Tevin Jermod Campbell is an American R&B singer and songwriter. At a very young age, he was racking up hit records under the mentorship of Quincy Jones, Babyface, Prince, and Al B. Sure. Tevin got his start in church, where he was discovered. The Texas native gained a reputation for his powerhouse vocals and was signed to Warner Bros. Records when he was only 12 years old. From there, Tevin scored his first hit record with “Tell Me What You Want Me to Do,” followed by “Alone With You.” His sophomore album propelled him even further into the stratosphere and featured his signature record, “Can We Talk.” Tevin voiced the character Powerline in the Disney film A Goofy Movie and appeared in Prince’s Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge.
In the decades since, Campbell has faded from the spotlight. Social media has helped create renewed interest in his music and vocals, thanks to viral challenges based on his biggest hits. “Can We Talk” was released in 1993 and created by Babyface and Daryl Simmons. It sold $500,000 copies and earned a gold plaque. He was nominated for a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and won a Soul Train Music Award for Best R&B/Soul single.
Last year, fellow R&B star Tank decided to challenge fans to a singing contest. Tank decided to use Campbell’s “Can We Talk” as a litmus test for who the real singers are. He got responses from Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men, RL of Next, Avery Wilson, and Q Parker of 112. Even non-singers participated, from Anthony Anderson to Slim Thug.
Babyface got in on the action and posted some of his favorites on his Instagram account. “I may have written this song 29 years ago, but the love and support of so many talented singers and artists have been nothing short of amazing! Pure love!” he said in the caption. He continued, “I also want to thank @tevincampbell for recording the song 28 years ago and making it what it is today.”
Tevin Campbell recently sat down with the National Museum of African American Music’s Youtube channel to discuss all things music. There he was interviewed by Claude Kelly and Chuck Haromy of Louis York. The pair are responsible for some massive hits as well and decided to question Tevin Campbell on songs he felt have aged horribly.
Tevin kicked off the convo with MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” before admitting that the song gets on his nerves. Then he admitted that he’s tired of hearing “Can We Talk.” The guys laughed it off, and Claude disagreed with Tevin, saying that the song is impossible to hate. Social media seems to agree, and Twitter is littered with comments about the song saying stuff like ““Can We Talk” by Tevin Campbell quietly one of the greatest songs ever made” and “went to the SOS office today and Tevin Campbell “Can we talk” came on the radio, everyone started singing, humming, snapping fingers at 9am.”
In separate interviews, Tevin has stated that he feels the song sounds like a “stalker” anthem, which makes it a bit uncomfortable to sing so many years later. In the record, he admits to wanting to tell a girl how he feels but being scared to approach her. Usher has opened up in interviews over the years, admitting that “Can We Talk” was initially written for him. While La Reid wanted Usher to cut the record, Babyface wanted it for Tevin. This caused a bigger rift between Babyface and La Reid, as they were already having issues. Usher claims that Tevin’s entire sophomore album was written for him.
Speaking on this during the same interview, Tevin boldly stated that Usher would not have been able to deliver the record the way he did. While many called shade, Campbell says it has less to do with talent and more to do with delivery. In that same statement, he admits he could not do some of Usher’s biggest hits any justice either.
Tevin has a point, however, as a young Usher famously struggled through his first album after his voice began to change due to him hitting puberty. As a result, he would have definitely struggled through the record, which has a high range for most male artists. Usher would of course bounce back as he got older, and like Tevin, is regarded as one of the top male vocalist of all time.
Many fans on social media agreed that “Can We Talk” was meant for Tevin. “Nobody, and I do mean NOBODY is out-singing Tevin Campbell on ‘Can We Talk.’ NO-BOD-Y. Not an Usher, Michael Jackson, Tank, Chris Brown, Mario. Nobody!” said one fan. Another said “I agree either Tevin Campbell… Usher couldnt sing can we talk like he could… Tevin Bodied it… and it’s truly a staple at every party!”