ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “12 PLAY”

DISCLAIMER: I want it to be known that I truly believe that R Kelly is a pedophile and sexual predator. The recent allegations that he is harboring a cult of young females as his sex slaves is another in a long line of sexual deviant behavior that he’s been accused of in the past 23 years. I no longer support him as a musician or individual. That being said, he was an integral part of the last two years of the New Jack Swing Era, and I’d be doing that era a disservice if I didn’t include the two classic albums he oversaw despite his sordid past and present.

R Kelly first caught my attention during the summer of 1992. While riding with my parents in their car, I heard the song “Honey Love.” I assumed it was Guy’s new single as the lead singer sounded just like Aaron Hall. To my surprise, it wasn’t guy but a new group called R Kelly and Public Announcement. They had just released their debut album “Born Into the 90’s.” At the time, they felt like a cheap imitation of Aaron Hall and Guy. Kelly even had the same look as Hall by wearing sunglasses and sporting a bald head. Kelly would leave the group and a year later release his debut album “12 Play.” This album was the greatest sex oriented album in 20 years since Marvin Gaye’s iconic “Let’s Get it On” album. It would also begin Kelly’s reign as the premier R&B male vocalist for the next two decades plus.

“12 Play” continued in the New Jack Swing Era’s style of having gospel style singing. While nowhere spiritual or religious in content, R Kelly’s vocal style is taken straight from a Baptist church. Kelly’s vocal range was far stronger than Hall’s. Hall was a classic baritone who rarely sang as a tenor or falsetto. On “12 Play,” Kelly showcases his incredible vocal range. On the uptempo hits “Bump n’ Grind” and “Sex Me,” Kelly sounds exactly like a Hall ripoff, as he sings in a predominantly baritone voice. “Bump n’ Grind” was an incredible hit, going to number one on both the Billboard Pop and R&B charts. Both these songs were the initial singles off the album. They were the perfect appetizers to the sensual love songs that were next to be released. These songs would be some of the greatest sensual ballads ever released. It would also begin the separation between Kelly and the rest of the R&B male solo singers of that era.

The first ballad released was “Seems Like You’re Ready,” a sensuous ballad about a man feeling that he and his girlfriend are ready to consummate their relationship. He shifts vocally from tenor to baritone, and the lyrics, while overt, are cleverly written and sung by Kelly, “I can smell your perfume. Step into my bedroom. Let me love you constantly. Oh, oh, your body is my playground. Let me lick you up and down. Make you feel like a woman should.” As I stated earlier, the ballads of this album are so reminiscent of Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” The similarities between Gaye and Kelly are eery. Both had incredible vocal range. Both were incredible songwriters. Both men had a fetish for younger women.

The next release off the album was another sensuous ballad, “Your Body’s Callin.” Another ballad that highlights Kelly’s vocal range. The song is about Kelly surmising that his woman is hungry for him: “I hear you callin’, Here I come baby, to save you, oh oh, baby no more stalling. These hands have been longing to touch you baby. And now that you’ve come around, to seeing it my way
You won’t regret it baby, and you surely won’t forget it baby. It’s unbelievable how your body’s calling for me. I can just hear it callin’, callin’ for me.” Both ballads were two of the greatest love songs of the entire 1990’s. It also began a trend of the best songs on his albums being the sensual ballads.

“12 Play” went on to sell over six million albums. It began Kelly’s domination of R&B, as he’s been the most prolific R&B male singers of the last 25 years. While I initially felt that Johnny Gill would be that artist, Kelly surpassed him and every other artist of that era. Kelly would be that last great writer and producer of the New Jack Swing Era. We will revisit his writing and producing acumen in an upcoming article.

TRACKLIST- 12 PLAY

1 Your Body’s Callin’ 4:37
2 Bump N’ Grind 4:15
3 Homie, Lover, Friend 4:22
4 It Seems Like You’re Ready 4:38
5 Freak Dat Body 3:43
6 I Like the Crotch on You 6:37
7 Summer Bunnies 4:14
8 For You 5:01
9 Back to the Hood of Things 3:52
10 Sadie 4:30
11 Sex Me, Pts. 1-2 11:27
12 12 Play 5:54

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “I’M READY”

In the fall of 1993, New Jack Swing was still the dominant style of music in R&B. 1993 would be the last year that New Jack Swing would dominate the soul music landscape. In the fall of 1993, several classic New Jack Swing albums were released. The first we will focus on is Tevin Campbell’s “I’m Ready.” More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: MTV UPTOWN UNPLUGGED

During the beginning of 1993, Gangsta Rap had become the biggest seller in hip hop, with Ice Cube, 2pac, Geto Boys, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Death Row Records leading the charge. Despite Gangsta Rap’s infiltration of the music industry, the New Jack Swing style of R&B music was still going strong. On May 31, 1993, the entire roster of Uptown Records, the record label that dominated that entire era, appeared on the innovative and groundbreaking concert series, “MTV Unplugged.” Only the biggest and most popular acts of that era appeared on that program. “MTV Unplugged” showcased an artist’s ability to sing live without the crutch of a recording studio. To shine on this show, you needed to not only have a great voice, but great stage presence as well. Uptown Records was more than ready for this task, as they sent out their heavy hitters Jodeci and Mary J. Blige, as well as their new solo vocalist Christopher Williams to showcase their incredible singing voices. Twenty four years later, this edition of the iconic concert series has become one of the greatest episodes in MTV history. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “WHAT’S THE 411?”

On July 28, 1992, Mary J. Blige’s debut album “What’s the 411?” was released. Her first single, “You Remind Me,” was an infectious uptempo tune written and produced by Dave “Jam” Hall. It set the tone for the album’s success. Blige, like Jodeci the previous year, had her look and style orchestrated by a now Uptown Records executive Sean “Puffy” Combs. Combs had Mary dressed like a female version of Jodeci. The result was seen in her next single and first music video, “Real Love.” In that video of another infectious dance track co-written and produced by Fat Boys member Prince Marky Dee and Mark Rooney, Blige and her backup dancers are dressed as tomboys in full baseball caps and jerseys. While both songs were excellent records and top five Billboard R&B hits, it was her next single and video that made her my favorite female singer of all time. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “OOOOOOHH…….ON THE TLC TIP”

Heading into 1992, the first four years of the New Jack Swing Era were completely dominated by male singers. That was no longer the case in 1992 with the release of several classic albums by female acts. 1992 would be the year of the female. That all commenced on February 25, 1992 with the release of TLC’s first album, “Oooooohh……On the TLC Tip.” More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “DANGEROUS”

Many legendary figures in the history of the world, whether it be in sports, politics or music, have adapted to the times in order to continue their career. When Muhammad Ali lost a step, he became more reliant on his incredible chin and heart. When Pedro Martinez lost some zip off his fastball, he became more of a finesse pitcher. When Michael Jackson and his brothers left Motown in the mid 1970’s, they signed a deal with CBS Records and the legendary music label, Philly International, headed by the legendary songwriting duo of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. Philly International was dominating the 70’s urban music scene not unlike Motown dominated the 60’s urban music scene. The Jacksons, led by Michael, adapted to the Philly sound and created some of their greatest music. It’s a formula that Michael used when he approached Teddy Riley to help produce the album “Dangerous.” The result: the single, biggest selling album of the New Jack Swing Era in which it sold over 30 million albums worldwide. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “FOREVER MY LADY”

On May 28, 1991, the debut album of the single, greatest group of not only the New Jack Swing Era, but of 1990’s R&B music period was released. Upon hearing this album for the first time back then, I was taken aback by the vocals of the group’s lead singer. The group was Jodeci, and it’s lead singer was Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey. K-Ci’s voice was raw and powerful in that rich southern R&B tradition. His voice was David Ruffin meets Bobby Womack. Jodeci would set the standard for R&B groups to come. From 1991-1995, there wasn’t a greater R&B group on the planet. Their debut album, “Forever My Lady,” was in my opinion, the single greatest album recorded by a group in the New Jack Swing Era. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “COOLEYHIGHHARMONY”

During New Edition’s 1989 concert tour, five high school friends from Philadelphia snuck backstage at the Philadelphia Spectrum to meet them. While security attempted to remove them from the premises, the five young men began singing in acappella “Can You Stand The Rain.” Michael Bivins was so impressed, he gave the group his phone number and told them to call him. This resulted in Bivins becoming their manager and the group was signed to Motown Records. The five young men consisted of Marc Nelson, Shawn Stockman, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Michael McCary. They would name their group Boyz II Men after a song off of New Edition’s “Heart Break” album. Nelson left the group just before they commenced recording of their first album, “Cooleyhighharmony.”

“Cooleyhighharmony” was the second consecutive album released under new Motown honcho Jheryl Busby that was an immediate hit. Released on Valentine’s Day 1991, this album was an integral part of Motown’s last great glory era. The first single off the album, “Motownphilly,” was a prototypical New Jack Swing uptempo track, complete with the sound and rap lyrics featuring Bivins. This single, an infectious dance track, went to number three on the Billboard Pop charts and number one on the Billboard R&B charts. It was the beginning of a historic five year run that was only equalled in history by legendary acts Elvis, The Beatles, Whitney Houston, and The Rolling Stones. The second single would be one of my favorite songs ever recorded by them. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “JOHNNY GILL”

As a child, the first two singers that caught my attention were Teddy Pendergrass and Donny Hathaway. They were, in my opinion, the most soulful singers of the 1970’s. The 1980’s were dominated by soul singers with falsetto and soft tenor type voices. The New Jack Swing era brought back the baritone style that both Pendergrass and Hathaway displayed a decade earlier. Johnny Gill, from his early solo work and with New Edition, was the first singer since Teddy and Donny with an explosive, seductive baritone. It would all come together with Gill’s Motown Records debut album, the self titled “Johnny Gill.” More