Zhane – ‘Hey Mr. D.J.': Throwback Video of the Day
In 1993, Zhané - singers Renée Neufville and Jean Morris - changed the landscape of R&B with their breakout hit “Hey Mr. D.J.” The song arrived just when '90s hip-hop soul was transitioning into a new era in sound called "neo-soul," which blended soul music with contemporary R&B.
Before their big break in the R&B industry, Neufville and Morris were college roommates at Temple University and songwriters for DJ Jazzy Jeff’s A Touch of Jazz production company in Philadelphia. Their first professional recording was singing background vocals on DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince’s 1991 single, "Ring My Bell." While recording the song in the studio, record executive Benny Medina suggested that Neufville and Morris become a duo and they agreed. As for the duo’s name, it’s a combination of Neufville and Morris’ first names, Jean and Renée, which sounded like "Jahnay." They added to the "Z" to give it more flavor.
After recording "Ring My Bell," they bumped into Queen Latifah who then introduced them to producer Kay Gee who was looking to branch out of rap and starting making music in the R&B world. They soon began writing and recording songs with the Naughty By Nature producer in New Jersey while pursuing their education at Temple U. in Philly. Zhané made their first debut as a duo on the all-star compilation Roll Wit Tha Flava (produced by Queen Latifah's Flava Unit label). Their track, “Hey Mr D.J.,” became a radio hit and helped secure them a record deal with Motown Records.
Watch Zhane's "Hey Mr. DJ" Video
"I wrote that song in my bedroom while sitting on the floor," recalls Neufville in a 2014 interview with Wax Poetics. "I remember presenting it to Kay Gee. I told him I had this song called ‘Hey Mr. D.J.’ I told him it reminded me of when I had block parties on my block back in Brooklyn."
"When I sang it to him, he laughed at me. He thought it was a joke," she continued. “But we recorded it, and everyone seemed to love it. So imagine that ‘Hey Mr. D.J.’ was a hit, there’s this group that no one has ever seen before, there’s no video for the song, the album isn’t done, and we hadn’t sign to a record label for a full length album yet. There was a bidding war for us."
The video follows the theme of the song, as Neufville and Morris sing their carefree lyrics at a party while saluting the DJ. The summertime party anthem, which samples Michael Wycoff's 1982 post-disco track "Looking Up to You," also features a cameo from Rottin’ Razkals, a rap group Kay Gee was producing for Flavor Unit.
"Hey Mr. D.J." became a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Dance Songs chart and reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Zhané's debut album, Pronounced Jah-Nay, boasted several party anthems, including "Groove Thang" and "Vibes," but also featured love ballads like "Sending My Love" and "Off My Mind."
"I feel very proud of the material, and the mark that was made,” said Neufville of their impact in the R&B game. "I’m grateful to know that once my soul leaves the physical body, the music will outlive all of us. It’s one of the biggest gifts I could ever imagine receiving because life is so short. This is the legacy we’ve left behind. We came up in a time when classic music was being made. Not just hit records, but records that will be played forever. I’ll always love the music we created."