Over the weekend, black Twitter came together and formed like Voltron on the behalf of singer Tevin Campbell.
It all happened after popular author/blogger Luvvie Ajayi questioned who should sing at Aretha Franklin's funeral. Suggestions for singers who have the vocal chops to do the iconic singer justice cam pouring in— from KeKe Wyatt, to Yolanda Adams, to Fantasia and Lalah Hathaway.
All was going well, until someone mentioned Tevin Campbell. Ajayi responded with: "Under what rock did they pull that name from?"
The reaction to her off-handed comment was immediate and spirited, as the Twitterverse rallied together to "defend" one of the purest voices to emerge out of the 90s. "Tevin Campbell" trended on Twitter for well over 12 hours. As one person accurately said, "Tevin Campbell has been singing hoes under that table for decades."
Campbell's response to the outpouring of love was humble.
The now 41 year-old singer emerged as a teen vocal prodigy under the tutelage of legendary jazz flutist/singer Bobbi Humphrey, who was a key part of Campbell's 1988 record deal with iconic composer, Quincy Jones' Qwest Records, which had distribution through Warner Bros.
A year later, Campbell—who has a four and a half octave vocal range— had his first major appearance on Jones' 1989 platinum-selling album, Back on the Block, which showcased some of the best R&B talent of the time-- ranging from Barry White to El DeBarge. Campbell was featured on the no.1 single, "Tomorrow (A Better You, a Better Me)" (originally an instrumental recorded by The Brothers Johnson) propping up his solo debut two years later.
In 1991, a 15-year-old Campbell released his debut album, T.E.V.I.N. on Qwest/Warner Bros. The platinum-selling album, which spawned a number of hit singles, including "Tell Me What You Want Me To Do" and "Alone With You," which was produced by Al B. Sure and Kyle West. "Round and Round," which garnered a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, was produced by Prince (it was also featured on The Graffiti Bridge soundtrack). In all, eight singles were released from the project, and five peaked on the R&B top 10. He also garnered his first two Grammy nominations for this album.
His sophomore album came in 1993, with I'm Ready, which went double platinum. It featured Campbell's biggest R&B hit, and arguably one of the most perfect R&B songs ever— "Can We Talk." The album featured three more hits, "I'm Ready," "Always In My Heart" and "Don't Say Goodbye Girl." It earned Campbell three Grammys, two for Best R&B Vocal Performance and one for Best R&B Album. The album was crafted by a dream team of R&B/soul talent. Prince, Babyface, Daryl Simmons, and Quincy Jones all received producer credit on the project. Prince wrote and produced one of the album's signature tracks, "Shhh" which he later much more appropriately recorded for his project, The Gold Experience.
HIs next album, Back to the World, came in 1996, though it didn't enjoy the same commercial success as his previous two releases in spite employing Babyface, Simmons and adding Puff Daddy to the list of talent who collaborated on the outing. It did however, reach Gold status, off the strength of singles, "Back to the World" (co-written by Rahsaan Patterson) and "Could You Learn to Love" written/produced by Babyface.
By the time the latter half of the '90s rolled around, Campbell's popularity had begun to wane. There are probably a few reasons for the decrease in his chart success. One, it was hard to categorize him. At 18, was he still a teen singer? By this time, a new crop of teeny bopper R&B singers had emerged, including Brandy, Monica, Usher and Aaliyah. Campbell, though not much older than them, didn't really fit. His music had always been made for older audiences— dude was making adult contemporary R&B at 15, and doing it very well. It was difficult to figure out where he'd be marketed as he visibly aged and came into his own identity—particularly during a time that was far less accepting.
Two, his incredible vocal chops may've hurt him in some ways. Early on in his career, Campbell was molded by some of the best talent music has ever produced— Babyface, Prince and Quincy Jones. They trusted him to be able to handle whatever material they gave him vocally, and while the results were obviously great for chart hits, Campbell never really had his own sound. When he was singing an Al B. Sure song, it sounded like Al B. Sure. Same for Prince and Babyface. Yes, Campbell's voice was distinctively his. But his individual sound—the thing that would take him beyond being a tremendous vocal talent, hadn't quite developed yet and didn't get the chance to. By the late '90s, R&B had mostly moved away from new jack swing and big ballads—two identifiers for Campbell's early output.
Campbell has mostly stayed out of the public eye for years, though he did have a notable appearance on Broadway in Hairspray for several years. In 2014, he signed with Spectra Music, and released the mid-tempo single, "Safer On the Ground" in 2016.
When you talk about R&B and soul music, Campbell's mark on the genre can't be overlooked. He's undoubtedly one of the purest vocal talents to emerge in the past three decades. Bottom line—he deserves his flowers.
Here are 12 Tevin Campbell songs you should immediately check out.
"Round and Round" from Tevin's 1991 self-titled debut was produced by Prince and earned him a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance. The song, initially released in 1990, was also featured on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack.
Campbell co-wrote his biggest charting single to date, "Tell Me What You Want Me To Do," which became a No. 1 hit on the R&B chart when he was only 15. His four-octave vocal range is on full display here.
This is easily one of Campbell's best jams, produced by Al B. Sure. He was a teenager when he sang this, which only showed how much he was trusted vocally to handle this kind of track.
From his 1994 album, I'm Ready, "Don't Say Goodbye Girl" hit No. 28 on the U.S. R&B chart. It's one of his sleeper hits but is still one of those tracks that shows his vocal talent and ability to handle a slow jam, way beyond his age.
Tevin was always bidding someone farewell. This was the fourth single from his debut and had Al B. Sure's fingerprints all over it. Also, how adorable is he in this video?
Featured on the Boyz N The Hood soundtrack, as well as his own debut, Tevin collaborated with Chubb Rock for this new jack swing ditty, which hit no. 9 on the R&B chart. Clearly, this track was produced by Al. B Sure and Kyle West— it sounds like something Al probably should've been singing. But again, the song is solid for the time (Tevin even shouts "Audi 5000" at the end of track), and represents Tevin's strength as a vocal chameleon.
Young Tevin looked like the fifth member of Jodeci in the video for this minor R&B hit, with the head scarf and clothes that were five sizes too big. But it was still a good addition to his slew of standout ballads.
Despite Tevin rocking immaculate twists for this video, "Back to the World" was a minor hit compared to the success of his previous work on I"m Ready. Still, this song— which was co-written by soul guru Rahsaan Patterson— is a worthy entry to Tevin's catalog.
One of the most solid tracks in Campbell's catalog, this song is vintage Babyface at his mid-90s height. It hit the Top 10 on the Billboard 100 chart and was one of the biggest R&B songs of 1994.
Obviously, Tevin's biggest hit came 1993's No. 1 R&B single, "Can We Talk." The song remains an R&B staple, perfectly crafted by Babyface and Daryl Simmons, and executed flawlessly by the then 16-year-old.
Another Babyface-helmed track, "Always In My Heart" enjoyed chart success, becoming the third single from I'm Ready to hit the Top 20 of the Billboard 200.
Prince should've known better than to give a teenage Tevin this track. Seriously, what did he know about "dripping all over like a ball of wax?" Anyway, Tevin still showed out on the song. Prince later released his own version, which shows up on the Gold Experience.