BEST VOCALIST (MALE) Minneapolis 2001 -
Plenty of young R&B lovermen tout their bedroom stamina, but few prove as enduring in our bedrooms as Next. Nearly a year after entering the Billboard charts, the trio's conjugal hit "Wifey" is still at No. 4 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Recurrent Airplay chart. That's above Memphis Bleek's woman-swapping "Is That Your Chick" (with Jay-Z and Missy Elliott) and well above Jagged Edge's question-popping "Let's Get Married." In other words, in terms of sheer long-term listener-DJ fidelity, "Wifey" is the statistical equivalent of the Newman-Woodward marriage in Hollywood. It's all about chemistry: The gently rasped lead vocals by R.L. were mixed by KayGee (of Naughty by Nature) to insinuate rather than assert, with a give-and-take melody so smooth that the verses sound like the breaths between sweet nothings. Whether Next piqued the interest of the local music scene is another matter: Even after R.L. hit the Top 40 twice with his R&B superfriends ("Wifey" and "Too Close"); even after he paired with Deborah Cox ("We Can't Be Friends"); even after he appeared with Ginuwine and Tyrese on The Best Man soundtrack ("The Best That I Can Be"); the best Next man may be only the second-best-known R.L. in his hometown--after aging out-of-towner R.L. Burnside. All that could change, of course: The Twin Cities-reared new jack, born Robert Lavell Huggar, can currently be heard on the title track of the new 2Pac album, Until the End of Time (Interscope), for which he croons the Mr. Mister "Broken Wings" refrain and makes facetime in the video. One could even hope that Next's forthcoming third CD will gain from R.L.'s brush with gravity, but don't bet on it. The trio may have exhausted such topics as toe sex, phone sex, married sex, cybersex, and solo sex, but the world's oldest obsession will last longer in pop radioland than even Next.