Throughout the greater metropolitan area, fans flocked to barber and beauty shops to make sure their Gumby high-top fades and the blonde bobs reminiscent of TLC’s Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins were “fresh-to-def.” Gold rope chains gleamed, Cross Colours shirts were pressed and everyone was in high spirits for the New Jack Swing Reunion Tour on Friday, Nov. 9, at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md. Headliners were to include Guy, K-Ci & JoJo, Bobby Brown and Tony Toni Tone. (See review.)
VH1’s “Hip Hop Honors” notably paid tribute to the age and recognized how it was a vital part of the hip-hop industry. Sean “Diddy” Combs appropriately introduced the New Jack Swing segment and founder Teddy Riley. Combs got his start at Uptown Records where Riley took New Jack Swing to great heights. During the performance the audience excitedly sang along to the songs from the era that helped bring hip-hop to the mainstream.
Introduced to the masses in the late 1980s by Riley, a Harlem-born songwriter, musician, and producer, New Jack Swing was not just a genre of music, but an era. Riley turned this heart pumping, colorful sound into a way of life that continued well into the early 1990s. The era also launched the careers of many other artists, producers and performers.
“Teddy [Riley] was the man,” said fan Christopher Tillery. “He introduced a culture. We dressed, walked, talked, danced, romanced in a new jack way. I remember when Guy came out with that song ‘I Like.’. All of the guy could not wait for that opportunity to romance a girl with that. It was not your typical love song. It completely fit the bill for the times.”
Guy was an all-male singing group formed by Riley. Members included R&B singer-songwriters Aaron Hall and Timmy Gatling, who were both students at Virginia State University. Their first album, released in 1988, went triple platinum. Hits on the self-titled album included classics like “Groove Me,” “Teddy’s Jam,” “I Like,” “Piece of My Love” and “Merry-Go-Round of Love.” This album helped establish the group and Riley as musical forces.
Other famous artists and groups out of the era include rapper Heavy D, also known as the “overweight lover,” Johnny Gill, Boyz II Men, Color Me Badd, After 7, SWV and Michael Jackson.
For many, the concert served as a reminder of their high school days. The sounds of New Jack Swing put on the pressure for many young partiers to freshen up their dance moves. Many tried to coordinate a routine before heading out to party for the night.
“I remember my best friend and I used to practice on our house party dance routines so hard after school,” said local resident Jocelyn Arnold. “We had to make sure that we were the hottest duo at the party. Every step had to be so fresh. Even our clothes had to match. It was not uncommon for girls and guys to do this. If you did not have a routine you might as well go home. We used to put in so much work to party.”
Arnold’s party recollection was very common during the age. Scenarios like this were depicted in New Jack movies such as “New Jack City,” “Bebe’s Kids” and, most notably, “House Party.” Many dance moves from “House Party” are constantly duplicated by younger generations. Beyonce performed one of these moves in her chart-topping song “Get Me Bodied.” Sitcoms the developed out of the New Jack Swing era included “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “A Different World” and “In Living Color.” “I loved the movie ‘Bebe’s Kids,'” said Howard University student Regan Harris. “I thought that movie was so funny. I used to watch it all the time. The movie was definitely a classic. I will never forget the character PeeWee. It was so funny to hear Tone-Loc’s voice on that baby.”