Last updated: 03/17/2008 12:00:00 PM
In the case of IMx, plenty, for IMx is Immature reborn. Batman, Romeo, and LDB, together since childhood, are children no more, and with the coming of manhood comes a dramatic change of name. What hasn't changed, however, is the vocal trio's razor-sharp musical instincts. As their newest MCA album Introducing IMx shows, IMx is more versatile, more harmony-rich, more self-confident than ever. "It feels like a new beginning for us," says Romeo. "We've got a whole new level of excitement, a new level of energy."
As Immature, the trio always enjoyed working with a variety of producers, and that is still true. On Introducing IMx, a handful of top-flight producer/songwriters teamed with Batman, Romeo, and LDB, including Vincent Herbert, Mark Gordon, and Platinum Status. As before, the group's longtime manager Chris Stokes served as executive producer. This time , IMx participated as co-producers and co-writers, with Romeo, who co-wrote all but two of the album's twelve tracks, emerging as IMx's resident songwriter supreme.
Since the release of their last album, The Journey in 1997, the three took some time off before returning to making their new album. The long break proved decisive, as Introducing IMX clearly reflects the group's fully flowered maturity. The upbeat debut single, "Stay The Night," is one of the album's catchiest tunes, with IMx's customary tight harmonies and a tight rap break by Romeo. "Keep It On The Low" tells the tale of a complicated love triangle-plus, with new rapper Ra Ra featured on the break. Tender, harmony-rich ballads like "In & Out Of Love" and "Everytime" offer counterpoint to funky double-time tracks like "Trick," "Temptations," and "Old School Love," the latter featuring a hot rap break by Smooth.
IMx had never recorded a cover tune before but that streak is broken with their exquisite reworking of the classic DeBarge ballad "Love Me In A Special Way," arranged for piano, strings, and some tricky percussion underneath IMx's lavish performance. "We thought about remaking this song for years," recalls Batman, "and we finally got it together." The wistful "What I Gotta Do" and "One Last Chance" are both aching pleas in minor keys, while "Bubbling" offers some of the album's most extravagant R&B harmonies and another sensational rap from Ra Ra. The album ends with "Beautiful," which builds to a crescendo of heartfelt passion and harmony. "We really wanted variety on this album," says LDB, "so people would know we could sing in many different ways, from falsetto to rap to harmony."
That kind of versatility springs from the individual musical and personal strengths of the three members of IMx. A native of L.A., Marques "Batman" Houston has been lead singer from the beginning. Kelton Kessee earned his nickname LDB as a kid, when he was dubbed the Little Drummer Boy. Jerome "Romeo" Jones is IMx's lead rapper, and also sings leads alongside Batman. In fact, it was Romeo who first drew the attention of Chris Stokes, who formed Immature in 1990 after hearing the precocious eight-year-old rapping at a Venice, CA, youth center. The group later made their album debut with 1992's On Our Worst Behavior, which was followed by the smash album Playtime Is Over and 1995's We Got It. Playtime Is Over sold over a million copies, thanks to chart-topping singles like "Never Lie" and "Constantly." The trio also toured the world with such artists as Brandy, Notorious B.I.G., and Soul 4 Real.
Over the years, Batman has become as well known to TV viewers as he has to music fans thanks to his recurring role as Roger on the hit WB Network sitcom "Sister, Sister." The whole band enjoyed a cameo role in "House Party 3," which starred Kid 'N' Play and TLC. IMx also contributed to the House Party 3 soundtrack album with "Wake You Up (House Party)," as well as on the song "Where Did You Go" for the most recent album from Destiny's Child.
As they have grown, the three remain the best of friends. "Our relationship has nothing to do with business," says Romeo. "It's all personal." Adds Batman, "We're like brothers. We have arguments like regular brothers, but we always stick together and never let anything come between us." Musically, IMx has broadened as well, citing such diverse artists as Jay-Z, the Beastie Boys, Alanis Morrisette, and the Backstreet Boys as current favorites. Most importantly, all three feel fully in charge of their own destiny. "We've always given lots of input in our careers," notes Batman. "Our families, our manager, our record company have always asked for our own opinions and supported our decisions 100%."
That kind of independence has led IMx to get involved with other artists as well, with impending production deals with rapper Ra Ra, R&B singer Chris Buck, and female rapper Mila J. But for now, IMx has one thing on their collective minds: getting back on the road in support of the new album. "The #1 thing we want people to know," says Batman, "is that this album is very hot, that we really appreciate our fans, and how much we want to thank them."
IMx: the name may be new, but the music is timeless. And for Batman, Romeo and LDB, it's time for a change.