BY: SONNY PINKNEY
These days, he’s a Father, Husband, Educator, Mentor and Community Activist—that’s not the entire story of one Tommy ‘No Question’ Blackwell. At one time, Blackwell, was one-fourth, of the Philly-based, R&B group “No Question” which consisted of himself, Damon Core, Dante Massey and Nicholas Johnson. In the early 2000s, that’s when the quartet—landed its big break, when they were introduced to the legendary songwriter and producer, duo of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, of Philadelphia International Records.
Gamble and Huff had worked with some of the greatest singers of all-time from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The O’Jays, Patti Labelle, The Jacksons to Teddy Pendergrass. And, Blackwell revealed to feedbackthemagazine.com what the 2008 “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” inductees instilled in him.
“Working with Gamble and Huff, it taught me, what the love for music is—what we should be putting out there in our music.” Blackwell said.
He added: “Music is love and we should be talking about more love in our music—so working with Gamble and Huff, it taught me everything about representation. They [Gamble and Huff] taught me everything about professionalism and I appreciate both of them.”
Before the quartet, achieved stardom, they began as a trio—and originally called themselves “Blackmail” but, Blackwell disclosed to feedbackthemagazine.com, it was a music group overseas that had the same name; so that’s why they had to retitle their group, to “No Question” while adding another group member.
“When we changed the name—we added a group member” and as Tommy explains it” ‘You know how when you ask someone a question, it’s like—Man, are they good? It’s like all man “No Question”.’
“It happened in a conference room inside Philadelphia International [Records] when we decided to call ourselves, No Question” Blackwell revealed.
The group came out of the gates running, with their debut album, releasing their biggest hit to date titled: “If You Really Wanna Go” and their Grammy-nominated single “You Can Get That” (featuring Bianca) which appeared on the “Bait” movie soundtrack, that starred Jamie Foxx and Mike Epps. And, in 2001, the group’s single titled “Remember Us”was featured on “The Brothers” movie soundtrack, starring Morris Chestnut, D.L. Hughley and Bill Bellamy.
Growing up, Tommy didn’t foresee himself becoming a singer, until a 1990s R&B group from the “New Jack Swing” era came on the scene—and one particular individual from that band inspired him.
“I didn’t even think about singing, I think maybe I was twelve or thirteen, and a group named “Jodeci” came out—now I was digging “Boyz II Men” and they were from Philly, I was into all of that. But, once that “Forever My Lady” hit, I was stuck…I didn’t want to sing until I heard K-Ci [Hailey] sing that’s when it started the whole thing for me.” Tommy recalled.
In the 1990s, it can be debated that no R&B group was more popular and accomplished than “Boyz II Men” who, coincidentally, is from the “City of Brotherly Love” and is the foursome that “No Question” is often compared too.
“We definitely tried to mimic a lot of the harmonies, not the same harmonies, but, the way they were, so creative with what they could do with words and harmonies we wanted to be able to—kind of not be like them; but be able to stand next to them and kind of create our own harmonies. So, they were definitely the inspiration for that; while, still being somewhat kind of a badboy-goodboy kind of thing.” Blackwell told feedbackthemagazine.com
“Because you have groups like “Dru Hill”, we just wanted to be better than all of those guys. We had to represent because we’re from Philly, so there is no “No Question” without “Boyz II Men”.
In the late 90s-early 2000s, the list of music artists coming from Philadelphia, would rival any city during that span: Eve, Jill Scott, Beanie Sigel, No Question, Musiq Soulchild and Freeway. While, their contemporaries went on to achieve mainstream success—No Question was asked by many. Why couldn’t the group achieve the same successes as their Philly peers? Do you feel like the group were overlooked?
“We had a good run, it just didn’t last that long. An artist is only as strong as his team and when his team is in shambles, its only so far that a label is willing to take a situation that they don’t consider put together.” Blackwell believed.
‘No Question” Tommy, who rarely gives interviews regarding the group, explained that: “I don’t think we’re overlooked, I think people genuinely show their love for us; and really want to know what happened to one of the greatest groups to come out of Philly… We are right where we should be. Because, when you talk about Boyz II Men [and] Musiq Soulchild, you talk about some of the great singers and groups that have come out of Philly—you have to talk about “No Question” you have to mention “No Question”.
“No Question” Tommy who once shared the same stage with some of the industry’s best performers such as: Jill Scott, 112, the-late Gerald
Levert and Boyz II Men and said his lowest point of his professional career was the day it came to a halt.
“You start realizing that sometimes things aren’t always meant to be what you thought they were; and we had a jewel, and [it] kind of slipped through the cracks of the music business—but, then politics played a role in it.” Blackwell acknowledged.
“We were signed to Sony at one point, there was a gentleman named Michael Mauldin who was an A&R there. We didn’t know who he was per se—but eventually we found out this was Jermaine Dupri’s father; and Jermaine Dupri had a group named “Jagged Edge” and we had to sit-down for a little while… I think we were moved out of the way for what the industry called R&B.” Blackwell surmises.
Since the new millennium, there’s been a lack of Black Male R&B groups, that has maintained mainstream success, the “If You Really Wanna Go” vocalist infers that there’s been a shift in the music industry. https://youtu.be/brM45AC1WGk
“You don’t have as much of an opportunity for R&B groups and R&B artists now—it’s almost a struggle, if you’re not [a] Chris Brown, Trey Songz or if you’re not somebody in mainstream media already—it’s who you know. Who’s willing to play your song, who willing to give you a shot.” Blackwell feels.
“This era right know in music is missing those good people who wanted to give artists a chance. People like Helen Little [and] Golden Boy. I can only mention the people that helped “No Question” along the way; and, who I also seen helped rap groups like: Major Figgas, Musiq Soulchild, Carvin Haggins, Mike McArthur… R&B is never going anywhere it’s still here. It’s just the attention right know is all on the negativity of music—where we at with R&B now, it’s more sexualized and not intimate… I do think that R&B will make a comeback eventually, but not yet. Hip-Hop just has it right now.” Blackwell concludes.
For all of the “No Question” fans that’s curious about a reunion, just like R&B groups “New Edition” and “Xscape.” Tommy expressed to feedbackthemagazine.com he doesn’t rule out the possibility of the group potentially reuniting.
“I will never shut door on that possibility—we’re all grown men now, we’re all fathers, we’re all husbands, we have families, and of course—we’re businessmen and through the years we’ve ventured in other areas. Right now, I’m a grade school teacher and also, I’m heavy in the community—my non-profit Progressive Quality Alliance, we do a lot help with the homeless. And trying to get the youth off the streets…I believe Dante [Massey] and Nick [Johnson] they do the same as well; Rest in Peace to Damon [Core]. I’ll never say no, if God wills it. It’ll happen, if he doesn’t, I’m just as happy with the way everything it turned out.” Blackwell stated.
“I’m just happy that people still remember “No Question” and they’re still singing the songs..we did something great and it carries on a great legacy till this day.”
Today, Blackwell, who’s grandson of Philadelphia Councilwoman, Janine Blackwell, is the CEO of PQRadio1 along with his wife, Saj ‘Purple Queen’ Blackwell that’s located in Philadelphia. https://www.facebook.com/PQRadio1/
CLICK HERE TO WATCH ‘NO QUESTION’ ON BET BEING INTERVIEWED BY FORMER NBA PLAYER JOHN SALLEY.