The 20 greatest songs of the new jack swing era


With rappers and rap labels sprouting up across the musical landscape of the mid-1980s, the R&B establishment was slow to embrace the burgeoning genre. Hip-hop was dismissed as unsophistocated non-music, but the battle lines between hip-hop and R&B began to disappear around 1986-1987. Two hit-making former Prince proteges and ex-members of the Time, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, refined their distinctive 808-heavy production style on Janet Jackson‘s breakthrough album Control, deftly merging elements of Prince’s “Minneapolis Sound” with hip-hop’s sonic trademarks. And it was also around this time that a hip-hop producer named Teddy Riley began collaborating with a struggling R&B singer from Harlem who called himself Keith Sweat; applying his beatmaking sensibilities to the soulful crooner’s romantic love songs.

From there, what would soon be dubbed “New Jack Swing” became the dominant sound of mainstream R&B music. Balladry was still an important part of the genre and smooth quiet storm staples still filled the airwaves, but the sound of New Jack Swing, with its merger of high-energy hip-hop edge and soulful singing, was the definitive sound of a younger generation. Beyond songwriters like Riley and Jam & Lewis, there were also other major contributors to the genre; such as L.A. and Babyface, as well as the underrated Full Force.

In recognition of this often-underappreciated era in R&B music’s history, we decided to list the 20 greatest New Jack Swing songs …

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