My love for New Edition runs deep. Since attending Usher’s residency at the top of the year, I’ve added Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel back into my daily rotation while remaining consistent with my monthly rewatch of BET’s The New Edition Story. Back in November, weeks prior to the long-awaited tour announcement and confirmation, I was afforded the opportunity to speak with the Bad Boy of R&B himself alongside Johnny Gill ahead of their group’s highly-anticipated “reunion” at the 2022 American Music Awards.
Then, the moment arrived. After having lived in Los Angeles for almost a year, I’d never stepped foot inside The Staples Center (that new name will be ignored for the sake of this story) until Sunday, March 20—the night of The Culture Tour.
The newly reunited Jodeci, Uncle Charlie Wilson, and all six members of New Edition shared the stage for one historic and magical night honoring each of their respective legacies in R&B. Despite the warm temperatures, it felt like Christmas. I practically ran through the crowds beaming with glee like a child getting lost among the sea of people and displays in a packed FAO Schwarz during peak holiday season.
I anxiously sat in my seat as this would be my first (and maybe only) time seeing both Jodeci and New Edition live. I’d seen Charlie Wilson before, but overall, this felt different. The North Carolina-bred quartet took the stage first, decked out in matching gold and black bomber jackets and shirts that read ‘Jodeci’ across the bottom.
Witnessing them perform their classics like “Come And Talk To Me,” “Forever My Lady,” “Stay,” “Feenin’,” “Freek’n You,” and “Cry For You” was a moment for R&B purists, even Mr. Dalvin danced around as though it were still 1991. Their chemistry is something that can’t be duplicated by replacing members like how some other male R&B groups have done.
As production transformed the stage to make way for Uncle Charlie, the house DJ provided all sorts of vibes from the best of West Coast rap to Quiet Storm essentials that weren’t going to be performed live. In full energy, the 69-year-old crooner came out with his dancers in a bright gold jacket that never stopped shimmering as it hit the lights.
Despite recently coming out of surgery a few weeks ago and battling other ailments, he did a grand job of powering through and resting when needed during his 75-minute set. Gliding through his discography from his days in The Gap Band with “Party Train” and “Yearning For Your Love” to his solo hits including “You Are,” “There Goes My Baby,” and “Charlie, Last Name Wilson,” he commanded the audience’s attention with his vibrant performance, complete with suave, bouncy dance moves and eye-grabbing outfits.
He also slid in his guest appearances on timeless gems like Zapp’s “Computer Love” and Pharrell and Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful” along with renditions of Guy’s “Let’s Chill” and Zapp & Roger’s “I Want To Be Your Man.” Wilson didn’t end his set without acknowledging his health journey, especially his sobriety and how blessed he was to still be standing and performing in front of us. Appropriately, what followed his testimony was a praise break and performance of his 2017 single, “I’m Blessed.” Closing out on a high note, as any great party should, Wilson wrapped things up with the dynamic 1982 jam, “Outstanding,” while wearing an all-white shimmering ensemble.
Ahead of the evening’s headliners, Omarion, Boyz II Men, Diddy’s children, Kelly Rowland, and Gabrielle Union were spotted among the attendees, which was pretty cool if you ask me. However, nothing could compare to my grown self smiling as wide as a Cheshire cat when New Edition Radio began to scan across the stage. The monitor flipped through a series of tracks that feature NE references—Jamie Foxx’s hook on Kanye West’s “Slow Jamz,” Drake’s verse on 2 Chainz’s “I Do It,” and LL Cool J’s “Around The Way Girl”—before the group jumped right into their debut single, “Candy Girl.”
The men kicked off their set wearing all black under white trench coats and matching white fedoras. Without missing a beat, they dove into “Mr. Telephone Man” and the iconic choreography of “If It Isn’t Love.”
For the next 90 minutes, the legendary sextet maintained that quick turnover throughout the duration of their show. What I loved the most was that they moved as one. Whether it was Bobby Brown being strategically placed in the cut to take necessary breaks or how they teased one another about a solo track of his (1988’s “Every Little Step”) that was initially supposed to be a New Edition record, their magic rested within their storied chemistry. These men are family. They were playful in between songs and it was beautiful to witness them healthy and together once again.
They also granted space for each of their individual careers to have a spotlight. Bell Biv DeVoe, naturally, had their collective moment, but also Ralph, Ricky, and Johnny all performed their solo records at center stage. And, not for nothing, what Johnny Gill said in The New Edition Story still holds true—“Give Johnny Gill Jr. a mic and I’ma turn that b***h out.” And that he did, hitting all sorts of high notes to keep the crowd in awe as his bandmates transformed their looks.
Additionally, I loved the balance of their set. There weren’t strict places for select songs or moments. It was as fluid as a playlist, transitioning from Ralph Tresvant’s “Sensitivity” to NE’s “Cool It Now” to Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” to BBD’s “Poison.” Mellowing out the mood in the most heartfelt way, the night came to an end to the sounds of NE performing “Can You Stand The Rain” in matching metallic raincoats.
By the end, I personally was very emotional. A lot of things are often categorized as once-in-a-lifetime, but The Culture Tour truly felt like a perfectly isolated moment in time. Knowing their story, who knew if this tour would’ve ever been possible had they not worked through their differences and evolved from boys to men? It all serves a reminder to never underestimate the power of growth and brotherhood.
Johnny Gill shared with VIBE that this tour, their AMA performance, and experiences alike aren’t reunions for them. “New Edition has been New Edition and it’s been all of us here,” he said. “We decided to come together now and join back forces and give our fans something that they’re looking forward to seeing. We’re gonna have fun and continue to do what we do and show them why we do what we do and why we are who we are.”
As far as their brotherhood goes, Gill also shared, “That’s something you can’t even manufacture. That comes from life, living, experiences, ups and downs, and the good and the bad and all of those things rolled up in one that causes us to create and have the type of brotherhood that we have. From many years of being around and being together, you grow together so it’s not something you can manufacture. It’s not something you can even describe. It’s just a connection that you have from just having family and brothers and knowing that we’re brothers. Regardless of what we go through, there’s always that foundation of brotherhood that’s undeniable.”
Bobby Brown later added, “We fight hard and we love hard.” And it’s really that simple.