20 October 2005

guy - "groove me" (from the groove me: the very best of guy lp, available for purchase here.)

the tapes that didn't get made are in many ways more interesting than the one that did; the shadow tapes would present an interesting alternate history. the parameters of the project sort of dictated that i included the most influential songs from a particular movement. to represent new jack swing, i chose bobby brown's "my prerogative" and janet jackson's "love will never do" simply b/c i needed a song by whom i regard as the movement's architects, jimmy jam & terry lewis and teddy riley. (one might at this point interject that l.a. reid & babyface played no small part, and i'd agree, but i never found babyface terribly convincing.) "groove me," another riley production, is just as seminal, if less mainstream popular, as "my prerogative," but don't be cruel was the first album i bought by an actual recording artist, as opposed to a bunch of singing raisins. also: as hard as it may be to believe now, bobby brown was once really, really cool.

anyway, teddy riley: if the name no longer rings a bell, even the most casual radio listener is bound to remember songs like "rump shaker" and "no diggety." guy was his first band, and it never enjoyed the success amongst "serious" music fans that followers like timbaland and the neptunes receive. make no mistake about it, though: if not for the groundwork set by riley, and later refined by people like devante swing of jodeci, it's hard to imagine tim, who did his residency w/ jodeci, and pharrell a) making the music that they do and b) being given the chance by major record labels. (and it's not just the producers: r. kelly and his "band," the public announcement, were seen by many as guy rip-offs when they debuted.)

here's the dialectic in 1987, the year of riley's first major production (though he played keyboards on "the show," the first rap song i ever heard), keith sweat's "i want her": swaggering, dense, highly rhythmic hip-hop (big daddy kane, eric b. & rakim, public enemy, &c.) and smoothed-out, smoochy r&b (freddie jackson, anita baker, luther vandross). in a great revitalization, not unlike the punk movement, riley created a synthesis of the two styles, mixing traditional r&b songwriting w/ hip-hop beats and raciness, and dubbed it new jack swing, the sound that ruled r&b radio from 1987-92 (this also probably marks the moment when r&b stopped making love and started having sex.) later, it would incorporate clever samples; much, much later, in the wrong hands, it would devolve into vocal show-offs singing rickety songs over classic pop and r&b. in 1987 and, later, in 1989 when guy's s/t debut was released, it was fine, just fine, and perfect for me, in the midst of my own transition from rap to r&b and soul, tracing hip-hop samples back to their roots. (speaking of which, the-breaks.com is an invaluable research that i've been using for years to figure out what the name of that song is that so-and-so is sampling, and vice versa.)

unfortunately for riley, it was his greatest strength--his ear for beats and samples--that became his downfall. jam & lewis continue to thrive b/c of, well, one, janet jackson, but also b/c they came from a trad r&b background (the time, the s.o.s. band) and were songwriters before beatmakers. but don't feel too bad for teddy: he's at least getting some gta money, "groove me" having appeared in san andreas. instead, say a prayer for al b. sure!, ask yourself what he's doing today (mostly telling you how he feels about you on the nightshift), then lament how pop music--unlike rock--forgets its heroes.

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