Yo! What’s good, Chicago? Welcome to 14 Beats, a weekly playlist curated by yours truly, Aneesah Shealey. In celebration of Black History Month, I’ll be covering my favorite eras in Black music history over the course of February to highlight the history of Black creativity as expressed through music.
This week’s playlist takes us back to the late 1980s and the early 1990s for an infectious and uptempo R&B sound that is fueled by drums, synths and grooves. Birthed in New York City and nurtured across the country, the genre takes the smoothness of R&B and the roughness of hip-hop, blending them into a sound that makes you feel it. Happiness, heartbreak, lust and even some sneaky cheatin’ bops (looking at you, Whitney Houston). I grew up constantly dancing to the music engineered by Teddy Riley, Babyface and L.A Reid. New Jack Swing was the essence of cool during my momma’s teen years and early twenties, something that she passed onto me.
I’m not gonna lie, this was the hardest time I’ve had with a playlist because the catalogue is so expansive and so fun. I spent hours grooving while trying to decide what songs to make a mix of, so 14 Beats is a bit longer this week. I chose New Jack Swing songs that are lesser known deep cuts that I think show the beautiful and distinctly Black energy of the genre. We start mellow, hit an upbeat vibe pretty early on, stop on a sultry point, and end on a high note. Without further ADO:
14 Beats: The New Jack Swing Mix
- First up on the playlist is the “girl, quit bothering me!” anthem “Here We Go Again!” by Portrait.
- Quickly picking up the tempo is Today’s track “Why You Gettin Funky on Me?” from the House Party soundtrack.
- Jeff Redd’s bop “You Called and Told Me” captures the number three spot this week.
- Johnny Gill’s love song “Fairweather Friend” goes right after to keep the vibe going.
- One of my favorite side chick bops, “I’m So Into You” by SWV.
- Toni Braxton’s bumpin’ Babyface produced debut single “Love Shoulda Brought You Home.”
- TLC’s breakout hit “Baby-Baby-Baby.”
- The remix of “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige and The Notorious B.I.G.
- Bobby Brown’s boisterous track “Humpin’ Around.”
- Family group Soul For Real’s lesser known song “Every Little Thing I Do.”
- High-jumping and melodic Troop song “Spread My Wings.”
- R&B bad boys (pun intended) Jodeci’s flirtatious “Come & Talk To Me.”
- Minneapolis sound machine Mint Condition’s “U Send Me Swingin,” a Prince-influenced band where the members played their instruments!
- Up next are two Teddy Riley-produced slow jams, “Piece Of My Love” by Guy and “Don’t Leave Me” by Blackstreet.
- Toni! Tony! Toné!’s slow jam “It Never Rains In Southern California.”
- We end with Tevin Campbell’s sing-along worthy “Can We Talk.”
Happy Black History Month! While you’re listening to the Black artists featured in 14 Beats this week, make sure that you are intentional about the ways that you approach Black culture and history this month. Get outside of traditional narratives surrounding Black participation in the Revolutionary War! Learn about Black, gay and trans innovation in New York. Read a Black poet. Buy some Black-ass IPA. And most importantly, pay Black creatives!
Until next week, 14 Beats, where we’ll get into neo-soul. Peace, Aneesah out.
Header illustration by Jake Runnion.