The words “legacy” and “legend” get tossed around often in R&B. What defines a legend? How soon can someone be qualified as such? What does a legacy truly consist of? “King of R&B” debate aside—a title Usher has rightfully claimed—icons such as Bobby Brown, Teddy Riley, and Babyface all helped to lay the foundation for the “Superstar” crooner and his peers to thrive.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of New Edition’s formation and the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Candy Girl. All six members of the group—Brown, Ralph Tresvant, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell, Johnny Gill, and Ronnie DeVoe—commemorated these historic feats with the Legacy Tour, an elevated sequel of 2022’s successful Culture Tour. Despite an obvious difference in the lineup with the newly-reunited Guy, Keith Sweat, and Tank, New Edition praised their supporting acts for their “extreme talent, star power, and legendary catalogue of music.”
During the tour’s Los Angeles stop, the audience was filled with the originators of the term, “grown folks’ business.” But the “younger cats” they birthed and raised were also scattered throughout the arena, creating a welcomed balance of the old and new school. Collectively, it was audibly and visibly made known that they were ready to gyrate down memory lane to the soundtrack of the good ol’ days—and did.
Within the four-hour show (which also broke the stigma of starting perpetually late), the maturation of legacy was personified. Though each act ranged in age from their late 40s, to mid-late 50s, and early 60s, don’t think that slowed down or stopped the show.
Tank, 47, still wholly embraces his mold as a sex symbol. “Y’all some nasty mothaf**kers,” he joked in-between the roars of screaming fans during “F**ckin’ Wit Me” and “Slow.” By the time he rounded out his set with “Please Don’t Go” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” he was shirtless in a pair of black slacks, pleading in falsetto.
Guy’s set initially triggered PTSD from the early days of Verzuz when technical difficulties comically ran amok. Though not confirmed, it can be safely assumed that the theatrics of the trio’s set can be credited to Teddy Riley.
Aaron Hall, 58, was shirtless underneath his white leather jacket. His brother, Damion, who is four years his junior, didn’t take off his shirt until later in the set. It felt as though the pioneers of New Jack Swing wanted to relive their glory days, but not in a corny way.
Though Gen Z may scoff at these middle-aged men performing half-naked, those who grew up ahead of and alongside the trio basked in fond memories of all-nighters, house parties, and first loves. Coincidentally, Guy has TikTok to thank for its help in connecting them with the younger generation; there was a resurgence of their 1988 hit, “I Like,” on the social media platform.
On the more sensual side of that era, Keith Sweat’s hour-long set was an ode to the mystique of R&B. As the speakers blared, “I step on stage/girls scream like I’m Keith,” from Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear (Remix),” he emerged in a floor-length leather trench coat. Ridding himself of the overbearing layer, Sweat, 61, revealed a fitted black oxford shirt and matching slacks. He was the epitome of a man who has aged like fine wine and isn’t afraid to show he still “got it.”
The Harlem native took his moment to pay homage to his peers and address some misconceptions. “I ain’t doing no lip syncing. I don’t do that s**t,” he said at one point. Later adding, “I don’t do that opening act s**t for nobody […] but if I was gonna open up for anybody, it would be New Edition.” He, then, invited some special guests back to the stage.
Tank returned for a special dedication to Sweat’s former band, LSG and the late Gerald Levert. After singing “Round & Round,” “Door #1,” and the trio’s hit single, “My Body,” Tank gave his predecessor some well-deserved flowers. “Make some noise for my OG, my mentor,” said the R&B Money podcast host. Sweat was later joined by Riley, who dubbed them the “Kings of New Jack Swing” and jumped into a medley of jams produced by the Blackstreet frontman including “Remember The Time” and “Just Got Paid.”
Sweat’s closing assortment consisted of some R&B’s sexiest tunes: ”Make It Last Forever,” “Nobody,” and “Get Up On It.” This was arguably the highlight of his set, simply because of how he bridged the generational gap. Riley’s goddaughter, Maya Milan, sang the parts reserved for Jacci McGhee, Athena Cage, and Kut Klose as Sweat’s sole female supporting vocalist.
Moments later, the unexpected happened. Arsenio Hall gave New Edition the greatest introduction of all time. “They were on my show every motherf**king night,” the comedian, 67, began. In the voice of Reverend Brown, one of his Coming To America characters, Hall joked, “And if loving them is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.”
The former late night talk show host continued, “When we first heard ‘Can You Stand The Rain,’ what people didn’t know was rain can be spelled another way: r-e-i-g-n, which is to reign over. These gentlemen have reigned over the music business for 40 years. This is their anniversary here with you […] They are simply the best. If I forget somebody, y’all pull my coattail—Ronnie, Ricky, Mike, Bobby, Ralph, Johnny. Ladies and gentlemen, this is New Edition.”
A video montage of their four-decade career appeared on the main jumbotron featuring performance highlights, award wins, and snippets from their critically-acclaimed biopic. Then it was time for the main event. Despite an indirect refusal to perform their 2005 hit, “Hot 2 Nite,” the men kept their promise to fans and “injected some NE classics that [they] did not previously perform on The Culture Tour.”
Brown did his best to maintain the momentum with his bandmates, but he was noticeably on and off the stage. Prior to the L.A. stop, he missed two shows in Houston and Dallas due to exhaustion. Yet, it was that “foundation of brotherhood” Gill previously spoke with us about that prevailed, as it seemed Brown’s breaks were intentionally woven into their set.
Case in point: he performed “My Prerogative,” but sat out on “If It Isn’t Love.” The Don’t Be Cruel star later returned for a solid run with “Mr. Telephone Man,” “Cool It Now,” “I’m Still In Love With You,” “Is This The End?,” and “Candy Girl.” The way the rest of New Edition supported Brown stood out tremendously. The former “Bad Boy of R&B” didn’t have to fall in line with every two-step. At one point, DeVoe and Bivins even helped him with an onstage costume adjustment in-between “Every Little Step” and “Poison.” Plus, Brown’s mic was on the entire night, as were the others, and he delivered vocally.
So what defines a legend or a legacy?
First things first, take retirement, individually and collectively, off the table. When they said “for life,” New Edition meant it. When it comes to longevity, they credit theirs to an “unbreakable bond,” saying it was “born from a mutual love for music and each other.” In spite of the good, bad, and otherwise over these past 40 years, the group explained, “All of our personal and professional ups and downs have only served to make us stronger as men. Therefore, we are even stronger together.”
As far as defining legacy and being legends at this stage in their career, New Edition simply praised their fans. “[It’s been] 40 years of blood, sweat, and sacrifice culminating in a love-affair with our fans,” said the group. “With every synchronized, sharp, and choreographed dance routine, we celebrate our faithful NE4Lifers. For we are nothing without you.” The feeling is mutual.