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On the Lookout for Emotional Rescue With 'Love Always'

Pop music: K-Ci and JoJo Hailey have abandoned the lust-filled explicitness of their work with Jodeci for softer songs about the yearning for romance.

June 26, 1998|SOREN BAKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When an album from an R&B or rap artist fails to make an immediate impact on the pop charts, the record company usually loses faith in the project. Yet K-Ci and JoJo Hailey, who are also members of the R&B quartet Jodeci, managed to escape that pitfall last year when their debut package, "Love Always," was released to a lukewarm response.

After Top 40 radio programmers jumped on a cut from the album, "All My Life," and put it into heavy rotation, MCA Records wasted no time in ordering a video and releasing the song as a single. The result: "Love Always" has become the most successful album of the brothers' career, surpassing Jodeci's "Forever My Lady," "Diary of a Mad Band" and "The Show, the After-Party, the Hotel."

The success has earned K-Ci & JoJo a spot on the Budweiser Superfest '98 stadium tour, which kicks off Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In the first of eight stops, the duo will share the Coliseum bill with Patti LaBelle, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, LSG, LL Cool J, Dru Hill and Montell Jordan.

The audience at this tour will hear a much different K-Ci & JoJo than it knew with Jodeci. The "Love Always" album abandoned the hard-hitting, lust-filled, hip-hop sound that made Jodeci one of the decade's most popular R&B outfits. Rather than sing about sex, K-Ci & JoJo crooned about their thirst for love. The record's lush instrumentation was handled by live musicians, rather than the samplers and drum machines Jodeci employed.

The album's first two singles, "Last Night's Letter" and "You Bring Me Up," made solid showings on urban radio stations yet had little staying power--possibly because the new, softer sound was too drastic a departure for fans familiar with the duo's previous work.

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It wasn't until Top 40 radio stations began playing "All My Life" that sales of "Love Always" began to mount. The album, whose sales totaled about 550,000 copies before "All My Life" became a radio hit, has now sold more than 2.1 million copies, according to SoundScan.

"Sometimes when you do what we did, the people won't follow you," says JoJo, 27. "But, luckily, they were open to it and they accepted it. I'm hoping that what we're doing can set a little bit of a trend."

JoJo and his 28-year-old brother are among the growing list of modern R&B artists who favor emotion over explicitness in their songs. And fans love the more mature sounds and sentiments from artists such as Brian McKnight and Erykah Badu.

"We've got a lot of young fans, and I think that with what we're doing now, a lot of kids see that you can keep an audience and sing about positive stuff," JoJo says. "You can make a love song that doesn't have to be sexual."

K-Ci & JoJo's music--much less street-oriented than Jodeci's--is deeply rooted in Southern gospel and soul traditions. Natives of Monroe, N.C., the Hailey brothers were reared in the church and they released three gospel albums with their father as Little Cedric & the Hailey Singers before hooking up with DeVante Swing and Mr. Dalvin to record as the unapologetically oversexed Jodeci.

JoJo says the largely self-written "Love Always" is much more representative of the Hailey brothers' slant than their work with Jodeci, which was primarily penned by Swing. (Still, they plan to return to Jodeci after recording a second K-Ci & JoJo album.)

By adopting an adult perspective, K-Ci & JoJo have come full circle, triumphantly returning to their musical roots.

Says JoJo: "We just wanted to make a record our mother could listen to, your grandmother could listen to--that people could listen to and not be offended by what we're saying."

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* K-Ci & JoJo, Patti LaBelle, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, LSG, LL Cool J, Dru Hill and Montell Jordan play Saturday at 3 p.m. at Budweiser Superfest '98, L.A. Memorial Coliseum, 3911 S. Figueroa St., $45.50-$55.50. (213) 748-6136.

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