Jagged Edge seemed destined to assume Boyz II Men's place as the pre-eminent black male vocal group when its second album, 2000's J.E. Heartbreak, went double platinum. But 2001's Jagged Little Thrill did only half as much business, despite the presence on it of the group's most successful single, "Where the Party At," which topped the R&B chart and reached number three on the Hot 100. Maybe the problem was that that track, which featured a rap by Nelly, was more aggressive than most Jagged Edge songs and more identified with the guest star than the headliners. If so, Jagged Edge didn't repeat the mistake with their fourth album, Hard. This time, the leadoff single, released months ahead of the full-length disc and rising in the R&B Top Ten and the pop Top 40 as the album appeared, is the more characteristic ballad "Walked Outta Heaven." It's a good calling card for the collection, which as usual is full of slow-tempo love songs anchored by synthetic bass beats that will test the capacity of woofers and filled with involved group vocal choruses set against pleading solo lead lines that weave in and out. Jermaine Dupri, the group's musical guru, has pulled back from deep involvement in the writing and producing, leaving those duties largely to Bryan-Michael Cox, Sick Cents Productions, Inc., and Melvin Coleman, who allow group members Brandon and Brian Casey to write the romantic lyrics and provide all the other musical elements. For variation, reggae rapper Major Damage toasts over "Girls Gone Wild," and Big Boi from OutKast raps on the so-called "bonus track," "Car Show." But for the most part, it's the four singers themselves who dominate. The music is repetitious, the lyrical sentiments bland, but in an act like this, image is just as important as the music (at least in commercial terms). It's no wonder that there are credits for "wardrobe styling" (the usual baseball caps worn sideways or backwards and loose-fitting sports clothes), makeup, and grooming. And those stylists are earning their pay, as the album's debut at number one on the R&B charts and number three on the pop charts demonstrates.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: Major Damage
feat: Big Boi