Lisa Velez is one of those musical figures who impact upon me in both a musical and a personal way. A Puerto Rican descended woman coming out of NYC,her Latina back round has those two similarities to the maternal side of my own family. On a musical level,her group Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam were one of the first commercially successful purveyors freestyle. This was a hip-hop related for of electro funk,built on samples and break beats,that was linked to break dancing culture of the 1980’s. At the end of the day,it expanded on the same Afro-Latin attitude that was at the core of classic funk-for its time.
1986 through about 1991 was something of a renaissance of Afrocentric rhythms within the dance music of the day. This had its impact on funk of that time for sure. That being said,in the first two years of the 90’s a more Latin jazz flavor began to emerge out of that groove. Having been famously produced by pioneering hip-hop band Full Force,Cult Jam turned to the production team of Clivilles & Cole (the masterminds of freestyle megastars C&C Music Factory) to pioneer the groups final album Straight Outta Hell’s Kitchen. The song on it that impacts me most is “Let The Beat Hit Em”.
Beginning with a vocal sample urging “to turn your bass to ours”,a JB style synth brass hit opens into the main chorus of the song. This is a shuffling,conga drum led rhythm with Lisa singing over some jazzy electric piano sounds. The refrains of the song single out the the same Afro Brazilian groove-along with the number of spoken word samples and (indeed) screams directly from James Brown. As the song goes on,more and more elements accentuate the groove. The drum machines on the refrains get heavier. And on the closing choruses,the synth orchestra hits come on hard.
“Let The Beat Hit Em” closes with the vocal sample of a female voice asking “what will people say?”. And it makes perfect sense considering that Clivilles & Cole were among the last of the major pop oriented dance producers who championed strong Afro Latin poly rhythms during the sample/hip-hop era. Along with C&C Music Factory,this is one of the funkiest jams the duo threw down during the early 90’s. And a great transition for one era of freestyle dance music making way for another. The fact this has a mellower,jazz funk atmosphere showcases part of the new trajectory for the freestyle dance genre.