20 Songs, 1 Hour 13 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Blackstreet weren't yet famous when they dropped their swaggering debut in 1994, but group mastermind Teddy "Street" Riley was no stranger to the Top 40. As a singer-producer in Guy, he helped invent the new jack swing sound—a brazenly percussive and bass-heavy mix of hip-hop, dance-pop, and soul scored on samplers and drum machines—and he parlayed that into major gigs, including producing half of Michael Jackson's Dangerous. In fact, the rest of Blackstreet's initial lineup, including Chauncey "Black" Hannibal, were background singers Riley discovered during sessions for Bobby Brown's Bobby. Blackstreet finds New Jack Swing in transition and Riley inspired at the helm of his own project again.

The tectonic forces that define ’90s R&B—more “hip-hop” in attitude than in literal rhyming verse—are on open display here as the LP is roughly split down the middle. The upbeat first half finds this silky-voiced quartet using hardcore rhymes to play up their sexy edge. Even as the four-part harmonies and Riley’s signature vocoder make cuts like “Booti Call” sound romantic, the sweaty funk nods to Zapp and George Clinton and bawdy raps paint the band as unrepentant players. But the tone shifts markedly with “Joy,” Riley’s tribute to his daughter and a session leftover he cowrote with the King of Pop. From there, the fellas are earnest lovers on sumptuous slow jams like “Tonight’s the Night” (which, in another sign of what’s next, is a collaboration with a then-unknown Riley protege named Pharrell Williams). Of Blackstreet’s 20 tracks, only “Before I Let You Go” crossed over, but Riley’s vision-in-progress would help reshape the mainstream for years to come.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Blackstreet weren't yet famous when they dropped their swaggering debut in 1994, but group mastermind Teddy "Street" Riley was no stranger to the Top 40. As a singer-producer in Guy, he helped invent the new jack swing sound—a brazenly percussive and bass-heavy mix of hip-hop, dance-pop, and soul scored on samplers and drum machines—and he parlayed that into major gigs, including producing half of Michael Jackson's Dangerous. In fact, the rest of Blackstreet's initial lineup, including Chauncey "Black" Hannibal, were background singers Riley discovered during sessions for Bobby Brown's Bobby. Blackstreet finds New Jack Swing in transition and Riley inspired at the helm of his own project again.

The tectonic forces that define ’90s R&B—more “hip-hop” in attitude than in literal rhyming verse—are on open display here as the LP is roughly split down the middle. The upbeat first half finds this silky-voiced quartet using hardcore rhymes to play up their sexy edge. Even as the four-part harmonies and Riley’s signature vocoder make cuts like “Booti Call” sound romantic, the sweaty funk nods to Zapp and George Clinton and bawdy raps paint the band as unrepentant players. But the tone shifts markedly with “Joy,” Riley’s tribute to his daughter and a session leftover he cowrote with the King of Pop. From there, the fellas are earnest lovers on sumptuous slow jams like “Tonight’s the Night” (which, in another sign of what’s next, is a collaboration with a then-unknown Riley protege named Pharrell Williams). Of Blackstreet’s 20 tracks, only “Before I Let You Go” crossed over, but Riley’s vision-in-progress would help reshape the mainstream for years to come.

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