SoulBounce’s Class Of 1991: Tevin Campbell ‘T.E.V.I.N.’

Speaking of Tevin Campbell often brings up either a nostalgia for the time when the then teenager ruled the charts or, unfortunately, snickers about his solicitation arrest and subsequent fall from grace. While Tevin's career was pretty much derailed by that incident (not to mention his slipping sales after releasing the commercial disappointment Back to the World and his last studio album, 1999's Tevin Campbell), it's unfair that he's still judged by that incident, especially in a world where Chris Brown and R. Kelly can continue to chart despite their legal situations. But let's forget about all that unpleasantness and, instead, flash back to a time where a baby-faced teenager ruled the charts and seemed to have the world under his spell.


I learned about Tevin's T.E.V.I.N. the same way that most boys my age at the time did: I had a sister. It wasn't that Tevin's talents had been lost on me. I had dug his 1989 collaboration with Quincy Jones "Tomorrow (A Better You Better Me) and the Prince-penned "Round and Round," which had been featured in the previous year's Graffiti Bridge soundtrack, had been my jam. Still, as a nine-year-old boy, Tevin Campbell wasn't really high on my list of interests at the time. It wasn't until my sister became obsessed with Tevin, particularly after that Fresh Prince episode, that I took a listen and became a fan. 

T.E.V.I.N. would be a feat for any artist, but the fact that he recorded this album at the tender age of 14 is just down right impressive. The album was able to launch an eye-popping seven singles. Even if you took off "Round and Round" and the Chubb Rock-featuring "Just Ask Me To," both of which had appeared on hit soundtracks prior to the album's November release (Graffiti Bridge and Boyz N Da Hood, respectively), the album still produced five other singles, three of which were in the top two of the Billboard R&B charts and one that hit the top 10 of the Hot 100. This was due in part to Quincy Jones' guidance and the selection of one of the era's go to producers/songwriters Narada Michael Walden, who was coming off successful collaborations with Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. But most of it was just the fact that Tevin had an amazing voice and a relatable, wise-beyond-his-years air about him. 

The album's biggest hit came in the form of "Tell Me What You Want Me to Do." Released in October of '91, the Walden-produced single became an R&B and pop smash, peaking at number one on the R&B charts and number six on the pop charts. It also became a Quiet Storm staple and remains Tevin's biggest hit to this day. But Tevin's album wasn't all pop balladry, as New Jack Swing was the style du jour. While derivative tracks like "Lil Brother" and "Perfect World" didn't really work, his collaborations with Al. B Sure! (still don't get why he needed that exclamation point) and Kyle West seemed to prove the most fruitful. "Just Ask Me To" was a definite party starter, while the slow jams "Alone With You" and "Confused" tapped into a sound similar to Jodeci -- "Confused" even featured K-Ci and JoJo Hailey on backing vocals. But the crowning jewel of Al and Tevin's work, at least in my opinion, was the album's fourth single "Goodbye." 

"Goodbye" to me is a perfect symbol of Tevin's appeal. The song, a kiss-off to the girl that didn't appreciate the love he was offering, struck the perfect balance between youthful and mature, making it somewhat universal in its appeal. As if to drive this point home, the video featured Tevin in a love triangle of sorts with Tatyana Ali, who at the time was around 12, and Tyler Collins, who was 26. Still, it was an innocent enough offering that didn't have the mannishness of what was to come with I'm Ready (I still think "Shhh," penned by Prince or not, was a bit too much after they worked so hard to establish his boy-next-door image). 

Of course, any talk of Tevin Campbell will always bring up the million dollar question: Will we ever get another Tevin Campbell album? While he's found success as a Broadway star during his run in Hairspray and has continued to tour and perform, he's only made vague allusions to a possible comeback. Luckily for us (and him), he already has left a great discography that will always keep him in our minds and on our playlists. T.E.V.I.N. was just the launching point for an extraordinary career that shouldn't have ended when it did. Still, as succesful as it was, the album perfectly set Tevin up for the multi-platinum success that would come with the much more mature I'm Ready, which is arguably his best work to date. But T.E.V.I.N. will always hold a special place in my heart. To me, it's Tevin at his purest, without the pressures of a hit album or an industry that makes you grow up too soon and the eventual fall just that much harder.

Tevin Campbell T.E.V.I.N. [Amazon][iTunes][Spotify]

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  • Tonia

    My college years...loved this album. Such a talent

  • Eddie

    When I was younger, like 4, 5, 6, 7, I really only listened to Michael Jackson. Nobody else really caught my ear during those years. Then I heard Tevin Campbell on the radio and I was mesmerized. I thought he was the only singer that could compare to Michael. I don't remember how old I was at he time but from then on it was Tevin & Micheal til' I got a little older. He's so underappreciated. I don't care what nobody says, he's a legend.

  • stoneyisland

    I aint gonna lie I still bang this joint till today. I seriously though this kid could be one of the all time greats but something happened and now you barely hear anything musically from the cat. he's more famous for soliciting undercover male cops then he is for his past music. SMH at the talented wasted.

  • 2damnfunny

    I love Tevin. This wasn't my favourite but still a great a album. My favourite is 'I'm Ready'. Have it on my mp3.
    What kills me is dude still sounds the same today. There's a video of him singing at Soul Kitchen when he was working in Toronto and it's a classic. His voice is one of the best ever.

  • Man listen, you don't understand. "Alone With You" from this album was my joint! I still play that song on a regular. Al B. Sure and Kyle West on the production side and K-Ci and JoJo singing background, that song was a sho nuff slow jam!

  • Law Diva 1908

    To be honest, I think we're missing a lot more in the consideration of what happened to Tevin Campbell's career. First you have to remember that a lot of times, a young male pop singers biggest fan base usually skews a little bit younger than them.
    I was 12 when this album dropped and while I was a fan of his MUSIC, I wasn't into him per se. Meaning, there was nothing I had against him, but my walls were still covered with the New Edition family members who were still riding high of of NE Heartbreak and had all just took over the charts in '90 & '91 with their solo projects (from Bobby, BBD, Johnny, & Ralph). This is who all my friends and classmates were obsessed with coming into '91. Not to mention the other older guys who were still riding high off of their major succes at that time: Keith Sweat & Al B Sure. Don't get me wrong, loved his songs, I'm just saying, in terms of a major fan, he seemed to young (even though he was apparently older than me) for my friends and I.
    Add to that, the change in music that was coming about with all the debuts that came out in 1992, and you have to admit that Tevin was just not as masculine as many of the other artists that were debuting while this album was still on the charts. '92 saw the debut of 2Pac, Jodeci, and the artist you referenced - R. Kelly (even Boyz II Men who while not edgy, still were grown men in comparison to Tevin's younger goofier persona. Even the women were coming out more street savy than he, as '92 saw Mary kick the door in with her debut.
    So while I agree that he had an amazing voice, I think I have about 10 singles on my iPod currently, I don't think he was relatable enough at that time he was coming out to a large enough audience. He had the pre-teens but I don't think that was enough to sustain against the type of competition that was out at that time.

  • sickwitit

    My favorite Tevin record is "You don't have to worry".

  • Nicole Little

    I was 14 years old, a freshman in high school when this came out in 1991. I had a crush on him ever since Tomorrow.