Bell, Biv & DeVoe Reveal New Edition’s Fights Were Even Worse In Real Life (Video)
This week, the story of New Edition was told by way of a three-night film mini-series. The lives of Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell, Ronnie DeVoe, and Johnny Gill are forever bound together. Collectively, there are valleys and peaks, intersections and ejections, and tons of incredible music. The New Edition Story was told, with input and authorization from the six men who made it happen.
This same week (January 27), Bell Div DeVoe (an offshoot of the original group) is releasing Three Stripes. With their own rich history, and storyline in the three-night film event, Bell, Bivins, and DeVoe release their first album in 15-plus years (it has been a dozen-plus years since New Edition dropped an LP). Appearing on The Breakfast Club, the trio (lined up in order) spoke about BET’s intervention to get an accurate script. In doing so, the trio opens up about the tensions backstage, then, and even today.
At 15:30, Ronnie DeVoe explains that the creation of The New Edition Story began with a 2005 BET Awards appearance. The Boston, Massachusetts group felt connected to the network for their success in the first place. “BET was the right place.” DeVoe says that in 2013, BET acquired the rights to Bobby Brown’s life story, allowing the complete group’s biography to be authorized. “When we look at the history of New Edition, from Video Soul and a lot of the stuff that allowed us to be seen across America and even across the world, initially, and the magnitude of success that we had, that was BET. They had a footprint on our success. So there was no better place, especially when they were talking about three nights. We just felt like we could get deeper into our story.”
Michael Bivins says that the producers’ method for getting a true script affected the group greatly. “They seemed like they had the Jedi mind trick the best. Because, the only reason the movie happened is because we told all the shit that we kept [to ourselves]. So the way they approached us getting the stories out of us actually was clever. Because there’s no way to write the script unless you get all of the information. They came at us all and sat with us individually, so they made everybody feel comfortable to open up. That was the process that we all thought was the hard part.” Biv’ says that when the six all-time New Edition members came as one at a destination, things got even harder. “The toughest part was…we went away to a resort. We went away to read the script. You are actually reading what the next man thought about you. We locked ourselves in the room, for what [turning to Ricky Bell] 10 hours? That was the most craziest shit ever, man.”
Biv admits that it was needed in a group with origins back to 1978. “We’ve never ever sat in a room and done anything like that ever in our life. Just sit there and look at [your band-mate] and have him reading what he felt about you, and how they’re doing the story. It was just interesting; you could hear a pin drop in the room. But we thugged it out for 10 hours, man. We actually decided, besides creating the group, that had to be the second-best day in our life.” He continues, “Me and Ralph [Tresvant] keep lookin’ at each other, ’cause they had us goin’ at each other, a lot. God damn. It was just…we needed that.”
After this part of the discussion, DJ Envy asks how New Edition was able to perform on stage as one during periods where there was such dramatic conflict within the group. “It still goes on today,” admits Ricky Bell.
There, Ronnie Devoe explains, “It’s just the love of what we do, and the love of those fans—those ‘N.E. For Lifers’ that been rockin’ with us since day one. It just felt like there’s no bigger problem, ultimately for the nucleus of the group, to stop us from that energy that we get. Like, when they say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, New Edition’ and we hear the roar of that crowd and that energy, it’s like…I’m not a drug addict, but it’s like that crack in your veins. The yearning for that is what kind of allows us to sweep our problems under the rug, or throw ’em in the closet for [60 or 90 minutes and perform]. And we got off-stage, we’re right back to business in figuring out how we just choking each other up…to the point where we’d have fights.”
While choking may sound like just an expression, DeVoe recalls one story, “I remember one time me and Ralph got into it, and [this is not] in the movie…we got into it. We used to play-fight all the time, you know, slap-boxin’ and everything. I don’t even think I was feelin’ it [this] one day. But ‘Rizz’ [hit] me in the face. It almost felt like the lil’ beef between me and [Bobby Brown] on The Home Again [Tour]. Then we end up havin’ the food-fight. Rick and Mike is tryin’ to break the situation up.” Michael Bivins adds with a laugh, “Food is flyin’, everywhere.” DeVoe continues, “We set that to the side and went up there and did one of our best shows!” As he recalls, that fight transpired 20 minutes before the curtain at the Detroit Michigan stop for the All For Love Tour in the mid-’80s.
Elaborating on his earlier remark that N.E. and B.B.D. each have inner-turmoils today, Ricky Bell details, “It’s just like a marriage [or family]. There’s conflict, but I don’t think we’ve come to the point where we have a healthy conflict resolution yet, between all of us. But somehow, the three of us seem to agree on a lot. Somehow, the three of us always end up havin’ each other’s back through whatever. We’ve just learned to deal with each other. But there’s egos, there’s hangovers from unresolved situations, there’s still some resentments going on.” Michael Bivins adds, “To get six votes is the hardest thing sometimes.” This perhaps explains New Edition’s lack of an album since 2004, despite a clear demand in the market.
The worst days appear behind the group though. Michael Bivins points to New Edition’s only run as a sextet as the bottom. In late 1996, the six men released Home Again on MCA Records. The album went to #1 as a multi-platinum success, eight years removed from the group’s last LP. “The worst tour ever…this is some real shit…’96, this is Home Again. This is ‘the big reunion’,” states Biv. “We had a month and a half’s worth of rehearsal [time]. Our first [full] fuckin’ practice was on the Wooster Arena, on stage.” While there were rehearsals, the six men never practiced together once. “Our first show was a dress rehearsal in front of 20,000 people.” Bobby Brown was unable to complete the show in the return to the group that fired him in 1988. “Bob conked out that night. He needed the oxygen; something was going on with him.”
Ricky Bell echoes Biv’s sentiments. “It was the worst tour of my life in all 33 years. It was the most horrific experience I had.” He continues, “Understand this, leading up to that, all we did was perform. That’s why we entered the music business. That was our motivation. That was our inspiration. Get on stage, make the girls scream. That was it. Everything up to the Heartbreak Tour, we’d have full dress rehearsals. We’d video tape ’em, watch ’em, critique it, pull stuff in and out, whatever, make adjustments.” Bell too, says that Bobby Brown was one of the challenges for the comeback shows. “Bobby showed up to maybe two rehearsals; he didn’t know any of the routines. So we had to base the whole show around [his lack of knowing] and make it look like we were on stage, together. So we’re trying to make it look like we put this together.” To make matters worse, Ralph Tresvant—who also achieved solo success—was allegedly no longer willing to take the stage. “It’s the end of the tour, and our main man tanks out on us. Ralph said, ‘Fuck it. I ain’t doin’ no more shows.’ Ralph would sit on his tour bus in the parking lot, and we’d go do shows. Imagine a concert without your man. So he was gone. We was gone. Johnny [Gill] was on the bus by himself; he was gone.” The men recall getting booed in Detroit, for the first time in a career that began almost 20 years prior.
Elsewhere in the nearly one-hour conversation (which includes an appearance from some of the BET cast), the three men discuss one controversial lyric in “Poison,” their side-hustles after poor record royalties, and what Hootie Mack really was about.