Hailey, JoJo and K-Ci
JoJo and K-Ci Hailey
Black music in the 1990s displayed a fascinating tension between traditional R&B, steeped in gospel roots, and newer and very streetwise hip-hop sounds. The brother duo of K-Ci and JoJo balanced on that razor’s edge, mixing soulful vocals and harmonies with hip-hop attitudes and sounds. As part of the group Jodeci and as a solo act that emerged with great success in 1997, they were among the rhythm-and-blues field’s most consistent album sellers and live concert draws over the entire decade. With a career that took them from pure gospel to the tutelage of the wildly successful hip-hop impresario Sean “Puffy” Combs, K-Ci and Jo Jo drew on the best of sharply different traditions.
K-Ci was born Cedric Hailey on September 2, 1969, and JoJo was born Joel Hailey on June 10, 1971. The brothers were born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and grew up in the nearby town of Monroe. The sons of gospel singers, they were raised in a strictly religious household. When the two brothers headed for New York to seek their musical fortune, their parents disapproved. “They weren’t crazy about us leaving Monroe, North Carolina, to try to make it in the business,” JoJo told Ebony magazine. “It was like, ‘Why, baby?’,” he continued.
K-Ci and JoJo grew up hearing the classic gospel sounds of Shirley Caesar, Sam Cooke, and the Winans, but also absorbed influences from soul vocalists such as Bobby Womack and Donny Hathaway. They performed together with their father in a group called Little Cedric & The Hailey Singers, and by the time the brothers had reached their teenage years, the group had already recorded three gospel albums. As with so many other acts in the history of R&B, the brothers’ musical style was based in gospel: their intricately layered yet explosive vocal harmonies were already nearly perfected when they entered the secular music business.
In 1989 they joined with another pair of gospel-singing brothers, Dalvin and Donald DeGrate (now known respectively as Mr. Dalvin and DeVante Swing) to form Jodeci; the group’s name was formed by combining syllables from three of its members’ stage names. The group headed for New York, demo tape in hand. They landed an appointment with MCA’s new urban label, Uptown, and although the representative they had first contacted gave thumbs down to their demo, they struck gold when it was over-heard by rapper Heavy D. A live audition with Uptown CEO Andre Harrell turned into a contract, guest appearances on albums by Father MC and Jeff Redd, and finally Jodeci’s debut album release, Forever My Lady, in 1991.
Uptown’s gradual buildup of its young new group proved a wise strategy, for Forever My Lady rose to number one on the R&B charts and cracked the pop Top Twenty. Three singles—“Come&Talk to Me,” “Stay,” and the title track topped the R&B singles charts. The album, which sold well
At a Glance …
Born Cedric Hailey (K-Ci), September 2, 1969; Joel Hailey (JoJo) born, June 10, 1971; both brothers born in Charlotte, North Carolina; parents were gospel singers; children: K-Ci, a son; JoJo, a daughter. Religion: Baptist.
Career: Performed with Mr. Dalvin (Dalvin DeGrate) and DeVante Swing (Donald DeGrate, Jr.), formed group Jodeei, 1989; group signed to MCA subsidiary Uptown label, 1989; jodecf released debut album Forever My Lady, 1991, Diary of a Mad Band, 1994, and The Show, The After Party, The Hotel, 1995; K-G and Jojo sang vocals on Tupac Shakur single, “How Do You Want ft,” 1996; K-Ci & JoJo debut release as duo, love Always, 1997; It’s Real, 1999.
Awards: Platinum sales levels for all Jodeci and K-Ci & JoJo releases; American Music Award, 1999.
over two million copies, showed the persistence and resiliency of traditional R&B romantic ballad singing, and its adaptability to a new era. As a Vibe magazine commentator had it, “The Jodeci sound—lush love songs with lots of whispered sweet nothings and declarations of need—is characteristic of the piningly sincere R&B balladry that rap would seem to have all but obliterated. Yet rather than seeming obsolete or old-fashioned, Jodeci have made that sound hip again.”
Jodeci’s new hipness was a matter not just of music but also of fashion and style. Harrell immersed his gentle young Southerners in big-city culture, sending them to live in the rough Bronx neighborhood in which he grew up. It is probable that Jodeci’s image was forged largely by the man who has succeeded better than anyone else in marketing hip-hop to a wide audience: Sean “Puffy” Combs. Jodeci made a strong impression in concert and on video with their up-to-the-minute oversized boots and pants and their suggestive stage moves.
The combination of hip-hop style and expressive R&B balladry installed Jodeci in the top rank of the black entertainment world, and also exerted a strong influence in the next few years on up-and-coming harmonizers like Boyz II Men, Shai, and Silk. They kept their hand in traditional R&B with a lovely cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately,” included on the predominantly acoustic Uptown MTV Unplugged collection of 1993. The song brought Jodeci substantial pop success (it rose to number four on the pop charts), and although K-Ci and JoJo would themselves achieve major pop sales on their own a few years later, they claimed convincingly that they had never undertaken a specific crossover effort.
Jodeci released Diary of a Mad Band in 1993 and The Show, The After Party, The Hotel’m 1995, increasing the proportion of rap music in their output and continuing to enjoy great success with their presentation, in which hip-hop attitude transformed romance into sexuality. Ebony reported that the group had become known as the “Kings of Do-Me R&B.” K-Ci’s voice was compared to that of Bobby Womack and to that of another master of stage sensuality, Teddy Pendergrass; his rendition of Womack’s “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” was included in the soundtrack of the film Jason’s Lyric.
K-Ci and JoJo began to define an independent identity when they were centrally featured in Tupac Shakur’s 1996 rap hit, “How Do You Want It.” Though the brothers insist that Jodeci had not broken up and planned future releases as a group, they clearly were seeking new challenges. “Jodeci has been at it for almost ten years now,” K-Ci explained to Ebony, “and even a mule takes a water break.” Their label MCA supported the emergence of K-Ci and JoJo as a solo act, but the brothers still felt trepidation: Jodeci had been a true creative team, with each member making unique contributions. “We had MCA looking at us saying, ‘We know you can do it,’ but we were asking ourselves, Can we do it?” JoJo told Essence.
The debut K-Ci and JoJo album, Love Always, was released in June of 1997. Its sales in the weeks after its launch were modest, its first two singles (“You Bring Me Up” and “Last Night’s Letter”) scored well among urban audiences but failed to match Jodeci’s pop success. However, the third single, “All My Life,” a song written by JoJo and addressed to his seven-year-old daughter, launched the album into multiplatinum sales and pop music history. The song was premiered by a Honolulu radio station, and spread rapidly through the playlists of both urban and pop radio outlets. A romantic ballad that became the theme song for countless couples, the song tied a record set by the Beatles in 1966 by leaping from Number Fifteen to the top slot in successive pop charts. Love Always eventually topped the three-million sales mark.
K-Ci and Jo Jo were no mere extension of Jodeci. As the genesis of “All My Life” might imply, they carved out a very different image, one that emphasized romance and toned down the sexual suggestiveness the group had communicated. “You can listen to this in the car, riding with the folks, and not be embarrassed,” K-Ci (also a father, of a seven-year-old son) told Ebony. The brothers composed most of the music for the album, and seemed to have set out on a new path as they neared their thirtieth birthdays. The album, said People, was “remarkably understated if not downright polite.” “We had this ‘bad boy’ image, and we’re trying to get around that,” JoJo told Jet “We don’t get as much attention as we used to get now that we’re doing right,” he added ruefully. But K-Ci and JoJo found themselves very busy in 1998 and 1999, working with hitmaker Babyface as part of a group called Milestone that propelled the Soul Food film soundtrack to platinum status, and contributing songs to the soundtracks of films The Prince of Egypt and Life. The second K-Ci and JoJo album, It’s Real, was slated for release in June of 1999.
Forever My Lady, Uptown, 1991.
Uptown Unplugged, Uptown, 1993.
Diary of a Mad Band, Uptown, 1994.
The Show, The After Party, The Hotel, Uptown, 1995.
(as K-Ci and JoJo)
Love Always, MCA, 1997.
It’s Real, MCA, 1999.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 13, Gale, 1995.
Graff, Gary, Josh Freedom du Lac, and Jim McFarlin, MusicHoundR&B: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink, 1998.
Larkin, Colin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.
Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, eds., The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.
Ebony, October 1998, p. 80.
Essence, August 1998, p. 58.
Jet, November 24, 1997, p. 57.
People, July 21, 1997, p. 21.
Playboy, October 1993, p. 17.
—James M. Manheim
"Hailey, JoJo and K-Ci." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hailey-jojo-and-k-ci
"Hailey, JoJo and K-Ci." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved March 08, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hailey-jojo-and-k-ci
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