Around the start of 1988, two albums 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.”
At the movies, Spike Lee’s second film School Daze, a satire of social politics at a historically Black college, was making the rounds. Early appearances by Jasmine Guy, Tisha Campbell, Lawrence Fishburne and Giancarlo Esposito can be seen here. In concert, Michael Jackson was dazzling audiences on his BAD World Tour.
The summer of 1988 was an unprecedented one in Black music. it was definitely a good summer to enjoy New Jack Swing when it was brand new. The first release from Al B. Sure’s In Effect Mode, “Nite and Day,” would peak at #7 on the Billboard pop chart, and a remix to “Off On Your Own Girl” would be all the rage later that fall.
Next up was Troop’s self-titled debut, featuring the hits “My Heart” and especially “Mamacita.” A week later that June, Guy’s self-titled debut was released on Uptown/MCA, featuring several hits: “Groove Me,” “I Like,” “Spend The Night,” “Piece Of My Love,” “You Can Call Me Crazy,” and “Goodbye Love.”
The music just kept coming. One week after Guy’s release, MCA records unleashed Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel, and New Edition’s Heart Break albums on the very same day – June 21st. Bobby Brown’s album would go on to sell 8 million copies, largely powered by the Teddy Riley hit “My Prerogative,” and the LA & Babyface produced title track, “Every Little Step,” “Roni,” and “Rock Witcha.”
New Edition on the other hand would enjoy some crossover success with “If It Isn’t Love,” but it was songs like “Can You Stand The Rain,” “Crucial,” and “N.E. Heartbreak” that wooed urban audiences. The combination of Bobby Brown’s replacement (Johnny Gill) and the production work of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis convincingly transformed New Edition from a bubblegum-pop group into a bona fide R&B powerhouse.
On the Hip-Hop side, Salt’N’Pepa’s “Shake Your Thang” with E.U. and “Push It” were putting female MCs on the map. Releases by MC Lyte and JJ Fad would drop this year. Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live The Kane also dropped this summer. EPMD’s now classic Strictly Business album debuted, with the “You Gots To Chill” single becoming an instant favorite. Then On August 6, 1988 Yo MTV Raps debuted on MTV for the first time, irreversibly bringing Hip-Hop music to the suburbs.
In September, the Dr. Dre produced Eazy Duz It album by the late Eazy-E was released, spawning the hit singles “We Want Eazy” and “Boyz ‘N’ The Hood.” MC Hammer’s first album Let’s Get It Started came out a month later. Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock also debuted later this year with It Takes Two, and the title track from this album went on to become one of Hip-Hop’s most beloved ‘feel-good’ classics to this day.
On the Pop front things started getting a little more “urban.” Full Force continued making noise as producers, this time with Samantha Fox’s “Naughty Girls.” A European group named M/A/R/R/S released a smash sample-driven hit called “Pump Up The Volume.” The UK-born Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” successfully combined his soulful voice with dance pop, while the New Kids On The Block began successfully reaching urban audiences performing “Please Don’t Go Girl” during televised appearances on Soul Train and It’s Showtime At The Apollo.
But no Pop performer resonated more with urban audiences than George Michael, whose Faith album would make him the first White artist to top the Billboard Black (now called R&B) chart in 1988. The “urbanization” of pop music further blurred the lines between mainstream pop and R&B, setting the stage for the dramatic rise of New Jack Swing in American popular culture.
Editors Note: Just as an example, note the differences in “urban/pop” presence between the top 10 singles of 1988 and 1989 below:
1) Faith – George Michael (urban/pop)
2) Need You Tonight – INXS
3) Got My Mind Set On You – George Harrison
4) Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley
5) Sweet Child O’Mine – Guns’N’Roses
6) So Emotional – Whitney Houston (urban/pop)
7) Heaven Is A Place On Earth – Belinda Carlisle
8) Could’ve Been – Tiffany
9) Hands To Heaven – Breathe
10) Roll With It – Steve Winwood
1) Look Away – Chicago
2) My Prerogative – Bobby Brown (urban/pop)
3) Every Rose Has Its Thorn – Poison
4) Straight Up – Paula Abdul (urban/pop)
5) Miss You Much – Janet Jackson (urban/pop)
6) Cold Hearted – Paula Abdul (urban/pop)
7) Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
8) Girl You Know It’s True – Milli Vanilli (urban/pop)
9) Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley – Will To Power
10) Giving You The Best That I Got – Anita Baker (urban/adult contemporary)
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