My Favorites: New Jack Swing Artists
***EDITOR’S NOTE: Favorites Series, Continued. Check back daily for new updates.
MY FAVORITE NEW JACK SWING ERA ARTISTS
— Given the sheer volume of artists available, this will be one of those days where there will be a Today’s 10 chosen (with honorable mentions).
Side Note: New Jack Swing Era is generally defined as the style of music that was dominant from 1987-1995 (fusing R&B and Hip-Hop elements).
1. TEDDY RILEY.
Teddy was/is THE MAN. Producer extraordinaire, rapper, singer, writer, you name it — Teddy is the King of New Jack Swing. He fathered it and nurtured it throughout the 80s and 90s with Guy, Wreckz-n-Effect and BlackStreet and is still producing to this day. The Harlem native, along with Andre Harrell (who, while also being head at Uptown Records, also was instrumental in getting the musical acts to perform on hit sitcom New York Undercover), were both instrumental in ushering in a new sound. For those of us who grew up in the 80s and listened to a lot of 70s music, we know street and soft love songs didn’t mix, nor their artists. Riley changed that.
2. BELL BIV DEVOE.
BBD made the smooth transition as 3/5 of New Edition to a New Group. They had a harder, grittier style, which was also occasionally mixed with their old vocal touches with New Edition. We sopped it up like biscuits and gravy or molasses from 1989-1993.
3. BOBBY BROWN.
Bobby Brown was that dude. I dare anyone over 25 (anyone under 25 isn’t qualified to disagree ha) to say he wasn’t. He did things HIS WAY and got away with it until the drug habit derailed his career. He had a nice string of hits after leaving New Edition himself. Unlike BBD, Bobby was a solo act, though. And he toured ridiculous amounts of time between 1988-1992. Maybe the drugs were a coping mechanism for all the stress and pressures of touring solo, but with all those hits songs such as “My Prerogative”, “Rock Witcha”, “Roni”, “Every Little Step I Take”, “Humpin’ Around” and “Don’t Be Cruel” (not to mention the album classics themselves), you can’t knock him for his drug habits and failed marriage without at least acknowledging his extensive catalogue and professional successes.
Good tunes here. My ABSOLUTE FAVORITE track from them was “Let’s Chill”. I dunno, we grew up with some great music. When we were little, everything was an occasion and a reason to play the music of the day. We would have family gatherings, barbecues, etc. and hear all this great music. That’s how I am able to remember music as far back as late 1982. So even though this song was geared toward people “of age” (mind you I was only 11 when it came out), I loved it then and definitely keep it in the rotation to this day.
They had talent. Teddy Riley and Aaron Hall (the guy who R. Kelly got his style from) led the group with his screaming vocals, but they were on point. He did not beg as much as Keith Sweat, though.
Troop did their thing. I loved their music. I have always liked harmony. I think it was due to my grandmother’s love for good tunes (which were blasting 24/7 on like FIVE radios at her house when I was little). I also played a half dozen instruments in elementary school, so hearing them (even if they were synthesized at times) in song hit a different chord with me — while the lyrics were still more or less something for late teens and adults. They had some memorable records and lyrics. Classics such as “All I Do Is Think Of You”, “Spread My Wings” and “I Will Always Love You” are timeless to me (and anyone else who grew up in the 80s and came of age in the 90s).
6. JANET JACKSON.
A “Rhythm Nation” under “Control”. That’s all I have to say. Otherwise, just LOOK at ’89-’93 Janet Jackson physically and tell me you weren’t crazy about her back then (guys, that is).
Look at all these classics (by the way, both those albums mentioned were part of my vaunted “NO SKIPS” list — which is coming up next on Today’s 5) she put out between 1986-1989 alone:
2. “The Pleasure Principle”.
3. “What Have You Done For Me Lately”.
4. “Nasty Boys”.
5. “When I Think Of You”.
6. “Let’s Wait Awhile”.
7. “Rhythm Nation”.
8. “Miss You Much”.
9. “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”.
11. “Black Cat”.
13. “Come Back To Me”
Who can say they’ve put out THAT MANY great songs that many people can remember each of the titles for within 3 years and two albums?
7. HEAVY D. & THE BOYZ.
The Heavster was in the house throughout the New Jack era. In fact, he and his group, The Boyz were very influential on the early 90s particularly. Their music flooded the clubs, house parties, movie soundtracks, TV shows and car systems from ’91-’95. Heavy goes back to the 80s, but hits like “Black Coffee”, “Now That We’ve Found Love” and “Nuttin’ But Love” were what stand out in his catalogue with the group.
By the way, the term that some of us are familiar with, “Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon” was first heard outside of the NYC Metro Area on a Heavy D. song on the late 80s — with a song by the title of the same name. Heavy is a trendsetter for the ages.
8. KEITH SWEAT.
Ol’ beggin’ KEEF. He may have begged more than anyone on record, but those were some memorable jams. The beats were edgy and the lyrics you can still remember by heart, especially if you grew up listening to “Make It Last Forever”, “I Want Her”, “Right & A Wrong Way”, etc. back in the late 80s. Keith Sweat was one of the few artists whose career spanned the entire New Jack era and continued afterward with some level of success. Most of the aforementioned artists, even if they continued to put out records, never maintained the notoriety they had achieved during the New Jack Swing era. In 1996, “Nobody” and “Twisted” dropped and Keith Sweat is still going strong at nearly 50 years of age.
TLC came out of nowhere, to be honest. We were rolling along just fine in the summer of ’91 and then BAM! they came out with these hard-hitting lyrics, gritty beats and this image — mind you, these three women were all GORGEOUS and could have played up the typical sexy, sultry, model image. Thankfully, they did not. It would have taken away from their vibe and creativity (as it would have pigeonholed and marginalized them as artists). You were forced to pay attention to them and take them seriously. They wore condoms on their eyes and hats to express sexual health awareness — and a few of their songs tackle the subject directly (most notably “Waterfalls”). You could dance to TLC’s music. You could vibe to TLC’s music. You could have it atop of your list of songs for a 90s party. In short, you couldn’t go wrong with some TLC jams during the New Jack era.
Much the same way TLC came out of nowhere, so did Jodeci. I had never heard of them before 1991 at least. But their songs were perfect for middle school kids going to school dances ha. “Forever My Lady”, “Stay”, “Come & Talk To Me” were frequently played at our 7th and 8th grade dances and cruise in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. They took a cue from previous four-man groups and put their on spin on the genre with in-your-face sexuality which was too much for some to handle (but would be labeled as tame, at worst, in 2010).
LL Cool J.
R. Kelly & Public Announcement.