SoulBounce’s Class Of 1990: Pebbles ‘Always’

Confession time: Pebbles was my first. The very first artist that I wanted to BE, that is. She was gorgeous with that metric ton of curly hair, tight black everything, a constant red lip. And she was all brazen attitude and classy swagger that I emulated to no end, much to the chagrin of my parents. I was (and remain) a huge Madonna and Janet Jackson stan, but I wanted to look and act like Pebbles and Jody Watley at the top of what would become the most momentous and influential decade in music thus far to me — the ’90s. Funny thing, though, I wasn’t so much into Pebbles’ self-titled debut, although “Girlfriend” and “Mercedes Boy” were (and are) the jams. Perhaps it was my age; in the three years between Pebbles and Always, her sophomore album and the focus of this write-up, I developed my first crush and subsequent heartbreak. I was fast approaching middle school so, ya know, I was grown and stuff. I had become aware of boys and suddenly all those love and love lost songs took on a different meaning.

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Perri “Pebbles” Reid, an Oakland girl who got her start singing background for Con Funk Shun, was at the forefront of the New Jill Swing era in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Her contemporaries included Karyn White, the aforementioned Watley, Paula Abdul and Pebbles’ cousin and “Always” collaborator Cherrelle. That time period was awesomely ripe with dance-pop-R&B sass, actually, and it didn’t hurt that Pebbles was married to L.A. Reid who executive produced Always and whose music partner, Babyface, appears on one of the biggest hits of Pebbles’ career, “Love Makes Things Happen.” The power of that pretty duet, which reached No. 1 on the R&B charts along with the first single “Giving You the Benefit,” the title track “Always,” which also featured Johnny Gill and my absolute favorite Pebbles song ever, “Backyard,” helped Always certify gold. Not quite the commercial success of her platinum first album, but Pebbles certainly had more than one ace in the hole — namely a teenage girl group called 2nd Nature that she’d discovered and begun managing via her production company Pebbitone. She’d later replace one of the three original singers and rename them TLC.

My frenzy for Pebbles, in fact, came to a head when TLC debuted. Well, the “T” and “L,” anyway; T-Boz and Left-Eye made a cameo in the “Backyard” video before Chilli joined the group. Their appearance, along with Salt-N-Pepa, who lend a saucy rap interlude as they are wont to do, make watching this video squeal-worthy to this day. What an assembly of musical powerhouses. A triumvirate of black girl power.

The mid-’90s saw the release of Pebbles’ third album, Straight from My Heart, which despite production from Sean “Puffy” Combs, Organized Noize and Chucky Thompson, didn’t make much of a wave. Her marriage to L.A. Reid would end a year later. And perhaps most famously, TLC went on to accuse LaFace and Pebbitone of mismanagement of funds, filed for bankruptcy despite the 11 times platinum CrazySexyCool and eventually their relationship with Pebbles was dissolved entirely. It’s not much of a surprise that Pebbles suffered a crippling depression and eventually became disillusioned with the secular music industry altogether. But after “the hand of God touched [her] life,” she found a new calling and became a Christian minister and gospel singer using her real name, Perri Reid, or, Sister Perri.

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I’ll forever maintain that Ms. Reid made an indelible mark on music. I almost broke out into thug tears re-listening to this album; the memories I have tied to her music are amazing. You want to see me act A FOOL? Play that remix to “Backyard.” That was the stone cold groove and still is. Bra tops with the tight belted jeans and the leather jacket, PROPER. Get into it.

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