Today is the 25th anniversary of Groove Theory's self titled debut and only album. One that I consider that the public has been robbed of some closure in the form of a follow up work from the duo. When you talk about scintillating and smooth vibes that people associate with the mid 90s, this is one of the main reference points. A timeless blend that brings the world of Jazz, R&B and Hip-Hop soundscapes along with a 1995 New York as the perfect co-star.
Mr. Wilson first came into the spotlight in 1990 with Mantronix as a new member to the already established group. A couple of years later and quietly honing his production skills, he was introduced to Mrs. Larrieux by way of a mutual acquaintance at a publishing company he was involved with. Initially Mr. Wilson created the concept of Groove Theory as a production based group featuring an assortment of singers. There was a larger plan in play and the rest as they say is history.
The front cover is unforgettable. The duo posing in beautifully lit Times Square at night, Bryce playing the foreground and Amel
The first few bass lines appear out of the aethers and suddenly the debut single "Tell Me" is released to the public a month prior to the album. To be a fly on the wall for the entire process in bringing this alluring record together. From demos to the first meetings at Epic to sessions at Chung King, Quad , Hit Factory and Electric Lady, where many of the tracks were recorded and mixed. According to Mr. Wilson, this was the last track added to the album, after an original version that was written and produced by Larrieux and Wilson respectively for a group called Rhythm & Bass failed to gain traction .
"Tell Me" video still.
It wasn't long before the public took notice of the after effects by way of WBLS, Kiss, Hot97, BET, MTV, etc. that helped propel the track to its eventual peak at no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 (also peaked at no. 2 on the dance charts) and most importantly, countless asses grooving on the dance floor for all time.
Numbers and promotion aside, without a shadow of a doubt this is one of the greatest singles of the decade. This is not up for debate. Not many records before or after can stand next to it. I don't exactly know where it would rank but it's up there within the top 1%. I've been to too many functions where those first few notes begin and the crowd reactions are the only indication one would need to understand how special this track is.
Like many of the tracks, "10 Minute High" sets off the fourteen tracks as if it was recorded for an intimate, smoke filled Jazz bar. Through all that smoke, it's a dark tale of a young girl addicted to chasing her next high, as an escape mechanism from her trauma filled reality. Unfortunately, the narrative concludes with our protagonist meeting her death on her eighteenth birthday.
Lyrically, Amel informs the listener that in spite of the young girl's troubles, she was very much still in charge of her own fate. Mrs. Larrieux queries: "did she contemplate that it would take away her life? She probably knew, but she had no reason to fight", is as chilling and sobering of a bar as you'll likely ever hear, thus, a cautionary moment of being cognizant of the relationship with ones own vices.
A cover of the Todd Rundgren's "It's Me", one which the Isley Brothers would cover in 1974 melodically isn't too far off from another Isley composition covered the summer prior from Aaliyah ("(At Your Best) You Are Love").
"Keep Tryin" is selected as the second single and drops during the first few days of 1996. Although not as successful as "Tell Me" (it charts at a modest no. 64 on the Hot 100), it is a beautifully written number on perseverance, self love and keeping focus on the desires of ones heart.
"Come Home" is an intuitive girlfriend's cautionary tale of street life on the surface but informs her love to be wary of the many deceptions of the external world. Her love remains at home, he won't be needing those streets. Tough to argue against opening your eyes and taking her hand when proposed in this fashion.
Amel Larrieux's vocal range may not have been as strong as her contemporaries of the period, yet you'd be hard pressed to escape the depth of her clutches once she lets those notes loose. Mrs. Larrieux's pen is the secret anchor that establishes the album in a major way from start to finish, considering this is the beginning of the rapper/singer collaboration trend and the NY natives carried this classic recording with zero features. Something tells me it's not too late to get that sequel.
 - On an interview with The Real Gully TV, Bryce reveals that he was recording "Tell Me" on the same night 2Pac was shot. How's that for a dance with fate.
 - The original version of "Tell Me"