Saturday, January 30, 2016

Your Definitive Guide To the "New Jack Swing"

"Rump Shaker" was a big mover on the charts, but Wrecks-N-Effect will go down in history for one song, the anthem of an entire genre of music, and even fashion, "New Jack Swing." It was the flagship song of Teddy Riley's movement. But it was purely a rap song, so he couldn't give it to his group (Guy), so instead he gave it to his brother's group. And a lot of people think that was their first record, but that's just one of several popular misconceptions and confusing details about this song. I've been meaning to tackle this one on my blog for ages, but it's a lot to get into. Today I'm doin' it, though. Let's break it down.

Wrecks-N-Effect started out as a four-man group on Atlantic Records. They were fronted by Keith KC, who was their also the established credible MC of the crew, as he was an original member of The Masterdon Committee. Then the other three were Marky Mark (Teddy's brother, Markell Riley, not Mark Wahlberg, who used the name second) A-Plus a.k.a. Aqil and B-Doggs, but Keith did the rapping on pretty much every single song. They had a strong go-go influence to their sound, which probably came from Teddy, who has musician credit on every single song and also had go-go beats on some of his earlier work (like "Wong"). Teddy had musician credit, but not production credit, which went to Markell and Gene Griffin for GR Productions. Their first EP had a couple singles and at least one music video, but when their brief period on Atlantic ended, Keith broke out.
So Wrecks signed to Motown in 1989 without Keith (although Mark and Aqil both thanked him in the liner notes, so I guess there was no bad blood), and Aqil took over as the lead MC. I think they just had a single, but that single was "New Jack Swing," so when that blew up, they put out a self-titled album (which is why many think it's their debut). Actually, you could argue the title is meant to be New Jack Rap, since that's written on the spine of the cassette version. Anyway, another thing that's interesting is that Teddy Riley isn't credited with any production. Markell has a few tracks, including "New Jack Swing," but the most are by Redhead Kingpin. Also, see that gryphon logo on the second cover? That's a GR Productions thing; Guy used to have it on some of their covers, too. Gene Griffin was the president, and Teddy Riley was the vice president of GR.

Anyway, let's get off the album and back to the single, which dropped in '88. Prepare for more confusion, because there's actually more than one version, with completely different track-listings. I remember being confused when I first bought the single and it was totally different than the song I heard in the music video. Fortunately, the video version turned out to be on the album in '89. But it wasn't until years later and I was an adult that I realized there were different 12"s.

This is the version that came out first. A lot of it's the same naturally, including all three verses and the same core breakbeat (a killer loop called "The Village Keepers") and the James Brown snippets. It even has an extra recurring "tear the roof off the mothersucker" vocal sample. But it doesn't have the dramatic keyboards that layer over the whole song, and it doesn't have Teddy Riley's bugged out super-villain laugh and random improvisations like, "everything is made by man" and "all you have to do is polish your nails!" Enough of it's there that any "New Jack Swing" can rock out to it, that one break is really the crux of the appeal; but it's not the whole song and feels a little lacking once you've heard the video version.

So then this came out, still in '88. This has multiple mixes. The 7" Version is essentially the video/album version, and the 12" Version is a longer edit of that. The Percapella is what it sounds like, an acapella but still with the percussion, which makes for a pretty funky, stripped down mix actually. But then, flip it over, and there's the Club Version, which is another different version. This has new adlibs and stuff by Teddy, and I think this is where the remix versions took those "polish your nails" lines from, because here there's twice as much. I think he just took the mix and decided to say whatever randomly popped into his head over the track. So I suspect they made the original version, then this crazy club version, and then used both for the remix we're most familiar with. There's also a Bonus Beats track, which is kind of fun, because they start rubbing in Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," which of course was one of Teddy's biggest hits.

On Wrecks' next single, "Juicy," which is the one that famously used Mtume's "Juicy Fruit" sample before Biggie Smalls, they had a "New 12" Remix of New Jack Swing" on the B-side. And, just as a fun fact: Teddy produced an R&B version for an artist he produced called Zan, also in '89, called "Love Juicy." It uses the same loop, too, but very watered down and smoothed out. And there's a "Love Juicy" mix of "Juicy" on this 12", which is like a hybrid of the two, with Zan's singing and softer music, but still with Wrecks' raps. Zan's gonna come back again, in a minute. Anyway, the 12" Remix of "New Jack Swing" here is basically the same as the 12" Version on the second "New Jack" single mentioned earlier, with just minor variations.

So as the lead vocalist, Aqil does two of the verses on this song. And Teddy Riley himself, does the third. I remember as a kid I thought I was pretty smart for figuring out that when he says, "yes, T.R. is my name," that's who it was, since Teddy's not even a member. But some other lines of his verse are even trickier, since it's very inside baseball. Look 'em up online, they're all wrong. Like, for example, most lyrics sites write, "yes T.R. is movin' it, right?" When actually he's saying, "yes, G.R. is movin' it," because now he's referring to the production company not himself. Also, a lot of the lyrics are contrived and awkward ("some beat medicine you wish you had, bumping your feelings from glad to sad"), because their best MC had left, so it's sometimes hard to work out what they're trying to communicate, precisely.

Hardest to track is when he starts naming artists he's "got." I remember bugging out in '89 when he said Boy George, but Teddy was just listing artists he was making hit records with at the time. So forget the screwy lists you'll find online (it doesn't help that the music video only shows about half the people he names). I'm a big fan of Teddy Riley (at least in his 80s period), so I think I've figured out the correct list:

'Ey yo, I've got Keith Sweat - That's an easy one. They show him in the video, and they had a huge hit together with "I Want Her." It was the shit back in the day.

Heavy D - Look, they're all easy at the start. Again, Heav and the Boyz were in the video, and of course Ted produced "We Got Our Own Thing," which took Heavy D into the mainstream.

Today - An R&B group you'll probably remember from the House Party soundtrack, he produced their first single, plus some of their other songs.

Moe Dee - Kool Moe Dee, of course! Teddy produced a ton of his stuff, including his biggest hits, effectively making his solo career. And who wouldn't instantly recognize him in the video with his signature shades and bright green leather rain coat.

B Sure - As in Al B Sure. He just did a little instrumentation on his first album, but also produced "Dedicated" on Heavy D's first album, which Al sung on.

And my man Bobby Brown - Again, "My Prerogative" may've been Teddy's biggest record ever.

I've got Zan the Man - Now we're getting to the tricky stuff. But yeah, this is the "Love Juicy" Zan who Teddy produced a whole Warner Bros album for.

Redhead - Kingpin of course. He ought to be in the video, since he produced most of the album.

Boy George - See? Teddy produced some of his stuff around this time. I forget the name of it, but he had a video for a song that was surprisingly in line with the other kinda stuff Teddy was making then.

James - I believe this is James Ingram. He had a whole skit at the beginning of one of singles where they're like, "say, Teddy, who you workin' with?" And he says James. "James Brown?" And he's like nah, somebody named James Ingram. Seems pretty insulting; I never understood why he'd want that on his record, but there ya go.

And Deja - Deja was this pop R&B duo with a Teddy produced single called "Going Crazy." He may've done their whole album, but "Crazy" is the only song I remember getting any play.

And my homeboys Guy, and you got to get down! - If you don't remember Guy, you weren't around in the 80s. They're his homeboys because Teddy Riley was actually one third of the group, not just their producer. Although the production was mainly his department; I don't think he really sang much, just dropped the occasional rap verse. Aaron Hall was the big vocalist in Guy.

Afterwards, tragically, B-Doggs passed away and Wrecks-N-Effect changed their name to Wreckx-N-Effect in his honor. Their time was up on Motown and it took a while for them to properly come back, though Teddy kept them in the game by giving them little appearances when he could. For instance, they were on the House Party 2 soundtrack, and Aqil rapped on Samuelle's "So You Like What You See." Eventually they got a new deal with MCA Records.

They released their third album, Hard Or Smooth, in 1992. Yes, this is the "Rump Shaker" album. But the first (or the second, depending which pressing of the album you got) song on the LP was "New Jack Swing II (Hard Version)." There is no other version of "New Jack Swing II," so I'm guessing they just mean this is hard compared to the first one. And it is, although it's hardly Straight Outta Compton material.

This one opens up with a Big Daddy Kane "check it out, y'all" vocal sample and EPMD's "Knick Knack Paddy Wack" loop with a little EFG "UFO" mixed in. A-Plus, Mark and TR all take a verse on this one, following the times by mixing a little diggity-diggity-Das EFX style into their rhymes. The main thing that makes this one feel hard, I guess, is that it has a 90s New York style shout chorus. It ends with some key-horns straight out of "The Ruler's Back," which are cheesy but fun. The line "she didn't believe a thing about the new jack swing," from the original, has been changed to "don't forget a thing about the new jack swing." This wasn't released as a single, and you can tell why, but it is one of the better songs on the album.

I was disappointed Teddy didn't make an updated list like, "I got Hi-Five, Blackstreet, Glenn Jones, the Winans and my man Mike Jackson. I got Samuelle, Bubba, Star Point, Faith and Nayobe and look out for a Guy come back in about ten years!" Oh well. It's no hit like the original, but it's not too a disappointing sequel, all things considered. ...They saved the disappointing sequels for their fourth album. But why focus on the negative when you can just replay their old hits again? "Yo, Wrecks-N-Effect, in full effect!"


  1. Always had a soft spot for the new jack swing stuff. There were some great tunes back then and Teddy probably produced a majority of the big ones.

  2. Interesting stuff, Werner.
    Only briefly familiar with Wrecks-N-Effect's music - although the name was big at the time, I recall.
    But oddly just a few weeks ago I discovered a song of theirs called "Peanut Butter" - and OMG! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This was like hardcore hip-hop in every which way - massive beats & samples and dope lyrics n flow. I had to double check. Was this really Wrecks-N-Effect? Cos it certainly wasn't what I was expecting after the little I'd heard previous. But Yes it was! It's a track on the 2nd album. And it's very very dope. Butter in fact. I highly recommend. Did they do anything else like this? I gotta go & listen again one more time...

    1. They got a few jams like that, "wipe your sweat", clubhead, leave the mic smokin