Born out of the church choirs of Atlanta, Georgia, Jagged Edge has earned a reputation for lyrics that range from hard-edged topics like domestic violence in songs such as “No Respect” to hip-hop favorites that can get a crowd dancing in “Where the Party At.” They’ve also carved out a solid niche with love songs like “Gotta Be” and “Let’s Get Married” that appeal to wedding planners and prom attendees. With strong writing, solid vocal skills, and a wide-ranging appeal, Jagged Edge has led a rebirth of male R&B groups. As Larry Jenkins, senior vice president of marketing and media at Columbia Records told Gail Mitchell of Billboard, “Jagged Edge has raised the bar on where soul music is headed.”
The quartet is composed of twin brothers Brian and Brandon Casey, along with Richard Wingo and Kyle Norman. Each of the members has an alias or nickname: Brian Casey is “Brasco Dinero,” Brandon is “Case Dinero,” Richard Wingo is “Wingo Dollar,” and Kyle Norman is “Quick.” Norman convinced the Casey brothers to team up with him when he witnessed their abilities at a choir contest in Atlanta. They formed their first group, Twin AK, and almost forged a record deal with Michael Bivens, a former member of New Edition.
Members include Brandon Casey (born on October 13, 1978, in Hartford, CT); Brian Casey (born on October 13, 1978, in Hartford, CT); Kyle Norman; Richard Wingo.
Group formed in Atlanta, GA, mid-1990s; signed with So So Def Recordings, 1997; released debut album, A Jagged Era, 1997; “Gotta Be” voted one of the top 20 best songs of 1998 by Vibe magazine; released J. E. Heartbreak, 2000; released Jagged Little Thrill, 2001.
Awards: Soul Train Awards, Best R&B/Soul Single by a Male Group for “Let’s Get Married,” Best R&B/Soul Album by a Group, Band, or Duo for J. E. Heartbreak, 2001; Billboard magazine, R&B Artist-Duo/Group Award, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —So So Def Recordings, Inc., 685 Lambert Dr. NE, Atlanta, GA 30324, (404 888-9900. Management—Artistic Control, 685 Lambert Dr. NE, Atlanta, GA 30324, (404) 733-5511. Web-site —Jagged Edge Official Website: http://www.jaggededge.net.
After the deal fell through, they added Wingo, who had separated from a group that went on to form 112. Choosing a name from a movie title to set themselves apart from other R&B artists, Jagged Edge was ready to leap forward. Brandon told Roger Catlin of the Hartford Courant, “Once we met up with Richard, the chemistry was really rolling.”
Their first big break came after Wingo gave his friend Kandi Burruss a copy of Jagged Edge’s demo tape. Burruss was part of the female quartet Xscape at the time, which was signed with So So Def Recordings. She passed the demo along to Jermaine Dupri, an executive at the label. After hearing an a cappella performance by the group at his home, Dupri was ready to sign his first all-male R&B group. Their debut album, A Jagged Era, was released in 1997. As J. R. Reynolds described it in Billboard, the album “mates rugged, hip-hop-tinged midtempo tracks with creamy, laid-back ballads that often tap gospel influences.”
The group slowly gained a following with the love song “Gotta Be” from A Jagged Era. As Brandon told Catlin, “It took a year to catch on…. It started in the South, with all the Southern states playing it. Then it started trickling out. It went on to the Midwest, and then up North.” The song was listed as one of the top 20 best songs of 1998 by Vibe magazine and made it into the top 40 pop charts. A Jagged Era reached certified gold status that same year.
In the beginning the group was disconcerted by the switch from the religious music on which they had trained their voices to R&B. Brandon told Reynolds, “One of the most challenging things about this whole thing was moving from singing spiritual to recording secular music…. We kinda struggled with the decision at first.” They decided that they could hang on to their spiritual roots while gearing their music to a younger audience, convincing them that soul music wasn’t just for their parents’ generation.
Released early in 2000, their second album continued to build upon their previous success. J.E. Heartbreak debuted at number eight in Billboard’s Top 200 album charts. The single, “Let’s Get Married,” won the Best R&B/Soul Single by a Male Group at the Soul Train Awards in February of 2001. The album, which was certified multiplatinum, won for Best R&B/Soul Album by a Group, Band, or Duo at the same ceremony.
The name J.E. Heartbreak was chosen as an homage to New Edition, who released a 1988 album called N.E. Heartbreak. As Brandon told Gil Griffin of Billboard, “[New Edition was] like our Beatles, our Jackson 5.” Other influences they cite are Al B. Sure, Keith Sweat, and Fat Boys. Like New Edition, Jagged Edge has been able to cross the traditional racial boundaries of R&B and reach out to a wider audience. With rising demand and crossover appeal, Jagged Edge was put into high rotation on MTV’s music video channels.
Unlike many R&B groups, Jagged Edge writes most of their own lyrics, with song ideas coming from anyone in the group, although the Casey brothers produce most of the output. In addition to writing for Jagged Edge, Brian and Brandon have written for other artists, including Usher, Absolute, Uncle Sam, 112, and Toni Braxton. Dupri, who is often both writer and producer on many So So Def albums, showed confidence in Jagged Edge’s abilities from the start by allowing them to use their own lyrics. As Brandon told Catlin, “Much love to Jermaine Dupri for allowing us that. In the past he’s written and produced a lot of groups’ albums from top to bottom. It was a real blessing to have creative control.” Dupri acknowledges the difference it makes when he hasn’t written the songs. He told Griffin, “It’s different trying to root for records I didn’t write…. I’m on a different side of the table now.”
In mid-2001, Jagged Edge released its third album, Jagged Little Thrill. Coproduced by Dupri and Gary “Gizzo” Smith, it debuted at number three on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart and went platinum less than two months after its release. The much-anticipated collection featured both soul-tinged ballads and hip-hop. As on their previous albums, they performed some of their songs with other artists, including hiphop artists Nelly and Ludacris. In December of 2001 Jagged Edge won Billboard’s R&B Artist-Duo/Group Award.
Jagged Edge’s gifted writing and vocal talents have revived soul music, opening it up to a new generation. Their solid writing skills have also helped to create popular wedding ballads including “Gotta Be” or “Let’s Get Married.” The group also knows how to send a message, as Norman commented on their official website about the writing on Jagged Little Thrill: “We made a vow that we’d make songs that are reality, edgy, and not just funky or on the vibe of the moment.”
A Jagged Era, So So Def, 1997.
J.E. Heartbreak, So So Def, 2000.
Jagged Little Thrill, So So Def, 2001.
(Contributor) Hardball (soundtrack), Columbia, 2001.
Billboard, August 9, 1997; August 21, 1999, p. 20; June 30, 2001, p. 12, 16.
Hartford Courant, September 2, 1999, p. 5.
USA Today, June 9, 2000, p. 1E.
“Jagged Edge,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/x.dll?p=amg&sql=B290275 (January 5, 2002).
“Jagged Edge Biography,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/bio.asp?oid=2993&cf=2993 (Decembers, 2001).
“Jagged Edge on Universal Appeal of ‘Married,’” MTV, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1430484/20000609.story.jhtml (December 8, 2001).
“Soul Train Backstage Interview—Jagged Edge,” Soul Train, http://www.soultrain.com/st/jaggedbk.html (January 5, 2002).
—Eve M. B. Hermann
Members: Brandon Casey (born Hartford, Connecticut, 13 October 1977); Brian Casey (born Hartford, Connecticut, 13 October 1977); Kyle "Quick" Norman (born Atlanta, Georgia, 26 February 1977); Richard Wingo (born Atlanta, Georgia, 3 September 1977).
Best-selling album since 1990: J. E. Heartbreak (2000)
Hit songs since 1990: "I Gotta Be," "Let's Get Married," "Where the Party At"
Of the numerous male vocal groups that formed in the wake of Boyz II Men's 1990s stardom, Jagged Edge was one of the most successful, using insistent harmonies to flavor both love ballads and dance tracks with gospel-style urgency. On songs ranging from the devotional "Let's Get Married" to the high-spirited "Where the Party At," Jagged Edge proved adept at a range of styles. More forceful than Boyz II Men but less overtly sexual than the R&B group Next, Jagged Edge enjoyed an impressive string of hits but failed to establish a distinctive vocal identity.
The band is a quartet composed of identical twin brothers Brandon and Brian Casey, Kyle Norman, and Richard Wingo. They came together in Atlanta, Georgia, having met through their frequent performances with local church choirs. Enlisting the help of their friend Kandi Burruss, a member of the female R&B group Xscape, Jagged Edge sent a demo recording to the producer Jermaine Dupri, who quickly signed the group to his So So Def label. Jagged Edge's debut album, A Jagged Era, was released in early 1998 and features the hit "I Gotta Be," a love ballad hoisted by the group's gently pleading vocals. Although A Jagged Era includes several additional songs recorded in the lush, romantic style of Boyz II Men, the group proved equally at ease with sharp dance numbers such as "The Way That You Talk."
The group's fame was secured with their follow-up recording, J. E. Heartbreak, released in 2000. The album's biggest hits, "Let's Get Married" and "Promise," are gentle ballads extolling the virtues of matrimony and commitment, although the group's pleading harmonies imbue both songs with a sensuousness absent in the lyrics. On "Let's Get Married," the singers exchange lead vocal parts with flamboyant energy, spicing their performance with gospel-influenced growls and shouts. Like its predecessor, J. E. Heartbreak left plenty of room for funky dance tracks such as "Girl Is Mine," which features a tough guest spot by rap artist Ja Rule. Jagged Little Thrill, sparked by the exuberant hit, "Where the Party At," followed in 2001. Similar in format to the group's previous albums, the album veers from the sinuous funk of "Driving Me to Drink" to ballads such as "Respect," which speaks out against domestic abuse: "Don't matter how strong she is for a woman / A man should never attempt to lay his hands on her." Despite the new commitment to social issues, Jagged Edge's sound on the album remains unchanged. Unlike Boyz II Men or Next, however, none of the lead singers have truly distinctive voices, a handicap that lends a faceless quality to the group's albums, despite their undeniable verve and energy.
Jagged Edge used the gospel techniques of its members to craft lively, engaging R&B hits in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Although the group's harmony sound is not pioneering, Jagged Edge is nonetheless a successful modern representative of the group vocal tradition in R&B.
A Jagged Era (So So Def/Columbia, 1998); J. E. Heartbreak (So So Def/Columbia, 2000); Jagged Little Thrill (So So Def/Columbia, 2001).