K-Ci & JoJo Talk the History of a Mad Band [INTERVIEW]

Brotherly love according to K-Ci & JoJo Hailey

Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey and Joel “JoJo” Hailey—whose forthcoming My Brother’s Keeper is the duo’s first American release in over a decade—ain’t new to this touring business. They got their first taste of life on the road as the teenage gospel singers Little Cedric and the Haily Singers, when they sang in churches and wailed in revival tents throughout the south.

A few years later, on the other side of righteousness, the brothers won acclaim for their performances as members of the 1990s R&B powerhouse quartet Jodeci, which took them past the Mason-Dixon Line and made them international superstars. But on a Saturday afternoon in September, with their new single “Knock It Off” spinning on the radio, the brothers sit on a tour bus headed for Dallas.

Later that night, they’d perform at spot called Medusa’s, introducing the audience to their latest tracks. “We recorded My Brother’s Keeper all over the country,” JoJo (the youngest by two years) says via telephone from their tour bus. “New York, L.A., Jersey City. Our only thought before making this record was, we didn’t want to change our sound in any way. We’re old school and we want to stay old school.”

Indeed, that old school flavor even spilled over to the video concept for “Knock It Off” (below), a black-and-white clip that depicts the brothers as 1940s gangsters fighting against a rival crew for a femme fatale who’s fallen for K-Ci. “We were inspired by Harlem Nights, which is one of our favorite movies,” K-Ci explains. “Although we didn’t know it at the time, the leading lady was played by Philip Michael Thomas’s daughter.”

While K-Ci and JoJo are known for their stellar harmonies and baby-making hits, they’ve also famous for their rah-rah ways when it comes to drinking and drugging. Their 2010 TV One program K-Ci & JoJo Come Clean showed the brothers at their worst, as they struggled with alcohol and addiction.

Soul legend Charlie Wilson, who’s had his own battles with drugs and drinks to the point of homelessness, visited K-Ci and JoJo on Come Clean in hopes of giving them some guidance. “Along with Stevie Wonder and Al Green, Uncle Charlie has always been a big influence on our music,” JoJo says. “He came to school K-Ci and myself about the problems he faced, and how the Lord moved him to get himself together.”

However, the question is, have they gotten themselves together? “People think we’re party animals, but we handle our business,” K-Ci says. Adds his brother, “Hey, who doesn’t like to have fun? Who doesn’t want to take off their shoes and socks and just relax?”

K-Ci & JoJo, ‘Knock It Off’

K-Ci & JoJo, ‘Knock It Off’

K-Ci and JoJo weren’t always party boys. Raised in Monroe, North Carolina, they sang in the Pentecostal church where their mother was a minister. “Even today, you can hear the gospel in our voices,” K-Ci says. “The gospel will never leave us.” As teens, the Hailey boys were introduced to another set of brothers: Donald (who dubbed himself DeVante Swing) and Delvin DeGrate. With the DeGrates (especially DeVante) doing most of the writing and production, and the Haileys doing most of the singing, Jodeci was born.

After putting hours and days into making a demo, the boys drove the loft on Clinton Street in Brooklyn, where the original offices of Uptown Records were located. Operated by former rapper Andre Harrell—previously known as Dr. Jeckyll of the rap duo Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde—Uptown was founded in 1986 and made its name with a new type of sound. From new jack swing to hip-hop soul, Uptown’s roster included Al B. Sure!, Heavy D & the Boyz, Guy, Jeff Redd and Father MC. “Uptown was the Motown of our generation and that was where we wanted to be signed,” K-Ci says. Later, Mary J. Blige, Soul IV Real and the Lost Boyz also joined the Uptown family.

Singer Jeff Redd, who later became an executive at Uptown, recalls the day in 1989 that Jodeci came to audition without an appointment. “Andre and I were downstairs arguing about something and all of a sudden we heard this wonderful singing coming from upstairs,” says Redd. “We went to the office that they were in, and Andre asked them to sing again. When they did, we were all blown away. Andre signed them to the label that same day.

“Jodeci had used the last of their money to come to New York and they didn’t even have a place to stay. Andre still had his old apartment in a Bronx housing project, so he took them up there. Andre wanted them up in the Bronx so they could dirty up a little, get a little swag. They were scared at first, but once we got them some equipment and they could make music, they were fine.”

Harrell’s former intern Sean “Puffy” Combs was assigned to develop the