90s New Jack Swing – Remember The Time
There was a time when New Jack Swing (NJS) ruled the air. Everybody was at it and back in the late 80s and early 90s, everything on the chart was New Jack Swing. The trademark ‘triplet’ hi-hats over a hip hop beat, over an R&B groove. Nowadays we take the fusion of R&B and Hip Hop for granted but before then they were kept apart like salt and water.
It was all the work of one man – make that one kid – out of Harlem New York, Teddy Riley who started out making beats for New York rappers like Doug E Fresh and Kool Moe Dee. I remember the first time I heard the first song from the genre, Keith Sweat’s ‘I Want Her’. It was 1988 and it sounded so fresh. This song had a Hip Hop beat but was R&B, the orchestral stabs running through it were a new sound and this guy singing sounded like Steve Arrington from Slave. It had everything, nothing sounded like it and it was played everywhere.
Quickly after came the chart topping ‘Just Got Paid’ from Johnny Kemp and within weeks, the track was killing it. Then came the groundbreaking, self-titled debut album from Teddy’s group, Guy and the sound of NJS had arrived. Dissected, this was essentially Hip Hop beats over the Gap Band. The lead vocals were a straight up Charlie Wilson clone. The sound didn’t have the name NJ then though but people started to notice the producer’s name. The album spawned killer tracks like ‘Groove Me’, ‘I Like’, ‘Piece Of My Love’ and ‘Teddy’s Jam’.Cue Bobby Brown’s ‘My Prerogative’ and the deal was done.
Then out of the woodwork came other talented guys who simply had to ‘borrow’ from the music. I’m talking producers like Kyle West, Eddie F, Foster & McElroy and Dallas Austin who were also kings of NJS in their own rights. Heavyweights like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis as well as LA & Babyface even came in on the act. It was around now I started hearing the tag NewJack Swing’ on people’s lips. The videos were sleek, the guys donned colourful, shiny suits and stars like R Kelly were born. Pop acts like Glenn Medeiros and Sheena Easton also waded in but then you know what that means, time to step it up.
Then came producers like Spiderman & Dr Freeze with the seminal Bell Biv Devoe album ‘Poison’ and the Hip Hop beats got harder and the music toned down. So we ended up with what was called Hip-Hop R&B, a natural progression from NJS. Andre Harrell and Uptown Records then came in with acts like Jodeci and Mary J Blige who were exponents of Hip Hop R&B. The Hip-Hop got stronger and at one point in the mid-90’s, we had acapella vocals on raw beats. Or some just sampled breaks and stuck the vocal tracks on, never mind about the key of the song. Heck!
At this point, Teddy had hooked up with Michael Jackson and it would appear either decided to sit on that train or Michael forbade him from working with anyone else. The proliferation of copycats also meant the people had tired of the original New Jack Swing sound. At this point also, gangsta rap had arrived to slay R&B NJS acts who they considered to be sell-outs. Porr old R&B acts were trading in their yellow suits for sagging pants and lumberjack shirts (on that one, we have a lot to be thankful to gangsta rap for).
The mantle was then passed onto the next generation producers like Timbaland and Rodney Jerkins who continued the heritage with their own marks on it. Pharrell Williams himself is a protege of Teddy Riley, so NJS lives on. Teddy remains busy as ever.
Here are my top 20 New Jack Swing songs:
- Keith Sweat – I Want Her
- Johnny Kemp – Just Got Paid
- Guy- Groove Me
- Today – I Got The Feelin’
- Boyz II Men – Sympin (remix)
- 911 – Cutie
- Bobby Brown – My Prerogative
- Basic Black – Don’t Make Me Fall In Love
- Keisha Jackson – Mama Told Me
- Christopher Williams – Where Is The Love
- Kool Skool – You Can’t Buy My Love
- Hi-Five – I Like The Way (Kissing Game)
- Michael Jackson – Remember The Time
- M&M – Get To Know You Betta
- Menagerie – Now I Realize
- Wreckx-N-Effect – New Jack Swing
- Jodeci – I Gotta Love
- Big Bubba – I Like Your Style
- Portrait – Here We Go Again
- ARB – Crank It Up
Long live NJS.