THE NEW (JACK SWING) TESTAMENT
It recently came to my attention that there had not yet been a sermon specifically on New Jack Swing.
Granted, #MusicSermon began with a thread about how we danced hard AF in the 90s. While that much of that was centered around New Jack Swing, it wasn’t all New Jack Swing.
Then we went through the Book of Uptown. But again, touched on New Jack Swing, not all New Jack Swing.
As NJS is the cornerstone of the #MusicSermon ministry, we cannot go ONE STEP FUTHER until we properly cover the New (Jack Swing) Testament. Amen.
“New Jack Swing” was coined by Barry Michael Cooper (who wrote New Jack City, Above the Rim & Sugar Hill) in a 1987 article about a then young and emerging Teddy Riley. However, while Teddy is most-commonly credited as the godfather of New Jack Swing, it didn’t start with him.
The “swing” in new jack swing comes from the new use rhythm and tempo in R&B music, along with hip hop and dance production. Their were two earlier production teams laying the groundwork for this sound. One was LA & Babyface.
LA & Face’s uptempo productions had big horns & big drums…sounds that soon became hallmarks of late 80’s & early 90s R&B.
And Babyface was responsible for the majority of what’s considered one of the first real new jack swing albums, but we’ll come back to Bobby.
The other production team who helped establish the New Jack Swing sound? Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Like LA & Babyface, they had rhythm and big sounds, but they also sampled and used the TR808, programmed drums usually utilized in hip hop production.
Jimmy and Terry have been amazingly adept during their career at keeping sounds fresh and current — and danceable like a mug.
While New Edition was obviously not a new jack swing group, Jimmy & Terry gave them a sound for N.E. Heartbreak, released at the forefront of the era, that fit right in.
With protocol having been established, now we can talk about the name most commonly associated with new jack swing: Teddy Riley.
Teddy’s from Harlem’s St. Nick projects (note — Harlem is key to the core new jack swing era). His sound was established with Johnny Kemp & Keith Sweat (we’ll get there), but if you ask Andre Harrell, Riley-produced The Show” with fellow Harlemite Doug E. Fresh was his first NJS record.
If you ask Teddy, his first real new jack swing record was an obscure cut he did for a group called The Classical Two “New Generation”. Pretty sure Eddie F used this sample for “Somebody For Me”.
But as I said before, most of us mark the beginning of the new jack swing era with two artists: Johnny Kemp and Keith Sweat. Johnny’s band used to compete with Teddy’s band at talent shows in, of course, Harlem, and this timeless “let’s get the weekend started” anthem is still a trademark Teddy cut.
Keith Sweat, from Harlem’s Grant Projects, was also a member of a band Riley (and Kemp) used to go head to head with at the clubs. He landed a deal while working as a Wall Street broker, and came to find Teddy to co-produce it. Told him to put that church on it (I told ya’ll about church musicians).
Make It Last Forever sold 4 million albums (and regardless of what some of you say about Keith’s singing voice, that joint is a classic). Teddy & Keith did a ton of the work in Teddy’s house at St Nick before finally taking it to the studio, but Teddy was officially a bonafide hitmaker.
Before we get into Teddy & Guy and start on Uptown, we have to talk about another artist Teddy was producing for around this time.
WATCH BOBBY WORK.
As Teddy is the quintessential New Jack Swing producer, Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” is one of the quintessential new jack swing songs. Don’t Be Cruel could be given out with Make It Last Forever as an NJS instruction manual.
Seven million albums sold. Grammy winning. 5 Top 10 Billboard singles. But here’s the catch: unknown to many, Teddy wasn’t the main producer on the album. Aside from “My Prerogative”, all the singles were done by this guy (and I’m using this as an excuse because I forgot to post this song earlier).
“Roni”, Babyface. “Rock Wit’cha”, Babyface. “Don’t Be Cruel”, Babyface. And “Every Little Step”, Babyface. Everytime I talk about Bobby, I say this video is my favorite Bobby. The star power is on a hundred. Just watch how he plays to the camera! Bobby was a f*cking star.
Bobby is a great opportunity to bring up an essential element of new jack swing. DANCING. You gotta hit the floor, honey. And Bobby made us do that. He and‘Face even had us dancing to a song about the Ghostbusters. And this joint still goes.
Teddy’s own group, Guy created joints that still get a party started. “Groove Me” literally never lets me down. A couple of things I want to point out with the “Groove Me” video: New jack swing wasn’t just about the music, it was about lifestyle. Teddy and the original third member of Guy, Timmy Gatling, are from Harlem. Aaron and Damien are from The Bronx. They were repping Uptown flavor and style. Dapper Dan fits, dance crews (like the Gucci Girls, seen in the video).
Guy has jams for days. DAYS.
Jams to the point where Teddy just did songs on the first two albums literally called “Teddy’s Jam”.
In fact, I realized we hadn’t had an in-depth convo about Teddy/NJS yet because I was talking about how often Will Smith slipped a Guy joke into The Fresh Prince.
We’re gonna come back to Teddy, but let me touch — again — on Uptown. I won’t go too deep into it, as we’ve covered it already. For a minute, it was the unofficial home of new jack swing. It was the official party label, and Teddy wasn’t the only producer.
Al B. Sure wasn’t even supposed to be an artist! He joined Uptown’s team as a writer and producer. Then he effed around and became the first, and for a while biggest, star on the label. When light skin and acid washed denim ruled.
In-house production at Uptown also included (fine ass) Eddie F, who co-produced most of Heavy’s stuff, and then went on to exec produce Donell Jones’ first two albums.
But my fave Heavy D song? (I’ve posted this in so many sermons). Yeah, Teddy produced that one. (But I see you on the drums, Eddie. Hey boo.)
Uptown also brought the new jack swing realness to screen with Strictly Business. Shout out to young Halle and this pretty true-to-NY-life (then) club scene.
Strictly Business was literally about taking a square and exposing him to uptown flavor to improve his life. By the end of the movie he was swagged out. When you seek help from above (i.e. above 110th st), you get the promotion and the girl. Also your life. Amen.
Uptown’s Strictly Business soundtrack gave us an all time Uptown anthem. I was at a New Edition concert at Barclays, and the DJ called Jeff Redd up in between sets. He sang this sh*t acapella, and the entire venue was singing along. Uncle and Auntie achievement unlocked.
I’m sure this (non-scripted) clip isn’t unfamiliar to any of you, it’s also an example of bringing NJS to the big screen. I’ve said it before, but this was an 100% accurate depiction of an 88–91 (maybe 93 depending on where you were) houseparty. You better have had your routines ready, ’cause it might go down!
While we’re on House Party, I want to mention an overlooked group in the this category: Today (they were on the soundtrack). Big Bub and ‘nem had some bops.
Obviosly if we’re going to talk about the new jack swing culture brought to to screen, that means New Jack City, written by the man who coined the NJS term. New Jack was about Harlem get-money cats, the flashiness of Uptown, the street scene, and the music and party scene all at the same time. It was also the first movie to depict the rise and effect of the crack epidemic.
New Jack still holds up for the cultural references alone. Also there was absolutely a G-Money in Harlem. More importantly, though, it showed everything the culture was: young, colorful, energetic, hustlin’, and as I’ve repeatedly said, about a party and that dance floor.
Of course a movie called New Jack City created by the man who coined the phrase New Jack Swing had to have a bangin’ sountrack. New Jack City had one of the most solid urban soundtracks of the 90s. I’d put it right behind Boomerang.
Johnny Gill, Troop, Levert, Latifah, Keith Sweat, Guy, and cast members Ice-T and Christopher Williams. Chris with the first of a few new jack video motifs we’ll see: the big ass warehouse mechanical looking wheel (Why, though? Why was that a thing?)
At this point in the timeline we are firmly in the njs era. It’s permeating through movies, tv shows (See: In Living Color) and through fashion. So let’s look at some other essential cuts. Back to Teddy, the “New Jack Swing” video is bascially a primer for all of these things.
Wall love “Rumpshaker”, but in “New Jack Swing” Wrecks was giving you 1. Fashion & style (polka dots, airbrushed denim, gumbys!) 2. A run down of Teddy’s receipts, just in case you ain’t know 3. How to properly pack a party and 4. A dance break down.
Speaking of polka dots and gumby’s, hey Kwame. I’m sorry Biggie did you like that, dawg. That wasn’t right.
You don’t automatically think of Tony Toni Tonè and new jack swing, but “Feels Good” is an NJS classic.
I think I’ve said before that Troop is new jack swing personified. We could put them in a time capsule to be an example of this music era. The haircuts, the ‘fits, the dance moves…
… rooftops (new jack video motif #2). Plus bonus points for an actual helipad, a motif which carried all the way into the shiny suit era.
This was probably Joe Public’s only hit, but it’s also on the NJS classics list in part because of the perfect use of new jack sonic trademark heavy samples and drum breaks (Sly, Parliament, JB) under the melody. Also video motif #3, random alleyways, brick walls and chainlink fences.
We know better, do better, and it has been established and recorded that this song is problematic AF. It’s still a New Jack staple. (Heyyyy, Big Lez.)
Another new jack classic. I won’t call Portrait one-hit wonders, because they did have moment. But they really kinda disappeared, didn’t they?
I said earlier that NE Heartbreak is an early new jack swing album, sonically. Bobby gave us one of the first solid albums of the era. The other members gave us classics too, like Johnny’s hard dancing ass.
Speaking of hard-dancing New Edition members: ladies and gentlemen, the hard-dancing national anthem. Airbrushed denim, bright colors, dancing girls with ponytails, yes. Shout out to the ladies of St8 Ahead for making “Poison” an eternal dance floor mover.
This is a perfect segue to the Biv 10 family (or The East Coast family), Mike Bivens label imprint through which he introduced the world to Boyz II Men and Another Bad Creation (you just sang “Boyz II Men, ABC, BBD” in your head, didn’t you?). Full disclosure: My best friend and I had a routine to this in high school… and I still know it.
And yes, “Motown Philly” is a new jack swing classic. I’m mad they made Mike do all this choreography, though. SMH.
Winding down, and advancing in the timeline, it’s debatable whether “Real Love” is new jack swing. Mary and Jodeci introduced the preceeding musical era, hip hop soul, taking the blend of hip hop & R&B that NJS played with and expanding it further. We’ll say it’s the bridge song. (Hey, Big Lez)
Finally, let’s bring it back to Teddy to close this out. Even with all his contributions to music, all the memories he gave us, highest on the board: he is the producer MJ tapped after Quincy to get a fresh sound. Dangerous was a new jack swing album, ya’ll.
And now, when you’re dripping in Finesse with Bruno and Cardi, you can feel secure that you’re suffienciently covered in all foundational things new jack swing.
Go forth and jam.