New Jack Swing 4 Ever [Vintage That's My Jam]
Posted by j.ly on March 28, 2010
While hip-hop and R&B are almost impossible to differentiate in today’s music landscape, that wasn’t always the case. In the late 1980s, the two were proudly separate genres until producer Teddy Riley pioneered a fusion between the street-oriented beats and traditional R&B vocals called new jack swing. Riley, along with Aaron Hall and Timmy Gatling, formed the genre’s premier group, Guy, whose self-titled debut album featured classics such as “Groove Me,” “Teddy’s Jam,” “I Like,” and a personal favorite, “You Can Call Me Crazy.”
What soon followed was a near domination of R&B and pop radio by new jack swing acts such as Al B. Sure!, Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown; television shows such as A Different World, In Living Color and The Arsenio Hall Show giving air time to the music and the artists; mainstream performers such as Paula Abdul, Jeremy Jordan and New Kids on the Block embracing elements of the genre; and high-profile artists such as Michael and Janet Jackson devoting nearly entire albums to the sound that was popular until the early 1990s.
That’s My Jam chatted with two members of the NJS4E (New Jack Swing 4 Ever) Family about their Web site, NJS4E.com, which pays homage to new jack swing’s founders, heroes and contributors.
THAT’S MY JAM: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, gentlemen. First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
VIJAY CHANDEGRA: My name is Vijay “Jode” Chandegra. I am a professional with a love for all things new jack. The idea behind the site is to promote the music to those that have an interest in it by doing anything we can to get the love out there.
ANDREW KNYTE: Well, my name is Andrew, and I’ve spent time in Canada and the United States, and was born overseas from the West. I like to think I maintain a global perspective on things and I think that shines through on the spirit and personality of NJS4E.com.
When did you first fall in love with new jack swing?
CHANDEGRA: The moment I heard “Groove Me” by Guy. I used to put it on all of my tapes for about three months straight. I loved “I Want Her” by Keith Sweat before that, but just didn’t know that the genre/sub-genre was called “new jack swing.”
KNYTE: I fell in love with new jack swing during the summer of 1990. I was in the seventh grade back then, and about two years earlier, I, like everyone else in the Canadian city I lived in, were into heavy metal. But new jack swing offered me a form of music that I could more closely identify with, and that spring/summer had some great releases, particularly by BBD, Johnny Gill and En Vogue.
What is it about the music that is so appealing to you and to its fans?
CHANDEGRA: New jack has always been about the good times philosophy. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or don’t have in your pocket. It’s about enjoying life ― no matter what challenges it brings you. If you’re feeling down, then listen to an uptempo new jack track and see how long that frown stays there. You can’t help smiling.
KNYTE: I think for me, new jack is inclusive of everyone. It’s a big party. It’s very positive/upbeat/optimistic, and from a class standpoint, it’s upwardly mobile. There are two aspects to it I guess: the sociopolitical aspect and the entertainment aspect. It’s undeniably entertaining. I mean most pop/R&B music today owes a great deal to NJS. And again, since I’m always thinking on a societal level as well, for me it was a much more pro-social expression of urban culture than, say, gangsta rap.
What are your favorites within new jack swing, such as artists, songs and albums?
CHANDEGRA: Favorite new jack artist would probably be Guy, the creation of Aaron and Damion Hall, and super-producer Teddy Riley. My favorite NJS track varies, but right now it’s Heavy D & The Boyz’s “Is It Good To You.” My favorite new jack album is Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. It was the epitome of the style and no one did it better than MJ on that set.
KNYTE: That’s an easy one for me. Hands down, New Edition. Some would argue that the group isn’t pure new jack, but by 1988, during their Heart Break era, they were undeniably the “cool kids” and all their singles from “If It Isn’t Love” to “N.E. Heartbreak” embodied the burgeoning new jack spirit that had started to emerge in 1987. NJS album? I’d have to give it to The Future by Guy. Musically, they were trying to expand their horizons and become “major league” ― beyond the exploratory mining shaft they excavated with the first album, which is still probably the most important album of the movement. NJS song? Definitely a hard one, but I’d have to give it to … tied between New Edition’s “Crucial” (the eight-minute remix version) and Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Do Me!,” specifically the Wolf and Epic Remix that was featured in the music video. Not a fan so much of the other versions, including the album one.
How did the idea for the parties come about and what goes on at them? Do people dress in clothing from back in the day?
CHANDEGRA: The idea for the parties began as a friend’s get-together. I was going to throw a party for 50 friends where it would be new jack swing, hip-hop soul, classic soul and Golden Era hip-hop being played all night. It turned into NJS4E’s first party and it has just picked up since then. We have now done parties in New York, Amsterdam, Chicago and London, with more planned wherever people demand it. Some people do dress in the new jack clothes of yesteryear. It’s all a bit of fun. The music, the energy and the hassle-free attitude are what make the parties unique.
Why is it important for you and your comrades to continue promoting and informing the public about new jack swing?
CHANDEGRA: Because it’s a forgotten genre. It’s a moment in time that people don’t talk about enough. If I were to go to a club today, they would accommodate all types of requests for house, disco, soul, indie, rock and hip-hop. But new jack seems to be left off. So we thought we would redress the balance. There is clearly a demand for it and the music-buying public is realizing that “music” is not necessarily what the record companies make them believe it is. There are many “urban” artists that do not feel the need to sing about diamond necklaces, drinking Cristal or driving six-liter super cars. There are musicians that still write and sing about love, life and the journey that we all go through. It is about “real” music and making sure that it is something that is not forgotten. That is why we do what we do, and although new jack is only a small part of it, it’s the part that means the most to us.
KNYTE: For me it’s also important because there was a lot of progress ― again, on a social level ― during that time period being made. Using the N-word, calling women by the B-word, and making pot-smoking a lifestyle to be proud of, without a thought toward moving up in the world and being a productive member of society, were definitely not what the New Jack Era was about. TV shows like A Different World, being set on a historically black college campus on prime-time network TV? I think that was a pretty big deal. And it seems almost unthinkable now that a show like that could survive on prime-time network TV. I think in many ways, “urban” culture has taken strides backward since new jack ended. We’re seeing some improvements now, but the mid-’90s through the early ’00s were definitely depressing for me. “Laffy Taffy” by D4L and “Ai Yi Yi” by the Ying Yang Twins, for me, are just frankly embarrassing ― no disrespect to those artists. We can do better, and with NJS, we did do better. What I’m trying to say musically is that during that time, there was diversity in how urban culture was presented. For every clown you had like Biz Markie you had a smooth dude like [Big Daddy] Kane, a political dude like KRS-One or Chuck D., and maybe a gangsta like Ice Cube. Lately, it seems like urban culture, particularly hip-hop, is either a gangsta or a clown. Nothing in the middle, but Kanye and Jay-Z helped out towards that end a lot. Like I was saying before, during the NJS Era, we did better. And I want to make sure we don’t forget that. This means a lot to me.
What has been your greatest success with the site?
CHANDEGRA: Our greatest accolade would be being nominated for a prestigious Vh1 Hip-Hop Honor Award for “Best Honoree Web site.” That was the greatest validation that we could have hoped for. It meant that we were doing something right. Vh1 is a great supporter of “black” music and its heritage, and coming from them was an honor. Also, the way in which the artists and producers from the genre have welcomed the “push” towards “real” music that we have tried to propel and continue to strive towards.
KNYTE: I would agree with Vijay on that, but I still think we’re still only getting started. My vision for NJS4E and its impact on the cultural zeitgeist of how music is perceived and consumed among the general public is quite staggering. And we’re taking steps toward making that vision a reality.
Besides your own site, are there any other sources you recommend to new jack fans to get information or listen to the music?
CHANDEGRA: The world has changed so much since new jack was around. Fans of the artists can actually get in touch with a lot of the artists themselves via MySpace and other social networking sites. Someone said to me recently, “Doesn’t it detract from these artists’ superstar status to be directly in touch with the fans?” I responded by saying, “No. It actually shows that the artists are actually human beings. What better way of reacting to a fan’s loyalty and support than to say it yourself?”
KNYTE: I would just do a Google search. Wikipedia can do an excellent job of pointing you in the right direction, too. So can YouTube.
What artists/songs of today do you recommend to fans who maybe haven’t “moved beyond” new jack swing?
CHANDEGRA: There are some artists that are being quite creative with their songwriting and musical journey. Ne-Yo is very good songwriter and his songs tend to evoke a lot of emotion.
KNYTE: There is a new guy on the scene named Ryan Leslie. Check him out. I’d also watch a new guy named Nasri. He’s currently making music for the reunited NKOTB, but his influences are all new jack swing (it says on his MySpace profile ― look at the artists) and I have a feeling he could be huge.
Is there anything else you’d like That’s My Jam readers to know about new jack swing and NJS4E.com?
CHANDEGRA: We have a lot in store for 2008. We are doing a tribute concert for Kenny Greene of the R&B group Intro. He was the guy that spearheaded the careers of Mary J. Blige, SWV and Ashanti. That’s going to take place in New York in October. We have a few other surprises in store too, so watch this space at NJS4E.com.
KNYTE: Here is one thing I would like to say: if you dig what we are doing, consider rocking one of our T-shirts. It would do a lot to support what we are doing, and I’ll be more than happy to make sure you are taken care of if you ever make it to one of our events. You can grab one of the T-shirts at the Web site, look on the left side and click on “store.” As far as the United States is concerned, even though the site started here, we are frankly getting more love in Europe. So I’m asking the Americans who are reading this ― if you want a new jack event in your neck of the woods, let us know. Hit us up on MySpace ― we’ve done three events in New York City in the past year, and one in Chicago in 2006. But we are eyeing Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. If your city isn’t listed, get our attention. And another thing ― the new Web site will be launching in late August. And more surprises are on the way towards late ’08. So get ready. Alright, that’s it! Thanks for reading everyone!
This entry was posted on March 28, 2010 at 9:00 am and is filed under A Different World, Aaron Hall, Al B. Sure!, Andrew Knyte, Arsenio Hall Show, Ashanti, Bell Biv DeVoe (BBD), Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Chuck D., D4L, Damion Hall, En Vogue, Features and Interviews, Guy, Heavy D & The Boyz, Ice Cube, In Living Color (TV), Intro, Janet Jackson, Jay-Z, Jeremy Jordan, Johnny Gill, Kanye West, Keith Sweat, Kenny Greene, KRS-One, Mary J. Blige, Michael Jackson, Nasri, Ne-Yo, New Edition, New Jack Swing 4 Ever (NJS4E), New Kids on the Block, Opinion, Paula Abdul, R&B, Ryan Leslie, SWV, Teddy Riley, Timmy Gatling, Vh1, Vijay Chandegra, Ying Yang Twins. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.