“There’s a void out there for male R&B groups like Jagged Edge, [which] has a rough-around-the-edges feel but can deliver vocally,” a thriving Jermaine Dupri, head of So So Def, told Billboard in August 1997. “I think they have the right creative mix and are especially interesting since they wrote the songs on the album.”
The R&B quartet, composed of twin brothers Brian and Brandon Casey and Kyle Norman and Richard Wingo, was So So Def’s first all-male R&B group signees. They cashed in Dupri’s promise with A Jagged Era, their debut album released in the winter of 1998.
The album spawned two singles: “The Way That You Talk,” co-written by Brian and Brandon and produced by Dupri; and “I Gotta Be,” co-written by Brian, Brandon, Dupri and Manuel Seal.
The former and lead single, which featured special guests Da Brat (also a So So Def act) and Dupri, set the stage for A Jagged Era.
But the inescapable follow-up single put them over the top, debuting and peaking at No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Singles in August 1998. It also reached No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.
On the strength of two songs, A Jagged Era was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in December 1998.
The legendary R&B group released nine more albums, including J.E. Heartbreak, their second LP and most successful (2x multi-platinum), as well as enormous singles such as “Where The Party At” featuring Nelly, “Let’s Get Married” and “Promise,” among others.
Jagged Edge will perform those songs, plus tease material from their forthcoming album, All Original Parts, at the ONE MusicFest. The two-day affair will be held from Oct. 8 through Oct. 9 at Central Park in Atlanta, Georgia, where the group became hometown heroes.
Other R&B-centric performers on the lineup include Jazmine Sullivan, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Alex Isley, Ashanti (with Ja Rule), Bilal, J Howell, Lady Wray, Mýa, Phony Ppl, Sevyn Streeter, Tank and the Bangas and Tweet, to name a few.
Ahead of the festival, members of Jagged Edge (excluding Brian) joined Rated R&B for a Zoom call. During the interview, the band shares what it means to be touching the stage in Atlanta. They also reflect on 25 years in the industry, their next album, working with R&B duo dvsn for “What’s Up” and more.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The One MusicFest is returning to Atlanta this year. How is performing in Atlanta different from any other city?
Brandon: We get love in a lot of cities, but it’s different when it’s at home. It kind of reminds you how far you came — the days when you were wishing that you were one of those artists that the city cared about. We’ve made that a reality, and every time we get in front of them, it feels awesome, for real.
Richard: Atlanta is the hub now, so you never know who might be in the audience, from our fellow artists. They always checking to see what we got coming. You know how that go. It’s a friendly competition, man. It’s always fun to perform with the crew.
What makes a Jagged Edge show to you?
Richard: Sweat and good singing (laughs). If we don’t come off stage drenched, we ain’t do our job. We leaving it all on stage.
You guys have been spotted in the studio working with R&B duo dvsn on their forthcoming album. Tell me about the experience.
Brandon: First off, I wanna send a big shout out to them brothers because from the time I met ‘em, it’s just been such a comfortably, organically grown relationship. I enjoy being around both of them brothers, but Daniel specifically. I’ve gotten in the studio with him a little bit more. But they are super-talented [and] super humble. I feel like the game is gonna give them a lot in the end. Their next single, [“What’s Up”], we just shot the video. [It’s] the song we worked on months back.
What do you guys make of all the controversy around dvsn’s current single, “If I Get Caught”? Everyone online seems to be up in arms about the topic of infidelity that’s always been in R&B.
Brandon: You know what I really think? With podcasts and all that stuff, people just like to talk. People like to have something to talk about, and there has been, I guess, a saying in recent years: “Toxic energy. Toxic male this, toxic that.” So when you make a song that, to a lot of men, seems real [and] honest, it probably does come off, in this era, like toxic male energy. But to write something that people are talking about, as a songwriter, that’s what you wanna do. You wanna be the topic of conversation with just the things that you put together in your head and with your pen. That’s pushing the culture forward in a lot of ways. Just to have discussions about something is pushing the culture forward in that direction.
— dvsn ÷ (@dvsn) January 19, 2022
Switching gears. In July, a new Jagged Edge album and its single, “Inseparable,” was teased. What’s the inspiration behind the new song?
Richard: I can’t wait for y’all to hear the little touch we put on there. We paid some homage to some of our hometown brothers. These guys, we were singing their songs in talent shows and the whole nine. So, when y’all hear that little touch we put on the record, you’re gonna really like that.
But it’s self-explanatory, man. “Girl, we’re inseparable.” That’s just what it is. Love is a funny thing. It hurts, and it feels good. That’s the only thing we can give you with our music. We’re not going too far outside what our fans love us for. We’re gonna stay right there in that Jagged Edge block. Now, you might hear new sounds, but other than that, as far as the meat of Jagged Edge, the vocal, we ain’t going nowhere. That’s what our fans love us for.
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Kyle: This particular record, though, I think once you go through all the relationships you’ve been through and you experience where you went wrong, where she went wrong, where it went wrong, when you finally meet that person, it’s like you met that match. Where you go, she go. You like football, she like football. You may mess around and catch one of them Real Housewives of Atlanta [episodes]. You don’t watch it, but because y’all kick it so strong, that’s your buddy, your partner.
Whether y’all pray together, y’all cry together, y’all are inseparable in all that you do. It don’t take a homeboy for me to feel complete. It takes a woman. God’s gift to a man is a woman [and] God’s gift to a woman is a man. So that’s what this song displays. You need your woman and your woman needs you. And so together, y’all are inseparable.
This year marks 25 years since you signed to Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def, becoming its first all-male group signee. Can you share one memory that comes to mind from that era?
Brandon: I just remember that Jermaine, as a producer, he was on fire. He had just done, I think, Xscape’s second album Off the Hook. That’s when we came into the picture. We were familiar with all the Kriss Kross success, Xscape, Da Brat. So the fact that he even took interest in us made us feel a certain type of way. But our biggest concern was that we’d be able to get with him and still make the music that we thought was dope, which was our own music. So the fact that he would let us do that as well, it made him like, for us, the clear-cut guy we were supposed to be with.
Kyle: [Jermaine Dupri] understood the assignment. Shouts out to Brian and Brandon. It’s an honor to have that type of machine within your clique because the label can put you on something that’s totally not you as a group. And it’s really a gamble then because then they be like, “Oh, it didn’t work.” But y’all choose the single. So with Jagged Edge, we have those literally-inclined songwriters within one group. It only takes one, you feel what I’m saying, but we have two. Both of ‘em are awesome writers because I feel like they write from a male perspective naturally, but women understood. And they [are] still coming with it. They never fell off, and me and Wingo never felt like, “Oh man, we gotta tell these boys to fall back.” That’s a blessing within itself.
Soon your debut album A Jagged Era will celebrate its 25 anniversary. Any plans?
Richard: Our label and staff are always up to something. We just sit and go in the direction that they point us. We trust and believe that they have our best interest at heart and we are all here for the same goal and purpose to keep the train moving.
Your album Baby Makin’ Project turned 15 this month. It was your first album for Island Records in conjunction with So So Def. How do you feel about that album from then to now?
Brandon: It’s aged well. When you go back and listen to it, you’re like, “Damn, there’s some songs on this album.” I think the biggest sentiment towards that album, for me, was that the world didn’t get to hear it in the way we wanted them to. After “Put a Little Umph in It” [featuring Ashanti], Jermaine and LA [Reid] went through whatever they went through and we were definitely affected by whatever their process was. We normally give our fans anywhere from three to five videos from an album, but we only gave that one single off that album. So I just feel like they really weren’t introduced to all the good music that was really on that album.
Richard: But guess what? It’s part of the catalog, baby (laughs).
I understand. When labels and imprints were absorbed and merged around that time, many R&B acts were affected. I also think that was the catalyst for the “R&B is dead” movement during that rebuilding and reconstruction stage.
Brandon: As a businessman, as one of the owners of the label, I understand it now. It costs money to make R&B. It costs money to move a four-man group around the country and the world. So you gotta understand when the industry was taking all those hits, you gotta do away with what you can do away with. So a lot of good R&B shit got cut.
Richard: They weren’t being dishonest. A lot of the labels were merging and they were letting us know, like, “The reason all these labels are merging is because they’re trying to cut costs.” It’s business, man. That’s one thing I tell younger artists trying to get in the business, learn the business as well. Talent only takes you so far. The business will make you wanna quit. You have to be in it for the long haul.
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Kyle: Nothing lasts forever. Only by God’s grace Jagged Edge is still here as a four-man group. We truly love each other as brothers, and because we came from a foundation of church, we’re a praying group. We have an assignment to stay true to each other and love what we do. That’s why we’re still here.
We got the best fans in the world. I cannot make this up. That’s why we’re still here. It was a while where we wasn’t putting out anything but go to them concerts and people like, “I’m happy with this.” So, we love our fans and praises to the Most High for keeping us going, and we’re still going. As long as we got breath in our body, we are still going to keep doing what we doing.
Brandon: Thus the name of this 11th album, All Original Parts. Self-explanatory.
Get tickets to see Jagged Edge perform at ONE MusicFest at Central Park in Atlanta, Georgia. Also, for nostalgia, revisit Jagged Edge’s album Baby Makin’ Project below.