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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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The Soul of ‘96
Friday, August 31, 2007

A lot of people point towards 1996 as a landmark year for Hip-Hop despite the murder of 2Pac. What seems to fall through the cracks in the discussion, however, is that 1996 was also one of the greatest years on record (pun fully intended) for R&B / Soul music. So while everyone else has taken you through what made the year such a great one for Hip-Hop, today I’m going to take you on a ride through the soulful side of ’96.

In today’s R&B market there are singular stars who release albums that rarely compete with each other because stars are so few and far between. In 1996 this was not the case. No less than half a dozen classic albums, along with a handful of other fantastic releases, came out during those twelve months. The king of creating R&B in the 90's was Babyface, and in 1996 he released The Day. The Day was Babyface’s dream collaboration album where he worked with all his favorite artists, including Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Stevie Wonder, LL Cool J and Jodie Watley. Even though it was only ten tracks long The Day stayed in CD players for quite a while.

1996 was also the year Blackstreet hit listeners with Another Level, the classic album that produced hits such as “No Diggity,” and “Stay.” This album would be the pinnacle of New Jack Swing innovator Teddy Riley’s career and what a way to leave a lasting impression. “No Diggity” gained crossover airplay on every radio station, which is still an incredible feat.

Two other groups that also released albums in 1996 that are now considered classics were Mint Condition and Tony Toni Tone. Mint Condition gave us Definition of a Band, which featured the sensitive-male hits “What Kind of Man Would I Be” and “You Don’t Have to Hurt No More,” but also had the darkly funky “Sometimes,” which really showcased the group’s ability as a band. Side note for all those dudes looking to get themselves a girl by singing her a song, I personally know a guy who snagged a quite the hottie back in college just by singing one verse of “You Don’t Have to Hurt No More.” It works a lot better than even your best T-Pain imitation. Less than two month’s after Mint Condition’s Definition Of A Band came out Tony Toni Tone released their contribution to the soul explosion of ’96, House of Music. House of Music was filled with classic Raphael Saadiq tunes including the very danceable “Let’s Get Down” featuring DJ Quik and “Thinking Of You.”

Moving on to a band that rarely gets the credit it deserves, Jamiroquai shouldn’t be ignored in this discussion of the soul of ’96. “Virtual Insanity,” which was the lead single off of their 1996 (Sept. ’96 UK / Jan. ’07 US) album Traveling Without Moving, had one of the greatest videos of all time and with its lyrics filled with social concern it was a soul song in the truest definition of the genre. The album as a whole moved back and forth between soul and funk and although many may consider Jay Kay and crew a one hit wonder their massive catalogue of music has more than a few impressive songs worth checking out.

1996 was also a great year for Bluezeum, a little known funk / soul band that released what in my mind is one of the great unheralded albums of all time, Portrait of a Groove. The title track had a video that played on BET a handful of times and the few folks who were lucky enough to find the album in stores (remember, this was during the pre-Amazon.com days when we actually had to make runs to places like Tower Records, Sam Goody and The Wall to find music. Yes, I said The Wall!) were treated to a groove influenced masterpiece the likes of which hasn’t even been attempted to be done since.

To round out the year Aaliyah (One In A Million), Toni Braxton (Secrets), Keith Sweat (Keith Sweat), 112 (112) and Ginuwine (The Bachelor) also made fantastic contributions to the genre. This was the soul of 1996. 1997 followed with Mariah Carey’s Butterfly, Brian McKnight’s Anytime, Joe's All That I Am, K-Ci & Jojo's Love Always and Usher's My Way, but as a whole the genre is still desperately trying to reach its 1996 heights again.

At the present time we could feel down about the current state of R&B, but instead let’s put on some of those classic albums and remember when it had oh so much soul.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:48 AM  
  • At 10:04 AM, Blogger Ima said…

    Yeah I always refer to '94 as one of the best years. Aaliyah, TLC's Crazy Sexy Cool (Best album ever!) and Janet. Oh man, how did the scene fall off so miserably?

  • At 11:52 AM, Blogger DJ Complejo said…

    Couldn't have said it better. I don't know what happened to R&B but we rarely get any releases nowadays and they all tend to be average at best. I think the last good R&B CD I bought was Robin Thicke and that was over a year ago. And then half the pepole making "R&B" today are making more Pop and Hip-Hop records instead of real R&B. I blame Sean Kingston...

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