Next: Real Music Never Gets Old

Veteran R&B group Next recently performed live in London, treating fans with their classics, including “Wifey” and “Too Close,” as well as debuting new material. The live show marks the return for the trio, who are set to release a new album – seductively titled Next, Lies & Videotape – early next year.

Nowadays authentic R&B music is noticeably scarce in the mainstream charts. I remember growing up in the ’90s; you’d hear a lot of credible R&B on the mainstream music channels. It had a soulful edge to it, with elements of swing, jazz and even hints of reggae mixed in. But these days R&B chart music barely resembles its rhythm and blues origins. It’s now watered down to cater to a more commercial audience, creating a new R&B/pop sound in the process – one that’s a million miles away from the genre’s previous generations.

In the late ’90s urban boybands – or male vocal groups, as some like to call them – were really big: from the likes of Jodeci, 112, Blackstreet and Dru Hill, to Damage, Boyz II Men and H-Town. One band that was riding high in the late ’90s/early ’00s were Next.

Formed in 1997 by Robert Lavelle “R.L.” Huggar and brothers Raphael “Tweety” Brown and Terry “T-Low” Brown, Next released their debut album Rated Next, in late ’97, with leading single “Butta Love” charting fairly well. But it was second single “Too Close” that really put the boys on the map and made them a global success, with Rated Next eventually being certified double platinum.

The group released two further albums (Welcome II Nextasy and The Next Episode) and although both projects never managed to create the same level of success as their first album, they were still two very successful LP’s in their own right. A host of chart singles followed and the band enjoyed a successful run of live shows, tours around the world and many award nominations, winning Best R&B/Soul Single by a Band, Duo or Group for “Too Close” at the 1999 Soul Train Awards.

At the beginning of the last decade, R&B boybands slowly faded away from the mainstream, with record labels shifting towards R&B solo acts and audiences shying away from the once popular ‘boyband’ format. Signalling an end to most of the acts from my generation’s childhood and paving the way for more fresh talent to break through. Next were no exception, and like most groups from that era, they were noticeably absent from contemporary music charts and popular music culture in general. The band never formally split up – although Tweety was replaced with R&B singer Deponce – and continued to release mixtapes as a group, with the members focusing heavily on individual projects.

However, in the last year or two, we’ve seen a rise in the ‘comeback’ of the male vocal groups. With bands like Dru Hill, Black Street and 112 reforming and creating a nostalgic R&B vibe, it got me thinking, can these acts actually break into the mainstream charts again and capture a new generation? – like what British boyband Take That did with their grand return – or will it be the old fans, who listened to their music during their heyday who’ll buy into their new material?

I had a little chat with Founding Next member, Robert Lavelle “R.L.” Huggar, ahead of the groups London gig, to talk Next’s new album, the current state of R&B music, boyband comebacks and more.

“We’ve been working on so much new material. We got loads of new stuff recorded. We’ve just been in the studio creating some new sounds,” explains RL on the group’s upcoming new album. “It’s a sound that’ll be similar to what fans are used to hearing, but obviously we’ve grown a lot since back then, so the sound will have changed quite a bit.” The band’s fourth studio album will be titled Next, Lies & Videotape, taking R&B back to that ‘sexy place’ that was very evident in the ’90s. “The albums got a real sexy vibe to it,” he says. “We’re taking it back to that time when music was real sexy. You know? When music really spoke to you.”

These guys have been performing for over ten years now, but RL believes he’s enjoying himself a lot more these days and appreciates it much more now, than he did during the bands early years. “Back then we were so young, we didn’t really understand what was going on,” he explains, reminiscing back to the hectic early days. “We were just kids. Everything was happening so quick, we were working so much and travelling so much, we didn’t really stop to realise all the great things (that) we were achieving. We didn’t have time to. And you know? Being young you don’t really appreciate things as much. But now that I’m older, I enjoy it so much more. I can see and appreciate everything that’s going on. We’re truly blessed.”

Despite appreciating the music industry and all its glories a lot more this time around. RL is less than enthusiastic about today’s R&B newcomers. “Honestly, I don’t even call it R&B. Some of these young artists try and diss the older ones, but truthfully speaking most of these new artists are not even singers, they’re entertainers,” he says. “No disrespect to them, but these days new artists are so concerned with costume changes, elaborate stage designs and props, but if you judge them on the vocals alone, they’re not that strong.” He continues, “they’re singers, not ‘sangers’. In my day we sang. You know? We’re ‘sangers’ these guys are just singers. There’s a big difference.”

And it’s this reason the R&B crooner believes that old skool bands like Next will always have a place with music consumers. “The fact that we focus heavily on vocals and singing during our live shows, is the exact reason why groups like Next and Jagged Edge can continue selling out shows in London and across the world, for ten years plus. People like good live music and that’s what we do. So no matter what’s in the charts at the moment, we’ll always be doing shows, because people love good real music.”

But don’t get too excited just yet. Although the guys have been in the studio working on lots of new material, the band are not set to release their album until early next year. But rest assure, you can still get a third of your Next fix, as RL is set to release a solo album later this year.

“My solo album will be out sometime later this year. Most probably just after the summer. It’s a fun sexy, real R&B record. It’s not too similar to my previous work, as you gotta keep it moving, but fans will definitely be able to connect to it, like they did with my other work. Then in early 2011, that’s when we’ll release the new material with the band.”

I was a huge fan of R&B music in the ’90s, but contemporary R&B is a bit too ‘poppy’ for my liking. It doesn’t have enough soul. These days I’d much rather listen to some soul, hip-hop, indie, electro or dubstep music. With all these ’90s R&B boybands making a comeback, maybe it can sway me (and others like myself) back into liking contemporary R&B again. Or maybe their new music will sound so old school it might not be able to connect with today’s music buying public. Who knows?

Whether they break through into the mainstream charts again, that’s something we got to wait and see. But one thing’s for sure, their old fans will more than likely appreciate their music and continue to go to their shows. Like RL said, “people love good real music” and good, real music never gets old.

–Vanessa Laker

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