Another Level

Another Level

The story of Blackstreet’s breakthrough second album is really the story of “No Diggity”, the realisation of group leader Teddy Riley’s dream of merging hip-hop and R&B. This is when the producer’s novel new jack swing sound was fully absorbed into mainstream DNA, affirmed by the presence of Dr Dre, who, fresh off “California Love”, also ghost-produced the hit. Over barbershop harmonies, Riley’s funky talk-box, chiming keys and Bill Withers’ sampled hum, Blackstreet deliver a rare anthem praising independent women...who sleep around. Amid a set of songs that includes covers of both The Beatles and DeBarge, it’s this song’s spiritual and sonic fusion of Boyz II Men and Jodeci that unifies the album. Wildly, “No Diggity” was almost left off Another Level—Riley’s old band Guy turned it down, and so did Blackstreet’s other members at first—but even without it, the supporting songs showcase a quartet that had found their groove. “This Is How We Roll” uses smooth sax, shimmering Rhodes keyboards and crew ad-libs to channel boom-bap’s mellow party-starting mood. The pining “Don’t Leave Me” plays out over a crisply cut ’80s synth loop complete with crackling vinyl static. And slinky seducer “Fix” taps right into hip-hop’s psyche by cutting up Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”. While there are plenty of vocal chops on display, it was Blackstreet’s rap-derived confidence more than old-school competence that defined the moment they’d come to share with Usher, 112 and others. Meanwhile, “No Diggity” went onto inspire a vicious 2Pac diss track (“Toss It Up”, aimed at Dre) and, in 2012, a pretty fierce a cappella medley in Pitch Perfect.

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