definitely wanted to do this VIBE cover and commemorate four decades of an institution of America, Black culture, R&B culture and Hip-Hop culture. When you think about the legacy of New Edition and being together for 40 years through thick and thin, what are two of the things that you all are most proud of?

Ronnie DeVoe: Ah man. Some of the impact that we had on the culture itself. For us, groups like the Temptations, The Jacksons, Blue Magic, groups like that were the pinnacle of success. We were coming up, rehearsing. We would sit on the floor in somebody’s living room at the time. And my uncle would tell us to close our eyes and we’d sit Indian style. We’d listen to the Jackson Five live album with our eyes closed, just ingesting the feeling of being in front of thousands of people and what that felt like. For us to come out in ’83 and really look like everybody on just about every block across America and even across the world… There’s so many people that we ran into throughout this 40 years of celebration that have told us a story about how we inspired them to be a better businessman or a better MC or that singer. Or we inspired them to pick up a briefcase and make sure that they’re handling a distribution deal the correct way.

So I think the impact that we left on a generation and maybe even a couple generations of entertainers and power brokers in this industry just feels amazing. Like when they say “the fruit doesn’t fall too far from the tree.” That New Edition tree spreads far and wide and it feels good to see the reflection of that.

Do you all embrace the term “The GOATS”? People such as myself, all of us “NE4LifeErs,” we consider you all to be the absolute greatest group of all time. How do you accept that?

Bobby Brown: I think just our brotherhood…our reality check. We check each other every year to make sure that everybody is still in the same frame of mind. When they call us #The GOATS, we know that
we still have to go out as Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant, BBD, Bobby Brown, and then become New Edition again. So that’s where the GOATS comes in, the mothership. We are very grateful for people appreciating our music individually and together. It’s amazing how…Shit, ain’t nobody else done it.

Ralph Tresvant: At the same time, we ain’t never been one of those groups that tap ourselves on the back. We just always feel like there’s more work to be done. And there’s so many that came before us that inspired us. We see them as so huge that we never really quite saw ourselves in those shoes. This year or these last few tours and the numbers that have been coming out and the love that’s been shown—being inducted into museums, our [life] story was told was hugely successful— that’s kind of starting to etch in our heads, well maybe we’ve reached a level of success that we’ve been waiting to get. When you’re putting in the work and you’re doing all that hard stuff behind the scenes and going through issues with each other, we don’t quite see or feel the impact that we think the other groups have made on us. So I think this is the first go around that we’re starting to realize that we might be stepping into a slot that we’ve always wanted. So if that’s what’s called “Greatest of All Time” or just one of the greatest, that’s good for us.

Johnny Gill: There’s one major accomplishment that I think we deserve that I feel would seal it all to me, and that would be The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [induction]. I think that’s when I would probably began to go, okay, I can believe it now.

It’s wild that you guys are not in there. There’s so many artists from Black culture that need to be in there. We need our own Hip-Hop and R&B Hall of Fames. I’m happy they have the Universal Hip-Hop Museum though. They just honored you guys a few minutes ago. One of the things that has been special about New Edition is that you have always celebrated Hip-Hop in your music. I tell everybody, if you listen to what this generation of rap artists are doing right now, all they doing is taking from the Poison album blueprint. BBD brought R&B and Hip-Hop together for an entire LP and made it fly. New Edition were there when Hip-Hop really started to explode. You gotta tell us what it was like being apart of “Krush Groove.”

Ricky Bell: I don’t even think we realized at the time the impact or even the significance of what we were doing because we were moving around so much. Back then we weren’t really a part of setting up our schedules. It was like, “Okay, be here, be here, be there.” And [“Krush Groove”] to us, was just like, oh, okay, we’re going on another set. We’re going to perform somewhere and do something else after that. It wasn’t until after the movie came out and we saw the impact on the culture that we were like, wow, okay. And then years later you still run into some of the cast from the movie. Like Blair Underwood even reminded me one time when I saw him, “Krush Groove, we did that!” It took us a while to really understand the whole impact of what we were doing.

Michael Bivins: You know what bro? What’s interesting Sha?

We only was on set for like 20 minutes.

That’s crazy! (Laughs)

Michael Bivins: We told them we had to go somewhere else. So they just said, “Just do what y’all do.” And we said, well what is our scene? “We haven’t figured it out yet.” We were apart of the talent show. I think we lost too, right? Didn’t the Fat Boys win?

Ralph Tresvant: No, we won.

Yeah, y’all won and made the Fat Boys cry. (Laughs)

Michael Bivins: That’s right! I think the story is originally they said,
“Y’all not gonna win cause it’s the Fat Boys movie.”

Ricky Bell: Right.

Michael Bivins: But at the end, we did take it?

New Edition: Yeah.

Michael Bivins: Okay, good. I ain’t seen it in a minute.

At a certain time Hip-Hop and R&B were really competitive. Ice Cube saying “you can New Jack Swing on my nuts.” Even Q-Tip once said “I know I’d be the man if I cold yanked the plug on R&B.” But New Edition always blended in Hip-Hop with what y’all were doing. First of all, so many rappers from Big Daddy Kane, to Phife Dawg have referenced you in their music. You returned that love by having MCs like Heavy D in your videos. You’ve made music with cats like Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J and Biggie. You were on Bad Boy at one point.

Even when you first came out, there was pop locking in your dance routines and rapping on your songs. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop, how do y’all feel about being such a big part of Hip-Hop culture even though y’all are singers?

Michael Bivins: Our music videos weren’t really made in our projects. We always made videos in New York City and other places. And if we would’ve made one of the videos off the first album where we came from, it would be no dispute who we are. And the only way they knew we knew flavas, we wore Adidas sweatsuits and superstars. So you knew we was with the culture.

But [New Edition] actually met in a gym. And if the club is the 2:00 AM spot for the drug dealers, then in the afternoon, the gym is the spot for the drug dealers. We were around so much as kids [with our] family members and neighbors. We soaked up so much of it. It’s just that “Candy Girl” was the right music for us to make. So when we got into our own separate stuff, all we really did was tap into who we
were the whole time. But the, the blueprint for the New Edition with the suits and the music, we couldn’t have had a better game plan.

But when we got 20 [years old] and they said, “Open the hell up,” all we did was just be who we are.

We didn’t have to go be somebody else. And we never tried to prove that we was from the hood. You know, real recognize real, Sha. You don’t gotta overdo it. Either you got it or you don’t. And I think all that
stuff with Heavy D and LL and Puff Daddy and shit, everybody. I think all of them saw something in us that they use in their own room. I think that’s who we are. That’s what we’ve done for the music
business. We are like five, six groups in one. Something that not a rock group, a country group, nobody’s ever done. And I’m just happy that each one of of us are living to talk about it. Some of the great
groups are missing members or a member. Our blessings are coming.

When we do check on each other, like Bob said, it’s not really so much about how we can go make some money? It’s like, yo man, you okay? How your family? How’s your wife? How’s your kids? You know, we got people being buried around us and our family, so we don’t have time to just look in the mirror and be GOATS. We still gotta hold each other up.

Building off what you mentioned when you guys got out of your teens, N.E. ventured out on and everybody made classic albums and hits as individual entities. Take me back to that time when you all looked around and saw that Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant and BBD were all on fire at the same time. Because the only other people I could think about doing that on a huge scale are on the rapping side. That’s Wu-Tang Clan. Ironically their first album came 10 years after N.E.’s first LP. What was it like for y’all?

Ronnie DeVoe: It was everything. When you think about Wu and you think about ourselves, we definitely wanna go on tour with them at some point just so people can see the magnitude and the depth of both groups.

That would be crazy!

Ronnie DeVoe: Bobby mentioned it earlier and you said something about it earlier as well. Initially we didn’t understand the power of individuality. Because we were on this umbilical cord. Everyone’s gotta do it the same way. And if you venture out of that, you are going against the group grain. But as Bob began to peel away and people would begin to see who he was and his talents and his gifts, right. People always knew what Ralph was giving them because he was the leader of New Edition. And then Johnny, of course, coming in the group as a solo entity, people understood who he was. But I think we were able to put him on the platform that allowed him to be seen by that many more people as well.

And then for BBD to come out and then for it to even go deeper with the business savvy and the mind of Mike, opening the door for other groups and teaching them the blueprint of our success as well. We don’t take it lightly We appreciate it. When you think about all of the groups in R&B history, you gotta put a pin in the fact that these muthatherfu**as might actually be—Ralph used to say this. Excuse my French—“the dog, the d**k, and the nuts.”


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