Sisqo talks Dru Hill's conception and self-titled debut album #ReturnToTheClassics

Signed as a new act to Island Records back in 1996, Dru Hill were a young and talented vocal foursome with ties to gospel music who pretty much became an international success story overnight. Whether it was their authentic, honest musical delivery or their individuality as far as their image went, the boys from Baltimore sure knew how to bring it.

Constantly compared to the bad boys of R&B Jodeci, Dru Hill weren’t the only all male R&B group on their grind at the time. The '90s was a decade that played host to a gang of upcoming male rhythm and blues acts. The likes of Blackstreet, Silk, Shai, Color Me Badd, and Bel Biv Devoe were just some of the groups vying for that top spot.

With a Top 20 Billboard charting hit in the form of "Tell Me," the boys went out of their way to prove they were a refreshing alternate to their stiff competition - and it wasn’t long until the world caught on. Read more

Marcus Sanders revisits Hi-Five's debut album #ReturnToTheClassics

At the end of the 1980s, Jive Records asserted itself as the new home for popular hip-hop recording acts. As a result, they turned their attention to signing fresh R&B talent to their ever growing roster.

During this juncture, there was a transition happening with younger R&B groups where various group members were exploring a solo terrain. This left a void in the contemporary R&B marketplace for a youthful singing group.

The opportunity to capitalize on this void was made available and Jive Records seized the opportunity by signing Hi-Five - who released their self-titled debut album, Hi-Five, in 1990. Read more

Jazzie B revisits Soul II Soul's debut album 'Club Classics Vol. One/Keep On Movin' #ReturnToTheClassics

By the latter half of the 1980s, Soul II Soul had built a monstrous following as a sound system collective in the UK. Starting in 1982, Trevor “Jazzie B” Beresford Romeo, the sound system’s maestro began to develop and implement a plan of success for his musical outfit. After a series of single releases called dub plates in 1988, Club Classics Vol. One/Keep On Movin was released on April 10, 1989 by Virgin Records. Upon its release, the fervor surrounding the album increased exponentially due to the popularity of the lead single, “Fairplay.”

The years spent in formulating an eclectic sound finally paid dividends for the sound system. As a result, music audiences began to gravitate to their groundbreaking sounds en masse. Soul II Soul encompassed a vast array of sounds and voices. Their formula for unparallel success was due to the fact of their constant change within the sound system. During this juncture, there were a plethora of outstanding musical groups dominating the musical landscape, but Soul II Soul was that rare brand of artists that comes along once every generation. Read more

Teddy Riley revisits crafting Guy's debut album #ReturnToTheClassics

By the late 1980s, R&B music was at a crossroads with its aging audience and sound. The genre itself was looking to go into a more youthful direction. Fortunately, help was on the way in the form of a teenage prodigy from Harlem, New York.

Building off of the successes from Johnny Kemp and Keith Sweat in 1987, the newfound New Jack Swing genre was leaving its mark on pop culture audiences. In the same year, the mastermind behind this incredible blending of Hip-Hop and R&B would become part of a group named Guy that would ultimately define themselves as the trailblazing unit that would propel the dominance of New Jack Swing with their debut offering.

Their self titled album, Guy would be released on June 13, 1988 by Uptown Records. Read more

Parliament's 1975 LP Mothership Connection revisited with Bernard Worrell #ReturnToTheClassics

By the mid 1970s, Parliament had become a full fledged funk/R&B ensemble that was taking the world by storm. Starting in 1974, the group began experiencing a series of mainstream successes.

After the releases of Up for the Down Stroke in 1974 and Chocolate City in early 1975, Mothership Connection was released on December 15, 1975 by Casablanca Records. Upon its release, the album was quickly embraced due to the popularity of the lead single, “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up).”

The aforementioned albums provided Parliament the opportunity to expand on its musicianship - and as a result, music audiences began to gravitate to their groundbreaking sounds en masse. Read more

We truly had magic: Karyn White reflects on her debut album #ReturnToTheClassics

As the late 1980s arrived, Warner Brothers Records was expanding its roster of urban talent. Benny Medina was dispatched to helm the grooming and production of new talent. Among his many signees to the new division at the label was the promising voice of a beautiful songstress named Karyn White. She made her introduction known to the masses when her self-titled debut album was released on September 6, 1988.

Coming off a standout career as a session writer and background singer for various artists, White found herself in the position to capitalize on her gifts by signing a record deal with Warner Brothers.

Her breathtaking beauty along with powerhouse vocals proved to be a devastating combination that captured music audiences upon her arrival as a dynamic solo artist. Read more

En Vogue's Funky Divas album revisited with producers Foster & McElroy #ReturnToTheClassics

After selling over one million copies of their debut album, Born to Sing, En Vogue decided to experiment with their sound for their sophomore effort. Released on March 24, 1992 by Eastwest Records, with Funky Divas they delivered an album for the ages.

Upon releasing their follow up, expectations were elevated due to the instant commercial impact they made with their debut. En Vogue returned to the studio determined to broaden their listening audience and produce another high quality album not only for them, but for popular culture.

As a result, their careers landed them in esteemed company. This album would see En Vogue asserting their dominance over their contemporaries in the Pop and R&B genres respectively. Read more

Producer Chucky Thompson recalls crafting Faith Evans' debut album, Faith #ReturnToTheClassics

Coming off a successful string of debut releases from Hip Hop artists Craig Mack and the Notorious BIG, Bad Boy Records released Faith on August 29, 1995. Upon the release of Faith Evans' debut album, she was quickly dubbed as the heir apparent to the throne of the brand new genre Hip Hop/Soul.

During this juncture, there were a plethora of women looking to make their mark on the industry as solo acts and breakthrough. She capitalized on the momentum laid down by her Bad Boy brethren and seized the moment. The young, upstart label was ushering in fresh talent to cultivate in its own image. Evans became the first lady of Bad Boy after being signed by Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs in early 1994. He clearly saw something in the young songstress and his gamble paid off decisively. Her debut offering delivered an unprecedented amount of success to the artist and label alike. Read more

The Isley Brothers' Between the Sheets LP (1983) revisited with Chris Jasper | Return To The Classics

As the 1980s arrived, the Isley Brothers were struggling to find their footing in the world of music. Coming off a highly successful decade in 1970s, where the group experienced an unparallel string of gold and platinum records, they were experimenting with different fusions of sound. Prior to the release of Between the Sheets, their previous two albums, Inside of You and The Real Deal fell far short of the group’s expectations.

Determined to rise back to their dominant status as an R&B force, they returned to the studio with vigor and a grand plan for success. Between the Sheets was released in April 1983 on T-Neck Records. It would place the Isley Brothers back atop the musical landscape.
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Phil Collins' No Jacket Required album revisited with co-writer Daryl Stuermer | Return To The Classics

After a lackluster performance on the recording charts with this second solo effort, Hello, I Must Be Going! Phil Collins went back to the drawing board and created his greatest musical work. No Jacket Required was released on January 25, 1985 by Atlantic Records. Unbeknownst to Collins, he strived to construct a quality album and didn’t intend for the album to become such a worldwide phenomenon.

It would redefine pop music standards for a recording artist and ultimately his legacy. During the spring of 1984, Collins returned to the studio highly inspired and determined to leave his mark in a crowd of ostentatious talent on the pop music charts. Four years into his stint as a solo recording act, Collins achieved the height of superstardom with the triple entendre of real life lyricism, improvisation and exquisite musicianship.
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Craig David's debut LP Born To Do It revisited with producer/writer Mark Hill | Return To The Classics

On August 14 2000, the UK music industry laid witness to an album which would not only find major success at the time, but would also help to shape the future sound of Black British Music as well as Contemporary Pop Music. Craig Ashley David, at the age of 19, released his debut album Born To Do It; a 12 track LP which fully captured the sounds of the then new and thriving Garage scene, as well as providing some mature R&B and soul which created an unforgettable project which many still reference today.
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Dalvin DeGrate recalls making Jodeci's 1991 album Forever My Lady | Return To The Classics

Critically acclaimed as a success by music industry insiders and culture writers of the time period, Forever My Lady was released on May 28, 1991 by Uptown/MCA Records. At the time, the genre of R&B was being dominated by the infusion of Teddy Riley’s New Jack Swing style and it was at a real crossroads from a generation earlier where singers dominated the genre as opposed to the production of the music. The world would be introduced to two sets of brothers who would stake their rightful claim as trendsetters within the genre; Jodeci boasted the production and songwriting talents of the DeGrate brothers, Donald “Devante Swing​” DeGrate and Dalvin “Mr. Dalvin” DeGrate and the stellar vocals of the Hailey Brothers, Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey and Joel “Jo-Jo” Hailey.

Their style was a refreshing reminder of soulful ballads from a bygone era and the highly successful New Jack Swing style of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their vocal talents alongside Devante Swing’s production and songwriting skill set were something to behold given how young they were at the time. Their ages ranged from 17-19, but their music sounded like well-groomed R&B stalwarts. Aesthetically, their style was groundbreaking due to the “bad boy” machismo and bravado they personified on record and stage. A young Sean “Diddy” Combs assisted in crafting the ensemble’s image while Andre Harrell, Dwight “Heavy D” Myers and Al B. Sure! provided musical guidance for this particular album; which was recorded in the Hit Factory Studios in Manhattan, New York between the years of 1990-1991 Forever My Lady.

SoulCulture recently sat down with Dalvin “Mr. Dalvin” DeGrate, group member, musician and co-writer for the album to shed some light on how the album came together.
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Stevie Wonder's Songs In the Key Of Life revisited on its 35th anniversary | Return To The Classics

Eighty five minutes and twenty one seconds of artistic brilliance captured the minds of a generation.
September 28, 2011 marks the 35th anniversary of Songs in the Key of Life being released by Tamla Records, a subsidiary of Motown Records. This album is regarded as one of the most important recordings in the history of music.

The 21-song offering gives an introspective look into the many cycles of life from love found and love lost to hardships borne out of the inner city experience shared by people of color to hope for humankind. Wonder gave the world a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore the mind of an incomparable genius in his prime. And just to think it may have never seen the light of day without Stevie Wonder having a change of heart about his recording career.
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Color Me Badd singer Sam Watters reflects on making debut album C.M.B. | Return To The Classics

C.M.B. was released on July 23, 1991 by Giant Records. With their debut album, Color Me Badd landed on the musical radar in the midst of New Jack Swing's dominance on urban and popular culture. During this juncture, there were an abundance of New Jack Swing artists leaving an indelible imprint on the hearts and minds of youths and adults alike.

For Color Me Badd, the door of opportunity presented itself in the form of the New Jack City movie soundtrack. Color Me Badd seized the opportunity and they were rewarded for their efforts. Due to the overwhelmingly successful record, “I Wanna Sex You Up,” Giant Records signed the group to a record deal and gave them only a month to record their debut album.

Color Me Badd became the first R&B act signed by Cassandra Mills, who was President of the record company's urban division. The group delivered on their promise with their debut offering and they reached an extraordinary level of success worldwide.
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Groove Theory - Groove Theory (1995) | Return To The Classics

Last year rumours that the original line up of one of the '90s finest R&B outfits, Groove Theory were to reunite, tantalised the internet soul fraternity. The collaborative fruits of the impossibly attractive, not to mention talented duo of ex-Mantronix producer Bryce Wilson and bohemian songbird Amel Larrieux had been sorely missed since they first hit the scene in the mid-'90s. Besides the odd live date played in Japan, the official comeback is still to properly materialise. I, for one, wait with bated breath. The original GT might have only one studio album and a handful of soundtrack appearances to their name but it is more than enough to appreciate their singular contribution to the '90s musical landscape.
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Whitney Houston's Whitney LP revisited with producer Narada Michael Walden | Return To The Classics

Whitney was released on June 2, 1987 by Arista Records. After selling over 13 million copies of her self-titled debut album, Whitney Houston once again graced the music masses with her vibrant presence and astounding vocal abilities. This formidable combination led to the creation of an album that would redefine music industry standards for a recording artist and ultimately her legacy.

Houston returned to the studio determined to capitalize on her newfound stardom as a solo recording artist on one of the most prominent music labels in the country. Her show stopping talents were on full display and she more than lived up to the extraordinary expectations placed on her after her groundbreaking debut effort.

This album would see Houston's career ascend to heights unknown by not only a female recording artist, but a Black recording artist. Her popularity among the new MTV generation was at an all-time high and the demand to have more Black recording artists featured on the channel became a priority. With her model physique and soul stirring vocal capabilities, Houston was able to open doors for other Black artists during this time period in the same vein as Michael Jackson.

Under the tutelage of the legendary Clive Davis, her music would evolve into a more pop friendly direction. Following a similar format from her debut album, Davis enlisted the help of legendary producers Narada Michael Walden, Kashif Saleem, Michael Masser and Jellybean Benitez to solidify Houston as the single biggest act in the recording industry. Houston's incomparable vocals were showcased on a stellar mixture of up tempo songs and ballads. As a result, Houston remained a dominant force on the Pop and R&B music charts.

Whitney Houston came from a musical family steeped in the Soul and Gospel musical traditions. Her mother, Cissy Houston was a singer for then well-known Soul group The Sweet Inspirations on Atlantic Records. Cissy Houston was also a much sought after recording session and background vocalist for many high profile artists in the 1960s and 1970s. Whitney Houston's cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick had achieved superstar status in their respective careers. Houston's Godmother Aretha Franklin and her mother were quite instrumental in teaching her the gift of song.

At the tender age of 11, she began singing in her hometown church in New Jersey and by the time she reached high school, Houston was performing background vocals on records for Michael Zager's Band, Chaka Khan, Lou Rawls and Jermaine Jackson. It was during this juncture where she traveled alongside her mother as she would perform in night clubs across the country. At one of these performances, Houston caught the eye of Arista Records A&R executive, Jerry Griffiths. Griffiths told label impresario Clive Davis about this new talent and upon seeing Houston perform, he wanted to sign her to a record deal. As the story goes, Houston signed to Arista Records in 1983, but wouldn't release her solo effort until two years later.

Between the months of September 1986 and February 1987 Whitney was recorded at Tarpan Studios in San Rafael, California and various studios in New York, New York. Two years after releasing her debut, Houston would become one of the greatest recording artists on the planet.

SoulCulture recently sat down with Narada Michael Walden, the producer of seven tracks for the album to share his vision for creating a definitive record.
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