Led by R.J. Rice, aka the Wiz, R.J.'s Latest Arrival were a Detroit-based band that placed 17 singles on Billboard's R&B chart from 1981 through 1990. Rice played keyboards and sang, and he arranged, produced, and either wrote or co-wrote the majority of his band's material. Membership included vocalist/guitarist DeDe Leitta (Rice's wife), keyboardist/vocalist Dean Dipierro, bassist Craig Lane (aka C.L. Grand), drummer Rudy Maldonado (aka Rudy Famous), guitarist Paul Munro (aka Fingers), and vocalist Robin Marie Powell. Although they reached the R&B Top Ten with the distinctive "Shackles," "Hold On," and "Off the Hook (With Your Love)," they deserved a greater level of success, likely thwarted by a lack of stable label support. As contemporaries such as Midnight Star and the S.O.S. Band were nurtured primarily by one label, R.J.'s Latest Arrival bounced around to roughly a dozen different independents and majors, many of which were unable to properly market and promote them.
R.J.'s Latest Arrival debuted in the late '70s on Ariola, where they didn't seem to have much creative control. Early singles "Crystal" and "Does She Do It Like She Dances," in which the band resembled Rose Royce on a smaller budget, were written and produced by collaborators outside the group. Once the roles of Rice and his mates expanded, the band quickly developed a funky character of their own, as heard on the independent releases "Ultimate Masterpiece" and "Wind Me Up." The latter, a slice of free-spirited synth funk given wider release through licensing to Buddah, was the band's first A-side to chart, though it peaked at only 59. Equally pleasurable tracks such as "Body Snatcher" and "Aerobic Dancin' (Keep Dancin')" left commercial impressions of similar size, but "Shackles," released in 1984, gave the band their greatest exposure nationwide. It reached number six and led to a one-album stint with major label Atlantic, as well as a longer but equally unstable period with Manhattan, EMI-Manhattan, and EMI-USA. In addition to two more Top Ten singles, this era was highlighted by "Heaven in Your Arms," among the finest late-'80s ballads.
Following the band's 1990 split, Rice established Barak Records. An outlet for Detroit and metropolitan area rap artists, the label issued recordings by the likes of Slum Village, Phat Kat, and B.R. Gunna, the last of which featured Rice's son, Ralph "Young R.J." Rice, Jr. Apart from some compilation appearances, the discography of R.J.'s Latest Arrival remained elusive. As of the late 2010s, the majority of it was unavailable digitally, and original releases were available primarily through second-hand sources. ~ Andy Kellman