When I was a teenager and a college student, I was fond at looking at historical chart data on Billboard.com, and one of the bands I remember seeing there was one I had not been familiar with otherwise, simply because their musical style was one that I had simply missed during my youth. That said, it is striking to look back from the vantage point of the current period and realize just how good the R&B trio Tony! Toni! Tonè! was during their run of four successful albums between 1988 and 1997 before splitting due to creative differences, before the various members had their own successful solo careers. With an appreciation of those who came before them, as well as the music that others were making around them, with socially conscious lyrics as well as a fondness for romantic slow jams, the group left an enduring body of work that was of their time and also of interest beyond their time. Yet despite that greatness, and their immense critical appeal, they are not a band that others have discussed frequently as being worthy of induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and it is that lack of attention to the group that I wish to rectify , at least in small part by drawing attention to them here.
The Influence Of Tony! Toni! Tonè!
What influence did the group Tony! Toni! Tonè! have? For one, they sought and reached a pleasing synthesis between the soulful music of the past, particularly the great R&B artists of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, and the music of the present. They helped bring a dancehall sensibility, especially in their third album, Sons of Soul, that encouraged the popularity of Caribbean R&B musicians over the past twenty-five years, musicians like Shaggy, to give one of several examples. Even after the group broke up, they were able to contribute together to the success of Alicia Keys in one of her successful singles, “Diary.” Besides the fact that their own hit songs have endured, their approach to music and their fusion of soul, R&B, and dance is a typical blend nowadays, so much so that it is easy to forget that Tony! Toni! Tonè! were at the beginning of that trend, when crossover and collaboration and genre-blending was not nearly as familiar, especially not to mainstream audiences. Part of the success and influence of the group is suggested by their appearance on soundtracks like Boyz In The Hood besides the success of all of their studio albums. With Tony! Toni! Tonè!, we have a clear example of a band that was inspired by worthy artists of the past, and then in turn inspired others after them in a virtuous circle of inspiration. Even in their solo work the group has continued to inspire, especially Raphael Saddiq, who has solo hits and a worthy collection of producing credits to his name. The group has even managed to remain at least somewhat in the cultural limelight through a skit on SNL that featured a fictional New Jack Swing supergroup named Tone, Toni, Tony Shaloub .
Why Tony! Toni! Tonè! Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
Aside from their assistance in popularizing dancehall music in the United States from their third album onward, and apart from their success in honoring the music of the past while creating contemporary hits in the late 80’s through mid 90’s, the body of work of Tony! Toni! Tonè! is worthy of respect. Hits like “Little Walter” and “If I Had No Loot” dealt with materialism and the pernicious problem of money in friendships. “Oakland Stroke” and “It Never Rains (In Southern California)” showed a concern for where the group members came from. “My Ex-Girlfriend” dealt with the problems of promiscuity, based on a real life situation where one of the group members found an old friend had become a prostitute. Most of the group’s hits dealt with matters of love, including how to appreciate it lasting. With varied material and approaches, the band is one of the most notable and critically acclaimed of its New Jack Swing age, an age that is worthy of greater recognition and appreciation.
Why Tony! Toni! Tonè! Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
As of yet, the R&B of the New Jack Swing era, for all of its popularity, has not received induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Groups like Tony! Toni! Tonè!, New Edition, and Boyz II Men lit up the charts and became critical darlings for a period of about ten to fifteen years, but after that period of immense popularity their success has been somewhat neglected, even as many artists have followed after them and taken their blueprint to further chart success. It’s time to pay them the credit they are due.
Verdict: Induct them, as they are part of an ever lengthening list of worthy snubs.
 See, for example: