Today, rap is a ubiquitous part of any playlist, popping up in seemingly every subgenre of music that exists, but this has not always been the case. Flashback to the mid-’80s, when rap was beginning to reach a larger mass audience thanks to groups like Run-DMC and LL Cool J. While the earlier iterations of the art form were as silly and loose as they were funky, the genre still was considered a predominantly “street” expression.
On the other side of the spectrum, R&B seemingly was stuck in a circular loop, churning out forgettable fare that failed to strike a chord with many outside of the genre’s existing adherents. The “Quiet Storm” format of R&B was dominant, with overproduced, sophisticated and usually slower hits from Freddie Jackson, Peabo Bryson, Anita Baker and Teddy Pendergrass maintaining a strong grip on commercial sales. And then, like a petri dish left unattended, genres began to mix and reproduce, and new art forms arrived.
Enter New Jack Swing, which mixed rap, dance-pop and R&B with trace amounts of disco, soul and rock & roll. What started as a local Harlem sound would pervade the American consciousness for at least the next decade, with New Jack Swing introducing the world to artists like Al B. Sure, Bel Biv Devoe and En Vogue. The genre also breathed new life into acts like Bobby Brown and Janet Jackson, while more established acts from Michael Jackson to Sheena Easton would splash in the pool on certain albums and tracks. Perhaps more than any other, however, it was the Harlem-born artist Teddy Riley whose productions and personal style came to define New Jack Swing, a guiding light in both commercial and critical corners of the genre. Written By Chris Daly and Zilla Rocca