Year: 1993
Label: Uptown/MCA

By 1993, R&B's new jack swing era had come to a close, replaced by the rise of hip-hop soul, a slowed-down style that embraced g-funk's beats, fashion sense, and irreverent outlook. Jodeci had flirted with the aesthetic on their uneven debut, changing the direction of R&B and inspiring a wave of copycats. But when their second album, Diary of a Mad Band, was released, just days before Christmas 1993, their image and music connected into one neatly-wrapped package.

While Jodeci was a quartet, their brilliance essentially boiled down to two unique gifts: the voice of Cedric "K-Ci" Hailey, and the songwriting ability of Donald "DeVante Swing" DeGrate. K-Ci was the magnetic lead singer with an overwhelmingly powerful delivery and raspy timbre unlike anything in R&B since the days of Bobby Womack. On "Cry for You," the group's fourth No. 1 R&B hit and lead single from Diary, K-Ci can't seem to contain his frustration, blurting out like a madman, "What else is there to do?/I don't know...I don't know.../BUT I'LL CRY!" He sounds unhinged, and that's the point.

Indeed, there's a theme of unabashed intensity and desperation in the face of love that weaves throughout the album, as if the group had grown impatient with the polite requests of "Stay" and "Come and Talk to Me." Instead, we get "Feenin'," Jodeci's finest moment, where the pull of love is compared to drug addition, and K-Ci's ready to flip his house and his cars for "one hit" of his special lady. On "Won't Waste You," K-Ci acts like he doesn't care about a girl who plays mind games with him, but it feels like he's lying. On "Alone," he's more direct: "Girl I live for you/I don't give a fuck about the news/So please turn off the TV." Sorry, Peter Jennings.

DeVante's songwriting and production had become more intense too, with glossy synthesizers and surreal vocoders popping up all over the album, including "What About Us," which interpolates Zapp's "Computer Love." The corny new jack swing that marred their debut is replaced with West Coast-flavored jeep music, including "In the Meanwhile," which features Timbaland's first-ever appearance (Missy debuts on two tracks too). But Jodeci's really all about slow jams-grinding, bass-heavy ones like "My Heart Belongs to You" that have plenty of space for K-Ci's wild ad-libs and the group's perfectly timed bursts of harmony (thanks to DeVante's often-overlooked vocal arrangement skills).

Diary of a Mad Band is by no means a perfect album (listening to them accost a reporter on the intro to "You Got It" is a particularly uncomfortable moment). Too many tracks tinker with half-baked hip-hop instead of playing to the Jodeci's core strengths. But the highs are so ridiculously high that the buzz never wears off. Sometimes one hit is all it takes. —Brendan Frederick