The New Jack Swing Era

By: D’yasia Ford, Lindani Maphenduka, Sydney Lampkins, Elyse Robinson

New jack-swing gave new life to rap and introduced pop culture to a new style of combined hip-hop and R&B; its influence is still prevalent today

New Jack Swing History

  • Combining the intensity of hip-hop, the appeal of pop, and the melody and rhythm of R&B, Teddy Riley introduced a new genre known as New Jack Swing. Hip-hop was on the rise as R&B slightly declined. Putting these two genres together was a stellar idea by Riley. 

  • Barry Michael Cooper came up with the term New Jack Swing in his Village Voice article from 1987 entitled “Teddy Riley’s New Jack Swing: Harlem Gangsters Raise a Genius.” He said Teddy’s music had a “new jazz-like swing and melodic force” 

  • This was the new Harlem Renaissance. Harlem was the center of pop culture for many African Americans in the early 1920s and 30s. In the 80s New York was this place. 

  • New Jack Swing was faster with more rhythm, percussion, and movements on the drum. On the keyboard it was organized noise.  

  • It left a mark on music industry can still be heard in music today such as Mary J. Blige, Jermaine Dupri, Jodeci, Usher, Timbaland, Missy Elliot, Chris Brown, Bruno Mars, and many more. 

What is New Jack Swing?

  • New Jack Swing is sonically defined as R&B with production elements more traditionally associated with hip-hop; tempo and rhythm (the “swing”), programmed drums, and sampling; it was a hybrid that had been bubbling since the mid-’80s, pioneered by the writing and production teams of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and LA Reid and Babyface.

  • Rap music is so diverse that it can combine with other music styles. Producer, songwriter, and musician Teddy Riley noticed this. He formed a group called “Guy” with lead singer Aaron Hall and Timmy Gatling. Riley can be attributed to forming the music genre known as New Jack Swing. 

  • Between 1986 and 1994, the New Jack Swing era rose. By 1991, it was a multimedia industry. New Jack Swing, also known as swing beat, was a part of American pop culture in film, television, fashion, and music.

Teddy Riley and ‘Guy’

  • Teddy Riley is attributed to the creation of the New Jack Swing era. He produced many of the artists of the genre and is said to be the man who introduced the world to what we know as New Swing. 

  • Guy “Teddy’s Jam” (1988) – This single from the album, Guy, is a prime example of New Swing Jazz. It shows the sound of this style of music. You can hear the clap, percussion, keys, and danceable melodies. This song didn’t even need lyrics as the instruments spoke for it. 

Characteristics of New jack swing 

There are four prominent ways that help shape new jack swing music.

  • Samples: The usage of classic funk and soul samples was crucial since it gave the musical genre its personality. By sampling numerous songs, its main objective was to develop original concepts and new swing beat musical genres. Early New Jack swing musicians favored the E-mu SP-12000 ( drum machine sampler) 

  • Group Vocals. The use of group voices often gave the style of music texture and flair. For example, Boys II Men, whom was a late 80s vocal harmony group. 

  • Drumbeats: New jack music was centered on a pulsating rhythm played in either 4/4 or 12/8 time to represent the swinging beat style. In order to help generate the sound of many beats during that time, the producers of New Jack Swing frequently used Roland TR- 808 drum machines.

  • Danceable: Because of the inventiveness of the beats, they frequently used synth bass to create sing-along tunes. This was a well-liked feature that produced hits like Wreckx-N-Effect – New Jack Swing, which helped influence the genre of music.  

Artists of the New Jack Swing era

  • Artists like Boyz II Men, Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, New Edition,  Keith Sweat and all hits in this genre. 

  • Michael Jackson noticed and decided to update his style. In 1991 he collaborated with Teddy Riley, dropping his longtime producer Quincy Jones, to release the highest-selling New Jack Swing album of all time, Dangerous. 30 million copies sold, MJ’s album included hit song, “Remember the Time.” 

  •  “From his haircut to his attire to his style to his image to his music to his bravado, when you think New Jack Swing, you think Bobby Brown.” Bobby Brown’s album, Don’t be Cruel skyrocketed and embodied the genre of new swing very well. It is arguably one of the greatest albums of the 80’s. It featured the songs, “Every Little Step” and ”My Prerogative. 

  • New Edition was a male music group of 5 artists, Johnny Gill, Bell Biv Devoe, Ralph Tresvant, and Bobby Brown. Their 1988 album Heartbreak is one of the greatest New Jack Swing albums ever. It’s featured popular songs like, “Can You Stand The Rain” and “If It Isn’t Love.”

Outside of Music

  • New Jack Swing artists were introduced to new opportunities outside their singing careers, such as TV and movies. For example, Boyz N the Hood was exemplary in showing what the genre had to offer. They were given movie roles and a spot on the movie soundtracks. Artists of swingbeat also made guest appearances on popular TV sitcoms like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Full House and Family Matters, and even Nike commercials.

Fashion and Style

  • In addition to music, New Jack Swing swiftly entered the worlds of film, television, and fashion. Furthermore, it changed the face of the music industry by paving the way for fresh, youthful executives with new perspectives and by making hip-hop more approachable to a wider audience, opening the door for rap’s growing popular appeal.

  • The fashion of New Jack Swing played a role in popularizing the genre. From colorful jackets to shiny jewelry New Jack Swing certainly stood out; the attire matched the vibrant, loud sound of the music style. Outfits were multicolored and included baggy clothing. There was a mix of high fashion, Colorful blazers, baggy or double-breasted, patterned or button-up shirts, baggy jeans, denim jeans, silver and gold jewelry, parachute pants, large tees, windbreakers, overalls, snapbacks, squared or round sunglasses, combat boots, Nikes, Converse, Jordans, vans. snap-back hats, black trainers, checkered cardigans, one shoe & one boot, graffiti jackets, backward jeans, and bow ties

  • Angela Hunte-Wisner was the first African American stylist for urban music videos. She coined the term “Alexvanderpool Era” when referring to Boyz II Men’s hip-hop outfits. This included Polo jean shirts, Tommy sweaters, jean shorts, and a tie. A mix of hip-hop and culture

  • From the high-top fades to the new style of dress, New Swing Jack brought new life to the culture

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