The story of Harlem in the late '80s is engraved in hip-hop lore. The crack epidemic was at full force and violence became rampant as the center of Black culture revivalism became synonymous with urban decay. Under these conditions, a young musical prodigy named Teddy Riley was steadily gaining attention with this new rhythmic sound. In a 1987 Village Voice article, writer Barry Michael Cooper christened Riley's sonic concoction the "New Jack Swing" and it wasn't long before the new sound became a movement.
With one foot in the streets and the other grooving with the larger American audience, New Jack Swing ruled the charts in the late '80s through the early '90s. It was the era of Air Jordans, Starter jackets, high-top haircuts, and crazy dance moves that all became a way of life, as did movies like New Jack City and House Party and TV shows like The Arsenio Hall Show and In Living Color.
The good times didn't last forever. Street rap and grunge took over as the New Jack Era met its decline near the mid-90s. Knock-offs of Riley’s sound seemed stuck in a never-ending party. But the music never really went away. It still bangs in the club and echoes can be heard in records like Nas’ “Bye Baby" and many others today.
Keith Sweat, who helped put New Jack Swing on the map with his 1987 album, Make It Last Forever, turns 51 this Sunday. To commemorate Mr. Sweat's birthday, we compiled the The 25 Best New Jack Swing Songs. Enjoy, reminisce, and do the Running Man when necessary.
Written by Brian Josephs (@Bklyn_Rock)