25 years ago today (Dec. 21), Jodeci released their second album Diary Of A Mad Band. It's a sensual, sexy album with an impact that has exploded outwards, the album's influence far surpassing the infamy of Jodeci's four band members. It was the first ever album appearance for Missy 'Misdemeanour' Elliot, rapping on "Won't Waste You". And Timbaland, too, bagged his first production credit on "In The Meanwhile". Tracks from the album have been sampled by musicians like Bryson Tiller, Future, Playboi Carti and Drake, who had us singing I think I'd die for you / Jodeci 'Cry For You' all summer '16. Its musical impact is often revisited, but the album's cover—and Jodeci's fashion choices—have also had a palpable impact on streetwear in the last quarter of a century.
The sepia-toned cover shows the band standing on a rundown transit bridge in Queens, New York, towering towards the sky. The four members—K-Ci and JoJo, brothers, and Devante Swing and Mr. Dalvin, also brothers—are dressed in neoprene fishing overalls as if they're the most natural thing in the world to be wearing. Although fishing overalls might not have caught on as day-to-day attire, the vision that Jodeci executed has still captured the attention of musicians and hypebeasts alike in the 25 years since the album was released. As recently as 2012, musician and producer Shlohmo tweeted that he was "still trying to find those neoprene overalls" Jodeci were rocking on the cover of Diary Of A Mad Band. To this day, if you search for 'Jodeci overalls' on Twitter, there are hundreds of other users wondering the same thing. So, where did Jodeci's style—and those iconic overalls—really come from?
After the success of their debut album, Forever My Lady, Jodeci had settled firmly into their media image of being the 'bad boys of R&B'. Despite both sets of brothers originally being gospel singers, they had burst onto the music scene dressed less like pulpit singers, sharp suits and shined shoes, and more as a reflection of what was being worn in clubs and on the streets. On the cover for Forever My Lady, Jodeci are stood in all black attire, hoodies and jackets, barely looking at the camera as if the shot could have been taken by any passer-by. Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs, who was assigned to the group whilst working as an intern at Uptown Records, came up with their look for them. Mr. Dalvin told The Root in 2017: "When Puff came around, he and I started going to clubs, and we said that's going to be our image."
They took clothing that was ordinary and everyday, added a drop of shock value, and turned them into something you simply couldn't keep your eyes off of.
And it worked. Jodeci looked cool. Even now, flicking back through their '90s photoshoots, they wouldn't look out of place on any streetwear blog today. Their black-on-black ensembles would slip nicely next to Skepta's Mains 'Dystopia' collection, their penchant for layers and extreme sizings would see them blend right in at a Martine Rose show. But Jodeci pushed their image to its limits, turning up at the 1992 Billboard Awards in black and camo gear, chests out to show off their tattoos. They rolled up in balaclavas, Devante Swing accessorizing with a hand grenade and JoJo with a machete. It was a lot, but that didn't stop them from taking home the title of No. 1 R&B Artist, presented to them by LL Cool J. They strolled on stage as "Come & Talk To Me" played in the background, Devante puffing on a cigar as he followed the rest of Jodeci through the audience, their faces covered and weapons in tow.
Despite their image being the brainchild of P. Diddy, it was Sybil Pennix, previously the director of artistic development at Uptown and formerly Diddy's assistant, who really sculpted Jodeci's look. A stylist for magazines such as VIBE, Paper, and The Source and artists such as Lil Kim and Mary J. Blige (not to forget P. Diddy himself), it was Pennix's eye which determined a lot of '90s hip-hop fashion as we remember it today. Her influence is especially notable in Jodeci, as their style spawned a legion of similarly suited R&B bands such as Dru Hill and Blackstreet, as well as later bands such as Jagged Edge, Next and B2K. Pennix described Jodeci's style in The Daily Beast as "rock 'n' roll mixed with white trash mixed with hip-hop mixed with me mixed with them mixed with shock value." And the shock value is something that Jodeci played up to.
When Diary Of A Mad Band came out, the cover had to follow suit. Now award-winning heartthrobs, the band were no longer as covered up and lowkey as they were on their debut album. Instead of black winter beanies, K-Ci and JoJo are wearing caps, and unlike the heavy duty jackets on Forever My Lady, Mr. Dalvin and Devante Swing are both topless. The quartet's matching neoprene overalls—worn as trousers and rolled down to the waist, paired with heavy duty black Timberland boots—are the makings of a real spectacle.
Fans either wanted to be them or be with them.
"When you use a strobe, you can crank up the shutter speed so your sky can get drastically dark," wrote photographer Danny Hastings on his Instagram. Hastings, who also shot the covers for Nas' I Am... and Wu-Tang's debut LP Enter The Wu-Tang, produced the album image for Diary Of A Mad Band. By using the strobe, the result is something enigmatic—it seems to exemplify Jodeci's bad-boy brooding image. The sky behind them is a dark, eerie, maroon, like it belongs to a marred apocalyptic land, and the angle from which it's taken—low, as if kneeling at their feet—makes Jodeci look alluring, inviting you to join their side. And with success: fans either wanted to be them or be with them.
But it's the overalls which truly make the image, worn so leisurely you could be convinced into thinking this is what everyone was wearing in the '90s. Except, despite the '90s devotion to peculiar fashion quirks (scrunchies, neon, oversized everything) the neoprene overalls were all Jodeci. So where did they actually come from?
As Pennix had been working as Jodeci's stylist at the time, it's long been thought that the overalls were her brainchild. That is until 2015, when Mr. Dalvin revealed on his Facebook page that he actually styled this album cover. "Nobody really knew what the outfits we wore were or what they were made of," he wrote. "I wanted to do something so different that I decided to put us in Waterproof-Deep-Cast-Fishing-Overalls with Brown Timberlands."
As for the distinctive swirling logo on the front of them, the brand is exactly as Mr. Dalvin describes: standard Pro Line fishing overalls, available on Amazon and presumably other fishing outlet stores. Nothing special, and yet they feature front and centre on one of the most infamous R&B covers of all time. But this is what Jodeci did so beautifully, and why their fashion legacy has lasted this long. They took clothing that was ordinary and everyday, added a drop of shock value, and turned them into something you simply couldn't keep your eyes off of.