Category Archives: Uptown Posse

Christopher Williams – Adventures In Paradise

Christopher Williams
Adventures in Paradise
July 25, 1989
Geffen RecordsUMG
060/100
Christopher Williams - Adventures In Paradise
1. Talk to Myself // 2. Sexy Sex // 3. Never Let Our Love Die // 4. (Lift You Up) Turn You Around // 5. Paradise // 6. Promises, Promises // 7. One Girl // 8. If That’s What You Want // 9. I’m Your Present // 10. Always & Forever // 11. Lover Come Back // 12. Sweet Memories

The onslaught of high-quality, moderate length R&B albums coming from Uptown records couldn’t last forever. And while Christopher Williams’ debut album Adventures In Paradise isn’t an outright failiure, and at times showcases some fairly pleasant R&B music it doesn’t have the same amout of highlights that for instance In Effect Mode and Guy had, and it runs fifteen to twently minutes longer than either of those classics, which kind of means it runs fifteen minutes too long. Besides that Williams doesn’t have Al B. Sure!’s lithe and Guy’s… well Guy’s Teddy Riley throwing him beats. (On the other hand Timmy Gatling produces three songs on here. Guess it is nice to know het got at least one more Uptown/MCA paycheque after quitting Guy right before the group dropped a platinum album and started making money.) So while this album may not exactly be where it all turnt to shit it certainly is on of the less essential recordings from the ‘New Jack Swing’ era.

Williams sounds like a more relaxedly singing Johnny Gill, which is to say he’s a fine soul singer. It is also to say he is a little bland since, hate it or love it, Gill’s strenuously ferocious vocal stylings are what set him apart from the pack more than anything else.
But Williams certainly sounds like he could be a compelling singer given the right collaborators. Teddy Riley, Babyface & L.A. Reid and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis come to mind.
Timmy Gatling, Nick Martinelli, Nick Matkosky, Robert Brookins, Nevelle, Joel Davis, DJ Eddie F and some guy who goes by the moniker of Wokie are what he works with here in stead. Although Andre Harrell did sign off on Gerald Levert providing a couple of songs before he left for a holiday trip to the Bahamas for the duration of this album’s recording (his name is nowhere to be found in the liner notes.) [EDIT: Which is because Adventures In Paradise  apparently was not released on Uptown Records. Apparently Williams only signed over to the label after releasing his debut to release his sophomore album Changes there. Oh well.]
To be fair this group of relative no-names and Levert churn out some perfectly adequate, impeccably produced late ’80s urban soul. There are a couple of dance numbers but Williams is mostly in quiet storm mode steering clear of hip-hop territory most of the time, which given the horrendous raps of the Guy-aping, Gatling-produced opening track Talk to Myself, which manage to rhyme ‘departed’ with ‘retarded’ may be a huge blessing. Still, for the most part the album fails to grab the listeners attention. This may make it perfect background noise for shopping malls and the like but it also makes it seriously unfit for keeping in a music collection.

Although Adventures In Paradise may not be very exciting there surely is a market for it. I can imagine your Freddie Jackson loving, fifty year old aunt just melting away listening to this album. If her birthday is coming up you might as well throw a couple of nickels over the counter at the used CD shop may you come across this there (I can’t image too many copies lying around in other places).
But for all other intents and purposes this album is probably rather useless. These days you probably couldn’t even get laid to songs like Sexy Sex anymore (Unless you’re into hotel elevator hookups). There’s nothing remotely memorable about Adventures In Paradise. I should know, I just listened to the thing and besides that sucky amateur rap at the beginning I can’t remember a specific thing about it.

Best tracks
Talk to Myself is quite good, even if the rap bits are cringeworthy. It really makes one wonder how big Timmy Gatling’s roll was in producing Guy. It must’ve been bigger than everyone thought because Talk to Myself sounds exactly like a Guy song. Either Timmy was as important to Guy as Teddy was or he decided to take one of Teddy’s spare beats with him to sell before storming out of the band’s back door never to return and that beat became Talk to MyselfThat theory was more interesting than the entirety of this album unfortunately.

Recommendations
Don’t buy this album. Or do buy it. Whatever, I don’t care. It’s your elevator.

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Heavy D & the Boyz – Big Tyme

Heavy D & the Boyz
Big Tyme
June 12, 1989
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
080/100
Heavy D & the Boyz - Big Tyme
1. We Got Our Own Thang (feat. Teddy Riley) // 2. You Ain’t Heard Nuttin Yet // 3. Somebody For Me (feat. Al B. Sure!) // 4. Mood For Love // 5. Ez Duz It, Do It Ez // 6. A Better Land // 7. Gyrlz, They Love Me // 8. More Bounce // 9. Big Tyme // 10. Flexin’ // 11. Here We Go Again, Y’all // 12. Let It Flow

Living Large... may be considered a classic today (for reasons unknown to this reviewer because I recall it being a wildly uneven effort with lots of sucking and only a handful of good songs) but it never sold that well. Big Tyme was the point where Heavy D & the Boys became what you could consider commercially succesful, selling over a million copies and hitting #01 on the R&B album-charts.
The is discrepancy in sales figures between the debut album and this one is entirely justified, to this reviewer anyway, Big Tyme is in fact a much superior album with a much slicker sound and a much better hit/miss ratio. Four of these songs were released as singles, and while none of them were charting hits of importance (except for We Got Our Own Thang which apparently hit #15 in the Netherlands) they’re all considered classics of the golden age of hip-hop.

Big Tyme is well mannered and good natured frivolity. Gangsta rap may have been taking flight on the West coast to land itself in college dorms nationwide to the sound of cash registers clanking, but D likes to pretend that it never happened because on this album he’s as much in B-Boy mode as RUN-DMC was in ’83; bragging about his rhyme skills and hollering at the ladies but never in a menacing manner. He never so much as drops a single curse.
(Unless you count “Happy like a faggot in jail.”, which is in fact sort of shocking in how cheerfully casual it is dropped. Remember kids Big Tyme is from a different era in which homophobia was much more commonplace and accepted than it is today.)
The guy sounds as though he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but would beat you in a rap battle and then proceeded to run off with your girlfriend. D’s rhyme style hasn’t changed one bit since the last time around.

His musical backdrops, provided by his DJ, Eddie F, his cousin Pete Rock and old school powerhouse Marley Marl, as wel as himself, are a lot more melodic, slicker and less clunky than they were the last time around, which helps the medicine go down tremendously. We Got Our Own Thang may have been Teddy Riley’s loungiest creation yet, Somebody For Me makes one wonder why Dwight never got to appear on In Effect Mode because not only were they labelmates but him and Al B. Sure! display some pretty cool chemistry, More Bounce isn’t boring at all despite rocking an overplayed Zapp sample. Even the faux-reggae of Mood For Love and the preachy as fuck Better Land aren’t a stinky sort of cheesy. Let It Flow and Flexin’ have some old fashionedly cool beats that would make for good background at a house party.
Even the mandatory boastfest about D’s success with the opposite sex Gyrls, they Love Me sounds pretty good.
The title track samples James Brown’s Sex Machine for the third time in D’s career (and the second time on this album) and finally creates a good update.

While there are almost zero instances of the man dropping any mind blowing knowledge (although he does speak some truths about crack cocaine and rap-haters on Better Land) that really isn’t or shouldn’t be the point of a Heavy D album. In stead one should admire the nimbleness of his flows and the catchiness of his music. In fact calling Heavy D a ‘party rap’ artist wouldn’t do the man a disservice because having a good time appears to be what the man was all about and this, ladies and gentlemen, is party rap par excellence.
One shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a hefty dose of good spirited, unadutered fun every once in a while, and backed with some seriously good music this is exactly what Big Tyme provides. It’s a throwback to a time when the hip-hop genre knew not to take itself so seriously all the time and for all these things it deserves a revisit.

Heavy D. rest in peace. May your memory live on.

Best tracks
We Got Our Own Thang
Somebody For Me
Gyrlz They Love Me
More Bounce
Big Tyme
Flexin’

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Guy – Guy

Guy
Guy
June 13, 1988
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
080/100
Guy - Guy1. Groove Me // 2. Teddy’s Jam // 3. Don’t Clap… Just Dance // 4. You Can Call Me Crazy (feat. Timmy Gatling & Al B. Sure!) // 5. Piece of My Love // 6. I Like // 7. ’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love) // 8. Spend the Night // 9. Goodbye Love // 10. My Business (feat. Timmy Gatling)

Teddy’s late ’80s drum machine-‘n’-synth beats aren’t the most sophisticated instrumentals ever made and Aaron’s third rate Stevie-isms are far from original way of singing R&B music, but put them together and the resulting album is an album far funkier than it has any right to be. Guy is one of those things greater than the sum of its parts.

Guy was the brainchild of producer Teddy Riley and his childhood friend Timmy Gatling. They recruited singer Aaron Hall to join them and Guy started recording their epinomous debut album for Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records under the guidance of manager Gene Griffin who is also credited as co-producer of every track of this album. Apparently Hall and Riley didn’t get along in person despite their on-wax chemistry because right before Guy was released Gatling was so sick of their animosity he got the hell out of dodge.
It is for this reason he sings lead vocals on two of the album’s tracks and gets eight songwriting credits even though when the album dropped he was no longer officially considered a part of the group and is nowhere to be found on the album’s cover. (The guy who was called in as Gatling’s last-minute replacement for a tour Guy did with New Edition was Aaron’s brother Damion who is on the cover but did zilch in creating the music.)

Changing line-ups would be recurring thing in Teddy Riley’s performing career, especially in his second group BLACKstreet.

One thing that sets apart Guy from the other completely Riley-produced LP we had so far, Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever, is that the majority of the songs are uptempo where Sweat was mostly about slow jams.
Another thing that sets apart Keith Sweat and Aaron Hall is that Aaron has a far more fiery, gospel-infused vocal style.
Who says that New Jack Swing artists were passed through cookie cutter and were indistinct of one another? (Many music critics do.)

Guy marries soul vocal stylings with hip-hop production stylings the way no complete album had done before it. It also follows some hip-hop conventions of the time. For instance it has a DJ cut in the form of Teddy’s Jam.

Teddy  really did his thing with these lo fi synths and drum machines creating a slightly overcrowded, machanical variety of the funk. Hall, Gatling and Riley himself when he sings lead on Spend the Night are the humanising components. Back in 1988 this must’ve sounded pretty futuristic but today the vibe is mostly quaintly old school (or vintage as some would call it..).

Groove Me and ’round and ’round (Merry Go Round of Love) are the best things on here. They’re ballsy party jams that a lot of club DJs would do well to revisit.
Teddy’s Jam also fits that bill although because of it’s relative lack of vocals one might run the risk of partygoers believing they put on some backing music from a primitive video game.
Piece of My Love and Spend the Night aren’t the best New Jack Swing ballads by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re not bad and their inclusion helps prevent the monotony of nothing but pistoning dance beats that otherwise would’ve occured.

Overall Guy is a pretty good flagship release for the New Jack Swing genre, being pretty representative of its dance music side, with a few ballads thrown in for good measure.
The production, despite of (or because of) being rather dated, is pretty cool and Aaron Hall is a charismatic frontman who performs these songs with enough gusto to make up for his minor lackings as a singer. It’s too bad that short, high-quality R&B releases such as this, Make It Last Forever and In Effect Mode (among others) would soon be a thing of the past after the ascent of the CD and the possibility it created for artists to make their album’s twice as long as they could be in the vinyl/ cassette era (Guy’s 1990 sophomore album The Future is 72:02 minutes long compared to this one’s 44:42 which means as much as that a shitload of watered down, unfocused filler made the cut) but that makes one only appreciate releases like this that much more. Good stuff.

Best tracks
Groove Me
Teddy’s Jam
’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love)
Piece of My Love

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Al B. Sure! – In Effect Mode

Al B. Sure!
In Effect Mode
Uptown Records/ Warner Bros. RecordsWMG
May 3, 1988
080/100
Al B. Sure! - In Effect Mode
1. Nite and Day // 2. Oooh, This Love Is So // 3. Killing Me Softly // 4. Naturally Mine // 5. Rescue Me // 6. Off on Your Own (Girl) // 7. If I’m Not Your Lover // 8. Just a Taste of Lovin’ // 9. Noche y Dia

I wonder if it today still would be possible for an R&B singer to be on the cover of his major label album with his unabrow fully intact (not to mention that peach fuzz on his upper lip) and sell records. I guess that grooming habits have changed for men as well as women since 1988.

Al B. Sure! was the second act to release an album on Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records after making his debut appearances on Heavy D’s Living Large… in the prior year. Apparently he got his break in the music industry performing at a talent show organised by Sony Music Entertainment in 1987 where he was picked the winner by music industry legend Quincy Jones. How he went from Sony to MCA-distributed Uptown records, and then had his albums distributed through random, unaffiliated Warner Bros. is unknown to me but that is what happened.

New Jack Swing inventor Teddy Riley was supposed to produce the album wall-to-wall but after finishing two songs with Al he got called away to supply his beats to Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever in stead (presumably to cash a bigger cheque). The two songs he did produce were If I’m Not Your Lover and You Can Call Me Crazy. The latter didn’t make the cut of In Effect Mode but was transplanted to the 1988 epinomous debut album of Teddy Riley’s group Guy with Timmy Gatling on vocals. The same Timmy Gatling who left the group right after the first album was released. Oh the music industry trivia.
After Teddy left Al B. decided to produce the album himself with assists by his cousin Kyle West, which turnt out a fortunate turn of events since the instrumentals these two created were actually a little different from Riley’s. Sure! and West infuse their New Jack Swing quiet storm with quirky soft rock guitar riffs, percolating synths and groovy synth funk basslines, which helped Sure! create a niche of his own in the budding New Jack Swing movement. Keith Sweat was the soul man, Bobby Brown would be the bad boy, Teddy Riley was the svengali and Al B. Sure! was the romantic soft-rocker.

Nite and Day is about as graceful as an R&B ballad can get with Al’s floaty falsetto riding the atmospheric instrumental and the lyrics about ‘making love in the rain’ and ‘feeling so deep it comes within’. It is the perfect soundtrack to a romantic daydream. Actually that description fit the entirety of In Effect Mode. It’s a dreamy exercise in romanticism that’s so high above the clouds that even the earnestness of it all can’t weigh it down. Wow.
Off On Your Own (Girl) has the sort of tumbling groove you could lounge equally well to as you could dance to it and its pleading subject matter is something that’s easily relatable and Sure! turns out to do uptempo numbers just as well as he does his signature balladry.
Oooh this Love Is So manages to make something seductive out of fingersnaps, keyboards and not much more and is probably the best showcase of Sure!’s voice on this album.
The worst of the lot on here is probably the ‘hard’ sounding numbers If I’m Not Your Lover and Just a Taste of Your Lovin’ tacked on at the end, and even those are fairly decent. It’s just easy to imagine Bobby Brown doing a slightly better job at performing them. But they do contribute to the album in creating more variety.

The rest of these songs are pretty cool too. Besides a Spanish language version of Nite and Day there isn’t any filler on here and like Make It Last Forever its length of only eight tracks is a prime example of ‘less is more’, one many of today’s artists could learn a thing or two from.

In Effect Mode is a terrific R&B album. It’s got this veneer of old school romantic class over it, as though it is willing to wait until the second date to get into your pants (if you are capable of restraining yourself, that is) with a slight hint of hip-hop swagger. Also it’s short, which with albums is never a bad thing.

Best tracks
Nite and Day
Oooh This Love Is So
Off On Your Own (Girl)

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Heavy D & the Boys – Living Large…

Heavy D & the Boys
Living Large…
October 25, 1987
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
058/100
Heavy D & the Boys Living Large...
1. The Overweight Lover’s in the House // 2. Nike // 3. Chunky But Funky [Remix] // 4. Dedicated (feat. Al B. Sure!) // 5. Here We Go // 6. On the Dance Floor // 7. Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon (feat. Al B. Sure!) // 8. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me // 9. Overweighter // 10. I’m Getting Paid // 11. Rock the Bass // 12. Mr. Big Stuff [Remix] // 13. Don’t You Know (feat. Al B. Sure!)

It makes sense that Heavy D was the first out of the Uptown posse to have an album of his own since his was the only song off Uptown Is Kickin’ It that’s remotely memorable.

Livin’ Large… is a fairly decent yet rather dated debut. The beats, courtesy of the likes of Marley Marl and Teddy Riley, as well as D and Eddie F themselves, are the sort of rather minimal hippety hoppety stuff that Jam Master Jay would churn out in his sleep and Heavy’s rhymes are, well… chunky but funky creating a total package that’s best described as well mannered frivolity. Not in the least because D steers clear of each and every curse word and steers clear of each and every form of social commentary. He might’ve had the D but his name ain’t Chuck.

For the most part it sounds as though Heavy D and DJ Eddie F were simply going down a checklist of mandatory concepts to have their hip-hop album considered for release in 1987. There’s a glorified shoes commercial (Nike), a bunch of cuts that boast about Heav’s skills in getting the ladies and how he rhymes better on the mic than you do (there’s a lot of overlap between these two types of songs), an ode to the DJ (Here We Go) and a smalzy I Need Love-esque romantic cut tacked onto the end where our host completely forgets to rhyme and just talks to the subject of his affections for four minutes or so while wingman, labelmate and R&B singer extraordinaire Al B. Sure! tries to help get her panties wet without involving molly (or at the very least without bragging about tossing it into her drink without her knowledge).

What sets Heavy D, and the old school in general, apart from most of the rap music that came after it is that it seems content juggling around a couple of fairly simple concept, that it has a rather childish sense of humour and is delivered in a enthusiatisc manner. The contrast with the cold, detached yet super vivid gangsta years that weren’t too far away when this album dropped couldn’t be bigger. It is for this reason that Living Large… may be a little bland to your ears.
If however you’re easily charmed by the old school Livin’ Large… is most likely the album for you. Heavy D may not drop any curses but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the sort of cocky individual that rhymes laps around you and will steal your girlfriend despite packing a few extra pounds (the central theme to Living Large…), is not too cool to bust a move (On the Dance Floor), has better kicks than you (Nike), generally more money (I’m Getting Paid). D proudly flaunts his origins whether he’s namechecking the place he grew up (Money Yearning Mount Vernon) or incorporating a mild reggae flavour into a beat (I’m Gonna Make You Love Me) (D was originally from the island of Jamaica)

His delivery is smooth and rhythmic and his beats are pretty competent. Especially when a more obvious sample comes to the forefront (Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon incorporates parts of James Brown’s Sex Machine and Overweighter has clearly identifyable parts of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back in it) the music sounds pretty complete. Living Large… is far from great but it’s entertaining enough to be considered a promising start of a succesful career, which off course it was.

Living Large… is alright for what it is I suppose. Especially seen in the light of the time when it dropped, which was a simpler time for hip-hop and perhaps music and even the world in general. But despite that and the fact that Living Large… has a handful of entertaining songs there’s no need for people should listen to the album in its entirety today.

The songs listed below however are wholeheartedly recommended for a listen, so listening to Living Large… wasn’t a complete exercise in futility.

Best tracks
The Overweight Lover’s In the House
Chunky But Funky [Remix]
Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon
Mr. Big Stuff
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
Overweighter
Rock the Bass

Recommendations
Buy the best tracks off iTunes. Don’t buy the entire album. Unless you come across it for less than five dollars.


Various Artists – Uptown Is Kickin’ It

Various Artists
Uptown Is Kickin’ It
1986
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
050/100
cover
1. Mr. Big Stuff (Heavy D & the Boyz) // 2. Why Me (Groove B. Chill) // 3. Bass Game (Finesse & Synquis) // 4. Uptown Is Kickin’ It (the Uptown Crew) // 5. I Can’t Stop (The Brothers Black) // 6. He Cuts So Fresh (Marley Marl) // 7. Stress (Woody Rock)

Like N.W.A and the Posse Uptown Is Kickin’ It is both the start of something great and an intrinsically shitty album.
Like N.W.A and the Posse it surrounds a few good acts with a bunch of embarassingly generic acts that wouldn’t be heard from ever again.

The music is alright but extremely dated ‘B-boy’ stuff.
The lyrics performed by what certainly would’ve been referred to at that time as ‘sucker MCs’ range from meh boasting and bragging (I Can’t Stop) to cringeworthily corny to obscene and corny (Why Me which is literally about soiling yourself in front of your father in law, a concept that maybe Biz Markie could’ve gotten away with, and only at that time.)

But hey, at least the Heavy D song sounds good. And him (besides Marley Marl who provides one of those old school DJ Cuts that nobody likes to hear) is the only person on here one should give a fuck about, and coicidentally the only person out of this incarnation of the ‘Uptown Posse’ to have a career. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Best track
Mr. Big Stuff
Uptown Is Kickin’ It

Recommendations
Download Mr. Big Stuff, leave the rest be. Unless you’re an Andre Harrell biographer off course.