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History of NJS Era

Editor's Note: These "Year By Year" essays are meant to paint a picture in the reader's mind of what is was like to live through the New Jack Era. Consequently, it does not only focus on New Jack Swing as a style of music specifically, but rather, the New Jack Swing Phenomenon in the context of 'pop culture' events that took place between the years of New Jack Swing's most salient period: 1987-1992. The albums pictured at the bottom of each essay are the "true" New Jack albums. It is sincerely hoped on this end that you will find these essays an interesting read. Thank you for stopping by -- A Knyte.


In 1987, key events were taking shape. Jody Watley had struck out on her own from Shalamar and was enjoying heavy success with "Looking For A New Love" and "Some Kind Of Lover." Def Jam Records executive Andre Harrell decided to leave the predominantly hip-hop label, and create a slicker, more refined label named Uptown Records. L.A. & Babyface produced the hit "Rock Steady" for the Whispers, which triumphantly peaked at #7 on the Billboard Pop chart. R&B group Levert's "Casanova" peaked at Pop #5, and artists such as Al B. Sure, Keith Sweat, Guy, Bobby Brown and New Edition were all getting ready to enter (and dominate) the charts by the middle of the following year (more)


Not long before the start of 1988, two albums had kicked off a new era of youth-driven R&B: Pebbles' self titled debut, and Keith Sweat's 'Make It Last Forever.' With the singles "Girlfriend," "Mercedes Boy," and "I Want Her," the sonic landscape of R&B music had become much more rhythmic, thanks in large part to the work of LA & Babyface with Pebbles, and Teddy Riley with Keith Sweat. That spring, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released 'He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper,' an album that featured the hit "Parents Just Don't Understand" and would earn the duo the first Rap Grammy ever awarded in 1989. Public Enemy's critically acclaimed "It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back" was dropped this year, featuring cuts like "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos," "Don't Believe The Hype," and "Night Of The Living Baseheads" (more)


On a historic Tuesday night (January 3rd 1989), The Arsenio Hall Show debuted. Arsenio Hall was the first African-American to host a major talk show - and he did so very successfully, reaching a diverse cross-section of mostly under '30-something' viewers. The debut of the Arsenio Hall show was a perfect way to kick things off for the year that urban and "urban-informed" music proliferated throughout American popular culture. But 1989 was also the year that fear and apprehension surrounding the proliferation of hip-hop culture really started to grip the parents of suburban America. Led by Tipper Gore (yes, Al's wife) and the P.M.R.C. (Parents Music Resource Center), media attention was quickly focused on the unsavory lyrics found in recordings by artists such as N.W.A., Ice-T, and especially the 2 Live Crew (more)


By the time 1990 rolled around, mainstream Top 40 music had grown increasingly "urban-informed" in sound and look: the biggest chart toppers included: Soul II Soul, Paula Abdul, Milli Vanilli, and Janet Jackson. Even 80s Pop icon Madonna sought a more "urban-informed" image by incorporating more African Americans in her videos ("Like A Prayer"), and onstage (i.e. sidekick/back-up singer Nikki Harris). The demand for all things "urban" among young suburban audiences was so strong because to them, the New Jack Swing movement was still young, fresh, and new at that point. The American Music Awards that January vividly reflected the music industry's shift towards "urban," and "urban-informed" acts, featuring performances by Paula Abdul, Tone Loc, Janet Jackson, Bobby Brown, and the New Kids On The Block (more)


1991 would be the year that a major backlash by suburban audiences against Pop/R&B music would occir. Spearheaded primarily by the runaway success of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that fall, the '90s alternative rock/grunge movement effectively challenged and defeated the dominance of "urban" music on American Top 40 radio. Before the backlash however, certain "urban" and "urban-informed" acts managed to enjoy a few more months in the spotlight. House-inspired dance music really began to take off this year with the introduction of acts like Black Box ("Everybody, Everybody," "Strike It Up"), The KLF ("3AM Eternal"), and Cathy Denis ("Touch Me"). However, the most successful dance act during the New Jack Era was the C&C Music Factory (more)


As 1992 began, the music industry was changing dramatically. The Nirvana-led alternative/grunge movement now included Seattle's other musical heavyweight, Pearl Jam. Suburban youth who used to do the "running man" to BBD now rejected Pop/R&B music, questioning its integrity and flocking to what they considered "real music," the sounds of neo-punk angst. That spelled doom for solidly crossover acts such as Paula Abdul, Color Me Badd, the C&C Music Factory, and especially, MC Hammer, who by that time had dropped the MC to reinvent himself. A new crop of urban acts were emerging: 2Pac, Shanice, Mint Condition, TLC, Naughty By Nature, Cypress Hill, and R. Kelly just to name a few. The two most promising R&B groups during this time were Boyz II Men, and Jodeci (more)


By the start of 1993, suburban America's backlash against urban culture had divided popular music into "urban" and "suburban" categories. By now, the Smashing Pumpkins, Spin Doctors, and the Stone Temple Pilots were among the biggest players among suburban audiences, while Gangsta Rap videos by Dr. Dre ("Dre Day") and Ice Cube ("It Was A Good Day") received heavy rotation on MTV along with Pearl Jam and Nirvana. In other areas of entertainment, the suburban backlash had a devastating effect on "urban-oriented" television. This year, NBC would pull the plug on "A Different World" (1987-1993) and in the next year Paramount would cancel the once highly rated "Arsenio Hall Show" (1989-1994), while Fox ended "In Living Color" (1990-1994). MTV even relegated its groundbreaking "Yo MTV Raps" (1988-1995) to a virtually ignored late-night time slot during its last two years(more)