ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “TENDER LOVER”

Following the spectacular success of Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds were in huge demand throughout the music industry to help write and produce songs. However, Babyface made a concerted effort to concentrate on releasing a solo album. With help from Reid and childhood friend Darryl Simmons, the three of them created a masterpiece. “Tender Lover” was released on July 23, 1989. This album would showcase not only the incredible writing and producing skills of the three man hit squad, but would display the incredible tenor/falsetto voice of one of the greatest singers in the history of soul music. It would be Babyface’s greatest solo work in his illustrious career. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “HEART BREAK”

Back in January, BET premiered a three part miniseries on the life and times of one of the greatest R&B groups of all time, New Edition. It was one of the greatest television biopics ever produced on a musical act. The biopic chronicled just how Bobby Brown was fired from the group and eventually replaced by Johnny Gill. When New Edition’s album “Heart Break” was released in June of 1988, not only was the group in transition, it was at a crossroads career wise. This album would be crucial in either extending their run as a big time group or having them fall to insignificance. It turned out to be the greatest selling album in New Edition’s illustrious career.

New Edition was New Jack Swing before New Jack Swing was ever formed. Beginning in 1983 with their first single, “Candy Girl,” New Edition were implementing rap lyrics into their R&B bubblegum songs. It was only fitting that they would be tailor made for the New Jack Swing sound. Turning to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the producers who wrote and produced Janet Jackson’s incredible 1986 album “Control,” New Edition created an album that perfectly combined both their signature sound along with the New Jack Swing sound. With the addition of Gill, they were also able to sound more mature. The group’s members ranged from ages 19-22 at the time of the album’s release. It was apropos that Gill was at 22 the oldest member of the group, as his baritone voice was one of the main reasons the group sounded more mature than before. In my opinion, this version of New Edition: Ralph Tresvant, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie Devoe and Gill were a greater version than the one that had Brown sans Gill.

“Heart Break” was almost entirely written and produced by Jam and Lewis. This album had everything a signature New Jack Swing would contain: infectious dance tracks and incredible ballads. The first single , “If It Isn’t Love,” was the perfect single to debut off the album. This song was the typical New Edition uptempo sound that their mostly female fan base was used to with Ralph on lead in his signature falsetto. The next single, “You’re Not My Kind of Girl,” would be the first song where Ralph, Ricky and Johnny would share the lead vocals. The song is about a man who’s physically attracted to a woman who’s very into him, yet he doesn’t take it further then friendship because she’s not his type. When this song first came out, I was 20 years old and living in New Orleans. There was a young woman who I took out on a date. She was very pretty, and although she was into me, the feeling was not mutual on my part. I’m only 5’6″, she was 5’10 and her being much taller than me was the main reason why I didn’t take it any further. She was highly offended and upset when I explained why our height differential was the reason why we could only be friends. The next single released off the album would be, in my opinion, the single greatest song ever done by New Edition.

Released on December 14, 1988, “Can You Stand the Rain?” was New Edition’s fourth R&B number one hit. It is also the song that finally transitioned them from teenage boy band to a full fledged adult group. The song is about a man who asks his woman will she be there for him through stormy times, just not the good times. Expertly written by Jam and Lewis, it is essentially a song detailing the turmoil and uncertainty New Edition was going through after Brown left and Gill entered the group. The music video shows the group reading a newspaper headline asking if it was over for New Edition. The group was wondering if the women in their lives would stand by their sides during this time of uncertainty. The song begins with the baritone vocals of Gill: “On a perfect day, I know that I can count on you. When that’s not possible. Tell me can you weather the storm?”  The song blends Ralph, Ricky and Johnny’s lead vocals perfectly. All three shine in this classic ballad. It is the signature song on their greatest album.

There are several other great songs on “Heart Break.” “I’m Comin’ Home,” is a ballad in which Ralph sings about how after a long tour he longs to come home to be with his lady. “N.E. Heart Break,” is an uptempo melody about groupies falling in love with the group while on tour and subsequently getting their hearts broken by the quintet. Finally, “Boys to Men,” is a song with Johnny on lead. It’s a coming to age song perfectly fitting what the album is essentially about: New Edition going from being boys to men. Four high school friends in Philadelphia who idolized the group named their group after this song. They would also enlist Bivins as their manager. That’s a story for another day.

The success of “Heart Break,” which went on to sell over four million albums, would have each member have spectacular success on their own individual debut albums. Each album was a New Jack Swing album. Each album delayed the release of another New Edition album. It wouldn’t be until 1996 when another New Edition album would be released.

NEW EDITION-HEART BREAK
Tracklist
Intro 1:06
That’s The Way We’re Livin’ 4:03
If It Isn’t Love 5:10
N.E. Heart Break 5:45
Crucial 4:32
Dialogue 0:44
You’re Not My Kind Of Girl 4:01
Can You Stand The Rain 4:58
Competition 4:28
Dialogue 0:39
I’m Comin’ Home 5:06
Boys To Men 4:11

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

After initiating the New Jack Swing Era with Keith Sweat’s “Make It Last Forever,” Teddy Riley formed a group with his friend Timothy Gatling and Gatling’s friend Aaron Hall.  After acquiring local hip hop and R&B producer Gene Griffin as their manager, Griffin in turn got them a deal with Uptown Records.  Uptown Records would be the single leading force throughout the New Jack Swing Era.  Riley’s group would be named Guy, and alongside Heavy D, would become the signature stars on the fledgling label.  Guy’s self-titled debut album would set a high standard for the label.  A standard that would continue with acts like Jodeci, Father M.C. and Mary J. Blige. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “MAKE IT LAST FOREVER”

In this new series of articles, I’ll be focusing on my all time favorite era of R&B music: The New Jack Swing Era. In chronological order, I will review the greatest and most essential albums of this era. We begin by critiquing the album that launched this era: Keith Sweat’s “Make it Last Forever.” More

THE GREATEST ATHLETE OF THE 21ST CENTURY: USAIN BOLT

In the 21st century, no athlete has exhibited grace, athleticism and a killer instinct like legendary Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. He has eclipsed legendary American sprinters Jesse Owens, Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis as the single greatest sprinter of all time. Bolt is the closest thing to a perfect athlete since a 1990 Bo Jackson. It goes a long way to explain why he is the greatest athlete of the 21st century. More

GREATEST ATHLETES OF THE 21ST CENTURY: MICHAEL PHELPS

It is incredible how a swimmer is the second greatest athlete of the 21st century. Michael Phelps has shattered every single major record in the sport of swimming. He’s done it effortlessly; dominating his sport on the same level as Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky did in theirs. Who would’ve thought that this skinny, frail young man from Baltimore could make the 2000 U.S. Olympic swim team at the tender age of 15. Seventeen years, Phelps is laughing all the way to the bank and into sports immortality.

Although Phelps didn’t medal at the 2000 Sydney Games, just by making the team at such a young age gave sports fans hope that he could mature into a championship swimmer. Beginning with the 2004 Athens Games, Phelps began his quest for immortality. At the still tender age of 19, Phelps won six gold medals at the 2004 Olympics, falling just one short of Mark Spitz’ 1972 Olympic record of seven gold medals. Phelps was now determined to not only equal Spitz’ record, but surpass it. In the 2008 Beijing Games, not only did he surpass Spitz’ record of seven by winning eight gold medals, he surpassed him as the single, greatest swimmer in the history of the sport. His total medals won after the 2008 Games were 14 Gold and two Bronze Medals, making him one shy of legendary Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina’s all time record of 18. He would shatter that record with his performances in the next two Olympic Games.

It is amazing to think that an athlete could win four gold and two silver medals in a single Olympics and be considered past his prime, but that’s what so called experts were claiming after Phelps turned in that exact performance at the 2012 London Games. Phelps came into the 2012 Games with a ton of pressure on him, yet he continued to dominate by winning six medals. At the age of 27, he retired from competitive swimming. Thankfully, his retirement lasted only two years. He had one more Olympic Games left in him.

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games saw Phelps once again dominate the field, as he won an additional five Gold and one Bronze Medal. He finally retired at the age of 31 with a mark that will never be equaled again: 28 Medals, including 23 Gold. He has 29 world records in swimming. He is the single, most accomplished swimmer and Olympian of all time, making Michael Phelps the second greatest athlete of the 21st century.

GREATEST ATHLETES OF THE 21ST CENTURY: LEBRON JAMES

Lebron James is not only one of the five greatest athletes of the 21st century, he’s one of the five greatest basketball players in the history of the sport. Other than Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, no one else comes close to being an all around complete player than Lebron. Since debuting in the NBA straight out of high school in 2003, only Kobe Bryant can make a claim to be on Lebron’s level as far as dominating play in the NBA. James’s historical 14 year career is still far from over. At 32, he is playing some of his finest ball. These are many of the reasons Lebron James is the third greatest athlete of the 21st century. More

GREATEST ATHLETES OF THE 21ST CENTURY: TOM BRADY

Two weeks ago, after the New England Patriots incredible, come from behind victory in Super Bowl LI over the Atlanta Falcons, there has been constant debate over Tom Brady’s status as possibly the greatest QB in NFL history. In my opinion, not only did that win cement his place as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, it cemented his place as the greatest NFL player of the 21st century. It also places him as the fourth greatest athlete of the 21st century.

It’s been 17 years since Tom Brady was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Incredible, Brady was a mere afterthought on draft day. So called football experts downplayed his potential and ability. Yet, beginning with the 2001 NFL season, Brady began to prove all these so called experts and naysayers wrong. In 2001, after Patriots starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe was injured a mere four games into the season, Brady began his legendary run. He shocked the world by leading the Patriots to one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, a Super Bowl XXXVI victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, a team led by future hall of famers Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. Brady won his first of five Super Bowls and first of four Super Bowl MVP’s. In 2002 and 2003, Brady would lead New England to two more Super Bowl titles. After only five years in the league, Brady already had three Super Bowl titles. He was far from finished.

In 2007, Brady would set the NFL record for most touchdown passes with 50. He also lead New England to an undefeated regular season record of 16-0. However, in what was the greatest upset of the 21st century, New England shockingly lost in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. It placed a huge asterisk next to their undefeated regular season. Four years later, Brady and New England were upset again by the Giants in the Super Bowl. So called experts were beginning to question Brady’s legacy.

In Super Bowl XLIX, New England trailed by ten points to the defending champion Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter. Brady, with ice water in his veins, led two great touchdown drives to take the lead by four points. Seattle had a chance to win with seconds left, but a game saving interception at the goal line secured Brady and the Patriots their fourth Super Bowl championship. The best was yet to come.

Just two weeks ago, late in the third quarter, the Atlanta Falcons had what seemed to be an insurmountable 28-3 lead over New England. Then, all of a sudden, Brady began the single greatest comeback in NFL history. He was akin to a machine, hitting pinpoint passes all over a tiring Atlanta defense. With less than a minute to play in regulation time, Brady tied the game at 28. Then, in the very first possession of the very first Super Bowl to go to overtime, Brady the machine kept rolling. He orchestrated a 75 yard drive that culminated in his fifth Super Bowl championship and fourth Super Bowl MVP, records that he now solely owns. At the age of 39, Brady continues to play on an elite level. Back in 2005, I christened Brady the “Golden Boy.” The Golden Boy is the greatest quarterback I’ve ever seen in forty years of watching the NFL. He’s also the fourth greatest athlete of the 21st century.

GREATEST ATHLETES OF THE 21ST CENTURY: FLOYD MAYWEATHER

In this new series of articles, I will concentrate on the five greatest athletes of the 21st century. Since the year 2000, there have been a plethora of great athletes in every single sport. Starting with this article, I will focus on five men and women who dominated their sports consistently since 2000. Today, we start with the greatest boxer and fifth greatest athlete of the 21st century: Floyd “Money” Mayweather. More