For 25 years, Groove Theory’s “Tell Me” has been a vibe that is unmatched. A track that two-steps at the cross streets of Hip Hop soul and Neo Soul, we revisit the journey of the breakthrough smash that almost wasn’t.
Vocalist Amel Larrieux and producer Bryce Wilson forged a creative bond in New York City in the early 90’s. Blending Wilson’s reminiscent beats with Larrieux’s agile and jazzy soprano, the two collaborated to craft a track that felt so comfortable that its familiar bassline is still mistaken as a sample of “All Night Long” by Mary Jane Girls. Co-written by Larrieux and Wilson, the song was intended for Trey Lorenz, Mariah Carey’s show-stealing “I’ll Be There” background vocalist, for his 1992 solo venture. When the song was cut from Lorenz’s final tracklist, it found its way to the United Kingdom as a B-Side for group, Rhythm N’ Bass.
The under-the-radar recycle would would earn its composers their own record deal with Columbia Records. Preparing the songs for their debut project, Groove Theory was urged by the label to include “Tell Me”, against their own desire. The demo was restored and released as the debut single. Blessed with a catchy chorus and dripping with déjà vu of old school love notes from Larrieux, we hang on every word as our heroine confronts her crush in hopes of move beyond the autumn of infatuation. A collage of sorts, most assume that Bryce Wilson joins the track’s finale for a duet, but it is in fact, the vocals of Trey Lorenz, preserved from its 1992 recording.
Worth the travels, the boomerang bop had returned back to its rightful owners and scorched urban and pop airwaves. The song proved to be a lush departure from its charting counterparts, reaching number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 3 on the R&B Charts and became an international hit that was certified gold in Australia, the UK and New Zealand. After only one album, Groove Theory disbanded to follow separate musical paths. Amel pursued a successful solo career; Bryce Wilson would garner Grammy Awards for production contributions to Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, and Beyonce. Albeit brief, the duos presence and signature single has cemented their impact on the rise of rhythm and blues and still sparks a flame at any 90s party.