Stokley (Mint Condition): We wasn’t really thinking about it, we were just having fun.
Larry (Mint Condition): Longevity, that was one of the main goals we had.
Stokley (Mint Condition): Yeah that was a main one and not to be a one-hit wonder. We were pretty much groomed from that. We were on a label (Perspective) where they blossomed careers, not just hits.
25 years ago, on June 11, 1991, the debut album by Mint Condition “Meant to Be Mint” was released. The album came via Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis‘ imprint Perspective Records. It was only the second album released on the label at the time, following the Sounds of Blackness‘ album The Evolution of Gospel one month earlier.
Released during the height of the new jack swing era, Mint Condition‘s debut was more in tune with the sounds of the time. They produced the album with The Time drummer Jellybean Johnson. To date, it is the only recording they have shared a co-production credit- as they would assume full production duties on their later albums.
The album peaked at number 63 on the Billboard 200 and number 13 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Three singles were released from “Meant to Be Mint.” The first single, “Are You Free“, reached number 55 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. They achieved greater distinction with their second single, the R&B classic, “Breakin’ My Heart“. It charted at number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 3 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. The third single, “Forever In Your Eyes“, peaked at number 81 on the Hot 100 and number 7 on the R&B chart.
Reflecting on promoting “Breaking My Heart,” “We were literally driving around in a winebago touring, to break that song,” laughs Stokley. “One of the ways we garnered our reputation as a great live band was by relentless touring. We did it the old fashioned way: tour and tour some more. We did everything, including driving the bus. Our motto was do whatever was necessary, play wherever they’ll have you.”
Mint Condition has built an enviable reputation in contemporary music as the rarest of artists: Incredible live musicians whose unique chemistry and ground breaking songwriting technique have influenced R&B, Alternative and Hip Hop music. Their music has always included everything from funk to salsa and jazz influences as well.
The group has always had a solid rep as being core musicians, essentially forming in the late 80’s because they kept running into each other at various studio sessions around town. For Ricky Kinchen, the only non-twin cities native, live performance also taught them the kind of camaraderie needed to navigate the rollercoaster ride of the music industry.
Keyboardists Lawrence El and Keri Lewis, guitarist O’Dell, keyboardist/saxophonist Jef, drummer/vocalist Stokley, and bass player Ricky came together in the performing arts program at Saint Paul Central High School. Playing together in different combinations led to them forming Mint Condition; a gig at the famed First Avenue club in 1989 caught the attention of super-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, of The Time and they were signed to Jam & Lewis‘ Perspective Records.
With exception of Ricky, the Minnesota natives believe it was their quiet upbringing that kept them grounded and enabled them to stay focused on what was really important. “We’re not in New York or LA. Minnesota is real conservative. It’s real laid back here, but we’re still able to keep in touch with what’s going on out there in the word.”
Mint Condition, now is the greatest self-contained R&B band of our time. In the Fall of 2010 when the late great Prince took the podium at the legendary Apollo to announce his “Welcome 2 America” tour and his plans to feature his favorite artists, it was no shock to many that Mint Condition was among them. In-fact, the only band on his list that day…was Mint Condition.
We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing the fellas numerous times during the years, as well as being granted access to the bands rehearsals. Nobody does it betta, than MC!
UrbanBridgez.com: What has been your most memorable memory?
O’Dell (Mint Condition): When Prince came up on the stage with us, for the first time ever. We’ve all lived in the same area forever. So for him to come up on the stage with us, that was it. He was like (in his Prince voice) can I get a guitar and come play with you guys? So he came up and was like when do I start… we were all like, now!
UrbanBridgez.com: With graduating from St Paul Central High School, how did Central prepare you guys for a career in music & entertainment?
O’Dell (Mint Condition): Definitely the performing arts class.
Stokley: The recording studio! Just to have access to that, being young kids who were interested in a career in music. That really left it wide open, plus it was fun. We didn’t really know the after math that would come from it.
Jeff (Mint Condition): Right!
O’Dell (Mint Condition): Alot of after school time in that little 15 track studio they had. Alot of things we got done back then, nobody was really thinking about what we were getting.
Stokley (Mint Condition): Back then see we didn’t know, we knew it was cool but didn’t know what it could lead to. We use to have to go get Larry from the back stairs from messing with them girls and everything (all laugh).
Rick (Mint Condition): I’m the only one that didn’t go there, I’m from Chicago. I don’t even think back then that it was set it stone that parents were like…like today if you want your kids to play sports, then you get them in this school. Now if you want them to get into music, they go to St Paul Central. At the time, I don’t even think their parents was thinking like that.
Stokley (Mint Condition): Nah, you’re right. We were excited that we were in there.
Larry (Mint Condition): All the other kids in the Twin Cities would try to come there just for that performing arts class. I just got into it at first to get off, because they had a two-hour block (all laugh). I was like I can just do this for two hours and get my credits.
Rick (Mint Condition): I went to concert maybe about two months ago and about three of the artists were from St Paul Central. I was like wow, I was blown away.
UrbanBridgez.com: Tell me your favorite songs from the MC catalog?
O’Dell (Mint Condition): I do have to say Breaking My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes) maybe my all time favorite because it kept us here all of these years (all laugh & agree)!
Larry (Mint Condition): We really appreciate all of their support through the years, like O’Dell said Breaking My Heart was so long ago and has been played over and over and if it wasn’t for our people who basically grew up into adult hood with us, so we appreciate you.
Stokley (Mint Condition): They wait for that song every night, we could do a two hour show and people wait for that song.
Larry (Mint Condition): And it’s not just them it’s their kids..
Stokley (Mint Condition): That right there speaks volumes because your kids and all the way to real little kids to grandparents we’re always told, they love your song. And how many other younger artists have that, so its amazing. It’s going to be interesting to see how todays music is perceived years from now, it may be the same. Like Lil Wayne who I love, but I’m not sure it won’t be just for this generation.
Kelly Price talks to UB about working with the amazing Mint on the hit single “Not My Daddy.”
UrbanBridgez.com: Who are some of the people you worked with on this upcoming album?
Kelly Price: I have a duet with Stokley from Mint Condition. He actually produced the song and I wanted that very strong band feel and I was gonna do it from the studio. Warren said well you have Stokley, why don’t you just ask him for the whole band? I did and he said yes so we sent him the music & he ended up producing the song and put the band on it and it’s incredible. The song is called ‘Not My Daddy,’ and it’s an incredible, incredible duet.
Karyn White tells UB her regrets on not utilizing the talents of Mint more.
UrbanBridgez.com: Another favorite of mine is, Hard to Say Goodbye.
Karyn White: Noooooo, that’s what I was about to say! You are too funny, that is exactly what I was about to say. Let me tell you something, I had Stokley from Mint Condition on there, I was so stupid I had him doing some adlibs and stuff. Because one of the guys in Mint Condition wrote it and gave me the track. I’m kind of mad at myself because I was around all of these artists at Flyte Tyme and I could of had all of them on my records. I was like what was I thinking, where was my head at?
Fun Fact: We use to run a Mint Condition fansite: “10 Million Strong”
Our history with Mint Condition, starts with our MN connection & all graduating from St Paul Central, but it officially started with our fansite “10 Million Strong.” We started the fansite in 1999 in support of Mint Condition‘s fourth album release “Life’s Aquarium.” The site featured news, music, contest, exclusive content, polls, a popular MC fan forum and more.
Link still live: http://www.angelfire.com/mn/mintcondition/frames.html