As my mom, dad, uncles and aunts loved the O’Jays, I felt it my civic (colored) duty to love LeVert. From their Bloodline debut and “Pop, Pop, Pop (Goes My Mind)” as their first hit single, to me they seemed to be pretty official from the jump, and not just out there because of daddy’s name. At a ripe old 20 years, Gerald Levert was the soul lead voice so similar to his father, older generations might’ve mistaken it for the O’Jays. An immediate Quiet Storm favorite, Gerald and the boys were in. Their follow-up introduced them to pop audiences with “Casanova,” a notable feat considering gritty soulful voices hadn’t been cracking the top 10 on this new MTV pop audience.
Then in 1988, amidst a returning New Edition, solo-juggernaut Bobby Brown, Guy, Al B. Sure!, and an emerging rap scene starring folks like Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, and Heavy D, LeVert managed to find a young audience with their up tempos like “Just Coolin'” while keeping the adult audiences happy with their ballads.
After three consecutive gold albums and five number one singles (one on every album), Gerald was ready to venture out on a solo project. But what would be so different about the sound if he often lead LeVert’s songs anyway? Enter Edwin “Tony” Nicholas, Gerald’s new writing and producing partner. Nicholas had a slightly different sound in terms of production than Marc Gordon. His production was a bit more polished and creative than Gordon’s. With this addition to his weaponry, Gerald released Private Line in the fall of an already busy year coming off his last #1 single with LeVert on “Baby I’m Ready,” chaperoning his mentees Rude Boys to the year’s biggest R&B single, “Written All Over Your Face,” and a guest spot on the soundtrack and in the film, New Jack City.
Private Line arrived just as the rest of his year’s highlights seemed to be cooling out amidst the Jodeci and Boyz II Men hoopla. It was the perfect time to drop a solo album, I’d say. Initially, I could tell the production was the next step following LeVert’s Rope a Dope Style, an album I had issues digging the uptempos on. “Private Line” was a bit more hip as were “I Wanna Be Bad” and “Can You Handle It.” I have to admit, however, my favorite cut caught me immediately and made me care a bit less about the jams. “School Me,” was crisp, clever, and all the mood setting a 19-year-old’s college dorm needs. Wait, did I say that out loud? Anyway, there was something about it entering at track two instead of the second half of the album, a trend many R&B albums were following, that made it more important and more urgent. Following this was what I’m sure many were looking forward to, a duet between Gerald and his dad, Eddie on what would eventually be the album’s biggest hit, “Baby Hold On to Me.” Not only was the song a great composition and production, but you’d be hard pressed to bridge the generational gap in African-America better.
Other standout album tracks like “Just a Little Something” and “Just Because I’m Wrong” rounded out the album safe from filler or anything that would break the spell the opening created. While Marc Gordon shows up on a production or two, it was evident with all the singles being composed and produced by LeVert and Nicholas, the team was set for Gerald’s subsequent solo albums. Gerald and Tony even handed in the last group hit, “ABC 1-2-3.”
Gerald and Marc had successfully written for the O’Jays, Troop, and Miki Howard as well as all LeVert’s previous material, but the LeVert/Nicholas team picked up for the ’90s where Gordon/LeVert left off. Their productions would provide hits for countless R&B acts from Patti LaBelle and Barry White to New Edition. They also fueled Gerald’s solo career far past that of his group’s success (if only by sales).
For me, Gerald’s untimely departure hurt like losing a relative. He passed so young and what seemed so early, until I looked at what he’d achieved in his 21 years in the industry. Between 1985-2006 he released 19 albums: seven with Levert (four gold), nine solo (three platinum, one gold), one with Eddie Levert (gold), two with LSG (one double platinum, one gold) while simultaneously writing, producing, and developing over 30 other artists. For more than half his 40 years, Gerald Levert stayed busy until his last day as there isn’t one year logged without something recorded with his name on it. He is a legend and a testament to making the most of one’s time in this human experience.