It was basically a year ago when my girlfriend and I visited Reykjavík, Iceland, but when have I ever let a little untimeliness get in the way of my #content? Here, at last, is my video about Lucky Records, which I can without exaggeration describe as one of my favorite record stores in the world. Check out the video to watch me and guest Kia Matthews discuss records by Bobby Brown, Klymaxx, Stevie Wonder, Queen, DeBarge, Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five, and Loudness. Camera by myself and Kia; music by Loudness and Bobby B.
After 7 were formed in 1988, just in time to partake in Jheri Curl Music’s swan song before the genre gave way to the emerging New Jack Swing style. The group consisted of Kevon and Melvin Edmonds–brothers of singer, songwriter, and Jheri Curl June inductee Babyface–as well as Keith Mitchell, who was (incorrectly) rumored to be the cousin of music mogul (and another JCJ featured artist) L.A. Reid. Both Babyface and Reid wrote and produced much of After 7’s 1989 debut album, including their hit single and late Jheri Curl jam, “In the Heat of the Moment.”
If you’re a regular Jheri Curl June reader, then you should already know that the first week of June holds special signifance in jheri curl music history. As we noted back in our very first Jheri Curl June Special of 2014, Prince’s birthday falls at the end of the week, on June 7. Just a day earlier, there’s also the birthday of megaproducer and Prince’s fellow Minneapolitan, James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III: the subject, with musical life partner Terry Lewis, of our 2015 JCJ Special. And if all that wasn’t enough, on the very same date as Prince, another Midwestern Jheri Curl architect was born in 1956: Cincinnati, Ohio’s own Antonio “L.A.” Reid.
With all due respect to Mr. Reid–who, in my defense, has so much money that I sincerely doubt he cares–there’s a reason why we waited three years to enshrine him in the Jheri Curl June Hall of Fame. If, as I suggested last year, Prince was Jheri Curl’s principal architect and Jam and Lewis its most successful engineers, then Reid and his longtime colleague Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds were more like JCM’s property developers, building on the blueprints of the Minneapolis Sound to considerable success without ever really innovating on the formula. When we think about L.A. and Babyface, we think about…well, LaFace, a label synonymous with early ’90s R&B. Their achievements in the previous decade were decidedly more modest.
But that doesn’t mean they weren’t, in their own way, important. Dystopian Dance Party has love for Reid’s and Edmonds’ early band the Deele, and last year we highlighted one of the pair’s late-era jheri curl productions, “Rock Steady” by the Whispers. There’s plenty of room in pop music for songs that refine and iterate on existing formulas, rather than reinventing the wheel; this is especially true in jheri curl music, a genre that existed pretty much exclusively as a vehicle for up-and-coming artists to bite from Prince and Michael Jackson. This, then, is our tribute to L.A. Reid: maybe not the most innovative of artists, but a shrewd businessman, a talented musician, and a gifted producer and songwriter who could, let’s not forget, buy and sell all of us in a second.
Editor’s Note: Well, here we are: my Least Favorite Kanye West album, 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak. Coming into the project, this was the only album in Kanye’s oeuvre that I hadn’t already listened to extensively; his “emo-rap” phase just hasn’t ever been my cup of tea. But I want to give it a fair shake, because it continues to be an important touchstone in West’s musical progression: just listen to his recent single “Only One,” which sounds a bit like 808s on antidepressants. Besides, with the recent, totally left-field announcement that Kanye would be performing the album in its entirety later this month, revisiting the 808s era has become an unexpectedly timely pursuit. So let’s get to it, I suppose. First, though, the usual reminder that we’re picking up in the middle of a lengthy series, on which you can catch up here with Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Then, once you’re done, you can pick up with the following Parts 8, 9, 1o, 11, 12, and 13. And no, for those keeping track, Kanye still hasn’t released his seventh solo album–though he did recently (albeit jokingly) announce a bid for the U.S. Presidency in 2020. Hey, man, whatever will keep you busy until I finish this project… – Z.H.
Our discussions of the last two albums in the Kanye West oeuvre have focused on their departures from the trademark sound Kanye developed in the early 2000s: the self-conscious revisions and last-minute shifts in direction that were the product of a drive to constantly stay relevant, to keep hurdling the ever-higher bars he set for himself with his own tireless self-hype. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that few recording artists’ early discographies are as purposeful and calculated as Kanye West’s. Recall that this was the guy who announced the name and principal theme of his first album over a year before it came out; who, indeed, had the concepts for his first four records all laid out as early as June of 2003, when he told MTV’s Joseph Patel that he would follow up his still-unreleased debut with a thematically-linked sequence of albums called Late Registration, Graduation, and Good Ass Job.
But even Kanye could never have predicted the changes that would come in the months immediately following the release of Graduation in September 2007. First, on November 10, his mother Donda West died of complications from cosmetic surgery–a tragedy, he would frequently intimate, for which he blamed himself and his move to Los Angeles, where the intense scrutiny and unrealistic beauty standards of celebrity culture presumably pushed her to elect procedures that risked, and ultimately took, her life. Then, early in 2008, the dissolution of his engagement with designer Alexis Phifer pushed him further into depression. In the meantime, his P.R. conflicts with the entertainment media and mainstream audiences were growing ever more entrenched; he sparked yet another award show controversy when he went off on a rant backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards over the perceived snub of his performance being relegated to a suite rather than the main stage. All this, combined with the anxieties already expressed on Graduation over the dark side of fame, meant that Kanye was clearly not in the mental or emotional state to record a triumphal College Dropout fourquel called Good Ass Job. So instead, he threw the biggest curveball of his career to date.
The album that would arrive in November 2008, just over a year after the release of Graduation and the death of his mother, was more than a shift away from the sound and themes of The College Dropout: it was all but unrecognizable as the work of the same, fresh-faced M.C. from 2004. Half a decade earlier, Kanye had made his name with simple, relatable rhymes over impeccable soul samples; now he was eschewing rap entirely, singing over deliberately unsoulful electronic beats with a digitally-processed voice that sounded like it was coming from a particularly distraught android. Today, for better or worse, 808s & Heartbreak has become a part of the fabric of popular music; as a pioneer of so-called “emo-rap,” its influence is clear on everyone from the obvious Drake to much less predictable figures, like trap robo-crooner Future. But it’s hard to overstate just how ballsy a move it was for Kanye to make at the time. It was, unquestionably, his most divisive artistic statement at that point–and it quickly set the standard for a second act that would serve as a series of such divisive artistic statements.
By 1987, Shalamar’s classic lineup of Howard Hewett, Jody Watley, and Jeffrey Daniel had disbanded. The lineup for Shalamar’s ninth studio album, Circumstantial Evidence, consisted of Sidney Justin, a former backup singer for the group who replaced Hewett when he left in 1985 to pursue his solo career; DeLisa Davis, who auditioned to replace Watley after her departure in 1983; and Micki Free, a rock guitarist who was discovered by Gene Simmons while in a band that opened for KISS, and later joined Shalamar under Simmons’ counseling despite his hard rock sensibilities.