Written by @ROBNEHISTORIAN 11/20/20
Tresvant Shines on R&B/New Jack Debut
30 years ago, on November 20, 1990, Ralph Tresvant, the lead singer of the Iconic Group New Edition, released one of the most anticipated albums in recent memory. On this day, he released his solo debut, his self titled ‘Ralph Tresvant’ album. Ralph Tresvant is the shining star of New Edition and has been captivating audiences as the front man of New Edition since 1983. He has been touted by the legendary Dick Clark as the musical heir apparent to the long vacated throne of the late great Marvin Gaye, and has always been an incredibly gifted, highly adored and unforgettable performer. The comparison to Michael Jackson as a front man remain to this day.Embed from Getty Images
The Ralph Tresvant solo album was probably the most anticipated album out of all the New Edition Spin offs. Ralph had been leading New Edition for seven years and it was just a matter of time that he would take some time off and do his own thing. He always wanted to do a solo record on the side but never wanted to leave New Edition. It was just a natural progression in life. New Edition was his heart. He had previously put his attempt on a solo career on hold to preserve the legacy of New Edition and made sure the members of New Edition pulled through the dark times. I asked Ralph if this album was something, he had to do seeing the success of everyone else from the group. “No, it was something I was pressured into doing” he said. “I really wanted to do the “Living in the Dream” album” he said referring to his original unreleased album he started recording in 1987. He recorded the “Heartbreak” album with New Edition in 1988. After that album, Bobby Brown blew up, Bell Biv DeVoe exploded and Johnny Gill released his solo album. “Everybody dropped before me” Tresvant said. “Bobby pretty much took the full campaign I was gonna come with as far as an artist. That was my whole look. I wasn’t the bad boy which is what he flipped it into” he said. “But, the music was that. That same bad boy swing that he was on at the time. The concept with the dancers hadn’t been done yet. It was all new. Everything that I was going to do back then had already been done with Bobby on “Don’t Be Cruel” he said.Embed from Getty Images
Finding His Own Identity
Tresvant began working on his project this time around with Jam & Lewis. “There music is the best music on the radio today” Tresvant said. “Ralph is one of my favorite people to work with ever! He’s amazing” Jimmy Jam told the Associated Press. Ralph flew down to Minneapolis with anticipation of good things to come. “It was hard for me to find what lane I was going to come with, so I just started taking suggestions from Flyte Tyme and guys like that” Tresvant said. Being the lead vocalist of New Edition since their inception, Tresvant had to find the right way to express himself. “It wouldn’t have been anything new, if I came like New Edition” Tresvant said. “I wasn’t afraid to come like NE, I just wanted to show a growth in that same style of music.” Jam & Lewis played Ralph demos to the tracks “Sensitivity,” “She’s My Love Thang” and “Do What I Gotta Do.” He loved what he heard.
There was a lot of pressure on Ralph to have a hit. He was the lead singer and for years there was this expectation of him being a solo artist by the public. “There was a lot of pressure on me” Tresvant told the Atlanta Constitution. “I used to think I’d be compared to them (BBD, Bobby & JG) and that really worried me” he said. The producers were writing songs to cater to who they thought Ralph was in 1990. “That’s where songs like “Sensitivity” came from. That’s what they read into me because that’s the only side I was showing folks at the time” Tresvant said. “When I was around them it wasn’t like I was being me and the cat that came out of the bricks. The cat that I was when I was writing my own stuff. I was just taking suggestions” he said. “So, the whole project steered towards something that I felt like I was just doing it because everyone was already gone. Why sit around. I didn’t feel like a solo artist at that time, I felt more like I was doing a solo project” he said.
Ralph’s “Sensitivity” single debuted on October 27th and as expected, hit #1 on the Billboard R&B chart. Originally, the first single was slated to be the ballad “I Love You (Just for You)” written by Vassal Benford and Kathy Wakefield. However, MCA chose to go with “Sensitivity.” The video was filmed out in California and directed by Geoffrey Edwards. Tresvant had personally reached out to Edwards because he enjoyed his work so much on the video for New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain.” Ralph recorded 20 songs with several producers before deciding on the final 11 that are featured on the album.
Making The Album
Released on November 20, 1990, the Vinyl Album featured 11 tracks. The CD version of the album featured 2 bonus tracks for a total of 13 songs. In addition to Jam & Lewis, Ralph worked with L.A. Reid, Babyface, Daryl Simmons, Kayo, Wolf & Epic, Kyle West, John Barnes, Vassal Benford, Timmy Gatling and Alton “Wokie” Stewart. Gatling, who was an original member of the New Jack Swing Group GUY, was in great demand as a songwriter and producer. He had teamed up with Stewart while working on the BBD album. Cassandra Mills and Silas Jr called Gatling up in New York and flew him out to California to work on music for their artists. “Louil Silas Jr. got me to do BBD, Klymaxx, Ralph Tresvant and Bobby Brown. He took me under his wing. He got me to work on all those projects” Gatling said. “They wanted that sound. They wanted that New York New Jack Swing hard ballad sound. It was hot” he said. Stewart and Gatling would produce three tracks for Ralph’s project. Tresvant had previously heard the songs that Bell Biv DeVoe did with Gatling and Stewart. “Once Ralph heard “When Will I See You Smile Again” he was like ‘I want that kind of ballad’” Gatling said. That’s when he went on to write the song ‘Last Night.’ “I wrote that in a hotel room in one night. At the time Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis were in great demand. Being that they did the “Heartbreak Album” they had Ralph and Johnny. They basically had full range on what was going on the album” Gatling said. Getting a song on the album was no easy task. “Last Night” was so strong as a ballad, they had to keep it on the record. Ralph fought to keep that on there” Gatling said. In addition to “Last Night” they produced a song called “A Common Thing” that featured Bobby Brown and a up tempo song called “FAST.” They recorded all three songs at the M’Bila recording studio in Hollywood. “If you ever heard the song “A Common Thing” you would say how in the hell was that not a single? Especially at that moment in 1990. That song was so strong at that time it was like Guy on Steroids” Gatling said. “We were upset. Everyone at MCA was hyped about it because it took Ralph in a totally different direction. For him to come out with “Sensitivity” and “Stone Cold Gentleman,” I understood why they wanted to do it. Everyone knew at that time that Ralph was known for doing those sweet cutie sensitive songs. We came along and wanted to pull out another side of Ralph” Gatling said. Ralph wrote and co-produced a song called “Public Figure (Ordinary Guy) with Richard Wolf and Bret Mazur aka Wolf & Epic. He also co-wrote the song “Girl I Can’t Control It” with K-Ci Hailey from Jodeci. Ralph’s stamina in the studio was second to none. He was known to stay in the studio all night long working on his craft and stacking his vocals. Tresvant’s self-titled album, which shipped 600,000 copies on its initial release, debuted on the Billboard Albums Chart on December 8, 1990, and short time later landing at the #1 spot, staying on top for two consecutive weeks. Ralph dedicated the album to his Uncle Leon Sonny Tresvant, Eddie Wayne Pritchett and childhood friend, Brian Crooper, who was killed as New Edition was being born. “My album and all the New Edition albums, it’s important for us to keep the dream alive” says Tresvant. “He does both ballads and street-sounding funk and hip-hop” manager Larkin Arnold told the LA Times. “People who like New Edition are more likely to like Ralph’s album” he said.
Ralph Tresvant, the first to start recording solo material, was the last member of the franchise to heat up. 1991 would become a big year for Ralph. On the heels of his certified gold single “Sensitivity,” his hits “Stone Cold Gentleman,” “Do What I Gotta Do,” “Rated R” and “Yo Baby Yo!” led him to receiving the Billboard Music Award for Top New Male Pop Artist. He also took home the award for ‘Outstanding Vocalist” at the Boston Music Awards. Tresvant even had his own 900 Number were fans could “Stay in touch with the Stone-Cold Gentleman.” 1 (900 ) 740-5577 was the numbers and fans were charged $2.00 each minute. Ralph also appeared and performed his song “Yo Baby Yo!” in the movie “House Party 2.” After months of doing TV, Radio and Print Promotions for his album, Ralph was ready to go on tour. He held dance auditions in New York hoping to find the right dancers for his stage show. Ellestacious Brown remembers that day very well. He and his fellow dancers Oddiseus, Olisa and Cecily were there to audition for Keith Sweat. By chance, they found out that Ralph was holding auditions upstairs and they felt they would be better suited for him. “Ralph Tresvant is more of our style” Brown said. “We were more with the suits and the smooth stone-cold gentleman vibe. I said to Oddiseus, I think we better role with Ralph T instead of Keith Sweat. We went upstairs. We were already suited down and everything” he said. They auditioned the guys first and then the girls second. “The people at the auditions never knew that we were all together as a family” Brown said. Ralph viewed the videotapes of the auditions and made his choices. “He picked us and the girls and that’s how we got the job. They called us up and we flew out to Los Angeles” he said. Ralph wanted four dancers behind him; two females and 2 guys. “It just so happened that he picked Olisa and Cecily as the girls and me and Oddiseus” Brown said. “When we finally met Ralph, he told me he had no idea that the girls were with us. It was kind of ironic that he picked the whole crew” he said. Ralph headed overseas to perform a series of shows at the BIRD in Yokohama, Japan and at the Miel Parque Hall in Tokyo from May 24 thru May 29th. Once back in the states he and his dancers started to rehearse for the upcoming Budweiser Superfest Tour. Ralph had signed on to do the Budweiser tour from June 12th thru July 7th appearing in Hampton, Miami, Little Rock, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and more: 19 cities in all. “We were killing them” Ellestacious said. “There was so much energy on that tour. Ralph would get hyped off us. We would get hyped off Ralph. We just fed off each other. He let us do our thing” he said. The dancers took pride in their work and often trained others in the business. They were impressed with Ralph’s ambition and work ethic. “He worked hard, and he would sweat” Ellestacious said. “Rizz was the only one out of everyone that we knew that would sit there and sweat and try to get this choreography that was totally different from what he was doing. And he did it. I think that’s one of the reasons that he would keep us for so many years” he said.
Album Review…Rated R
To Celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Tresvant’s classic 1990 album, let’s take a listen and revisit this classic work of R&B/Pop and New Jack Swing. The album kicks off with the rap track ‘Rated R,’ something NO ONE expected to hear. ‘Rated R’ was written by Ralph and he co-produced the track with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. “Whatever made you think that I had a weak mind / is it because I played the back when it’s not my time / but maybe this time I’ll just showboat out / and be the only body anybody talking about” Tresvant raps with confidence. It was almost like Ralph wanted to come right out the gate, getting something off his chest, before getting into his signature sound. And it worked. “Girl, I know it’s been hard, since he went away / and left you so sad / you cry every day” croons Tresvant on the smooth and powerful ‘Sensitivity.’ The third track from this fine album is my personal favorite, ‘She’s My Love Thang.” The catchy up-tempo track features the ‘Keep On Truckin’ by Eddie Kendricks sample and Tresvant’s vocals are on point. He excels when he hits the melodies on this track. The chorus features the lyrics “My Girl’s often pretty / conversations is always witty/ perfect personality (She’s My Love Thang) / I crave her like a bee craves honey / I need her just like she needs me / We just love unselfishly (She’s My Love Thang.) Next up, ‘Stone Cold Gentleman’ produced by Daryl Simmons and Kayo for LaFace, Inc. The ‘New Jack Jack’ Sound of ‘Stone Cold’ featured Bobby Brown and was the second single released from the album. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Chart. ‘A Gentleman is what I Strive to be” Tresvant proudly sings. ‘Do What I Gotta Do’ was the third single and the ballad that everyone knew that Tresvant had in him. “I don’t want to see her cry / but its hard to live a lie, So I gotta Do What I Gotta Do/ Although I love the girl I know / That the best thing is for us to be apart.” The song hit #1 on Billboard’s Airplay Chart and #2 on the R&B Chart. ‘Love Hurts” was written by Simmons, Kayo and Babyface and has Ralph winning with lyrics like “All I Know is that I did my best to love you / but maybe sometimes love just isn’t meant to be baby / how I wish that love would spare me of this feeling / because the pain inside is like a knife and I can’t hide/ how it’s killing me.. I’m telling you Love Hurts!” For track number eight, Ralph co-wrote the song “Girl I Can’t Control It” with Jodeci’s K-Ci Hailey which was produced by Kyle West. The song has Ralph confessing “So what’s up? What you doing to me baby? You know you driving me crazy right? I’m going out of my mind.” “Love Takes Time” is next and is a solid track. “Girl I don’t mean to let you down / there’s no need for you to wear that frown upon your face anymore / can’t you see that Love Takes Time” Tresvant sings. The production again done by West. Ralph wrote and co-produced the song called “Public Figure (Ordinary Guy) with Richard Wolf and Bret Mazur aka Wolf & Epic. It’s a funky up-tempo groove that keeps you moving as Ralph explains he’s just an ordinary guy that lives in the public eye. His vocals are on point and the chorus is sharp. The beat bumps and Ralph kills the breakdown on this record with a vicious rap. “My Girl is right beside me as I walk in the place, that’s all, no entourage, I’ll be straight / You don’t believe me that’s your problem, tough guys move smooth, get out my face I got nothing to prove / And talking about your problems, you want me to, I’ll solve them. You need your boys well call them? Mine? I won’t involve them / Cause I ain’t going out like a sucker or amateur / though my appearance is mellow I still damage your career.” The track is tight and Rizzo is in full effect. ‘Last Night” is the last original song on the album before the bonus tracks. As mentioned previously, the grown and sexy track was written and produced by Timmy Gatling and Alton “Wokie” Stewart. “My whole life has been rearranged, so tell me, tell me baby, what else can I do?” Tresvant asks on the song. “Last Night” was that one song on the album that everyone talked about. It was hot and Gatling and Steward, like Jam and Lewis, brought out the very best in Ralph Tresvant.
“I Love You (Just For You) was the first of two bonus tracks on the CD Edition of the album. The song was produced by Vassal Benford and is absolutely wonderful, and it’s no wonder why it was considered being released first. Tresvant is smooth as ever on this track. The up-tempo ballad has Ralph proclaiming his love, and telling his girl, “I Love you, Just for you.” You can hear that passion in Ralph’s vocals on this song. “Alright Now” was the second bonus track written by Michael Jackson and John Barnes. Michael passed on recording the song for his project and it ended up coming to the best front man since Michael, Mr. Ralph Tresvant. Almost like it was meant to be. The album comes to an end with “(Ralph’s Rap) where Tresvant Talks and Raps to the beat of ‘Sensitivity.” A perfect ending to a perfect album. The album sold over 2 million copies and was certified multi-platinum. The album also yielded two number one hits, “Sensitivity” and “Do What I Gotta Do.”
Just to show you the magnitude of Tresvant’s debut, Bruno Mar’s patterned his album ’24K Magic” to Tresvant’s 1990 debut release. The key and arrangements Bruno sings at are very comparable to the style of Tresvant during that time frame. The up-tempo and ballads are very Tresvant like. It’s almost like he was paying homage to the throwback styles of Singers like Ralph Tresvant and that R&B/Pop/New Jack Swing sound. It worked well for him, just as it did for Tresvant in 1990. Great music will always stand the test of time.
Tresvant is currently working on his new album. His first single “All Mine” which was released in 2020 is available on all digital platforms. Watch the official video for “All Mine.”
OFFICIAL SITE therealralphtresvant.com
Download Ralph Tresvant Expanded Edition 1990 Album https://music.apple.com/us/album/ralph-tresvant-expanded-edition/1506280905
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert ‘Smith’ Mitts has been documenting the history of the super group New Edition since 1983. He has written extensively on the group and has been published in numerous publications. He is also an award winning photographer and his photos have been featured in magazines across the country.