New Jack Swing: A Crash Course

    New Jack Swing (NJS) is a type of music that's a mix of Soul, Urban synth-Funk and hip-hop rhythm.  R&B became a bit hard edged around this time, the late 80's.  The music was jumpstarted by many important people including producers such as Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Teddy Riley; singers such as Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat.  Entertainers such as Eddie Murphy and Asrenio Hall helped spread it’s influence to other forms of media as well.  It had many different aspects of it including clothing styles, television, music, and it was even political in some aspects.  With a span of six years, New Jack Swing removed a lot of barriers between blacks and whites in the late eighties and the early nineties.     

    1987 was the year the whole movement started.  Andre Harrell, an executive at Def Jam Records left the label to start on of his own, named Uptown Records, which would later be the home of Jodeci, Mary J. Blige and Guy.  Urban music was slowly gaining more prominence in a pop dominated world.  America was being introduced to albums that blurred the line between R&B and Pop; such as George Michael’s debut album, Faith and Michael Jackson's follow-up to Thriller, Bad.  Things were being shook up racially in other types of media also.  The debut of The Cosby Show saved NBC and helped save the family sitcom format all while being about a black family.  The release of Krush Groove to theatres introduced movie going audiences to the early struggles of Def Jam Records and showcased many upcoming R&B acts.   

    1988 introduced us to the productions of Teddy Riley with Keith Sweat's "Make it last forever"; and Babyface through Pebbles' self-titled debut.  That summer NJS soared through the airwaves with its first hit albums.  Guy and a solo Bobby Brown released the first two major NJS albums.  Both had mega hits produced by Teddy Riley, "Lets Chill" and "My Prerogative" respectively.  The same year Bobby-less New Edition would jump on the trend with tracks produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.  White artists began jumping on the style and for the first time since its creation a white artist, George Michael, topped the Black Music Billboard chart.  This set the stage for NJS to become center stage in America.   

    1989 gave way to New Jack Swing's unofficial talk show, The Arsenio Hall Show.  This show kicked off the year as the first Major talk show hosted by a Black person.  It was very successful and helped bridge pop culture and urban culture even further together.  Paula Abdul, a former Janet Jackson choreographer made her music debut this year.  Her third single released, "Straight Up" was a smash hit and the video even featured a cameo by Arsenio Hall.  Dino Esposito became the first non-black producer to strike success in the category with the song "I like it".  The biggest international act to come out of the NJS movement came this year with Milli Vanilli, who scored three hits this year. "Do the Right Thing" directed by a Spike Lee covered the issue of racial tension and was very controversial at the time.  The movie’s soundtrack is also of note because of its consciousness towards the issues in the movie, while still being popular.   

    1990 can be considered the climax of the movement.  One could look at the pop charts and see artists such as Janet Jackson and Milli Vanilli were reigning at the top.  Artists who were considered true NJS even scored top 40 hits as Suburban America increasingly started demanded all things urban.  The remaining members of New Edition released albums beginning with Johnny Gill and Bel Biv Devoe and would later reunite at the MTV awards for the first time with original leader Bobby Brown.  Mariah Carey, who would go on to become the best selling female artist of all time, released her debut album this year.     

    In other forms of media, the NJS movement allowed more urban themed shows to appear on TV.  The best of these shows was In Living Color, which was produced by the Wayans Brothers and was the network debut of some of today’s popular actors and actresses including Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, Shawn & Marlon Wayans and Jennifer Lopez.  The first NJS era light hearted movie was released.  House Party was the tale of two friends and what happens to them at a party.   

    1991 saw NJS on a decline by punk/alternative, which was rising in the suburbs.  A few acts still enjoyed time in the spotlight.  Janet Jackson would release her 7th top ten single from Rhythm Nation 1810, the most ever for any album released.  "Love will never do without you" would also go on to become the fifth number one single from the album.  Michael Bivins from Bel Biv Devoe would debut two acts this year, ABC (Another Bad Creation) and Boyz II Men.  ABC was a group of youngsters similar to the younger New Edition and had two hits "Iesha" and "Playground".  Boyz II would go on to win the best R&B Performance by a Group or Duo Grammy for that year on the strength of "It's so hard to say goodbye (To Yesterday)".  Later on, Jodeci, made up of two sets of brothers appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the fall with the ballad “Forever my Lady”.  They made a mark on the scene with their rough bad boy image, compared to Boyz II Men's clean cut traditional look.   

    Two of the most memorable movies of the Era came out in this year also.  New Jack City directed by Mario Van Peebles starred Ice-T as an undercover cop and Wesley Snipes as a drug dealer.  It's considered to be the first urban crime drama and portrayed its subject matter with authenticity.  Boys in the hood was a portrayal of life in South Central Los Angeles that gave human characteristics to the people in these neighborhoods who were portrayed by the media as emotionless at the time.  The movie starred Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr, had many good reviews and was Oscar Nominated.  John Singleton, the director became both the first Black and the youngest film maker to receive a nomination.   

    1992 saw NJS's presence in the suburbs being greatly overtaken by both gangsta rap such as Snoop Dogg (Known at the time as Snoop Doggy Dogg) and alternative rock such as Nirvana.  As NJS was on its way out, it gave way to hip-hop/soul.  Artists from Atlanta would debut this year with the biggest being TLC.  TLC was influenced by Bel Biv Devoe in their taking of a distinct style of dress by dressing tomboy-ish and wearing condoms on their clothing.  R&B's upcoming artists took their act elsewhere internationally, opening on Hammer's World tour were Boyz II Men, TLC and Jodeci.  En Vogue's "Giving him something he can feel", a remake, became a hit on radio and MTV.  Bobby Brown came back to the scene with the single "Humpin around"; and R.Kelly started his career with songs such as Honey Love and Slow Dance.   

    In other media, the Cosby show was scheduled to end on April 30th.  On the west coast its broadcast was interrupted by reports of riots beginning in LA among blacks in the area, due to the acquittal of four LAPD officers in the Rodney King case.  The riots and the ending of the Cosby show marked a new era of racial separation in America.     

    Around 1993 music became separated by "suburban" and "urban" categories, artists that dominated would include The Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Ice Cube.  Many popular urban shows were cancelled, and Yo! MTV Raps was moved to an obscure time at late night for its last few years.  With the New Jack Swing Era was officially over; the R&B torch would be passed on to Hip-hop Soul, whose first main artists would also come from Uptown records.

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