(BMC cont'd from part 2):
In summation, NJS morphed through the lifestyle, the elegance, and the music of people like Swizz Beats, Dame Grease, and Irv Gotti, and I don’t care what they call it - they can call it Hip-Hop/Soul or whatever, but all of it came through Puffy. Puffy was the extension of Teddy Riley in a lot of ways. A lot of the music that he created for Biggie and his artists like the Lox and Faith, and especially himself, was the extension of what Teddy Riley was doing – that Harlem-based Swing music. It lived on through that.
NJS4E: Here’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask. I’d love to hear your take on it – particularly because of the behind the scenes nature of your experience. It's about "career longevity."
We talked about Bobby Brown being like Elvis or the Rolling Stones – just hyper phenomenal, but his brightest star probably lasted a good two years – the '88/'89 corridor with five consecutive top ten singles back to back.
Then you have a guy like Usher who started in 1994, really blew up in 1997, and in 2003 sells 1.1 million albums in one week.
I’m finding a lot of the careers are lasting longer from these post-New Jack Era artists like a Missy, Usher, Jay-Z or a Puffy, whereas with a lot of the New Jack artists like an Al B. Sure, Bobby Brown, etc – you saw more of a four-year "hit record" career lifespan.
A) is that something you would agree with, and; B), if so, what would you attribute that to?
BMC: I would absolutely agree with it, and that’s a great question.
A lot of it has to do with it was that when Teddy, and Al B. Sure and Bobby got into it, that was uncharted territory. Totally, uncharted territory. Because of the fact there were no predeccesors to that point. Their careers were used as guinea pigs.
I’m not excusing 'excess' on Bobby’s part, but he’s a nice person, I’ve met him before. I can speak from my own experience on this one: how you handle what’s given to you really depends on how you look at it. Is it a sprint? Or is it a marathon? Because when you’re in the thick of it man, and when it's all coming at you, and when it's all going on and everybody is kissing up to you and you’re the 'greatest this, that and the other', that's cool - but when the music stops and they're all gone, how do you handle that?
|For over 12 years and counting, Usher has skillfully maintained a very successful career|
So the Ushers, the Neptunes, the Missys, the Timbalands, they were really blessed to have these careers to look at and say this is what I’m not gonna do, this is how I’m not gonna approach it. They were afforded the luxury of their predeccesors making mistakes or miscalculations or missteps or however you wanna term it, before they were able to really able to do it themselves. That creates career longevity.
And I’m sure that if you look at it, the only thing as hot as Bobby Brown prior to that point was Michael Jackson, and prior to Michael Jackson it was James Brown. But you have some major gaps – and I would say Prince too – but then it’s a different take altogether even with their immediate predecessors.
People had more of a vested interest in a Michael or Prince because their appeal was very androgynous – it was non-threatening. It was David Bowie-ish, and that was a great career move because at the time you have to look at the racial context of it also. Say a Bobby Brown had come around during the time Prince and Michael blew up, I don’t think he would have been that successful. Bobby Brown was extremely Black, extremely macho, and extremely street. And that Reagan Era was not trying to hear that at that time. That wasn’t gonna work then. When Bobby came around, there was a lot of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with that whole Reaganomics era and people were looking for a change.
Everything happens at the right time. There’s no moment out of time that is ill-concieved. What may be ill-conceived to us in a larger picture, and I’m trying to get too outer space on you, but there is a context to everything. So, when Bobby came along, it was like, maybe 4 to 6 years removed from Michael Jackson and Prince blowing up with Purple Rain and Thriller and I don’t think he expected it to happen like that, so it was like, "this is never gonna stop," and I don’t know if he took the time to look at it long range like a marathon. Maybe he did, but I’m not really sure I know the answer to that.
But the one answer that I can see looking at both sides of the business, is that with artists like Missy, Timbaland, Ginuwine, and Playa - who's one album I think is one of the best R&B album’s I’ve heard in the last 10 years, period - they had the luxury of watching Devante as a part of Da Bassment and saying, “when we get our foothold, we gotta handle this a bit differently if we want this to be a marathon and not a sprint.”
And they had that luxury.
|Bobby Brown circa 2005|
I think Jodeci is a rare exception because when I think when they drop their new album, they’re gonna get a whole new set of fans, and that has a lot to do with - and when Bobby drops his album, because of that reality show and all of that stuff that had nothing to do with music, and everything that has to do with his personal life between he and Whitney, he’s gonna have a big album. He can still perform man, he’s one of the greatest dancers of all time, and a great singer.
I remember Arsenio Hall telling me one time, I worked with Arsenio Hall maybe about 10 years ago, and he told me one of Luther Vandross’ favorite singers was Bobby Brown because he had the essence of that old-school, soul man Wilson Pickett, type of thing going on. So maybe all of what he’s going through is going to lead up to a great, great album.
But that’s a great question you ask – these people, these new jacks for all intents and purposes, the Ushers, and the Pharrells, and the Chads, and the Jay-Z’s have been able to be very aware of the pitfalls that have happened before to other people and they didn’t step into the same potholes.
NJS4E: And finally - what role do you think Arsenio played in this whole era?
|Arsenio - Time Magazine - 1989|
It’s weird that you would ask that. I did one of the first interviews with him. And I called him the "New Jack, Chit-Chat" host. Arsenio Hall's whole show was New Jack Swing. The theme song, that was New Jack. I think he had Teddy on there twice. His hair style – the gumby, cameo fade, the clothes, the elegance, it was like Johnny Carson/Dick Cavett meets NJS. Whether he was aware of it or not, and I think he was, New Jack for him wasn’t just the music – it was the mindset of being new, and young, and black, and ambitious, and smart in the late '80s.
There’s so many things that happened Andrew, during the late '80s and early '90s that took that music to another level – it couldn’t have been just the music to make it as popular as it is now. It was the lifestyle, it was the culture, it was the politics, it was all those things. And that really was the embryonic stages of it. Now it's like, not even a toddler, it is more like a pre-teen now with the parties that you guys are throwing around the world.
People are now really getting into what New Jack Swing really meant and means. It means people wanting to live nice, it’s not being affluent to be distant or condescending, but to want nice things. They want their kids to have nice things. And they want to listen to music that exemplifies the good life so to speak. So Arsenio was very reflective of that era. Definitely.
Barry Michael Cooper answers your questions!
Why do music critics still poo-poo New Jack Swing?
That's a really good question. I don't think critics really understand New Jack Swing, and I think because of the incredible success of the movie New Jack City, and Teddy Riley. Bobby Brown's, Al B. Sure!'s, Heavy D's, and Jodeci's domination of the music, they almost took it for granted. They thought it was a phase, a one time thing, so to speak. What they fail to realize is that Puffy carried the torch for New Jack Swing, and lit the next phase of it with Mary J. Blige, and even Biggie and The Lox. Take a listen to Biggie's "Warning," or Mary's first two albums, and the swing beats Dave Hall created. Even listen to producers like Swizz Beats with somebody as far away from NJS as you can get...DMX, and that's all Teddy Riley. Listen to Kanye's "Golddigger" - that's Teddy Riley, man! That's New Jack Swing! So the critics are listening to NJS right now...they just don't realize it.
Do you like modern R&B?
I like some of it: I love Pharrell/Chad from the Neptunes, and Kanye. I know that sounds like a weird answer, but the music they are doing is retrofitted R&B, and I think it is really creative. With Kanye's sped-up samples and slowed down swing beats, I call that "munchkin-funk," because of the falsetto-on-helium sound. With the Neptunes, they have some really inspired chord changes, like Marvin Gaye and Al Green, that airy, almost gothic sounding, 'otherness' of R&B from the '70s. I also like some of John Legend, I think he is really talented. Anthony Hamilton, though, is the king of this modern R&B: he is The Man! He reminds me a bit of Bill Withers and Bobby Womack, but he is definitely his own man, as he has a great heart and mind for singing and really poetic and moving songwriting. I also like a guy from London named Omar - I really like him. Omar is bananas.
Who do you think Teddy's main influences were in the late '80s and early '90s?
I know he liked Kraftwerk and Roger Troutman and Weather Report, and Herbie Hancock. Those are some of the people he mentioned to me when I interviewed him. And he loved Michael Jackson and the producer who worked with him on the great Off The Wall and Thriller albums, Rod Temperton. But I think Teddy is a real genius, and his music is just a gift from God.
Since NJS was all about fun and was very danceable stuff as well, do you see the current contemporary urban scene ever returning to something similar as opposed to the slow jams and in my opinion, quite formularized releases today?
Yeah, and I think this fantastic NJS website is going to be the catalyst. The more parties and tours Andrew and Vijay create, the music will come back, and the movement will live on.
What do you think was the main reason for R&B artists completely abandoning uptempo music in the mid-90s?
The West Coast Sound: Dr. Dre, Dr. Dre, Dr. Dre! The guy is brilliant, hands down. His sound is almost like classical music, and it is so wild how when that music died down, he really got a hit again with Teddy and Blackstreet on "No Diggity." And I think they have a mutual respect for each other. The West Coast Funk was laid back, it was funky, and it was dark. But it wasn't so much the music, as it was the outlaw (the Crip/Blood movement) lifestyle that came with it, and the access it created -- believe it or not -- to usher in Southern rap, which had been happening for years. But (Southern rap) really got an all-access pass with the phenomenal success of Dre, Snoop, and Death Row.