Friends, by now we all realize that the radio is no more than a haunted house – a vile, wretched place where the same horrid sounds are repeated over and over again.
The demise of radio certainly didn’t happen overnight. One faithful day in 1998, my radio station introduced me to one song that, over time, turned me in to the bitter music critic that y’all love to hate.
The ironic thing is that “Too Close” is not a bad song. Early on, I was a fan. But it was played ENDLESSLY on our radio station. Remember, this was a time when radio was somewhat diverse – I wasn’t used to hearing the SAME SONG on EVERY local urban music station AT THE SAME TIME.
At the end of every year, our major hip hop station would count down the most played songs of the year. I remember when my friends speculated which song would be No. 1, I angrily reminded them that “Too Close” was played every day for nearly a straight year. Was the outcome really in doubt?
Of course, I was right – “Too Close” was named Virginia’s No. 1 song of 1998. And I died a bit inside. To this day, when I hear those opening notes Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’,” which is sampled in “Too Close” I fly into a rage. Poor Kurtis Blow, I never wanted him to be a casualty of my “Too Close” vendetta.
Enough about The Song That No Longer Shall Be Named. Let’s look back at the architects of my animosity, Next.
In the mid 90s, R.L Huggar and brothers Terry “T-Low” Brown and Raphael “Tweet” Brown formed a group called Straight4ward, and prepared to make their mark on the R&B world. Realizing that no one would take them seriously if they were named after an after-school reading program, they renamed themselves Next. They eventually met KayGee of the veteran rap group Naughty By Nature. KayGee signed the trio to his label, which was distributed by Arista Records, and dropped their first album, Rated Next, in 1997.
For you newbies out there: If you come across an album cover that features multiple, well-dressed black guys leaning on a wall, you can bet it’s a 90s R&B album.
Leaning on walls = success. The lead single, “Butta Love,” hasn’t aged well, but it was a success in its day. reaching No. 4 on the R&B charts. Of course The Song That Shall Not Be Named was the group’s biggest hit, reaching No. 1 on the pop charts and lingering on radio for an eternity. I barely remember the third single, “I Still Love You” (it probably got overlooked in my town thanks to you know what), but it was pretty successful too. It also reached No. 4 on the R&B charts. Those strong showings propelled Rated Next to more than 2 million in sales. Not bad for a debut.
Next soon became a hot commodity, showing up for a duet on 1999 Destiny Child’s album, The Writings on the Wall (Bey probably wouldn’t even give them change on the street today, sadly). R.L. wasted no time spreading his wings, collaborating with Deborah Cox for her hit “We Can’t Be Friends” and a whole bunch of random R&B dudes on “The Best Man I Can Be” for The Best Man Soundtrack.
In 2000, Next returned (sans wall) for Welcome II Nextasy. The yielded another hit, and my favorite Next song, “Wifey.” Yes, that song is the source of my pet name for Georgia Mae’s boss lady. “Wifey” soared to No. 1 on the R&B charts, but the follow up, “Beauty Queen,” struggled to find an audience. Maybe Next’s fans preferred them to sing about love and sex, not scolding “bad girls.” The strength of “Wifey” still helped their second set go gold.
Next took a brief break and front man RL jumped at the chance to become R&B’s next breakout male star, a la Sisqo. Remember folks, this was 2002 – Sisqo wasn’t a total parody yet. Well, actually he was but roll with me on this. I wasn’t a fan of the awkwardly titled RL:Ements – the singles “Good Man” and “Got Me A Model” were both pretty generic. Before you knew it, RL was back with Next.
Proving my point, Next released their third album, The Next Episode, a mere eight months after RL’s solo project. I liked their single, “Imagine That,” but it wasn’t enough to make a dent in the landscape. The album fell of the charts almost as quickly as it arrived.
As is often the case with these What Ever Happened to columns, after the success fades, the rumors of strife began to rise. Stick with me, here:
“T-Low is having throat surgery! He’ll never sing again!” But he recovered.
“Next is signing with 50 Cent! They’re on the comeback trail!” Seriously, has 50 helped anyone’s career post 2003? Besides one mixtape, that partnership went nowhere.
“Next is signing with Beyonce’s daddy! They’re on the comeback trail!” Seriously, has Mathew Knowles helped anyone’s career besides his daughter’s? That partnership went nowhere.
“RL wants to go solo!” But he never officially left.
“Tweet hates RL and is quitting!” Apparently there was some sort of dispute, but those wounds have healed. Everyone is cool now. Allegedly.
Should They Come Back?: Depending on whom you ask, a new album is on the way! But should we care? I’m on the fence – Next wasn’t a bad group but they never seemed to reach their potential. Looking back, their greatest success came because they had one really popular song during R&B’s final glory days. Everything else was just kinda … there. I’m not extremely confident that they’ll return and rejuvenate R&B but with the genre in such horrible shape, anything would be an improvement.
In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for sporadic replays of You Know What. And I’ll be running away, holding my ears and screaming into the night.