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

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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.

“MTV Uptown Unplugged” opened with a performance by Jodeci, the greatest group of the New Jack Swing Era. They performed their three biggest hits off their debut album, “Forever My Lady,” an album I reviewed a few months ago. Jodeci’s set showed just why K-Ci was one of the great frontmen in R&B history. His baritone voice exploded while singing “Forever My Lady” and “Come and Talk to Me.” It also gave the worldwide audience an opportunity to see the camaraderie between K-Ci and JoJo, first displayed when they sang co-lead on “Stay,” and then the highlight of the entire show and one of the single, greatest performances ever performed on “Unplugged.”

DeVante Swing went to the piano and introduced K-Ci and JoJo for the closing song to their set. K-Ci and JoJo then put on an incredible duet remake of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately.” It sent chills up and down my spine when I saw and heard this rendition. “Lately” is a song expressing a man’s instinct that his woman is cheating on him. K-Ci’s powerful baritone is perfect in expressing a man’s angst when he’s come to that conclusion: “Far more frequently you’re wearing perfume. And with you say ‘No special place to go.’ But when I ask, ‘will you be coming back soon.’ You don’t know, never know, oh…” Then JoJo responds with his suspicions: “I’m a man of many wishes. Hope my premonition misses. But what I really feel. My eyes won’t let me hide. Cuz they always start to cry. Yeah, yeah, baby, well, well.” This incredible performance by the brothers was released as the only single of the “Uptown Unplugged” album that was released three days later on June 3, 1993. It would be Jodeci’s biggest hit, going to number four on the Billboard Pop charts and was their fourth song to top the R&B charts.

When Mary J. Blige did her set, she exhibited the rawness of her voice while singing “Sweet Thing” and “Reminisce” from her debut album, “What’s the 411,” another album I reviewed a few months ago. Yet, it was the final song of her set that once again not only showcased her powerful voice, but K-Ci’s as well. They performed their powerful duet, “I Don’t Want to do Anything Else.” If you didn’t know they were a couple back then, it was confirmed after seeing the love and passion in their eyes while they looked into each other’s eyes while singing: They can take my possessions, they could never take your love away from me!” When K-Ci belts out “Mary, Mary, Mary!” its a declaration of his love for her.

The final highlight of this “Unplugged” album is Christopher Williams’ stirring rendition of the Teddy Pendergrass Classic, “Come Go With Me.” Williams, like Pendergrass, K-Ci and Aaron Hall, had a very incredible baritone vocal style. This was on full display throughout this rendition. You couldn’t tell me after his performance that night that he wasn’t going to be a major star. Unfortunately for him, I was completely wrong.

“MTV Uptown Unplugged” would be the only time a major record level was given the opportunity to showcase their major acts on this iconic program. This was at the height of the New Jack Swing Era. Uptown Records was the dominant act in R&B at the time, and looked unstoppable. Less than two years later, they would be out of business, but that’s a story for another time.

Tracklist-MTV UPTOWN UNPLUGGED
1 –Jodeci Forever My Lady 5:02
2 –Jodeci Come & Talk To Me 5:17
3 –Jodeci Stay 6:18
4 –Jodeci Lately 6:13
5 –Father MC One Night Stand 4:09
6 –Mary J. Blige Sweet Thing 3:43
7 –Mary J. Blige Reminisce 4:23
8 –Mary J. Blige I Don’t Want To Do Anything 6:45
9 –Christopher Williams All I See 6:13
10 –Christopher Williams Come Go With Me 8:37
11 –Heavy D. & The Boyz Is It Good To You 4:10
12 –Heavy D Interlude 2:34
13 –Heavy D. & The Boyz Blue Funk 6:12
14 –Father MC, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Christopher Williams, Heavy D. & The Boyz Next Stop Uptown (Studio Version)

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