Released in the spring of 1989, Madonna’s critically acclaimed Like A Prayer album took on a more “urban” feel than its more “mainstream” predecessors did. The video for the album’s first single (and title track) featured a nearly all-Black cast that was either sexualized, deified or both at the same time. The video also featured burning crosses, a Black Jesus who cried blood, stigmata on Madonna’s hands, and a love scene on the floor of a church between Madonna (who had dyed her hair dark brown) and the video’s suave protagonist (played by the actor Leon).
Upset by the controversy surrounding the “Like A Prayer” video, Pepsi cancelled its multi-million dollar endorsement deal with Madonna, but music fans worldwide still supported their Queen of Pop. The second and third singles from the Like A Prayer album (“Express Yourself” and “Cherish”) went on to become some of her biggest hits ever, and by the time “Oh Father” was released, Madonna’s “Blonde Ambition” tour was wildly anticipated by many.
Continuing on the pop side of things, the New Kids On The Block managed to achieve their first number #1 single with “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever),” and proceeded to conquer the suburban teen market. They quickly followed up with a dizzying flurry of hits including “Hangin’ Tough,” “Cover Girl,” a remake of the Delfonics’ “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind (This Time)” and “This One’s For The Children” all before year’s end.
Emulating Teddy Riley’s sound, former Las Vegas radio personality Dino (full name Dino Esposito) hit it big with “I Like It,” making him the first non-Black recording artist to incorporate New Jack Swing into his material. Other Dino hits circa 1989-90 included “Summer Girls,” “Sunshine,” and “Romeo.”
Internationally, hits by Neneh Cherry, the Fine Young Cannibals, Technotronic and Soul II Soul all made an imprint in Pop and Urban music.
London-based Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” (from her debut album ‘Raw Like Sushi’) was a worldwide smash. Born in Stockholm, Sweden (and the stepdaughter of Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry), Neneh Cherry’s sound can be described as an irresistibly eclectic hot soup of dance and hip-hop music.
Technotronic enjoyed phenomenal success with “Pump Up The Jam” and “Get Up! (Before The Night Is Over)” in 1989 and 1990. Based out of Belgium, the act prominently featured the vocals of Ya Kid K, a female rapper born in Zaire. The Fine Young Cannibals scored in a major way with the singles “She Drives Me Crazy,” and “Good Thing”.
Editor’s Note: Sean “P. Diddy” Combs appeared as a dancer in a Fine Young Cannibals video around this time while trying to break into the music business.
By late summer/early fall, a U.K. based act named Soul II Soul triumphantly emerged with “Keep On Movin,” an elegant urban anthem that resonated with urban and suburban audiences alike. Soul II Soul’s impressive follow-up singles “Jazzie’s Groove” and especially “Back To Life” served to further immortalize the London-based collective in the minds of urban/dance music enthusiasts to this day.
But perhaps the biggest international New Jack-influenced act to make a debut in 1989 was Milli Vanilli. In the spring of 1989, Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan (adorned in red and blue sports jackets respectively) danced their way into the hearts of young America with the video clip for the refreshingly urgent-sounding “Girl You Know It’s True.” The Germany-based duo followed that smash single up with “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” and by late summer had scored a third time with “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” a smolderingly percussive ballad.
Other notable hip-hop/R&B releases (circa 1989) yet to be mentioned:
3rd Bass — The Cactus Album (“The Gasface”, “Steppin To the A.M., “Brooklyn Queens”)
Big Daddy Kane — It’s A Big Daddy Thing (“Smooth Operator”, “I Get The Job Done”)
De La Soul — 3 Feet High & Rising (“Buddy”, “Me, Myself & I”, “Say No Go”)
Digital Underground — Sex Packets (“Doowutchalike” in ’89 – “Humpty Dance” and “Freaks Of The Industry” in ’90)
The D.O.C. — No One Can Do It Better (“It’s Funky Enough”, “The Formula”)
Heavy D — Big Tyme (“We Got Our Own Thing,” “Gyrlz They Love Me,” “Somebody For Me”)
Ice-T — Power (“I’m Your Pusher”, “High Rollers”)
LL Cool J — ‘Walking With A Panther’ (“Going Back To Cali”, “I’m That Type of Guy”, “Big Ole Butt”)
Maestro Fresh Wes — Symphony In Effect (“Let Your Backbone Slide”, “Drop The Needle”, “Private Symphony”)
MC Lyte — Eyes On This (“Cha Cha Cha”, “Stop, Look, Listen”)
N.W.A. — Straight Outta Compton (title track, “Gangsta, Gangsta”, “F*ck Tha Police”, “Dopeman”, etc.)
Queen Latifah — All Hail The Queen (“Ladies First,” “Dance For Me”)
*Stop The Violence Movement – “Self Destruction”
Troop — Attitude (“Spread My Wings”, “All I Do Is Think Of You”, “I’m Not Soupped”)
*West Coast Rap All-Stars – “We’re All In The Same Gang”
Wrecks’N’Effect — Wrecks ‘N’Effect (“New Jack Swing”)