It’s been a very strange and twisty Black History Month, but there’s no way I could let it end without acknowledging the anniversary of one of the most Blackety Black moments in the history of Blackness. Ever. Yup, this year, the track “U Will Know” by Black Men United turns 25 and despite the grainy photo I had to grab from the internet, the song has aged very well. One MIGHT say we need a new version right now, if only to find a reason to get this much greatness in one room once again.
The song, which appears on the motion picture soundtrack to the film Jason’s Lyric, features an historic gathering of 90s male R&B singers, with lyrics and music by a very young D’Angelo. Do you remember where you were when you saw the video? And then the live performance at the American Music Awards that same calendar year? I used to challenge myself to see if I could list everyone that appeared on the song (I didn’t want to cheat and look at the liner notes since *gasp* there was no comprehensive internet back then), and honestly, I could never name everyone.
With the anniversary taking place and so many of those involved still doing their musical thing, I took my curiosity to the next level and wanted to know what folks from the track are doing now, 25 years later. Below is a list of some of the main players, along with what they have going on in the year of our Lord 2019.
Happy Black History Month!
AARON HALL. You would think that the biggest thing Hall did since recording this song along with his brother and his R&B brothers was reuniting with Guy and performing in venues across the country, occasionally messing up my favorite song while doing so. Annnnd you’d be wrong. Whatever he’s doing right now doesn’t hold a candle to what he’s done since 1994. What’s that you ask? Well, it’s being a self-proclaimed DOG WHISPERER. You read that right. Hall created a show called “Aaron Hall’s Dog Rehab” and let me tell you… I couldn’t get enough. He’s a renaissance man, that Aaron. Oh, and he’s also kinda problematic. Yeah.
AL B. SURE!. I think we all need to remember just how huge of a star Al B. was. Like, he caused riots on Miami Beach when people saw him. He couldn’t move around. That’s how big. Yes, he was a part of this brotherhood, but he was also part of the inconic collaboration “Secret Garden” alongside R&B heavyweights Barry White, James Ingram and El DeBarge. And you know WHY he was on that track? Because Quincy Jones selected him personally as the first winner of the Sony Innovators Talent Search. His debut album In Effect Mode went three times platinum, and three years before recording “U Will Know,” he co-wrote and produced “Forever My Lady” for Jodeci, which he dedicated to his then-girlfriend Kim Porter and their son Quincy (yes, he was named after Mr. Jones). He did record other albums, with his most recent being 2009’s Honey I’m Home, released through Hidden Beach Records.
BRIAN MCKNIGHT. He’s done some crazy things over the past two decades, like admitting he didn’t vote, and of course the “pussy” song (ugh!), but there will never, ever be any denying that Brian is one of the greatest voices of our time. From “One Last Cry” to “Crazy Love,” there are few artists that could construct and execute a ballad quite like Brian. He made his debut two years before “U Will Know” was released with his self-titled release, and went on to make 12 more albums, including his 3 times Platinum project Back at One in 1999. Four of his albums have reached the top ten on Billboard, and here’s a fact that should make no one happy and the Recording Academy question themselves every day: he’s on a list of artists that have been nominated for more than 10 GRAMMYs, but have never won. Go figure.
D’ANGELO. Question: How intimidated would you be if you wrote a song for a soundtrack that was set to feature almost 100 male R&B singers? Also, would you be even more intimidated if you were the youngest cat in the room? Welp, that was what happeend to D’Angelo when he wrote “U Will Know” and was in charge of the historic recording session that sealed his reputation as a classic songwriter. Remember, this was a year before his 2 times Platinum debut Brown Sugar, so to say he was a relative unknown at this point wouldn’t be a stretch. Of course he went on to release Voodoo in 2000, where he won a GRAMMY for Best R&B Album and also Best Male R&B Vocal for “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” GQ named him the next Marvin Gaye in 2014, and later that year he released his third studio album, Black Messiah, which peaked at #5 on the U.S. Billboard charts. Oh, and rumor has it that new music is on the way.
GERALD LEVERT. I’m having a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that we lost Gerald Levert almost 13 years ago. TIme has flown by, but not fast enough for us to forget how talented the Philly native really was. He was part of the group LeVert starting in 1983, so his career was in full swing when he joined the group for “U Will Know.” In fact, he’d already gone solo three years earlier, with his album Private Line reaching #1 on the Billboard R&B charts. Of course we know of his work with the supergroup LSG alongside Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill (1997), but did you also know how prolific of a songwriter and producer Gerald was? He’d worked with Patti LaBelle, Barry White, Stephanie Mills, Anita Baker, Teddy Pendergrass, Chuckii Booker, and was responsible for the groups The Rude Boys and Men at Large before his untimely death in 2006 of an apparent heart attack. He posthumously won a GRAMMY in 2008 for Best Traditional R&B Performance for the track “In My Songs.” Continue to rest in power, Gerald.
JOE. Joseph Lewis Thomas was only a year into his career when he collaborated with the crew of male R&B singers on “U Will Know.” Which means that it was huge deal that the Columbus, Georgia-born Thomas was even considered for the project. His debut album Everything peaked at #16 on the U.S. Billboard R&B charts, and spawned the singles “I’m in Luv” and “The One for Me.” Of course he went on to insane popularity with his next few albums, including the Platinum All That I Am in 1997 and 3 times Platinum My Name is Joe in 2000. He also wrote and produced for the likes of Barry White, Tina Turner, Ideal, Xscape, and Hi-Five, and his worked with Keith Sweat, Kelly Rowland, Too Short, and Fantasia. In March 2014, he signed a distribution deal with BMG Rights Management and his latest album, My Name is Joe Thomas, was released November 2016, debuting at #2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Billboard charts.
KEITH SWEAT. Harlem! Stand UP! You want to talk about an OG? Did you know Keith was 19 years into his music career, and 10 years as a solo artist, when he sang on “U Will Know”? Goodness. His debut solo album Make It Last Forever dropped in 1987 and went 3 times Platinum, giving us the #1 record “I Want Her,” which also happened to be the song that ushered in the New Jack Swing era. His second album, I’ll Give All My Love to You, reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1990, and 1991’s Keep It Comin’ debuted in the top 20 on the album chart. Another fun fact: Keith Sweat was responsible for discovering the group Silk, helping their debut album Lose Control peak at #7 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart, while their lead single “Freak Me” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1994, he introduced us to the group Kut Klose on his fourth studio album Get Up On It. That project gave us the #1 hits “Twisted” and “Nobody.” In 1997 he formed the supergroup LSG alongside Gerald Levert and Johnny Gill. Today, he is he host of the nationally syndicated radio show “The Sweat Hotel” and is still touring year round.
STOKLEY WILLIAMS. I think we know by now that Stokley is the lead singer of Mint Condition, the insanely talented band straight out of Minnesota that made its debut in 1991. So he a recording artist for three years before being a part of “U Will Know.” What we might NOT know is that Williams was a session musician as early as 1990, and has worked with everyone from The Boys to Luther Vandross. He was a background vocalist for Sounds of Blackness, handled percussion and background vocals for Karyn White, was a drummer for Janet Jackson, Color Me Badd, Solo, New Edition, K-Ci & JoJo, Elton John, Usher, Blu Cantrell, Deborah Cox, and did vocals for Jill Scott, Wale, Brian Culbertson, Robert Glasper, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Boney James, and Maysa, and played guitar for Toni Braxton. So he’s more than just a lead singer. He’s a musician’s musician, and finally released his solo album, Introducing Stokley, in 2017. What a career. And he’s still going. Respect, brother.
TEVIN CAMPBELL. He was 18 when he sang lead vocals on “U Will Know,” and was five years into his prolific career as an artist who was mentored by music legend Quincy Jones and produced by both Jones and Prince. His first recording was with Jones on the single “Tomorrow (A Better You, Better Me) from Jones’ project Back on the Block, which won a GRAMMY for Album of the Year in 1991. His first solo recording was “Round and Round,” which was produced by Prince and was nominated for a GRAMMY in 1991. His debut album T.E.V.I.N. hit store shevles later that year and gave us the #1 single “Tell Me What You Want Me to Do,” followed by “Alone With You” and “Goodbye.” His sophomore project I’m Ready spawned the hits “Can We Talk,” “I’m Ready,” and “Always in My Heart,” all of which charted on Billboard. He’s been produced by music legends, including Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Al B. Sure!, and Narada Michael Walden. He’s collaborated with Wyclef Jean, Faith Evans, David Foster, and Coko from SWV. He became an actor when he appeared in Prince’s film Graffiti Bridge and as Ashley’s crush on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He made appearances on Moesha and The Parent ‘Hood. In recent years, he’s made a few high profile appearances, including 2014’s infamous session at Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. And most impressively, he possesses a four and a half-octave vocal range (!!!). He is legend. And his discography is still in rotation across the globe.https://www.youtube.com/embed/x3-8Nyn4SNU