Jheri Curl June: Imaginary Genres – Jheri Curl Music

It’s finally here! In case you weren’t aware, Jheri Curl June is our most sacred holiday season here at Dystopian Dance Party, and we wanted to do something special for its third annual observance (“Jh3ri Curl Jun3”). So, instead of resurrecting the same hoary old introductory post from 2014, we thought we’d offer a concise introduction to the genre we call Jheri Curl Music in the form of a short video. Please enjoy; transcript and video/audio credits are past the jump. And come back tomorrow for some more traditional Jheri Curl June fare!

Imaginary Genres is a video series by Dystopian Dance Party, where we coin new genres to shed light on shared traits and common themes in music, film, and other forms of media.

Today, in honor of our third annual celebration of Jheri Curl June, we’re looking at a genre especially near and dear to our hearts: what we like to call Jheri Curl Music.

Jheri Curl Music, or JCM, is a subgenre of R&B that had its peak popularity in the early-to-mid-1980s—the same time as the once-popular African American hairstyle known as the jheri curl. Artists who perform Jheri Curl Music don’t necessarily have to have jheri curls—though obviously, as you might imagine, there is quite a bit of overlap.

What we call Jheri Curl Music, you might already know by one of a few other names:

  • Post-disco
  • Urban
  • Pop/Funk
  • Boogie
  • Minneapolis Sound

For us, though, these categories are either too broad or too narrow. The latter two are historically, geographically, and even ethnically specific in ways that Jheri Curl Music as a whole was not. And the former three are just as likely to include non-Jheri Curl styles popular during the same period, like Quiet Storm.

The easiest way to determine whether a song counts as Jheri Curl Music is to ask yourself a simple question: “Does this sound like an outtake from Prince’s 1999?” But if that isn’t enough, the three basic elements are as follows:

  1. Prominent use of the synthesizer. R&B music traditionally uses a horn section for the main hook; beginning in the late ‘70s, however, artists like Prince started to perform the parts normally reserved for brass sections using electronic keyboards. This is part of what gives Jheri Curl Music its somewhat clinical, inorganic feel, similar to New Wave.
  2. Along similar lines, Jheri Curl Music tends to do away with live drums in favor of electronic drum kits or even drum machines. Again, think about Prince—or, since we can’t actually play any Prince music without being scrubbed off YouTube, think about “Oh Sheila” by Ready for the World.
  3. Finally, there’s the role of the guitar and bass. Some Jheri Curl Music takes after rock, with harder, distorted guitar riffs. Most of the time, though, both guitar and bass are clean and free of effects. Again, the idea is to keep things stark and clinical. But there’s still a lot of bass-slapping, just to remind you that you’re listening to funk music and not Kraftwerk.

More than anything, though—and much like pornography—you’ll know jheri curl music when you hear it. And once you hear it, you’ll hear it everywhere: in adjacent genres like electro and freestyle, in later permutations of R&B music, and even today in the retro-styled music of artists like Chromeo and Dâm-Funk. Jheri Curl Music is more than just a genre: it’s a lifestyle. So we hope you’ll join us on Dystopian Dance Party.com every summer for our most sacred holiday season: Jheri Curl June.

Credits:

Audio: “Let It Whip” (Dazz Band, 1982)
Video: Footage from The Scene, Detroit Public Access, 2/15/1982
Video: Footage from Coming to America (John Landis, 1988)
Video: Footage from “Classy Curl” Commercial Starring Ola Ray, 1980
Video: Footage from Hollywood Shuffle (Robert Townsend, 1987)
Video: Footage from “Rhythm of the Night” (DeBarge, 1985)
Video: Footage from “No Parking on the Dance Floor” (Midnight Star, 1983)
Video: Footage from Teddy Pendergrass at the London Hammersmith Odeon, February 1982
Video: Footage from “1999” (Prince, 1982)
Video: Footage from “I Can Make You Dance” (Zapp, 1983)
Audio/Video: “Oh Sheila” (Ready for the World, 1985)
Video: Footage from “Alice, I Want You Just for Me!” (Full Force, 1985)
Video: Footage from “Bonafied Lovin” (Chromeo, 2007)
Video: Footage from “We Continue” (Dâm-Funk, 2015)

And wouldn’t you know it, our Spotify playlist for this year already has two tracks:

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