Guy - Guy Music Album Reviews

Guy - Guy Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit Guy’s self-titled debut, the album that solidified the sound of new jack swing and established Teddy Riley as the most influential R&B producer of the late 1980s.

When Timmy Gatling picked up the phone, it sounded like there was a party happening. “Timmy, you gotta come over here right now—you gotta hear this song,” Teddy Riley said, over a booming drum track and chattering voices. Gatling hung up and walked 15 minutes through Harlem to Riley’s apartment in Building 225 of the St. Nicholas housing project. When he entered the living room that Riley’s mother allowed them to use as a recording studio, there was indeed a party. Riley liked to keep the windows open, blasting his new tracks out to the whole neighborhood—and tonight, Harlem was witnessing the birth of an R&B masterpiece.

The beat playing on a loop—the beginnings of what would become “Groove Me,” the breakout single by Riley and Gatling’s new band, Guy—had the party going crazy. Gatling workshopped the lyrics and melody with Aaron Hall, Guy’s electric lead singer. Hall stepped into the apartment’s bathroom, where blanket curtains soundproofed a makeshift vocal booth installed in the shower, and knocked out a take. Weeks later the group would attempt to re-record the track in a professional studio, but nothing matched the raw energy of the vocals that Hall recorded at the party that night.

Released in the summer of 1988, Guy’s self-titled debut redefined R&B music for the hip-hop generation. With club hits like “Groove Me” and “I Like,” Guy is best known for its melodic, uptempo synth-funk, and for positioning Teddy Riley as the wunderkind producer at the center of the new jack swing craze. Despite the name, Guy was not the work of one guy but of three guys, all in their early 20s: Riley, the resourceful producer; Timmy Gatling, the passionate songwriter; and Aaron Hall, the golden voice.

Childhood friends Riley and Gatling got their first taste of fame in 1984 as members of Kids at Work, a New Edition-inspired teen pop trio signed to CBS. Unlike New Edition, though, the Kids wrote all their own songs and played their own instruments—Teddy on keys and Timmy on bass. They grew up listening to a diverse mix of soul, funk, go-go, gospel, and hip-hop, but the Kids at Work project aimed for safe, radio-friendly R&B. The group’s single “Singing Hey Yea” got major spins on New York City’s R&B stations, rising as high as No. 64 on Billboard’s Hot Rap/R&B Singles chart. The Kids released one LP, but the label dropped them after their manager, Gene Griffin, got locked up on drug charges.

Reeling from the disappointment, Teddy graduated from high school and dove head first into the city’s hip-hop scene, helping a former classmate, Doug E. Fresh, produce his gold-selling 1985 single “The Show.” Rap music was transitioning from its sparse electro sound to the looser, funkier, sample-based beats that would define late-’80s hip-hop. Riley’s early work for artists like Kool Moe Dee and Heavy D split the difference, mixing slinky synth basslines and intricate drum programming with whimsical keyboard interpolations and punchy James Brown samples. In 1987, the Harlem R&B singer Keith Sweat, impressed by Riley’s hip-hop work, asked the producer to collaborate. Their first cut—a dramatic burst of orchestral hits and skittering drum machines called “I Want Her”—rose all the way to No. 1 on the Hot Rap/R&B Singles chart, whetting the public’s appetite for uptempo club tracks that mixed harder hip-hop production sensibilities with smooth R&B melody. Riley coached Sweat through the sultry, nasal delivery that would become his signature and worked on every track from his subsequent hit album, Make It Last Forever. But though he was central to its creation, Riley was paid only $1,500 for his work and received an underwhelming “co-producer” credit on four songs.

Meanwhile, Gatling took a day job selling women’s shoes at the Brooklyn department store Abraham & Straus. There he met Aaron Hall, a pastor’s son and rising local gospel star. Compared to Timmy’s sweet, boyish singing voice, Aaron’s sounded like a powerful beam from heaven. His vocals cut effortlessly through 20-person choirs and rollicking church organ swells, projecting strength and passion while injecting new rhythms and outrageous runs into staid praise standards. He’d recently appeared on the debut album by Brooklyn pastor Hezekiah Walker, but he had ambitions beyond the gospel scene. Hall and Gatling quit their retail jobs and started writing sexy, secular love songs, including early versions of several Guy tracks.

When Gatling approached his old friend Riley to ask for help producing the new songs, he cut right to the chase: “I got this lead singer, man, I’m telling you, he sounds exactly like Charlie Wilson.” Hall’s vocal resemblance to the iconic Gap Band frontman was central to the project that Gatling had in mind. “That was our whole concept,” he remembered in a 2021 interview with Halftime Chat. “Take the old, and make it new.” Led by Wilson’s gospel-influenced vocals, the Gap Band were a touchstone for the ’80s electro-funk sound. To younger people more attuned to the scrappy, hard-hitting style of hip-hop, their music had begun to seem out-of-touch—but alongside groups like Zapp and Cameo, they provided the funk foundation for something new to be built. Blown away by Hall’s talent, Riley joined the group as its third member. Gatling christened the new trio Guy, after a fresh local clothing store named Guy LTD.

They spent the next few months writing and recording in Riley’s apartment in Saint Nick, landing a deal with Andre Harrell’s new rap and R&B label, Uptown, and reconnecting with Gene Griffin, their old manager, who’d recently come home after serving two years in prison. Burned by his experience working with Keith Sweat, Riley knew he wanted to approach things differently this time. “I need protection,” he remembered thinking, reflecting on the birth of Guy in a 2017 lecture for Red Bull Music Academy. “I need Gene Griffin, who’s gonna make sure nobody’s taking from me.” Harrell remembered Griffin’s intimidating aura: “He had gangsta rep all over him when he got to town.”

Gene Griffin may have protected Guy from outside threats, but he also demanded control. As Guy prepared to release their first album, their forty-something manager named himself a writer and producer on every track, though he’d had little to no hand in the music, and slid a thick new management contract in front of each member. Gatling, the true author of nearly every song on the album, refused to sign. Griffin kicked him out of the group, replacing him with Aaron’s brother, Damion Hall. But it was too late to remove Gatling’s vocals—he sang lead on two songs—and too late to re-shoot the album cover, where the original trio posed together. This was still Gatling’s album, but in the liner notes, Griffin listed the members of Guy in this order: himself, Teddy, Aaron, Damion.

Released in June 1988, Guy became a hit in clubs and caught the attention of young music fans. “Groove Me” became one of the summer’s breakout R&B hits, peaking at No. 4 on the Hot Black Singles chart in August; “Teddy’s Jam” hit its top five shortly after. The group’s sound started to cross over to pop radio, too, thanks to Riley’s production work on hits by Bobby Brown (“My Prerogative”) and Johnny Kemp (“Just Got Paid”), as well as Guy’s biggest hit, “I Like.” Guy went gold by the end of 1988, and platinum within a year.

Everyone seemed to agree that something new was happening in R&B music—edgier, younger, and with more hip-hop influence than people were used to hearing on stations dominated by smooth, smiling voices like Freddie Jackson and Stephanie Mills. But this new thing didn’t yet have a name. SPIN magazine called it “B-boy pop.” Others tried “synth-funk,” “hip-hop soul,” or “swingbeat.” Riley himself remembered calling it “sophisticated bubblegum music—because it was young.” That September, The Village Voice ran a profile on Teddy Riley and Guy, and the writer, Barry Michael Cooper, made his own suggestion: “I call it the New Jack Swing.”

The “swing” was a reference to the fast, shuffling rhythms in Riley’s drum programming, while the term “new jack” was NYC slang, meaning a fresh-faced rookie—as in 1986, when Grandmaster Caz rapped, “I’m not a new jack clown, a clone who ain’t down.” Being called a “new jack” was not exactly a compliment, but the name embodied the youthfulness of the movement, and it stuck, partly because Riley adopted it, headlining The New Jack Swing Tour with Guy in 1989 and creating the hit “New Jack Swing” with his brother Markell Riley’s group Wreckx-N-Effect the same year.

“Groove Me” is a perfect introduction to new jack swing because it makes its connection to hip-hop overt. Teddy punched in James Brown’s voice (“funky!”) throughout the track, which echoed Eric B. & Rakim’s 1986 rap hit “Eric B. Is President,” as well as the organ riff from “The Champ,” a b-boy park jam classic from the 1970s that became part of hip-hop’s breakbeat canon. It was the one of the first popular R&B songs to make use of sampling in this uniquely hip-hop way, fusing the genres together for the next 30 years.

But unlike most hip-hop in the late ’80s, Riley’s drums were not sampled breakbeat loops. He pulled his own sounds from Alesis and Korg drum machines, then constructed the patterns on his Akai MPC60, adding extra oomph by padding them with bass sounds and compression. “I like for my snares to hit people in the head like, ‘Yo what is that?’” Riley said at the RBMA lecture. The famous “swing” in Riley’s sound is actually a complex, interlocking combination of ever-changing polyrhythmic syncopation, a faster take on the loose groove embedded in the funk and go-go music of his youth. Rather than programming a loop, he played everything live-to-tape on the MPC pads to achieve a subtle, unpredictable feel in his rhythms.

In 1988, Riley’s keyboard of choice was the Roland D-50, which he used to wash the album in a sea of synth strings, horns, organs, and orchestral hits that add radiant melody and rhythmic counterparts to the booming drum tracks. On “Teddy’s Jam”—the rare instrumental song to become an R&B hit—Riley floats on top of the kinetic rhythm track with three different synth hooks, inspired by his years of re-playing the electro-pop classic “Axel F” from Beverly Hills Cop. The only vocals in the song are Aaron Hall riffing on the phrase “Teddy, jam for me,” and Riley cleverly cuts in another slice of “The Champ” at the exact moment that Hall says “jam,” melding “champ” and “jam” into one indistinguishable rhythmic exclamation. Riley sings lead on one song, the fun, freaky “Spend the Night,” but it’s clear his strength lies in production.

While 80 percent of Guy is dance music, the album’s two slow jams are where Hall truly shines. “Piece of My Love” pulls you in with an easy synth bass groove and a romantic declaration: “I do love you!” It’s not until the first verse that you might realize this sweet ballad is actually a sardonic tribute to the side chick, playing up the passionate devotion for comedic effect:

Baby, you can’t have all of me
’Cause I’m not totally free
I can’t tell you everything that’s going on…baby
There’s a few things in my past
That should not be explained
I'm asking you, baby
Be with me for a little while
Please hush—no questions asked

Less cynical is “Goodbye Love,” a stripped-down slow jam about leaving a partner to go on tour. It begins with Hall and background vocalist Tammy Lucas trading tender pleas to stay together, and by the end of the song, Hall is breaking down, crying, “I’m out of my mind/Just help me to regain my sanity, baby!” In contrast to his contemporaries—singers like Al B. Sure! and Bobby Brown, who were frequently criticized for their lightweight vocals—Hall proved that expansive, gospel-influenced runs could still be modern, not just a technique of a prior generation of stars like Charlie Wilson and Stevie Wonder. In moments like this, you can hear the rhapsodic blueprint used by ’90s R&B singers like R. Kelly, K-Ci Hailey, and Sisqo.

Timmy Gatling’s role in Guy has largely been obscured over the years—the result of getting kicked out of the group before the album release—but his wholesome songwriting is core to their appeal. He was engaged to his future wife during the making of the album, and his romantic yearnings power songs like “I Like” and “You Can Call Me Crazy.” On the closer “My Business,” Gatling gently criticizes the suffocating micromanagement he experienced in the group. “Sometimes I like to stay all by myself, quiet and relaxed,” he sings softly. “But the phone, the phone always seems to ring off the hook.”

The only song that Gatling didn’t have a hand in writing—the overwrought “’Round and ’Round (Merry Go ’Round of Love)”—is also the album’s low point. It’s the most rhythmically straight track, reaching for a stomping anthem like Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” but getting weighed down by a clunky relationship metaphor and a cheesy interpolation of the popular carnival tune “Entry of the Gladiators.” According to Gatling, it’s the only Guy song that manager Gene Griffin was involved in creatively. Luckily, the rest of the album feels more like modern interpretation than tired imitation.

Guy went on to release a second platinum album, The Future, in 1990. After the group broke up, Riley filed suit against Griffin, alleging millions in stolen publishing revenue. Buoyed by his reputation as the architect of new jack swing, which by the early ’90s had become absorbed into the fabric of pop music, Riley continued to be an in-demand hitmaker, producing Michael Jackson’s Dangerous and founding a second successful R&B group, Blackstreet. Timmy Gatling continued his career as a songwriter for artists like Bell Biv Devoe and Mary J. Blige, while Aaron Hall notched a few hits of his own as a solo artist. In 2000, Guy reunited—without Timmy—for a final album, III, that lacked the vitality of their early work.

Between 1988 and the release of Dangerous in 1991, new jack swing was the sound of R&B, while its robust snares, syncopated bass drums, and rap-influenced samples sprung up in the music of nearly every pop artist hoping to score a funky radio hit. Though by the mid-’90s it was falling out of fashion, overshadowed by the rise of smooth G-funk and hip-hop’s increasing distaste for drum machines, the genre’s influence lives on through nearly all the synthesized, R&B-inflected dance-pop that followed, including the Swedish pop sound of the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, the global K-pop explosion, and retro R&B stylists like Bruno Mars and Ty Dolla $ign. Amid all the slicker, newer jack swing that would follow, the scrappy, DIY texture of Guy still stands out. Guy didn’t use studio musicians, outside producers, or session writers—every song on the album was made on Riley’s keyboards and drum machines, every lyric and melody was written by Timmy and Aaron, and every song was recorded in that apartment in the Saint Nick projects. Three brilliant young men, moving as one, synthesizing their world into something new.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Guy - Guy Music Album Reviews Guy - Guy Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on September 11, 2022 Rating: 5


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