In 1993, Uptown Records’ founder Andre Harrell was planning an unplugged show on MTV to showcase his label’s roster, which included a young Mary J. Blige, Jodeci and Heavy D. & the Boyz. He approached Jodeci — a potent vocal group whose 1991 debut album spawned three Number One R&B hits — and proposed that they cover an oldie to demonstrate their vocal chops.
Jodeci agreed to the plan. They set about learning “Lately,” a cut from Wonder’s Hotter Than July that they had never heard before, in the 24 hours before the unplugged show was set to take place. Their version is faithful but spare. Jodeci always excelled at slow tempos, and their “Lately” lingers wonderfully. This allows plenty of time for the singer K-Ci to emote and his co-captain Jojo to add pretty, meandering falsetto runs.
Jodeci’s version of “Lately” became a major hit, reaching Number One on the R&B chart for multiple weeks 25 years ago in August; in comparison, Wonder’s 1980 rendition failed to crack the Top 10. But Wonder didn’t seem to mind. When Jodeci visited The Arsenio Hall Show to perform their cover, Hall brought Wonder out to join them. He added some ad-libs to the track, including, “I like the way you sing my song.”
“That just let us know, ‘Yes, Jodeci is somebody,'” Jojo said later. “We cried like newborn babies.”