What Ever Happened to: Tevin Campbell

Thanksgiving is almost here and that means the wife and I will be dining with the in-laws.

The wifey’s family is a bit nontraditional. In fact, they’re the poster children for role reversal. The wife’s dad will be spending 24 hours in the kitchen making culinary magic while the wife’s mom is off somewhere watching horror movies on DVD.

While her dad cooks, one thing is definitely for sure – he’ll be throwin’ down in the kitchen to the tunes of Tevin Campbell.

Y’all know how much I love Keith Sweat. Well, magnify that about a billion and that comes somewhat close to how much my father-in-law loves Tevin.

Roll your eyes if you like, but here’s the truth: Tevin was once the unrivaled king of R&B. Bobby Brown has been lying to y’all for years.

Don’t believe me? I bet you need a refresher.


Like most of the artists we feature in this space, Tevin developed a passion for singing at a young age and honed his vocals in gospel choirs in his home state of Texas. Where do today’s artists hone their vocals? The Burger King drive-thru intercom?

In the late 80s, a friend of the family introduced Tevin to jazz flutist Bobbi Humphrey, who then talked him to up to the big-wigs at Warner Bros. That led to a meeting with industry icon Benny Medina, and Tevin’s career was set.

Tevin made a name for himself early on by linking up with a couple of legends. His first single was “Tomorrow (A Better You And Me)” from Quincy Jones’ Back on the Block ensemble LP. Right out of the gate, that song flew to No. 1. Then, Tevin was featured on the soundtrack to Prince’s hideous “Graffiti Bridge” movie (sorry, “Purple Rain” was the only watchable movie that man filmed). The Prince-produced “Round and Round” was a solid R&B hit and actually got more play on my hometown radio station than “Tomorrow.”

As 1991 came to a close, it was finally time for Tevin to stand on his own. His platinum-selling debut, T.E.V.I.N., dropped, coincidentally, on Nov. 19 – exactly 21 years before this post was written.

Good lord I’m old.

Along with “Round and Round” this set included one of Tevin’s trademark singles, “Tell Me What You Want Me To Do.” But that’s not all – I swear, nearly every song on this album made its way to radio at some point. “Just Ask Me To,” “Goodbye,” “Confused,” and “One Song” all were on the airwaves. To this day, I STILL don’t know what “Strawberry Letter 23″ is supposed to be about but it’s WAY better than Akon’s later version. *shudder.*

However, all those tracks pale in comparison to “Alone With You.” It’s absolutely CRIMINAL that there was never a video for this song. “Alone With You” and “Tell Me What You Want Me To Do” both became No. 1 R&B hits.

By 1993 I was pretty confused. Tevin was still dropping singles from his debut while also dropping songs from his upcoming album, I’m Ready. R&B was experiencing Tevin overload. But when the music is good you can’t complain.

I’m Ready‘s lead single was arguably Tevin’s biggest hit, “Can We Talk.” If you were an embryo or something in 1993 you can’t relate but, trust me, that song was GIGANTIC. Gat-toting thugs in my neighborhood were even incorporating the lyrics into their pickup lines: “Can we talk for a minute? I wanna know your naaaaame….”

I’m not exaggerating. I witnessed this as it happened (although I didn’t witness the same dude stealing my bike about a year later). Tevin was turning future offenders into romantics.

The title track and “Always In My Heart” helped Tevin dominate those ’90s “quiet storm” mixes. And don’t sleep on “Don’t Say Goodbye Girl.” The album sold more than 2 million copies, received three Grammy nominations, was critically acclaimed – Tevin was on fire and he was just 16 years old!

Ah, but every star must dim eventually.

Tevin returned in 1996 with his dreaded tarantula braids to drop Back to the World. There were few songs that incurred my wrath in 1996 more than the title track. It wasn’t a horrible song, it just was just so very mediocre. To make things worse, that song was played DAY IN AND OUT around my way. “Come back to da wuuuuuurld, come back to da wuuuuuuuuuurld.” I was not a fan. Looking back, his voice was still phenomenal but those braids and that Professor X chair? Help us.

Back to the World apparently spawned three more singles – “I Got It Bad,” “You Don’t Have to Worry” and “You Could Learn to Love” – but I don’t remember a thing about any of them. I guess my brain just shut out this phase of Tevin’s career. The album went gold and while that’s enough to hold a ticker-tape parade in 2012, that was pretty underwhelming for an artist of Tevin’s stature.

Here’s something that will blow your mind: Somewhere in New Orleans, a young Mystikal watched the “Back to the World” video and said “I wish my hair looked that good!”

Watch yo’self.

Tevin tried to reclaim his glory one last time in 1999 with, uh, Tevin Campbell. I remember there was a ton of hype around this time because Wyclef Jean was set to be one of the album’s producers. According to the always-accurate Wikipedia, the dude only produced one song, and it wasn’t even one of the singles.

“Another Way” was actually pretty good, even though it was awkward to hear Tevin talking about “hittin’ the skins.” Poor Tevin had a tough time evolving with the times. “For Your Love” sounded like a Next knockoff and “Losing All Control” wasn’t suited to his style, either.

Later that year, Tevin was arrested after soliciting oral sex from an undercover male cop and he was caught ridin’ dirty too, which kinda threw mud on his squeaky-clean image. Times have changed. In 2012, if you wanna come out about your sexuality, you hold a press conference. In ’99, you get busted by the po-po.

Since then, Tevin has been under the radar, only popping up occasionally  He was among the featured artists on the 2010 remake of “Secret Garden” and was a surprise performer on the BET Awards awhile back.

Should He Come Back?: R&B can use all the help it could get but I’m on the fence about a comeback. Tevin had a really tough time trying to revamp himself in the late ’90s. If Tevin stays true to his throwback sound, I think he could have a successful comeback, similar to SWV earlier this year. If he tries to get all Trey Songz on us with tattoos and skinny jeans, I’ll pass. But I bet my father-in-law would be happy to see him regardless.

8 Comments

  1. You are so right about Tevin being the man. Alone With You is still one of my favorite songs of all time and I could go on and on listing other Tevin classics.

    Side note: Prince’s movie Under the Cherry Moon is awesome.

  2. great writeup on Tevin’s career. I couldnt agree more. Tevin should def get a solid team together and release some new material. His voice is still golden.

    You did leave out that Tevin has been on broadway since about 2006 with Hairspray up until this past year.

    He posted on his Facebook that he is working on new music and hopes to release something this year sometime.

  3. sorry try change our life beter.

  4. Excellent overview of Tevin Campbell’s career!

    For me his first album was the absolute classic. Song, after song, after song, all fantastic. Unfortunately, it seems Tevin’s success heavily relies on the quality of writers/producers he happens to be working with, and this may explain his earlier success. He has an excellent voice, but that will not be enough to put him back on the map, should he try to make a come back. Basically, he is just a voice (albeit a good one) that sings songs, which is hardly sufficient to compete in this day and age.

  5. No mention of his 1st date with Ashley on Fresh Prince as Little T?!

  6. Somebody hook Tevin up with some of today’s best songwriter’s, and we can have him back again! Too good a voice!

  7. I really still love Tevin Campbell and miss his music very much. So , I will just listening to his old stuff until he comes back. Good luck Tevin where ever you are. Love always

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