Category Archives: New Jack Swing

Anatomy of THE Groove: “I Gitt Around” by Chuckii Booker

Chuckii Booker is one of those artists whose intricate history is equal to the seeming few who have a strong knowledge of him. He was perhaps better known as the musical director,producer and opening act for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour at only 23-24 years old. His talents as multi talented singer/songwriter/producer/multi instrumentalist got him signed as a solo artist to Atlantic in 1988. Not because of his original talents as primarily a bass player. But because execs accidentally listened to the other side of the demo tape that featured his vocals.

If funk/soul music had followed a totally straight line in the late 80’s/early 90’s,Chuckii Booker would likely have been the intermediary step between Prince and D’Angelo. After a couple Top 10 R&B smashes,Booker became regarded as a producer. In that respect touching on the work of artists ranging from Vanessa Williams,his godfather Barry White and EWF alumni Phillip Bailey. It took me a couple decades to go out and pick up Booker’s two solo CD’s. One of them (and his final one to date) was 1992’s Niice ‘N Wiild. One of the songs that’s really gotten my attention off of it is called “I Git Around”.

After a brief moment of party dialog,the main groove of the song sets in. This is a pounding drum machine that hits a very strong,electrified snare drum sound on the second beat. Along with that are two bass lines. One is a pulsing synth bass,the other is “possibly” a live one playing a “duck face” funky wiggle. Booker brings explosive synth strings,horn lines providing a strong “video game” sound along with the bluesy accents of the chorus. Not to mention a chromatic piano walk down playing in and out throughout the song. Just before the song fades,Booker brings in a tough chicken scratch guitar.

The new jack swing style could (and often was) made extremely generic by many in its commercial heyday. Yet Chuckii Booker used this song (along with many of his others) to point out the sub genres roots in 80’s funk. And even with the mildly new jack friendly rhythm,the instrumental toughness and electronic flamboyance is straight up P-Funk. Everything from the instrumentation to the lyric is pretty much a direct extension of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” from a decade before it. Makes one wonder how different 90’s uptempo music might’ve been had it followed this ultra funky model.

 

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Filed under 1990s, chicken scratch guitar, chromatic walkdown, Chuckii Booker, drum machine, drums, Funk Bass, New Jack Swing, P-Funk, piano, synth bass, synth brass

Dangerous 25:Ain’t Too Hard For MJ To Jam!

When Michael Jackson’s Dangerous hit the record racks on November 25th of 1991,I was very aware that it existed. All the videos for the album were premiering on the Fox television network. And tunes like “Jam”,”Remember The Time’ and “Black Or White” were part of the general pop culture soundtrack of the early 1990’s. At that point,my family didn’t have cable TV. And for that matter,little interest in pursuing new music by Michael Jackson at all. And neither did I. Recently,seeing the collectible 3-D diorama of the CD jacket painting purchased by my boyfriend brought back more memories.

On a family day trip to the city of Portland,Maine during 1994 I located  Dangerous on a brand new cassette tape,cannot recall the store exactly. But it was inexpensive. And I decided to pick it up. On the 2 1/2 hour trip back home from Portland,I listened to the 70+ minute album on my old Walkman via headphones. It was during MJ’s public trial by fire,so my first thoughts hearing it was that this would be the last new Michael Jackson that would ever be recorded. Luckily,that wasn’t the case. Yet during the internet age I was able to better articulate my views on the album via one of my Amazon.com reviews.


While not sure I entirely agree on this point. However there is a school of thought that,while containing many excellent songs and performances,Bad has often been viewed in revision as an album that was a bit musically behind the times. All I knew was that between there and here? Michael Jackson parted company from the production of Quincy Jones. Sure there were numerous reasons for this. One of them is why the two matters I just mentioned were interrelated.

Seems Mike had wanted to bring in Teddy Riley-the pioneering new jack swing producer,leader of Guy and by than already producing hits for Keith Sweat and Al B. Sure,to help out with his 1987 release. One can just imagine if MJ had songs like “Night And Day” or “Teddy’s Jam” on the radio during the time. But I can see Quincy’s side of it too. Why have too many cooks in the kitchen? Quincy and Bruce Swedien were almost too much on their own.

The project that eventually became this album began in the late 80’s-with Mike independent to choose Riley as producer but retain master engineer Swedien as well. But not only was Mike’s post record breaking status alienating him from the music loving public. But he was also about to branch off into a totally new,and perhaps even unexpected musical direction.

As usual,an enormous marketing campaign ensued between Mike and Epic-with the Fox TV network even agreeing to air a new MJ video as they came out. So MJ was all set for yet more record breaking for sure. And this time he was going to do so with music that was breaking some new ground as well.

Opening with a smashed glass and deep voiced countdown,”Jam” opens with the album with a spare,MIDI horn accented new jack funk masterpiece where along with a guest spot from Heavy D.Lyrically Mike is battling optimism and cynicism,from within and without,on this song. “Why You Wanna Trip On Me”,with MJ’s beat boxing part of the percussion along with Teddy’s ultra funky guitar and keyboard riffing suggests that,just perhaps,there were broader issues for people in the world to think about than Michael Jackson’s eccentric personal life.

“In The Closet” is a rhythmically amazing number. Mike’s acapella vocalese,beat-boxing and sensually hushed vocals make up the core of this number until Teddy’s popping synthesizers come into the sexually tense chorus. “She Drives Me Wild” is the most musically busy number here-instrumentally the melodic equivalent of being in a highway traffic jam of engines,car horns,breaks-the sounds of which are all heard as rhythmic elements as Mike sings of being extremely sexually aroused.

“Remember The Time” has the most slippery music and melody here-a very clean and typically Teddy Riley uptempo new jack number full of MJ’s trademark composition elements. “Can’t Let Her Get Away” is another highly funked up number-with Mike as a sexual pursuer.

“Heal The World”,a proclamation for his soon to launch foundation is a hyper melodic smooth jazz-pop type mid-tempo ballad while “Black Or White” takes a Stonsey,guitar fueled yet polyrhythmic rock/funk direction. While racially ambiguous on some levels,the bridge where Mike growls “I ain’t scared of your brotha’/I ain’t scared of no sheets” tells a whole other story entirely.

“Who Is It” is a rhythmically heavy,stripped down and very slow grooving funk groove with Mike as “the other man” whose contemplating his lover being unfaithful-and of course nervous it might be someone he knows well. “Give Into Me” is a slick,darkly hued rocker where Mike begs for sexual release over a chorus of loud power chords. Beginning with a vocal choir from the Andre Crouch Singers “Will You Be There”,of course to become the famous theme song to Free Willy is a beautifully orchestral blend of American gospel and South African choral music

The song not only shows African/African American musical connectivity instrumentally, but also lyrically has an aural vastness about it-with Mike himself emerging with a powerful vocal crescendo at the songs conclusion. One song I always personally loved from this album,and which I feel may be underrated by some, is “Keep The Faith”. This song starts off seeming like a melodic ballad. Until Mike sings “’cause you can climb the highest mountain” and suddenly the song transforms into melodically and rhythmically powerful modern gospel.

He’s not singing of any particular religion exactly. In his trademark pleas for univeralism Mike suggests here that faith isn’t necessarily something of a religious nature. One area where his univeralist attitudes may have had a really solid point to make. “Gone To Soon” is a very slow orchestral ballad (not written by Mike) and dedicated to his young friend Ryan White,the teenage boy who died after years of suffering from AIDS. The title song ends the album-with similarly powerful (if musically fuller) groove that begins the album-again focusing on Mike’s dejection when a lady is playing him for a fool.

While Teddy Riley should continue to get a big applause for being able to effectively modernize MJ’s production,it it Mike himself who really came through on this album. Musically speaking,this might well be the most successfully forward thinking and ambitious album Michael Jackson ever recorded in his entire career. One huge reason for that is that Mike,a man with an enormous amount of different ways he can musically utilize his voice,uses that element of his talent as a huge instrumental element on much of this album.

On the Teddy Riley produced uptempo numbers that begin this album,Teddy’s digitally sampled/synthesized instrumental effects are undoubtedly a big part of it. But also the fact that the percussion tracks come from Mike embracing the aural tradition from hip-hop,such as from rappers like Doug E. Fresh,of beat-boxing with their voice to provide both the main and counter rhythms as well. This created an entirely new (and very very funky) template for Mike’s uptempo music here.

Even when the tempo slows,and the subject matter becomes more trepidatious  on the second part of the album? Mike’s singing approach is also different. His voice here is almost exclusively in its lowest possible tenor range-growling and pounding out the lyrics,again rhythmically in the finest James Brown tradition. This is my personal favorite side of Mike’s vocal style.

One which he’d maintain for the rest of his musical career. Sadly,both personally and professionally,the years after this represented a sad and slow decline for MJ. With the smothering arrival of alternative rock on the pop scene later in 1991,this was probably the last time the public hung on every word about what Michael Jackson would do next. And is a rhythmically powerful,and sadly cut off new direction for MJ.


As indicated by my review,Dangerous was really the final time a Michael Jackson album happily stopped the world. The releases of his later albums,not to mention his death,also had mammoth effects on people. But at the time,they tended to come across as the surprise of a fallen cultural icon making major headlines. Even still on its quarter century anniversary,Dangerous  found MJ making his own musical history again. And for one last time perhaps,doing so in a manner that was as based in creative energy as it was trying to sell an album. So happy anniversary ,Dangerous!

 

 

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Filed under 1991, 25th anniversary, Amazon.com, Bruce Swedien, Michael Jackson, Music Reviewing, New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley

Anatomy of THE Groove: “She Drives Me Wild” by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s passing is still being felt seven years on. With him not being with us anymore,its getting easier to see beyond the idolatry (which both helped and hindered him) to the essence of his musical and performance artistry. This artistry was very much defined by MJ’s performance ability. This included his distinctive variety of rangy vocal hiccup. And it was also defined by his aggressive,brittle mixture of Broadway show dancing and the James Brown moves with which he began on as a child at Motown. By the early 1990’s,Jackson’s persona was becoming  more defined by his personal eccentricities.

Now this brings MJ up to his fourth post Motown solo album Dangerous. Quincy Jones was jettisoned as a producer,for among other reasons that Jackson wanted to update his sound in a different ways than perhaps Quincy did. One of the biggest success in the soul/funk world in the late 80’s/early 90’s was Teddy Riley. He’d helped pioneer the new jack swing variant of danceable funk music. Jackson was recording this fourth album during this time,and enlisted Riley to help out. Teddy Riley would up producing seven songs on the album,including the first six. My personal favorite of which is “She Drives Me Wild”.

Traffic sounds begin the song. Then a car horn effect playing an actual horn chart introduces the refrain. The refrain consists of a shuffling uptempo new jack drum machine,with each second beat seemingly played backwards. Synthesized MIDI effects are used to create digitized sounds of bells,clocks,more car horns,the sound of walking along with other effects one would expect to hear on the urban street in mid day. On the chorus,the growling vocals of Jacksons throughout the song return to his whispery falsetto as the drums and keyboards play it straighter. Its on such a note that the song fades out.

Personally,I tend to see new jack swing as being (which was also the case with some types of disco) as having potential to be somewhat cookie cutter and generic. In the hands of talents such as Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson,that brought out the very best the genre had to offer. These industrial electronics on this song sound much like an early 90’s extension of James Brown’s concept: turning digital MIDI sound effects and synthesizer layers into a drum. Wreckz-N-Effects perform an equally rhythm rap that appears on the instrumental bridge of the song

Henrique Hopkins and myself have had many discussions about how,while a strong album on a musical level,1987’s Bad  album wasn’t particularly innovative for its time. Susan Fast discussed in her excellent 33 1/3 volume on Dangerous that this was an album that actually found MJ very much on the cutting edge musically-along with keeping his strong sense of pop craft and funky dancibility. Listening to it today, its not an album that’s short on exciting and strong songs-especially the uptempo material. But this song really goes to another level for me.

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Filed under 1990s, dancing, Dangerous, drum machines, Industrial funk, James Brown, Michael Jackson, MIDI, New Jack Swing, synthesizers, Teddy Riley, Wreckz-N-Effects

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Full Moon” by Brandy

Brandy Rayna Norwood  has had a fascinating career behind her. Following very much on the path of Whitney Houston’s transitions from audio to visual media, she was actually quite a bit more successful as a singer/songwriter/producer and TV star on her late 90’s sitcom Moesha  than she was on the silver screen. Personally I always had a creative appreciation for Brandy. With her fluid physical features and polished braids,she proudly and elegantly exhibited a strong Afrocentrism that maintained a street level identification with American hip-hop. As she grew from a teenager into a young adult,her music continually evolved along the same lines as her outward persona.

Today Brandy is a 37 year old with a 13 year old daughter  Sy’rai Iman and is engaged to be married again. In addition to having a six album strong discography. In the early 2000’s, she teamed up with then up and coming producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. Jerkins himself has a gospel back-round and had been mentored by new jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley. As electronic instrumental programming moved on from it’s brittle beginnings,by the early aughts it  developed more of a flow in terms of sound. This was excellent for both instrumentally oriented producers like Jerkins and nuanced vocalists such as Brandy. The title song of her 2002 album “Full Moon” is a superb example.

A high pitched mid 80’s new wave style synthesizer opens up the album playing an introductory melody and continues as throughout the song. The refrain of the song maintains a funky,slower crawling 1/2 beat dance tempo. This is accompanied by a crackling bass synthesizer and a bleeping,percussive synthesizer. On the swiftly sung choruses,on which Brandy duets with multiple harmonies of herself,all these electronic solos come together. On the bridge,Brandy’s vocal harmonies beautifully layer over each other while a synthesized duck face bass pops along with her. This is just before the main chorus repeats on into the fade out.

“Full Moon” showcases a magically romantic new groove-with Jerkins skillfully blending a strong post millennial electro funk rhythmic framework with European classical compositional content.  Instrumentally the song blends both the more brittle new wave and new jack electronic approach with the beautifully fluidity that modern synthesizer’s were beginning to create. Vocally many early ladies of neo soul such as Alicia Keys and India.Arie were deeply influenced by Brandy’s funky sea of vocals-a technique coming through both Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson. Still it was this song’s embrace of glossy production and strong,funky rhythms that make it perhaps my favorite Brandy number.

 

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Filed under Brandy, electro funk, Gospel, Neo Soul, New Jack Swing, New Wave, synth bass, Uncategorized, vocal harmonies

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 12/20/2014: ‘Heritage’ by Earth Wind & Fire

EWF Heritage

With the positive reception the 1987 album Touch the World and it’s three successful singles received? The newly reinvigorated Earth Wind & Fire were back in the studio beginning the recording for their follow up album the very next year. Of course one critical thing happened to be a huge game changer in 1988: the emergence of Teddy Riley with his group Guy and productions for Keith Sweat,Al B. Sure and Bobby Brown. The quick tempo hip-hop friendly shuffle of new jack swing had arrived. Essentially the soul/funk community was exiting the electro/boogie/synth groove of the mid 1980’s and entering essentially into the modern era-one where heavy electronic hip-hop/pop based productions would be the mainstream for contemporary R&B-as it would come to be called. Maurice White actually saw a positive in this-an opportunity to showcase a younger generation learning the same cultural lessons and values that fueled Maurice’s vision for EWF in the first place. The result finally emerged,and quite appropriately in 1990 with this album.

“Soweto” opens and closes the album with a strong African percussion Kalimba based melody. “Takin’ Chances” goes into a bluesy horn packed electro go-go style funk jam that essentially updates the production of a rather “Shining Star” style song. “Good Times”,featuring a very vocally chocked and quite rare guest vocal from Mister Sly Stone himself is a very fast paced house funk type groove with a great deal of wah wah guitars and choir vocals from the band itself. The title song is a well crafted hip-hop friendly track with the boy band The Boys that features a wonderfully jazzy classic EWF style refrain. The two collaborations with MC Hammer in “Wanna Be The Man” and “For The Love Of You” showcase not only Hammer’s total embrace of live band funk backing up his raps but his genuine respect for EWF’s creative vision as well. “Anything You Want” is very much a layered drum machine mid-tempo ballad. The heavily electronically orchestrated “Daydreamin” and “Welcome” are both classic style EWF ballads where the electronics actually get the flavor of real string an horn charts pretty well.

The hard driving electro funk of the bass/guitar build “King Of Groove”,making no bones about the difference between a creative musical vision and chasing fame THROUGH music and the similarly styled instrumentation of “Motor” are musically the closest to the previous album,and were likely recorded close to that time as well-earlier in the sessions for this album. When I first heard this album? I was pretty underwhelmed by new soul/R&B/funk of the early/mid 90’s being populated by seemingly dry sounding hip-hop/new jack swing style rhythms almost 99% of the time. At the time? It would appear that Columbia,EWF’s decades long mainstay received the album in a similar way that the public did at the time,including myself,that EWF had essentially sold out to a trend that seemed musically beneath them. And EWF were consequently and sadly dropped from the label. What I realize listen to this today is that,while it’s not as fresh and crisp as it’s predecessor? This is actually an incredibly funky album. It updates the rhythms for the hip-hop/pop era yes. But the beats and rhythms are essentially classic EWF under all the programming and such. It might be wise for those who are still naysayers to this album to revisit it. Might find a pretty well done album,full of sometimes powerful grooves,if one re-listens without prejudice.

Originally Written On December 18th,2014

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1990s, Amazon.com, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz, Maurice White, MC Hammer, Music Reviewing, New Jack Swing, Sly Stone

Anatomy of THE Groove 12/19/2014 Andre’s Pick: “System Of Survival” by Earth Wind & Fire

Following the creatively messy and less than successful late 1983 album Electric Universe, Earth Wind & Fire split up. After a few years of solo releases from Phillip Bailey and Maurice White,the pair reunited with Verdine and Andrew Woolfolk of the original Columbia lineup. To succeed supplicant guitarist Roland Bautista,they band were joined by Sheldon Reynolds-who has already succeeded another famous funk guitarist in The Commodores’ Thomas McClary after 1983-incidentally the same year EWF split up in the first place. During the late 1980’s Cameo,Con Funk Shun,The Bar Kays and Ghe Commodores were all paring down to smaller,more synthesizer focused lineups.

Since electronics were to some degree blamed for the musical reasons that may have broken up the band? It was interesting that EWF took a similar path to many of their funk contemporaries by paring down to a smaller lineup. Especially since the band had been most known for it’s distinct horn section. At the same time? This comeback probably clicked on a very important point at just the right time and when the band were in a good position to do so. This came fully in the form of the 1987 album Touch The World. And a lead off hit single from the album that represented something of a game changer not merely for EWF but one that had been progressing over the last year or so in funky dance music in general.

The song begins with the sound of a radio dial being switched around as a voice continually repeats “the biggest unanswered question is where is the money”. After several news snippets the song goes into Ronald Reagan saying “I’m not going to tell lies to the American people. I’ll leave that to others”-with that last line repeated two additional times before a vocoderized voice is heard saying “system of survival” before a chiming synth and a very fast dance rhythm and bass synth come into the song. Throughout the song? The bluesy main chorus goes into a call and response lead vocal between Maurice White and a rather digitally processed  bass voice-followed by a counter refrain from Bailey’s renowned falsetto.

During the bridge of the song there is a re-visitation of the voice speaking “the biggest unanswered question is where is the money”. This time the voice goes onto say “the president has yet to address the issue of money”.  After this the synth bass line leads back into a passionate lead of call and response “yeah yeah’s” from Maurice and Phillip before going into a spirited melodic improvisation of the basic song itself. The song leads out with Maurice again having a musical call and response with the horn section saying “ah,lets work” as the horns continually respond very much in classic James Brown funk fashion for the rest of the song. On the last horn break a low voice again repeats the songs title before it fades fully into a amplified,processed electronic line.

Considering the emergence of socially conscious hip-hop from KRS-1 and Public Enemy in 1986 and 1987? It seemed more than appropriate that the classic funk acts that had so influenced those people would have their own commentary on the situation-stated lyrically and musically from their perspective. Musically speaking this song features the same sort of JB style vocal/horn interaction that EWF had championed during their late 70’s heyday. At the same time,it featured the quick dance tempo that was very inherent to the new jack swing style that was about to become the mainstream funk based black dance sound for the next half decade or so. Still,the rhythm itself is again out of the classic funk school from which EWF came.

Conceptually this song has a rather similar approach to where the conscious funk based hip-hoppers were going. Rather than using samples,they used found radio news sounds to very clearly illustrate than President Reagan’s economic policies on urban America in particular. It doesn’t come from the point of view of the younger people who were facing this situation more directly. It was coming from people who had come directly out of the hopeful futurism of civil rights and black power. People who,in early middle age were beginning to see what they’d worked hard for beginning to crumble before their eyes. The usually hopeful Maurice White even sings at one point “I’m looking for somebody new to lead the revolution”. Even after such a near cynical reaction,White comes right back with his homegrown optimism with “so I dance,it’s my system of survival”. Just as with many American’s under Reaganomics? EWF were re-emerging with new membership,and still going strong doing their own dance of life!

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, James Brown, New Jack Swing

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 12/6/2014: ‘Guy’-Eponymous 1988 Debut Album

Guy-Album-Cover

Though unknown to me until recently, the precocious yet level headed musical genius of youth wonder Teddy Riley was by 1988 already more than well known. He had already been involved in his own group Kids At Work-not to mention working with both Doug E Fresh and Kool Moe D before he was 20 years old. In 1987 Riley got together with singers Aaron Hall and Timmy Gatling to form a trio that they called Guy. Having already worked with Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown on their breakthrough albums, Riley was on the cutting edge of a new sound that blended uptempo instrumentally rhythmic funk with the electronic swinging beats of the relatively new hip-hop genre. This music was known as New Jack Swing.

“Groove Me”,”Teddy’s Jam”,”Don’t Clap…Just Dance”,You Can Call Me Crazy”, “Round And Round (Merry Go Round Of Love)” and “Spend The Night”-more than half the album is focused on the new jack swing sound. What brings these songs to life is the groups creamy vocal harmonies,the heavy chord progression based melodies of the songwriting and the strong Charlie Wilson/Stevie Wonder like gospel soul vocal styling’s of Aaron Hall. “Piece Of My Love” and “Goodbye Love” are the two slower numbers here-which are actually fairly stripped down even for new jack type balladry to put focus on the densely chorded vocal harmonies. “I Like” is actually a very 80’s funk oriented number without the swinging hip-hop beat. That is introduced again on my personal favorite song here “My Business”,which has a very jazzy melody and a funkified popping bass line.

During the next few years to come new jack swing would quickly become the mainstream of soul/funk/R&B. Even veteran funk and soul acts from the 70’s and 80’s who made records during that period did so in that style. It became a very overused style of production as a result. And inadvertently began a reliance within the soul/funk community on hip-hop and it’s producers that continues on to this very day. In a way though, that is part of the positive aspect of this album and what it represents. Riley is very much a musician,and infuses this music with some very creative and artful instrumental turns and,most importantly, a return to the presence of strong funk electric bass lines. When this came out, this was part of a musically artistic movement. And not even intended to be an enormous sell out. Teddy Riley sought popularity through innovation,and he got it. No matter how much this albums whole format was imitated,it was really one of the earliest of its kind.

Originally Review From June 15th,2013

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Aaron Hall, Amazon.com, Funk, Hip-Hop, Music Reviewing, New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley