In October of 1993, at the age of sixteen, soul singer Tevin Campbell released his second solo album. I’m Ready featured the massive hit single “Can We Talk.” Campbell would later go on to sell two million copies of the album and receive three Grammy nominations. Already displaying a vocal skill well beyond his years, Tevin grew up with his music on his third album, Back to the World.
Released on June 25th, 1996, Back to the World found the singer not only maturing with his music but avoided traveling down a risqué lane. The neo-soul flavored first single “Back to The World” was written by Rashaan Patterson (another child prodigy who was maturing) with production by Jamey Jaz. Patterson and Jaz’s duo provide Campbell with a song that would still sound fresh on today’s Urban A.C. charts.
“I Got It Bad” was the album’s second single, and I can admit that I initially didn’t care for the song as a youngster. However, as a grown man, I can appreciate the Smokey jazz café vibe that producer Keith Crouch was going for with the track. The album’s final single was the Babyface written ballad “Could You Learn to Love.” While the song is a lush ballad that Campbell slays with his vocals, it’s also a very safe choice and one I wouldn’t release for a single. Instead, I would’ve gone with the other Babyface composition on the album, “Tell Me Where.”
The real strength of the album is in some of the album tracks. “Dry Your Eyes” courtesy of producer Derrick Edmondson is an excellent midtempo number that any guy who wants to be more than friends with a young lady can relate to. We all know a nineties’ R&B album isn’t complete without a few tracks from Sean Combs and the Bad Boy camp.
Combs and the members of Total collaborate with Campbell on “You Don’t Have to Worry.” The song is a sensual slow jam, yet Campbell never comes off as crass or corny. Instead, he provides the listener with subtle seduction. While Combs and the members of 112 provide assistance on the ballad “I’ll Be There” and the midtempo “We Can Work It Out.” The former song is more substantial of the two, while the latter comes across as filler.
The only misstep on the album for me was “I Need You.” On the one hand, the song is better than some 2020 R & B releases; however, the song’s vibe didn’t really fit with the album for me. Nevertheless, had Campbell linked up with Combs for a remix with a hot 16 from the late great The Notorious B.I.G., I’m sure the album may have done better chart-wise.
Outside of under promotion from the label, I have no idea why audiences didn’t connect with Back to the World. While the album was released the same day as Toni Braxton’s sophomore album, Secrets and a week before Keith Sweat’s self-titled fifth album, there was room for all three artists to shine.
I’m Ready is considered Campbell’s magnum opus. His follow up project Back to the World is a strong third album and worthy transition from teen star to mature soul singer.
Final Re-Listen Grade B+