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90s R&B doesn’t get its due. It’s not revisited as often as other 90s pastimes like hip-hop, Nickelodeon, and the Oslo Accords. Tinashe’s shades of Aaliyah aren’t enough. The real stuff is warm and sultry party music that borrows New York hip-hop’s halcyon swagger and grit. Back in Giuliani’s New York, a DJ at The Tunnel could mix Total and The LOX for an audience of drug dealers without issue, though a Biggie verse likely helped Total’s case.
The golden age of Mary J. Blige, SWV, and Jodeci has its roots in the formative R&B blends of DJ Hot Day, Kid Capri, Brucie B, and Ron G, who, beginning in the late 80s, spliced R&B records with hip-hop beats on their mixtapes. In fact, Puff Daddy said in an oral history of Bad Boy that the first record he produced was directly influenced by the old blend tapes; he put Jodeci acapellas over EPMD drums and made the “Come and Talk to Me” remix. Puff got his shot that day when new jack swing godfather Teddy Riley didn’t show up for a studio session at Chung King, which proves that 90s R&B is part of the cosmic plan.
Teyana Taylor’s The Cassette Tape 1994 is undisguised nostalgia served in a digestible five songs. She triangulates Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, and Faith Evans on “Your Wish Is My Command,” which drives the point home with purloined Puffy ad-libs; and also on “Who’s Gonna Make It Home,” which reveals Iman Shumpert as a more than serviceable rapper. The melodies lend themselves to clubs and house parties more than arenas, which affords a quaintness missing from modern R&B’s palaces of self-pity. Absent are modern adaptations like hi-hat rolls, and the Migos flow, two of which you can hear on Taylor’s last album. Teyana Taylor purrs at you from across the dancefloor and through the years to remind you of a time when SNL was funny and all the best rappers weren’t dead. 1994 is a Bad Boy classic removed from the glory days (sorry Cassie).
If you want to keep the party going, peep my updated R&B throwback playlist. It may or may not sync perfectly with the OJ Simpson chase.