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Last year, I joined Popdose‘s Jeff Giles and Robert Cass for a column called “‘Face Time,” in which we discussed essential (and some non-essential) cuts in the catalog of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of the ’80s and ’90s. ‘Face and his partner Antonio “L.A.” Reid were one of the big 3 production teams that ruled pop and R&B during that era. There was also Teddy Riley and his New Jack Swing camp, and perhaps most notably, Minneapolis’s James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis. The former members of Prince offshoot band The Time turned out to be legends in their own right, composing and producing hits for a who’s-who of the music industry and proving to be as (if not more) influential than their purple-clad benefactor.

So in 2014, Jeff and I (along two new team members, fellow Popdose editor/Popblerd podcast co-host Michael Parr, along with badass co-conspirator Dr. Z) are back to talk all things Flyte Tyme.

Prepare to be rubbed.

Johnny GillRub You The Right Way” (from Johnny Gill, 1990)

Written & Produced By Jam & Lewis

Dr. Z: A classic new jack anthem. Jam and Lewis were still pulling on a bit of that Rhythm Nation era sound here, although this a bit more forceful (in a way that suits the track very well). It’s no surprise that this was Gill’s highest charting single on the pop charts. It’s funky, dirty, and perfectly captures the cultural moment in music.

MJ: Hmmm. Interesting that you draw a parallel to Rhythm Nation here. I don’t necessarily hear it.

Z: Not the track specifically, but the overall production aesthetic. Make no mistake, “Rub” has a much harder edge to it. They aren’t copies by any means, but I can hear stylistic similarities, mostly in the rhythm track.

Michael Parr: See, I’m going to argue that. Rhythm Nation–the record, not just the song–had a much more syncopated feel to the rhythms, and “Rub” swings like a Jeff’s Mom in the ’80s. It’s funny, though, when I think New Jack Swing, Jam and Lewis rarely come to mind; yet they are responsible for one of the biggest tunes in the genre.

MJ: Much of Rhythm Nation sounds more…industrial, I guess?

Z: It’s funny that you use the term ‘industrial,’ because that’s how I’d describe it too, despite the very obvious differences between RN and the genre of industrial music.

But I digress – we’re talking about Johnny Gill here, not Janet! Look at what I’ve done!

JG RubJeff Giles: I hear what Z is saying here — there are a number of surface similarities in these rhythm tracks, with the clanking and the teakettle scream that you heard everywhere at the time. But Rhythm Nation wants to be a manifesto, and it marches like one, while Johnny just wanted panties thrown at him, Pendergrass-style.

The shit works! I love this song. And I love that he followed it up with an L.A./’Face slow jam boasting a perfectly timed assist from Kenny G. After that one-two punch, Gill seemed like he could (and would) do it all.
Z: Like our discussion of “Tender Love,” “Rub You the Right Way” is a reminder that Jam & Lewis aren’t just one trick ponies. When we think New Jack Swing, we think Teddy Riley. Granted, he’s the king – but he was far from the only producer working in that mold. Here, Jam & Lewis take the model outlined by Riley, and give it some Flyte Time tweaking to make it their own. The duo may not be synonymous with New Jack Swing, but “Rub You the Right Way” sure is, and in that’s probably more important.
MJ: Being rubbed the right way, from Johnny, sounds MUCH more like a command than a suggestion.
Z: That’s going to leave an abrasion, methinks.
JG (not Johnny Gill): Not if you do it the right way.
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