20 Forgotten Tracks from the New Jack Swing Era
Once upon a time, before trap drums and marginal talent ruled the airwaves, a 19-year old kid from Harlem redefined the sound of contemporary R&B. By fusing the intensity of hip-hop, the universal appeal of pop, and the melodic warmth of R&B, musical prodigy Teddy Riley gave birth to a brand-new genre that journalist Barry Michael Cooper would immortalize as “New Jack Swing.”
The era would see the then-up and coming genre hip-hop merge with the slowly declining R&B to make some of the best music to come out of either genre. "Hip-hop and R&B were in two separate spheres, two separate universes," Bomb Squad member Hank Shocklee told Red Bull Academy. "It was a thing where we just wanted to take the music that we loved from the streets and hear our favorite R&B records mixed with it." Riley's hip-hop beats for singers paid off, as R&B once again appealed to a younger audience and rap saw radio play outside of the overnight hours.
With hundreds of songs created during the period, the New Jack Swing era became a force of nature would dominate airwaves, resuscitate careers, and bleed into pop culture, taking Walkmans and dance floors by storm. As fondly as we cherish this all too brief era, there are plenty of songs yet to receive the reverence they deserve. The Boombox takes a look back at 20 songs from the New Jack Swing era you might've forgotten about.
Hailing from New Haven, Connecticut, brothers N'namdi and Rahsaan Langley and their cousin Troy Frost released their debut album, Every Day Has A Sun, in 1992 on Mercury Records. Its infectious first single, “If You Feel The Need,” introduced their kinetic dance moves, Easter suits, and diversified approach to R&B. Long live Cross Colours colorways.
Heavily influenced by their days as college students, MC Hammer protégés Ho Frat Ho! burst on the scene with their anthemic “Ho Frat Swing” in 1992. Initially recruited as backup dancers for Hammer’s sold out Budweiser Superfest Tour, their electrifying performances earned them a record deal from his Bust It Records imprint. And while their experience under Hammer’s tutelage wasn’t exactly favorable, their legacy is cemented forever as one of the first artists to introduce stepping to the mainstream.
With her spiked hair, ankle-length braids, and trademark nose piercing, Jane Child certainly didn’t look like a prime candidate for an official Teddy Riley remix, but her otherworldly talent could not be denied. On the heels of her smash hit “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love,” Teddy blessed her with a bouncy bassline and paired it with his signature dancefloor du jour. Bringing her style and sound to new audiences that previously dismissed her as pop music’s heir apparent.
Tyler cut her teeth as the lead singer of R&B outfit Boys Next Door, eventually catching the eye of Jermaine Jackson before signing to his Work Records imprint. But when an album with the group failed to materialize, she stepped out on her own and dropped Girls Nite Out in 1989. Propelled by its feisty first single “Whatcha Gonna Do,” it served as the perfect conduit for her dance, musical, and theater background. And before you ask, yes. That was her in that Halloween episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
While Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ Perspective Records blessed us with legends like Sounds of Blackness, Mint Condition, and throwback quartet Solo, it was Kansas City-based Lo-Key? that gave the label a much needed jolt of attitude. The brainchild of in-house Flyte Tyme producers Lance Alexander and Tony Tolbert, “I Got A Thang 4 Ya” gave us gems like “My lemon drop, my lollipop/ Girl, candy must be yo name” and “I wanna spank ya, I wanna thank ya/ You're the reason why I sing this song”. Just member those lines were performed by trained professionals, so for your own safety, do not attempt them at home.
While “Girl I Got My Eye On You” and “Why You Getting Funky On Me” are house party mainstays, their criminally slept on “I Got The Feeling” languished in R&B purgatory. That is until it was resurrected on, of all things, the soundtrack for the blockbuster video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Written and produced by New Jack Swing cornerstone Dr. Freeze, it serves as the perfect marriage between hip-hop's aggression and the soulful essence of R&B. Give this song a home on your '90s playlists and thank me later.
Over the course of a career that spanned two decades, Phyllis Hyman’s commanding vocals delivered hit after hit until meeting her untimely demise in 1995. But her swan song of sorts would be “Don’t Wanna Change The World,” an uptempo pledge of allegiance to a lover who dared to question her devotion. But don’t sleep on the bars she delivers at the end either.
Ahhh yes. The quintessential posse cut. Another Bad Creation, MC Brains, Boyz II Men, and the rest of Biv 10’s massive roster joined forces to unleash the lead single from the 1992 compilation East Coast Family Volume 1. While the vast majority of its participants would never be heard from again, we can at least thank this song for introducing us to actress Yvette Nicole Brown.
By the time Kirk Franklin caught the hip-hop Holy Ghost and asked GP if they were with him, The Winans had already ushered in R&B’s inevitable infiltration of gospel music. In doing so, they enlisted Kenny G, Stevie Wonder, and Teddy Riley to endear their message to secular audiences on their 1990 comeback album Return. And while “It’s Time” was a welcomed departure from their previous work, it wasn’t without its detractors. As many within the Christian community took umbrage to contemporary gospel’s "radical" evolution.
Balladeers Men at Large emerged on the scene in 1992 with their seminal slow jam “So Alone.” Co-written and produced by their mentor Gerald Levert, members David Tolliver and Jason Champion begged and baby-baby-pleased their way to No. 31 on the Billboard 100 charts.
You really thought Bobby was gonna let Michael Bivens be the only New Edition alum with a record label? After cementing his status as The King of R&B with the multi-platinum Bobby, Whitney’s husband shared the wealth by introducing newcomers Smoothe Sylk, Dede O'Neal, Harold Travis, Stylz, and his sister Coop B to the masses.
Humble beginnings indeed. Before becoming one of the best-selling artists of all-time, a brash 14-year-old named Usher Raymond made his auspicious debut on the Poetic Justice soundtrack. While his signature dance moves wouldn’t arrive until his breakthrough single “You Make Me Wanna”, Usher demonstrated both tremendous poise and promise in his first foray as a solo artist.
Movie soundtracks were a goldmine for R&B heads in the '90s, and the Strictly Business soundtrack was no different. While the star-studded tracklist featured the likes of LL Cool J, Jodeci, and Heavy D & The Boyz, it was the bouncy “You Called and Told Me” from rookie Jeff Redd that’s stood the test of time.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then shout out to whatever Xerox machine gave us Basic Black. As Motown Records’ answer to New Jack Swing forefathers Guy, their uncanny resemblance in style and sound shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Considering this Atlanta-based quartet was assembled by Teddy Riley’s uncle (and Guy's former manager) Gene Griffin.
While Shanice is usually dismissed as merely a blip on the '90s R&B radar, she’s far from a one-hit wonder. Written and produced by Eric Kirkland and Michael Angelo Saulsberry of Portrait, “It’s For You” peaked at No. 14 on Billboard R&B chart and proved that her sound could remain fresh and malleable.
Cashing in at the tail end of the New Jack Swing era, British imports Eternal arrived stateside in 1993. Backed by a familiar Slick Rick sample and a keyboard-laden groove, members Easther Bennett, Kéllé Bryan, Louise Nurding, and Vernett Bennett rode their interwoven harmonies to the top of the charts.
An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Chuckii Booker played every instrument and sang every vocal on his eponymous debut Chuckii. And though he finally emerged from the shadow of his godfather Barry White, his reign as R&B royalty would be short-lived.
In 1989, you weren’t a real rapper if you didn’t have backup dancers. Heavy D had the Boyz, Big Daddy Kane had Scoob and Scrap Lover, and MC Hammer kept half of Oakland gainfully employed. So Redhead Kingpin being flanked by The FBI wasn’t peculiar, it was the standard business procedure. They delivered two albums, A Shade of Red and The Album With No Name, before fading into oblivion.
Short on subtlety and heavy on innuendo, Nuttin’ Nyce flaunted their sass and sexual liberation on their hit single “Froggy Style.” Borrowing George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” as a backdrop, they left nothing to the imagination in this cheeky ode to sexual conquest.
Los Angeles trio The Good Girls burst on the scene in 1989 with their debut album All For Your Love. While tours with New Kids on the Block and the rest of the Motown Records roster would soon follow, these ladies are best remembered for their high school dance-themed video for “Your Sweetness.”