Exclusive: With Jagged Edge releasing their eighth studio album, J.E. Heartbreak Too, they detail JD's return and what the group means to Hip Hop and R&B's southern dominance.
Jagged Edge hasn’t been away in quite the you may think. The Remedy was released in the middle of 2011 and debuted at number 35 on the Billboard 200. You’ve also been hearing the ghost of their sound pop up in acts everywhere, as straight up Hip Hop artists dip their toe in the super group’s unique brand of HipHop tinged R&B. But, it is a reunion of sorts. Jermaine Dupri, who unceremoniously seemed to walk out on the quartet at the height of their fame when things began to sour between the world-renowned producer and Columbia Records, rejoins making music with the group whom he helped pioneer a sound that dominated the R&B charts in the late 90s and early aughts.
At the height of their prowess, Jagged Edge was moving units in a way that most artists in the MP3 era could only envy. Almost all of their chart topping singles went gold in their own right, and that doesn’t begin to mention that the album that cemented their stardom, J.E Heartbreak, went double platinum and the other albums singles “Let’s Get Married” and “He Can’t Love You” peaked in the top 15 of the Billboard Top 100 for a combined 45 weeks.
And now all the pieces are back in place to recreate that magic, if with some caveats. The foursome brings us J.E. Heartbreak Too as a joint venture between their company Hard Case Records and So So Def, and is also tapping Bryan-Michael Cox to help get them there. But can there brand of R&B truly dominate the charts again with Hip Hop encroaching on their lane? And why don't people immediately think of Jagged Edge when Atlanta’s supreme musical status gets invoked?
Jagged Edge Explains Timeless Music, Being On Road & The Comeback
DX: The first single, “Hope,” man it sounds like what R&B used to mean to us when we were growing up. What is it about that sound and what was it like in the studio making that happen again?
Brian Casey: Most importantly, I think, with “Hope” our goal was always to... when we came back this time, make sure we gave something that was like as soon as you heard it, you know that was Jagged Edge. And I think we definitely achieved that. But I think when you make as many songs we’ve made, sometimes it’s almost hard to figure out, "What’s that one that’s gonna resonate immediately? What’s that one that people are gonna say, 'This is Jagged Edge?'" But when we completed that song, I think we all kinda knew that this [was] that record that people gonna understand, "That’s Jagged Edge."
DX: How far along is the album?
Brian Casey: We’re about a fourth in. We got about 12 songs, we’re trying to do about 50 before we’re done. But honestly, out of them 12, I think every one of those could go right now. But we’re gonna keep working regardless. Though we do feel like we’ve got a strong 12 right now. But once we get to 50 we’ll put it all in a pot, sit back and listen and see what’s really working.
Richard Wingo: And it’s always good to have more than less. Cause you have material for other things, soundtracks, and our next album.
Brian Casey: And understand, if you wanna follow in our steps, our goal always been to be timeless. And I think young dudes goal is that. Because you gotta be real about it. Some things you saying at 19, 20... When you’re 60, you not gonna say that. It ain’t gonna feel the same coming out of your mouth.
Brandon Casey: And this is one of the few games where if you good enough, you can still exist at 60. So why limit yourself?
Richard Wingo: I mean, you won’t hear a lot of that stuff in the next 20 years.
Kyle Norman: I mean that’s just [a] Jagged Edge thing. Okay? I don’t know what you gonna do, but… Jagged Edge.
DX: This album, J.E. Heartbreak Too is the follow up to your smash J.E. Heartbreak, which featured super hits like “Let’s Get Married,” and “Promise.” So we just wanna talk about the making of that record, “Let’s Get Married,” what was it like? Did you guys know it was going to be huge?
Brandon Casey: He was like, “Forget, "He Can’t Love You,” lets go straight with “Let’s Get Married.”
Richard Wingo: I wanted to drop that joint…But that goes again to show too, never just judge music like that. Because, not to say he can’t…
Brian Casey: ‘Cause it did some dope things for us.
Richard Wingo: It sold 500,000 singles. That’s when there were people buying singles, dog. Then the album came out and then we dropped “Let’s Get Married,” and of course, I mean, no brainer.
Brian Casey: And what’s funny even about that whole process is people don’t realize by the way you define ‘bigger,’ “Promise” [is] probably bigger than all them songs. Because it sat at number one a little longer. So it’s just funny every time we go on this album, people are like “Let’s Get Married,” but you forget about “Promise.” “Promise” was probably one of our biggest records, period.
DX: Will there be a tour for the new album?
Richard Wingo: Well the album is slated to come out late September. September 30. The album is entitled J.E. Heartbreak Too. That’s T-O-O. And it’s ultimately…
Brian Casey: We’ve got the House of Blues tours already on the calendar.
Richard Wingo: Exactly. And we’ve got like a six week tour coming up or whatever. And we gonna tie the promo in while we are actually working. And we got a big tour coming up later on in the year, but that’s all we know is road. Literally our first, what, four albums, it was nonstop, man.
Brian Casey: Our first year in the game, we probably did 150, 200... free shows!
Richard Wingo: Just to get it. And we look back at it now, and it was tiring then, but we look back at it now…
Brian Casey: But it’s a part of our foundation. It’s still here right now.
Richard Wingo: And that’s what ultimately what helped us.
Brian Casey: And we hated the label at the time, but it’s really worked for us.
Richard Wingo: Almost our first album throughout going into the second album, we was still sharing rooms.
Brian Casey: Free shows, sharing rooms.
Brandon Casey: Sitting in the back of the plane.
Brian Casey: Saving every dollar.
Brandon Casey: And it’s crazy riding in the back of the plane when people start noticing you. You know on the commercials when they say, “Wish you could be anywhere but here?” Yeah, that’s how it used to feel.
Kyle Norman: [People would be like,] “Hey Jagged Edge, I see you in the third row!”
Richard Wingo: But again, we just look back at it as a road to where we trying to go and where we are. And like I say, we ain’t trying to slow down. We gon’ ride this thing til the wheels fall off.
DX: People don’t really talk about marriage anymore, or promises anymore. Do you think that this sound could really make a comeback?
Brian Casey: I’m gonna tell you the truth. We think it do, because one thing we always try to do like, we all four dudes who come from our own little circles, and we all was popular. We was all "The Man" if you will in our own little circles. So to me, I just look at it like… I figured it does because I think one thing we used to do even in the beginning, we make this cooler than some dudes do. And we do that by choice, if you will, we make an effort to do that because we wanna be able to say what we saying, without somebody having to attach that to "You soft" or "You lame." Nah, why? We wanna say something different than everybody’s saying everyday. So we do that and make that the coolest thing we can make it.
Richard Wingo: And you can’t get away from being real. You can say all this stuff all day long or whatever, but when the rubber meets the road, when it comes down to it, you gotta be real with yourself. And everybody loves. You love something!
Brandon Casey: You know what else is fire? Is the sound making a comeback, in my mind? And like I said, it’s my opinion, nothing to me sounds harder than a good piano, lead piano or a lead guitar, a bass and a drum. So it’s like, yeah you could throw all your tricks and stuff in there, but this right here, you’re never gonna get much better than this right here so it’s gonna always trickle back at some point in time. That’s just my opinion, it’s gonna always have to come back.
Kyle Norman: I concur.
Richard Wingo: That’s a must.
Jagged Edge Upends The “R&B Thug” Dynamic & Talks The Atlanta Sound
DX: You guys were a part of, if not, a main part of a sound in Atlanta that took over the entire nation. You guys made a kind of R&B with a Hip Hop edge that’s very popular right now. Do you guys see your DNA in a lot of artists that are successful right now?
Brandon Casey: Yeah, I think also, some of the artists have kinda took the essence of what this is and made it and almost tried to make it literal. If you understand, it’s like people always try to associate that thug thing with us. But y’all never ever heard us say ‘Thug R&B.’ We ain’t never say...I would never put it that way. And I think some of the younger artists took that and they thought, ‘Now we supposed to talk about this and sing about that,’ and really like we just four dudes that’s from the hood trying to sing. It was never about no R&B thug.
Brian Casey: That shits so lame. I’m sorry.
Brandon Casey: It does, it just feels so lame to take, to try to take R&B and try to make it that. And I feel like everybody got a story to tell so I don’t want to knock that story, but at the same time lets appreciate R&B for what it is and what it’s been since the beginning. There was nothing wrong with it, y’all ain’t gotta try to recreate it like that. There was nothing wrong with R&B.
Richard Wingo: And to what Brandon was saying, I mean, just like you said, when you see us with our hat backwards, I mean this is how we walk around in our neighborhood, this is how you’ll see us at the mall. So we just always wanted to be regular. We didn’t want to be too “Too famous to even speak to you,” we want our fans to walk up to us and tell us how they day going or whatnot.
Kyle Norman: Or image built. There’s a lot of artists right now that’s image built. And, ‘This us.’ How you see us 24/7 at the studio, on the stage, this is Jagged Edge right here. And a lot of cats, they be like, ‘Yo. Where’d you get the hat from? How you gon match that with that?’ That’s not what we’re doing here, okay, really.
DX: How much does that carry on into the music, as far as not being contrived yet having a style? And is it the same way with how you write?
Brian Casey: You know what? I think that’s us.That’s the best..I think I’ve never heard somebody say it like that, but…
Richard Wingo: I mean we’ve always been big on topics. So again, it does stretch over into our music. It’s like, we wanna write about relationships and there’s all kinds of aspects of relationships…
Brandon Casey: But that’s what it do. It makes us go harder at that. At the relationship stuff. At the love stuff. To make sure we let everybody else know that that’s what this is. It was never about, you know, making street songs. Even though we may have made some of those, that’s never what this was about. So sometimes I think people have taken the essence of this and made it a real literal thing.
DX: Speaking of “Promise,” We hear a lot of “Promise” in people like Drake for example. Do you guys think it’s interesting that R&B records, or what used to be considered R&B records could come out of a Hip Hop guy like that?
Brian Casey: I mean, I’m not because of the fact that for whatever reason, let’s be real. R&B ain’t been on the radio in a while and that’s not as much by accident as some people think. The powers that be, we ain’t gotta name no names or even job descriptions, but the powers that be get records like “Promise,” “I Gotta Be,” as well as they get the whatever sexually suggestive, they get those. They choose: “Let’s put this stuff back here, let’s put this up here.” So I’m just saying, it’s like, when you look at it that way, and I was saying this earlier, I think sometimes we give artists too much credit for what the radio sound like. When we ain’t programming no station nowhere. And if we were, I think almost every artist would prefer that the radio be a little more diverse.
Jagged Edge Describes Their Central Role in Atlanta’s Dominance
DX: Outside of Atlanta, people didn’t necessarily focus the spotlight on the R&B scene, but after you guys and Xscape, and a lot of stuff that happened with So So Def, the scene really blew up. How influential do you think you guys were in putting the national spotlight on the A’?
Brian Casey: We had something to do with it.
Brandon Casey: It’s funny because we not only had something to do with it in terms of what people know, [but] there’s so much people don’t know that we had to do with it. Like, Bryan Cox, y’all wouldn’t know Bryan Cox if it wasn’t for us. I ain’t trying to be funny, but Bryan Cox... This just tells you about timing. Time and opportunity and timing. Bryan Cox was signed to Noontime.
Brian Casey: Who got August Alsina out right now.
Brandon Casey: And they had Jazze Pha, Polow Da Don, they had all these producers. So Bryan-Michael Cox was the new kid. At the time he was like 17 or 18, they had him really just engineering sessions. Literally. We went to him, he was like, “Listen man...” This was before doing J.E. HeartBreak. Me and him together went to Ryan Glover and Noonie and was like, “Give us a keyboard player.’” Cause we don’t need you to send me tiny bits of tracks, Jazze Pha tracks. They great producers, but we don’t need that. Give us a piano player. They gave us Bryan Cox. So Bryan Cox was engineering sessions, he was sending them tracks that they really wasn’t paying attention to, and we took that and we created a sound. And he been off of it ever since.
Richard Wingo: JD wouldn’t even know him.
Brandon Casey: Right, we brought Bryan to JD.
Brian Casey: And that’s him, that’s Rico Love.
Brandon Casey: Rico Love. I discovered those cats, I payed for them to move from Milwaukee to come to Atlanta. Like Rico Love. The Rico Love.
Kyle Norman: They literally stayed with me man.
Richard Wingo: They were living in Kyle’s house.
Brandon Casey: We did Nivia’s demo, we did Ashanti’s demo, Tank’s demo, Ciara’s demo, that helped them get record deals.
Kyle Norman: CyHi tha Prynce.
Brandon Casey: It’s a lot that people know, and a lot that people don’t know. So If you gonna ask me how important we are to the scene, I’m gonna say “very.”
Brian Casey: And a lot of circles in that city we’ve been the glue.
Kyle Norman: To all you artists, y’all ain’t gotta say names, y’all know. Y’all wasn’t on it. Jagged Edge was on it.
Brandon Casey: But that’s how far it go back. All those artists, we was working on demos with those artists before they ever got deals.
Brian Casey: LeToya Luckett. Her too.
Richard Wingo: 112. I turned them on to their manager. I seen them at a talent show [Laughs].
Brian Casey & Richard Wingo : We used to rehearse in the same house with 112. And that’s what’s funny about the whole 112 Jagged Edge beef, we used to literally rehearse in the same house. Them in one room, we in the other. There was never no beef.
Brandon Casey: YoungBloodz, the rap group, we’ve known them cats since they were like nine years old.
Brian Casey: They used to live with us too.
Brandon Casey: Like they mother used to drop them off at our house like, “Teach them something.”
Brian Casey: I dated Sean Paul’s [Youngbloodz] sister for eight years.
Brandon Casey: Like ‘Teach this boy something, I don’t care what it is.’ Those my people, man.
DX: You touched on something interesting earlier, with people trying to emulate the whole "R&B Thug" thing. I feel like you all always had elements of rap. What’s the connection between the A-Town’s Hip Hop scene during that peak, and R&B, especially Jagged Edge?
Brian Casey: I think I mean, the connection. One thing about A-Town, we used to say this all the time back in the day, it’s love. People pretty much support each other. You go to a Monica show, you might see us, Cee-Lo Green, you go to a Cee-Lo Green show, you might see Monica, us, it’s just support out there, it’s love out there. So I think that connection’s always been instant and hand and hand. Just that bond that I think most of us as artists feel in Atlanta and it’s pretty dope.
DX: Speaking of how you guys, the Atlanta sound took over everything, there’s a sort of a new Atlanta sound with the Future and Migos that's dominating again, there’s a lot of you in that as well.
Brandon Casey: Melody.
DX: Did you guys know those guys growing up, or around them?
Brandon Casey: Oh, Future’s from my hood, he’s from the Eastside, but I know a lot of his people, I didn’t really know him per se. But then some of my people did know him. So we always say, if you’re from the Eastside, we all know each other through somebody. Like he might be three generations under me, but I still know him because I probably came up with his older brother or cousins or something like that.
Kyle Norman: Southside too, we know people from the Southside.
Jagged Edge Shows Why The New Hub of Hip Hop Goes Through The South
DX: Trinidad James at a show said that Atlanta runs New York radio and caused a lot of drama in the Hip Hop scene…
Brandon Casey: ...He wasn’t lying though…He doesn’t mean run it like we make the decisions.
Brian Casey: But we got a lot of songs on the radio and back in the day that wasn’t the case.
Richard Wingo: New York used to be the hub. In the beginning you would have to go up there, and…
Brandon Casey: It’s like back in the day you would have to line up with New York, and now you have to line up with the South. And everybody has given that little power up willingly. New York has fought hard for it, and I respect it cause that’s their artform, they created Hip Hop and they fought as hard as they can to hold on to it, but once you put music out there you can’t control where it go. It’s gonna go everywhere.
DX: The South was known for that sort of independent work ethic. New York was known for the big labels. Do you guys think that you guys had the advantage in the long haul because you weren’t going through all the majors all the time?
Brian Casey: You know what it was too though? Most Atlanta dudes and South dudes period, we understood what it took to make a hit. It ain’t just going to the studio. It’s a lot of leg work, a lot of ass kissing at times, it’s a lot of things that you don’t really wanna do as a man. You gotta do it if you want this career in this game. And you learn that I think quicker as an independent artist moving shit out your trunk than you do sitting up under office buildings all the time.
Brandon Casey: But if I could retract really quick, to go back to what he was saying, what we was saying about the love of it, it’s like that’s why we could get this done. Because everybody got love for each other, whereas, and we all, a lot of us came up together, from the time we was 12, 13 or even earlier. Whereas New York’s so big, some of these rappers didn’t know each other until they was rappers. Whereas we was all circling the same churches, and we was all coming up together at the same time, so that makes it easier to reach out to somebody who you already know from your past, and say, “Hey, let’s do this record.” it makes it that much easier.
Jagged Edge Explains Reuniting with Jermaine Dupri
HipHopDX: What it’s like to get everything together with your own label and getting the chemistry back to what it was during the height of So So Def?
Richard Wingo: Feels good. Feels like a breath of fresh air, man. It’s like wiping the sweat off because we’ve always set out to do this. We always wanted our own label, have the outlets to put out our music as well as newer artists and other artists. So yeah, it feels excellent, man, eight albums in and we ain’t slowing down for nothing. We gon' keep it going for real.
DX: So, back working with Jermaine Dupri again. What’s it like getting back with him and getting back to work with him in that way?
Richard Wingo: I mean the energy has been incredible man. He’s excited and everybody’s just kinda feeding off each other. The vibe has been good. Great energy, man. We go in and he might have three different beats going on at one time, and we [go] from one room to the next and just creating. And it’s just the energy has been excellent, he’s been to the majority of all our interviews, like he’s actually the fifth member [laughs] a part of the group. And it’s just been fun man, it’s just been fun.
DX: In an interview with "The Breakfast Club," he actually said that it was his fault in the situation [with So So Def and Columbia]...
Brian Casey: His arrogance…
DX: It was very interesting. We’d never heard him explicitly say that.
JE: We ain’t either! We said the same thing!
Kyle Norman: That was brand new too, brother!
Richard Wingo: But it was humbling. It was humbling. And over the years, everybody makes mistakes and everybody’s not gonna have the perfect run. But it was just good to hear him acknowledge that. And we’re grateful for that.
DX: Coming into it with the label now, how do you balance your artistry with the business side and the commerce?
Brandon Casey: Team. And as far as the comment Jermaine made about being arrogant and having that played a part in some decisions... I know for a fact it did for us as well. Because we underestimated the part that the team plays and how important they are in terms of moving the whole product. Cause we always felt like ‘We so talented,’ like, ‘Excuse my french but Eff him, or eff them, ‘cause we gonna do this regardless.’ But the older you get, you understand that even if you are Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan still got to have that team. And we, like I said, our arrogance made us take that for granted a little bit back in the day.
DX: You’re back in the studio with Bryan. And he did a lot of the first record….You did a lot of music that means the most to me. Is the chemistry in the studio with him where you think it was back then?
Brian Casey: I think it’s as good, if not better. One thing people don’t understand about us and Bryan is that by definition of “producer,” we produce as much as Bryan does, because we, those...it’s about where the ideas originate from, and nine times out of 10, we lead him places and he’ll lead us places. With us, that chemistry’s always been easy because we get a room….
Brandon Casey: We full of ideas.
Brian Casey: One thing about me and my brother, we never walk into a studio without... We already know it’s five different things we could do when we get in there. So it’s just about, who gonna help us get to that fastest and the dopest? That’s what it is.
Richard Wingo: And Bryan-Michael Cox, we call him The Geek Squad. He comes into the studio every three days with a new gadget, a new beat machine or something. And he’s super talented. Since day one working with him.
Jagged Edge Reveals How “Nasty Girl” Led To Unreleased Tupac
DX: You guys brought up Jazze Pha earlier, and we just have to ask, one of our favorite records was “Nasty Girl” with you guys and B.I.G. Can you guys talk about that record and what it was like?
Richard Wingo: I mean, it was good. At the end of the day, we just went down there and recorded a record. Man, back in the day we used to bring Jazze Pha food to the studio. Like literally, before he got his publishing deal and …. label. But Jazze is family.
Brian Casey: I’m gonna tell you something. That record, we did a record with Biggie, that record, and we did a record with ‘Pac. Both records Jazze Pha did. Now, you gotta ask the Dimet on the label side why they didn’t clear that Pac record.
Kyle Norman: That Pac song was hot!
Brian Casey: They wouldn’t clear that one, but they did clear the Biggie one. That ended up being a good thing for us.
DX: You guys telling me there’s unreleased Tupac and Jagged Edge out there?
Brian Casey: Ask Jazze Pha, he’s still got it.
Richard Wingo: Jazze Pha’s probably still got it, I’m telling you.
Off Camera: We're saving it for the box set.
DX: He’s saving it for the box set?
Brandon “Case Dinero” Casey: Good answer!
Additional Reporting by Omar Burgess