At about the time New Jack Swing (NJS) was taking a hold of R&B on the wings of its mostly male stars, other NJS groups were offering something of an alternative, although many of them were in and of themselves extensions of the movement and may have only incorporated certain aspects of the genre – mostly strong vocal harmony.
Of these groups, Jade along with Escape was one of best girl groups of the day. They had the swinging melodies typical of NJS, but stressed strong singing skills and multi-level harmonies. Their very name was a anagram of the first letters in the names of its three (then four) members.
Jade’s debut album Jade to the Max was produced by the trio of Vassal Benford, Ron Spearman and Alton Stewart. The three did nothing particularly original with Jade, preferring to mirror the styles of some of the top pop R&B artists the times. Between them Jade’s music went anywhere from the Color Me Badd styled “I Wanna Love You” to the Bobby Brown like “One Woman”. Four singles total gave Jade to the Max a consistent presence on R&B radio stations from the fall of 1992 to the spring of 1993.
It would be the album’s second single “Don’t Walk Away” that would define Jade’s reputation as groove masters. With perhaps the slickest sample of Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Jazz”, the song was both primal and sophisticated. Quite possibly, one of the best dance grooves of the early ’90s, it rivaled Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” in sheer booty movin’ appeal. It’s surprising that “Don’t Walk Away” was not sampled more by the hip hop community.
Jade managed to resist many hip hop impulses with Jade to the Max, making it one of the last good early ’90s R&B albums to have not been hijacked by guest raps. It was the voices of Joi Marshall, Tonya Kelly, Di Reed on songs like The Emotions cover “Blessed” that really defined their abilities, even if the net result was just an average album by early ’90s R&B standards.
Because Jade to the Max was short on some of the stylistic trappings of the New Jack Swing movement, it has worn better over time than stuff from say Guy or Blackstreet from the same era. The power of great voices is timeless, even if its trapped under a dated genre.