For much of the 1980s little was expected of R&B stars beyond singing and dancing. Others wrote their songs, even played their music while they sang and danced for stage or music videos. While that may not be a fair assessment of R&B music, it was a popular conception by many record companies who treated the genre as disposable.
New Edition may have fallen into that category. Despite many hits during the ’80s, no one in the group was seen as a serious musician or songwriter. The possible exception was Johnny Gill. Arguably the most talented of New Edition, Gill could play guitar, bass and drums, but was often seen dancing and singing with New Edition.
He had already released his two solo albums to small acclaim in 1983 and 1985. By the time his third self titled album was released he was knee-deep in the new jack swing movement of which he had become one of its foremost stars. It was also his first album for Motown, who had high expectations. Fortunately, Johnny Gill would launch Gills career as a R&B superstar.
A lot of the music from this era now sounds hopelessly dated, but Johnny Gill still sounds relevant today thanks to Gills explosive voice.
Johnny Gill was typical of early ’90s productions. Sounding like bits and pieces of the production team that oversaw the project, the album included a list of producers that included L.A. Reid, Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Jheryl Busby. While Johnny Gill may have been a snapshot of early ’90s R&B, it was his powerful baritone that brought all the elements together to produce the best R&B album of 1990.
It seemed for a while that Johnny Gill would be the next Luther Vandross as he was able to make the transition to dance provocateur to smooth new jack crooner effortlessly. It became clear who the leader of new Edition should have been, but during this time Bobby Brown had become a solo superstar in his own right.
A handful of singles came off the album, all of them hits to some degree or another on the R&B charts. Songs like Babyface produced ‘Fairweather Friend’ that showcased Gills voice to best effect crossed over to the pop charts. Other more romantic songs like the midnight storm-like ‘My My My’ became symbolic of Gills new jack swing charm, rivaling Luther Vandross.
With the exception of ‘Giving My All To You’, the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced songs lacked the distinctive stamp of their usual productions. The restraint in songs like ‘Lady Dujour’ contributed to the more polished and grown up sound of the rest of the album.
Gills star would continue to rise with his next release in 1993 and on through the ’90s. He along with former New Edition bandmates Ralph Tresvant and Bobby Brown would reunite in a new group called Heads of State.