cost $30.00 an hour. Both of us used the same mic. We tried to do most songs in one take.”
But while creative boys were doing their thing, there were many artistic sisters doing it as well. Folksy singer Tracy Chapman sped up the charts with “Fast Car,” a song that inspired countless reggae versions. Meanwhile, an unknown writer named Terry McMillian published an excerpt of her forthcoming novel Disappearing Acts in the pages of Essence.
Across the bridge in Brooklyn, a bamboo-earring wearing young lady calling herself MC Lyte was rapping about her man Sam on “I Cram to Understand U (Sam).” A few months later, when she dropped the hectic and heavy follow-up “Paper Thin”—which blared from the speakers of notorious hip-hop spots the Latin Quarter and Union Square on a regular—it was obvious Lyte was no novelty act.
Though times could be hard and the music could be tough, a sweet Uptown singing soul sister named Jacci McGhee, who sang background on Salt-n-Pepa’s wild track “Expression,” joined forces with balladeer Keith Sweat and producer Teddy Riley. Constructing the slow jam anthem “Make It Last Forever,” the hypnotic ballad helped set-off a new musical movement called new jack swing. Combining the hardness of hip-hop with the smoothness of R&B, new jack swing (a phrase invented by Village Voice writer Barry Michael Cooper) became yet another uptown sound to go worldwide.
Tested and tried on Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid” and Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show,” the sound fully flourished on Bobby Brown’s awesome Don’t Be Cruel album, released in June of ’88. Brown’s stellar second single, “My Prerogative,” soon became the new jack swing anthem.
Two months later, led by hip-hop Renaissance man Fab 5 Freddy, Yo! MTV Raps was launched on the music channel, which further helped with the mainstreaming of hip-hop culture and rap music. “Our first show was a live-remote from the Dope Jam concert at Nassau Coliseum,” Fab recalls. “We featured LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane and Eric B. and Rakim.”
For me, the most sorrowful event of 1988 was on August 12, the day neo-expressionistic painter and downtown B-boy Jean-Michel Basquiat died in his East Village apartment from a heroin overdose. A hero to most who strived to be fresh and different, Basquiat achieved fame as an artist and on the gossip pages. Only 27, the brother was planning to attend a Run-DMC concert the evening of his death.
Without a doubt, the spirit of ’88 was an exhilarating, exciting and sometimes scary time, one that will forever blaze like an eternal flame in my heart and mind.
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.