Featuring R.L. Huggar and brothers Terry "T-Low" Brown and Raphael "Tweet" Brown, contemporary R&B trio Next formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota after they were introduced by the Brown's uncle, a gospel choir director. Formed in 1992, they were first known as Straight4ward, and at one point were managed by Sounds of Blackness' Ann Nesby. Naughty by Nature's KayGee, however, took the group to his Arista-affiliated Divine Mill label. In September 1997, Next's debut single, the R. Kelly-like slow jam "Butta Love" -- produced by KayGee, Lo-Key?'s Lance Alexander, Tony Tolbert, and Darren Lighty -- debuted on Billboard
's Hot R&B Singles chart and eventually reached number four. At the end of that month, they released the single's parent album, Rated Next, which went double platinum on the strength of follow-up singles "Too Close" (a breezy midtempo track that topped the R&B and Hot 100 charts) and "I Still Love You" (another Top Five R&B ballad). Welcome II Nextasy, released in June 2000, was not as popular but included "Wifey," the group's second number one R&B single. This propelled the album to gold status.
While the group took a break, RL recorded the moderately successful RL:Ements for Clive Davis' then new J label. The group also went to J, where they released their third album, The Next Episode, in December 2002. Its lone charting single, "Imagine That," failed to crack the R&B Top 60. After they were dropped from J, they briefly aligned with 50 Cent's G-Unit and with Matthew Knowles' Music World, and as they kept busy with solo activity, they plotted the making of a fourth album, tentatively titled Music 101.