When Tevin Campbell released his platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated debut album, 1991's T.E.V.I.N., he’d already had the experience of working with Prince, who’d produced the track “Round and Round” and featured the newcomer in his Graffiti Bridge movie. Not bad for a 14-year-old singer who was heralded by some as the next Michael Jackson.

Prince came to Campbell’s rescue as the young man felt pressured to repeat and even improve on the success of his second album, 1993's I’m Ready. However, Campbell first had to overcome doubts about working on the four songs Prince brought to the table: “The Halls of Desire,” “Uncle Sam,” “Paris1798430” and “Shhh.”

“My voice was sort of a muse for these grown men to write about their love situations,” Campbell told Rolling Stone in a recent interview, noting that, on occasion, he had to ask his mom to leave the studio while he sang suggestive lyrics. “They were going crazy with it.” Prime examples were “Halls of Desire”and “Shhh” – and Prince released his own version of the latter song in 1995. It was “way beyond what was being done by anybody my age at the time,” Campbell said, but added that he remained “glad” he’d done it, noting: “You know exactly who produced it once the first chorus starts.”

At the other end of the spectrum were “Uncle Sam” and “Paris1798430,” which dealt with America’s race problems. The first song described situations of black families being brutalized by white people who seemed to be above the law, while the second explored the history of those who left to find exile in France during the interwar period a century ago. “The black man’s struggle in this country, I understood that,” Campbell said. “But I didn’t really understand the historical message behind the ‘Paris’ song until later in my life. That record was deep. I started learning about all the black Americans who fled to Paris in my early twenties. When I really got to learn about that rich history, I was like, ‘Oh, my God.'”

Tevin Campbell - ‘Shh’

Tevin Campbell - ‘Uncle Sam’

Now 44, Campbell recalled warmly how Prince mentored him as they worked, referring to him as “the little Al Green.” But he also remembered being “intimidated a little bit” when he first heard Prince’s demos, feeling like he was “imitating” the older artist rather than providing his own take.

But he also seemed to pick up something else from Prince. Addressing why he hasn’t released an album since 1999, he said: “My main concern about coming back is being able to financially support it on my own. I don’t want to depend on any record company to do it for me. But I have a fan base, people still streaming my music.”

Tevin Campbell - ‘Paris1798430’

 

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