If you came up in the ’90s and listened to R&B, there was one debate that never died: Dru Hill vs. 112 vs. Jagged Edge.
And while that dissension still leaves the VIBE office divided, only one of the three legendary troupes that soundtracked the late ’90s and early 2000s—J.E.—is making its return nearly two decades after its arrival on the music scene.
The Atlanta quartet—brothers Brandon and Brian Casey, Kyle Norman and Richard Wingo—earned a beloved spot in modern R&B with soulful ballads like 1998’s “I Gotta Be” and the perennial wedding favorite, 2000’s “Let’s Get Married.” Now, three years after its last studio release The Remedy, Jagged Edge debuts its single “Hope” just in time for June’s Black Music Month.
Co-produced by Bryan-Michael Cox, “Hope” serves as the lead in to the group’s upcoming J.E. Heartbreak Too album (slated for a fall 2014 release) and new label deal, which finds the men reunited with longtime collaborator Jermaine Dupri. Jagged Edge spoke to VIBE about the uplifting track and embarking on its next chapter. —Sowmya Krishnamurthy
VIBE: What is your new single “Hope” about?
Brandon: There’s so many things right now, that take away from us—us as men. [We had] this idea to put a record out there to uplift. Especially for men, we really need those records. In music in general, not just R&B. You hear these girl power records all the time. You never get records like that for guys. This is one of those records for real men. Real men are gonna love it.
What motivated you to make a “guy power” anthem?
Brandon: Just life. You put on TV any day of the week and you watch any of these talk shows, and I guarantee that, out of five episodes in the season, two of them are about bashing men. The radio seems like women are trying to come up with these all-girls exclusive club. We got an exclusive club of our own.
Historically you’ve made music for women. Are you worried about alienating your fans with this song?
Brandon: This is definitely for women. I don’t know too many women who don’t love a real man. This song is about a real man stepping up and being accountable.
Wingo: Also, we have a campaign going on for all of our single mothers. Lot of times, that might put a bad taste in a woman’s mouth about men in general. They might have been through two or three bad relationships. Ultimately, we’re just trying to put the hope back in.
Tell us more about your campaign for single mothers.
Wingo: We did a little research, and there’s more single mothers out there than are married. Ultimately, we think they need us. Being a single mother is harder than having a man in your life to help raise your kids. Being a single mother isn’t easy. We just wanted to give a shout out to all the single mothers: We’re with them. We’re here.
Kyle: This particular song is making all of those men step up. Sometimes you have to confront a brother. It takes a brother to know a brother. A lot of our homeboys, our male friends, when they hear this song, a lot of them may say, “We have to really step it up.” Music is really spiritual sometimes.
Jagged Edge made its name with ballads like “Promise” or “Gotta Be.” R&B has changed a lot since then, and many argue that romance has been replaced by pimping. How do you feel about the current state of R&B?
Brandon: There’s a hip-hop influence on R&B. Hip-hop is such a big influence on culture, it influences everything. The difference now, is that we don’t have the variety to say, “Oh I don’t like the Top 40, but I can hear something over here.” We don’t have as many options as we used to have.
There has been a resurgence of legacy artists, such as TGT, returning to R&B. Does this make you feel optimistic?
Brian: We feel like optimists every time. I hate to call it a “resurgence” because it’s more, getting back to where it should be. Some of the artists that are coming back to life or some of the music getting a better look right now, it always should have been. There’s such a need for [timeless] types of songs, whether they come from young kids or people with families. There’s such a need for those types of songs that you don’t throw away in a month.
You’ve reunited with longtime producer Jermaine Dupri. Are you recording with him or branching out and working with new producers?
Brandon: Both. All of the above.
After nearly two decades in music, what keeps you inspired?
Brandon: Waking up every day and doing a job we love. We all came up in a two-parent home and one thing that was stressed, was if you find a job you like to go to every day, you got half of this thing called life defeated already. It’s a blessing to be able to do that every day.
So what’s next in 2014?
Brandon: We got a lot of things coming. It’s too premature to let any piece of it out the bag. We got a lot of music coming. We’re in a new situation with Jermaine [Dupri]. It’s not like Jagged Edge on So So Def Records, we partnered with Jermaine on this new record label. The future…We have a lot of things coming. Stay tuned.
I heard somebody say, “Don’t call it a comeback. Just say, ‘We’re back.’” I feel like that’s us. We’re just adding to our legacy and doing what we love to do. What we’ve been blessed to do. If it’s any one thing, it’s to cement our legacy.