The soul albums chart kicked off 1994 with Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle clinging to the No.1 slot for a further two weeks into January – making a total of six weeks at the peak for the canine rapper. The following is a reminder of what came afterwards – with the exclusion of any album re-entering the No.1 slot from the previous year. The albums were mainly R&B and hip-hop but also included the odd house/dance album, a jungle compilation and a couple of UK offerings. As always, non-consecutive weeks are listed with an asterisk. These are the number one soul albums of 1994. Roll ‘em.
DIARY OF A MAD BAND | Jodeci | MCA 4 wks
Jodeci first came to prominence in 1991 with their debut album Forever My Lady. Comprising two pairs of brothers (known as K-Ci and JoJo/DeVante Swing and Mr. Dalvin) they made a huge impact on the soul scene in the US and UK with New Jack Swing tracks like Gotta Love, My Phone and their take on The Association’s 1966 smash Cherish. But their forté proved to be superslow slow-jams like Stay, the title-track and I’m Still Waiting. This LP continued the format – the first side containing ballads, the other more uptempo swingtings. Five singles were released from the album – slow-jam burners like What About Us, Cry For You, My Heart Belongs To U and the exquisite Feenin’. Their track included in the movie Who’s The Man was big in the UK NJS clubs – Let’s Go Through The Motions. One of the killer cuts was never released as a single but got played to death in all the discerning clubs and parties – Won’t Waste You (which sampled Dobie Gray’s Drive On, Ride On), an R&B classic featuring an early appearance by Missy Elliot, then known as Misdemeanour. It remains one of their shining moments.
MICHAEL WATFORD | Michael Watford | East West 3 wks
A straight-ahead ‘house’ album which features many of Michael’s hit dance tracks – including Holdin’ On, Luv 4-2, Happy Man, Love To The World and the US smash So Into You, which even crossed over to the UK pop charts. This was Michael’s only album release but remains a great example of its kind.
HARD TO EARN | Gang Starr | Chrysalis 2 wks
DJ Premier and Guru created some of the freshest and most inspiring hip-hop tunes down the years. This album was their fourth and showed them still doing things their own way and shaping the art. It contained one massive single – the incredible DWYCK, which also featured guest rappers Nice & Smooth. However, other singles were also tip-top – including the brilliant Code Of The Streets, the edgy Mass Appeal and Suckas Need Bodyguards. The latter 12” had a B-side not included on the album which has since become a Gang Starr classic – the Bob James-sampling The ? Remainz. Speak Ya Clout is another fine cut on the album and featured blistering guest performances by Jeru The Damaja and Lil’ Dap. The combination of Guru’s distinctive lyrical style and Premier’s amazing beats practically guarantees a grand groove. The album remains of the duo’s greatest.
PRONOUNCED JAH-NAY | Zhané | Motown 1 wk
Zhané’s debut song Hey Mr. DJ (sampling the rare groove classic Looking Up To You by Michael Wycoff) announced a true new talent – first appearing on the compilation album Roll Wit The Flava. After being issued as a single on the Flavor Unit label (then under the name Jhane) the song was a success and picked up by Motown who signed the duo – who were friends Jean Norris and Renee Neufville. Their first album not only included their party-classic smash but also the hits Sending My Love, Groove Thang and the George Benson-sampling Vibe. The LP sold massively and within two years had attained Platinum status. It’s one of the most satisfying debut albums of the Nineties.
ABOVE THE RIM [OST] | Various artists | Death Row/Interscope 6 wks*
This album is the original soundtrack album to the Jeff Pollack basketball movie which featured Tupac Shakur and Marlon Wayans. It contains a mixture of vocal and hip-hop tracks – some hits but mostly not. But the biggies attracted big sales – the best of which are SWV’s Anything, Sweet Sable’s Old Times Sake, The Lady Of Rage’s hip-hop monster Afro Puffs, Nate Dogg & Warren G’s Regulate (which memorably samples Michael McDonald’s I Keep Forgettin’ and also had the distinction of reaching No.1 in the Echoes chart) and Thug Life feat. 2Pac’s Pour Out A Little Liquor. Topping the charts for six weeks during April and May of 1994, it stands out as one of the more popular soundtrack albums of the era.
BROTHER SISTER | Brand New Heavies | Delicious Vinyl 2 wks
I first became aware of the Brand New Heavies with the release of their third single for Acid Jazz in 1990 – the sublime Dream Come True. The original mix of that tune was something special. This album followed on from ‘92’s experimental album with hip-hop artists called Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol.1 (Vol.2 never materalized). Lead vocalist N’Dea Davenport’s vocals add the stylish selection of songs some soulful vibrancy. Dream On Dreamer and a version of Maria Muldaur’s 1974 smash Midnight At The Oasis were the hits – but the album does not match up to ‘91’s rerecording of their debut album and the hits Stay This Way and Never Stop.
ILLMATIC | Nas | Columbia 2 wks
Nasir Jones first came to my attention as a guest on the Main Source 12” Live At The Barbeque in 1991. Then came his debut single Halftime (using the name Nasty Nas). This debut album is a signifcant landmark in hip-hop history, firmly establishing the extremely literate Nas as a pioneer and a potent force in musical culture. He was only 19 years old when this LP was recorded but his style, his incredible lyrical virtuosity and his all-out commandeering of a microphone was already fully formed. Working with a whole mess of the best hip-hop producers, Nas created classics with the singles Life’s A Bitch (featuring AZ and sampling The Gap Band’s Yearning For Your Love), the Q-Tip-produced One Love, The World Is Yours (Pete Rock on the buttons) and It Ain’t Hard To Tell (Large Professor on the case). Album tracks N.Y. State Of Mind, Memory Lane, Represent and all the rest are all killers no fillers. For once, the hype is deserved. It truly is one of the hip-hop giant LPs of all time.
AGE AIN’T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER | Aaliyah | Jive 1 wk
Back & Forth was a major New Jack Swing tune and topped the US R&B charts. It was also the first of five singles extracted from this album to reach the British pop charts. (At Your Best) You Are Love (a version of The Isley Brothers), Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, Down With The Clique and The Thing I Like were not as big but all made the UK Top 40, a considerable achievement. She was the protégé of R. Kelly who produced the album and wrote many of the songs. Of course, the young singer tragically perished in an aeroplane along with members of her staff in an aeroplane crash in 2001. My favourite track of hers is the contribution she made to Junior MAFIA’s seminal hip-hop tune I Need You Tonight when she recreated Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s I Wonder If I Take You Home.
NINETY DEGREES AND RISING | Wayne Marshall | Soul Town 2 wks
G Spot (Ooh Aah) reached No.1 in the Echoes streetsales chart for two weeks in October 1994. It was a sex-drenched erotic paean to that elusive orgasmic region and in its original incarnation caused sweaty rub-up action on the dancefloors in the UK. Written and performed by British soul singer Wayne Marshall, the tune went ballistic with countless remixes – the best of which were the jungle incarnation and the Rare Groove Remix which sampled Brenda Russell’s A Little Bit Of Love. Wayne’s album continued the carnal theme and included his debut single Goodie Goody alongside songs that speak for themselves – Sexual Thing (Doggy Remix), Kinky Sex, Shake It, Touch N Kiss You…get the picture? It was something a little different to what other singers were doing at the time – the upfront nature of the material was sleazy and supercharged. After the success of this album, Wayne became even more explicit on the follow-up in 1995 – Censored! But at the end of the day, that first hit is the stand-out cut and remains his greatest contribution to UK soul music.
BLACKSTREET | Blackstreet | Interscope 8 wks*
The first of four studio albums, this debut set by Teddy Riley’s post-Guy group is chocka full of classics. Baby Be Mine – originally featured in the CB4 movie – was the group’s first single and was an immediate smash. Spread over four vinyl sides the LP includes the original licks of singles such as New Jack Swing classics U Blow My Mind, Booti Call and I Like The Way You Work, in addition to the hardcore ballad material like the masterpiece Joy (co-written by Michael Jackson), the sultry Tonight’s The Night and the exceptional Before I Let You Go. The 12”s included some very strong remixes – the New Carnegie Mix of Joy being particularly sensational. Although Joseph Stonestreet sang on their first single, he was replaced by Dave Hollister for the album – the other singers being Levi Little , Chauncey Black and TR. Interpolating samples, breaks and reworkings of some great soul classics (including Isaac Hayes’ A Few More Kisses To Go, Zapp’s Computer Love, T.S. Monk’s Bon Bon Vie, Earth Wind & Fire’s Brazilian Rhyme and The Gap Band’s Outstanding) the collection has an obvious respect for soul music’s past and is not simply a plundering of its treasures. Strong harmonies and lead vocals are evident throughout – the stand-outs being the ballads, which apart from the aforementioned singles also include a great version of Stevie Wonder’s Love’s In Need Of Love Today, the beautiful connoisseurs cut Falling In Love Again and the slow-jam Happy Home. The album topped the Echoes album charts for the longest amount of weeks in 1994, eight in total. Worldwide, it became a multi-platinum hit selling millions of copies. For me, the greatest album of the Nineties. And that’s saying something. Teddy Riley – gotta be a leader.
GET UP ON IT | Keith Sweat | Elektra 2 wks*
Keith Sweat first impressed with his 1987 debut Make It Last Forever (another Echoes chart-topper) – a groundbreaking album which helped launch the whole New Jack Swing/hip-hop soul phenomenon. By this album – his fourth – Keih was a dab hand at combining NJS rollers with his characteristic slow jams. How Do You Like It? was the stand-out swing track and still gets dropped to this day. The only other big single on the album was his duet with female vocal group Kut Klose – Get Up On It. The album’s success was more reliant on his reputation than for anything new or refreshing.
JUNGLE HITS VOL. 1 | Various artists | Jet Star 5 wks*
Jungle evolved out of the breakbeat scene and included elements of dancehall, ragga, rare groove and featured a musical landscape of vocal samples, synthesized effects, booming bass lines, sped-up/ slowed-down drumloops and vocals, film soundbytes and heavily percussive breaks. Kicking off in the early 90s, the style reached the height of its popularity in ’94 – this album assembled some of the year’s biggest hits and hottest tracks. These include Potential Bad Boy’s Have No Fear (sampling R. Kelly’s Sex Me); Remarc & Lewi Cifer’s deep and dark Ricky (with its dialogue from Boyz ‘N The Hood); Lloydie Crucial’s amazing reinterpretation of Intro’s Ribbon In The Sky; Maximum Style’s Lover To Lover (sampling Maxi Anderson’s rare groove classic of the same name); the Philly Blunt classic Burial (sampling Foxy’s Mademoiselle) by Leviticus; and the M-Beat smashes Sweet Love and Incredible. UK Apachi and Shy FX’s tune Original Nuttah (originally released on an SOUR 12”) remains an old-skool anthem that still ignites dancefloors to this day. What I particularly loved about jungle was the wildness of it – the samples, the reggae influences, the Amen breaks, the distorted production techniques, the randomness of it. I absolutely loved it. Jet Star released a few more follow-up comps. but this one remains the best. This is an LP that really caught everyone’s imagination.
CHANGING FACES | Changing Faces | Big Beat 1 wk
Originally backing vocalists for Sybil, Cassandra Lucas and Charisse Rose were another of R. Kelly’s protégés. The singles Stroke You Up and Foolin’ Around were both slow-jams which took off – the former especially. It was certainly the success of the duo’s singles which led to the popularity of this album. But it’s nothing really special.
THE SESSIONS Vol.3 | Various Artists | Sound Of Ministry 1 wk
This album was another in a series issued by the Ministry Of Sound which had previously featured mixes by Tony Humphries and Paul Oakenfold. This set was conceived by production duo Clivilles And Cole and featured remixed house tracks by the likes of X-Press 2, Dajae, D-Mob and Jodeci. Club mixes were a pretty new phenomenon at the time but now sound pretty pedestrian.
BACK 2 DA HOWSE | Lo-Key? | Perspective 1 wk
The weirdly named Lo-Key? first made an impact on the UK soul scene with their debut album for Perspective in 1992 called Where Dey At. It featured a mix of New Jack Swing cuts and supafly slow-jams – the best of which were the ravers classic I Got A Thang 4 Ya and the magnificent Sweet On U. This set was even better and included more than enough classics – including Tasty, Good Ole Fashioned Love, 26C and the all-out killer Turn Around. Li’l Shumpin Shumpin’ kept the New Jack fans happy too. The LP was issued exlusively in the UK across four sides of vinyl in a double set. Essential stuff.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL | Men At Large | East West 2 wks
Men At Large had hit paydirt in ’92 with two New Jack Swing classics – the similarly titled You Me and Use Me. Their eponymous first album mixed those uptempo numbers with the usual slow jams. This follow-up was more of the same – the better tracks being the slow-jams and mid-tempo numbers like I’m In A Freaky Mood, Holiday, First Day and Will You Marry Me? Their final album followed some five years later.
THE MAIN INGREDIENT | Pete Rock & CL Smooth | Elektra 1 wk
Pete Rock is one of the most hallowed producers in hip-hop. Providing beats for rapper CL Smooth, as a duo the two created some of the most amazing hip-hop records of all time. Their Mecca And The Soul Brother album in 1992 was a perfect platform for showcasing their melodic jazz ‘n’ funk influenced tracks. This follow-up album proved to be their only other album – and although not containing quite as many choice cuts, still had its fair share of brilliant moments. These include the big hit Take You There (sampling Kenu Burke’s ’82 classic Risin’ To The Top), Escape (using a vocal refrain from Ramsay Lewis’ Sun Goddess) and I Got A Love which used The Ambassador’s 1969 rare groove tune Ain’t Got The Love. The pair separated in 1995. Pete Rock continued to produce some amazing hits for other acts whilst CL Smooth seemed to fade away. They did reunite later for the odd track and rumour now has it that they have officially reformed to make a new album. If it hits the kinda spot that The Main Ingredient did, I can’t wait.
A LOVE SUPREME | Chanté Moore | MCA 2 wks
Old School Lovin’ was the big single on this, Chanté’s second album. However, other hits included the ballad I’m What You Need (released the following year) and her pretty medley of Deniece Williams’ Free and The Commodores’ Sail On. Also included was her cover of Alicia Meyer’s classic I Want To Thank You.
MY LIFE | Mary J. Blige | MCA 6 wks
Like Ms. Moore, this was Mary’s second album and the follow-up to her huge debut What’s The 411? It did seem rather like – how could she possibly follow that? But follow it she did, with what I consider to be her most accomplished album. And I’m not alone in thinking that. As was popular at the time, it sampled a whole heap of classic soul tracks with fresh beats and new arrangements. The result was pure gold – the LP spawned a truckload of hits and killer cuts including All Night Long (sampling Teddy Pendergrass’ Close The Door), You Bring Me Joy (using Barry White’s It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me), her versions of Rose Royce’s I’m Goin’ Down and Aretha Franklin’s You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman, Be Happy (sampling Curtis Mayfield) and the Al Green-sampling No One Else. It’s an album you can listen to all the way through, no messin’. Just great. Mary’s most magnificent LP. No doubt.
Stand-outs for me are Blackstreet, Mary J. and the jungle comp. Any favourites of yours?