Brian Casey pulls up outside music producer Jermaine Dupri’s Southside Studios in a shiny red Hummer. Though a rhythm-and-blues singer, Casey looks more like a rapper, decked out in such de rigueur hip-hop gear as a vintage sports jersey (New York Mets) and baggy jeans. A doo rag covers his tightly braided hair, and a heavy jeweled cross hangs low on his chest.
This mixture of a street look with a smooth sound is the appeal of Casey’s group, Jagged Edge, which also includes his twin brother Brandon and friends Kyle Norman and Richard Wingo. Since 1997, the quartet has been attempting to reinterpret the classic vocal stylings of R&B for the hip-hop generation.
“We grew up when hip-hop was growing up,” says Brandon, Brian’s older brother by two minutes. (The twins are in their late 20s.) “Even our prettiest songs have some grit.”
While Brian is at Southside, Brandon is toiling away at Joi Studios, 10 minutes away in Decatur. The twins bought this studio about 13 months ago to further their side career of writing and producing for such acts as Toni Braxton and Usher. The studio’s name is an acronym for “Jagged’s other interests.”
In January, one of those other interests — “Don’t Mess With My Man,” a collaboration among the twins and female singer Nivea — earned a Grammy Award nomination for best R&B performance by a duo or group. (Surprisingly, the song dates back five years, when the brothers were working with a number of developing acts, including singer Ashanti, who’s nominated this year for five Grammys, including best new artist.) A win for the Caseys would bring some much deserved attention to the creative siblings and their often overlooked group.
Though each of Jagged Edge’s three albums has sold at least 1 million copies, they are still largely under the mainstream radar. Some industry observers have told the group that its streetwise image may keep it from being fully embraced by the pop audience.
For its 2001 video “Goodbye,” Jagged Edge used a strategy that black acts have often used to cross over. Where Motown groups once put cozy white lovers on their album covers, Jagged cast a white lead actor for its video. But the move misfired and the song failed to crack the Top 40.
Now, Jagged is just planning to return to what it’s always done: make earnest R&B love songs that aren’t too sappy for fans of Jay-Z, Nas and Eminem. The brothers are fine-tuning songs for their fourth album, due this spring.
They used to feel bitter about being undervalued in the industry, but those feelings have changed. “For once I’m just not tripping,” Brian says. “The Grammy stuff is a great thing, but it won’t make or break me. I’m still going to be happy, because I know that I go into the studio and give my heart and soul every time.”