(go there for more freestyle info) graciously offered to let Hyperreal
permanently host a copy of this chronicle of the development of
freestyle music. Freestyle is an electronic music genre that is often
overlooked because of its mainstream popularity and focus on melodic
vocals. It was very popular on U.S. radio
and in mainstream dance clubs in the mid-to-late 1980s, and was often
just 'Latin', or sometimes 'Electro Freestyle'.
Like any genre, it has
its share of both formulaic crap and edgy cult classics. It is presented
because freestyle is an important part of the history of electronic
dance music, and it is, musically, a pretty easily identifiable genre.
Also, like much dance
music in the 1980s, its lineage is traceable to the electro-funk classic
'Planet Rock', arguably one of the most important recordings in the
history of electronic music.
('Heartthrob Mix' of one of the tracks mentioned in the article)
(do not link to this. just listen.)
The History of Freestyle Music
Written by Joey Gardner
What is Freestyle? In order to answer that question you'd have to go
back as far as the death of Disco back in the early 80's. Disco was Pop
music in the late 70's and one of the biggest radio stations in the
country was Disco 92 (WKTU-FM) in New York. Disco 92's core audience was
made up primarily of Hispanics and Italian Americans. When Disco
faltered in the early 80's, so did WKTU's ratings. In a move to bolster
their sagging ratings, WKTU changed their format (and eventually their
call letters) to a more mainstream pop format and eventually to rock.
Another station cross-town, WXLO (99X) also was changing its format. By
1981, 99X changed to 98.7 KISS-FM, an urban station hoping to chip away
at WBLS' stronghold on New York's African American audience. In 1983,
WHTZ (Z100) went on the air to take on WPLJ for the mainstream,
primarily white audience abandoned by WKTU. Through all these format
changes, one demographic - the huge Hispanic audience in New York went -
overlooked. Most Latins opted for KISS-FM and WBLS, who did play the
occasional club record, but other Latins found an alternative to hear
new music. They went underground.
In 1982, when Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force released "Planet
Rock," a new sound was born. Some called it "hip-hop be-bop" or
breakdancing music. While most of the neighborhood clubs were steadily
closing their doors for good, some Manhattan clubs were suddenly
thriving. Places like the Roxy, the Funhouse, Broadway 96, Gothams West,
and Roseland who played this new sound were packed. Records like "Play
At Your Own Risk" by Planet Patrol, "One More Shot" by C-Bank, "Numbers"
by Kraftwerk, "Al-Naafiyish (The Soul)" by Hashim and "I.O.U." by
Freeze became huge hits in New York. Some producers wisely copied the
sound and made songs that were more melodic. Records like "I Remember
What You Like" by Jenny Burton, and "Let The Music Play" and "Give Me
Tonight" by Shannon were all over New York radio. Many of these
performers performed at the Funhouse and Roseland to packed dance
floors. The people packing these dance floors were young Latins, mainly
Puerto Rican. The D.J.'s who played the music, (i e. Jellybean, Tony
Torres, Raul Soto. Roman Ricardo, etc.) were also Hispanic. However,
those on stage performing these songs were not, neither were most of the
producers making the music.
There were exceptions. In 1984, Nayobe released her first single "Please
Don't Go." Nayobe, a Cuban American who was sixteen years old when she
recorded the song, was the discovery of Andy Panda who co-produced and
co-wrote the song "Please Don't Go" became an instant club classic and
served as a bridge between the Shannonesque records that were flooding
the market and the sound that developed the following year - Latin
Hip-Hop. This was also true of Jellybean's remake of the classic "The
Mexican." The single that many consider the first true Latin Hip-Hop
record was Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam's "I Wonder If I Take You Home." The
song was originally signed to Personal Records in New York and not
released in the U.S. It was licensed to CBS Records in England and
became a big club record on import. The response the record received
from the Latin Hip-Hop clubs led Columbia Records to pick up the single
for U S release where it became an anthem for teen-age girls. The song
reached #34 on the Pop charts in August of 1985 and Lisa Lisa became a
role model for young Hispanics all over her hometown of New York.
It was also 1985 when I discovered three young Puerto Rican teens named
Tony, Kayel and Aby - TKA. Kayel came to Tommy Boy Records, where I
worked at the time, with rap demos, but I turned them all down. When he
told me he could also sing, I agreed to go to a performance at a sweet
sixteen party in the basement of a church in East Harlem. It was there I
first heard "Scars of Love," a song Kayel wrote that they would perform
over the instrumentals of the biggest rap tracks of the moment. When I
saw the reaction of the largely Latin crowd of kids, I knew I had to do
something to get them signed. It was at this party that I also met the
Latin Rascals - Tony Moran and Albert Cabrera, whose names I knew from
their editing work on Arthur Baker and John Robie productions and their
D.J. work on WKTU and KISS-FM. We went into the studio and recorded a
rough version of "Scars Of Love." By summer of that year TKA had begun
to build a following in New York performing the song for free wherever
someone would let them, such as radio station events and benefit
concerts. Word of mouth finally reached Tommy Boy Records who decided to
sign the group. Although we had recorded a rough version of "Scars Of
Love," we felt it needed reworking and decided to record a new song to
be TKA's first single.
At the same time, Andy Panda was working on a new girl group he
envisioned as being a Latin version of the Supremes. The group was the
Cover Girls. He and the Latin Rascals produced a demo for the group and
began working on a stage show for the girls. Andy and I were Iooking for
the same thing; a group that Hispanics could look up to and feel
On August 2, 1985, a club called the Devil's Nest opened its doors on
the corner of Webster and Tremont Avenues in the Bronx. The club was
originally intended to be a salsa club but the turnout was very light
and the club owner, Sal Abbatiello, knew he had to think fast to keep
the club alive. After a visit to a Manhattan club called Inferno which
was packing in a large Latin teen crowd, he decided he should try to
make Inferno's formula work in the Bronx. In order to succeed, he needed
the right D J., the most popular new D J. on the street, to draw the
crowd to the Devil's Nest. He heard about a young Puerto Rican D.J. who
didn't play in clubs because he was too young, but when he played at
local street jams, crowds followed him. The D.J. was Little Louie Vega.
Two weeks later the Devil's Nest booked Expose, hired Little Louie, and
Sal crossed his fingers. Luck he didn't need. The combination of Little
Louie's following and the popularity of Exposé's hits "Point Of No
Return" and "Exposed To Love" paid off. The club was packed and stayed
packed week after week.
Little Louie started playing "Show Me" by the Cover Girls and "One Way
Love" by TKA on demo reels. They soon became Louie's biggest records
even before they were officially released. On March 1, 1986, one week
after the release of "One Way Love," TKA performed at the Devil's Nest.
The club was packed with kids waiting to see who sang the record that
they had heard in the club for weeks. When TKA walked on stage, the
crowd went crazy. In all honesty, the show was rough around the edges,
but the crowd loved them. They were happy to see one of their own on
stage. TKA wound up repeating their entire show twice that night.
The same response greeted the Cover Girls at their first performance at
the Devil's Nest. Dressed in sequined gowns, Caroline Jackson, Sunshine
Wright and then lead singer Angel Sabater nervously took to the stage to
perform "Show Me" for the first time. By the first few notes of the
intro to the song, the crowd was screaming and pushing to the stage to
get a closer look at the Cover Girls. By the song's end, the whole
audience was singing the chorus and the Cover Girls, no longer nervous,
exuded the confidence of twenty-year veterans of the business. To the
Devil's Nest, they were the Supremes - their Supremes. Although
Freestyle was not conceived at the Devil's Nest, this is where it was
By the spring of 1986, Freestyle was exploding in New York clubs. New
York radio however, was not impressed. Nor were radio stations around
the country. With the exception of HOT 105 in Miami, and Power 106 in
Los Angeles, who made the first singles by TKA, Nayobe, and Expose #1
hits in South Florida and Southern California respectively, radio
station program directors ignored Freestyle.
Power 106 (KPWR) and Hot 105 (WQHT) were pioneers of a new type of
station that were starting up in early 1986 - crossover radio. These
were CHR stations that leaned heavily toward Dance music. The target
audience for Power 106 and Hot 105 was the large English-speaking Latin
population of these two cities. The success of those stations brought
attention to the large hole left in New York radio when WKTU signed off
the air three years earlier. On August 13, 1986, WAPW, a fledgling CHR
station in New York, changed its call letters to WQHT and switched its
format to that of its sister station in L.A. (Power 106). WQHT (Hot 103)
began playing much of the hits by TKA, Sweet Sensation, and Expose in
the same rotation as Pop superstars like Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Freestyle tracks like TKA's "One Way Love" and Sweet Sensation's "Hooked
On You" received new life and the success of these tracks as well as
the just- released "Show Me" by the Cover Girls helped get them added to
stations around the country. Freestyle was now getting national
Despite the renewed interest in the older Freestyle tracks, these
artists were already releasing their follow-up singles. In the fall of
1986, Sweet Sensation released "Victim of Love" and TKA released "Come
Get My Love," a raw, more club-oriented and less pop sounding record
than "One Way Love." It set the tone for a new crop of Freestyle records
produced by Mickey Garcia and Elvin Molina that were released in late
1986 and early 1987, including "I Won't Stop Loving You" by C-Bank and
Judy Torres' follow-up single "Come Into My Arms." Both of these tracks
became huge hits in a new club called Heartthrob, which opened up in the
old building that had housed the Funhouse. The owners of Heartthrob
were able to convince Little Louie' Vega to leave the Devil's Nest to
play at the new club. At around the same time a new club, 1018, opened a
half a mile away and directly competed with Heartthrob, often
outbidding each other for the exclusive performances of Freestyle
artists. The demand for Freestyle was so great that both clubs prospered
and the artists wound up performing at both clubs, often on the same
In early 1987, Sa-Fire also released her follow-up single, "Let Me Be
The One." Like "Come Get My Love," this song was a departure from the
sound of her first single. It proved to be a welcome one as the song
outperformed its predecessor in chart performance and sales.
The Cover Girls second single "Spring Love," again a departure for them,
didn't fare as well. They were, however, able to bounce back in a major
way with their third single. "Because Of You." The song, produced by
Louie Vega and Robert Clivilles and written by David Cole before the
latter two went on to become mega-producers with C&C Music Factory,
became perhaps the favorite Cover Girl song of all. It reached #24 on
the Pop charts and top 10 on the Dance charts in the spring of 1987 and
propelled their debut album to nearly gold status.
"Like A Child" was the second single from Noel. "Silent Morning" was a
tough act to follow, and although it did not match the success of
"Silent Morning," it set the pace for his successful self-titled debut
album. Joyce Simms, although not Hispanic, was enjoying the distinction
of having the first Freestyle record to cross over into the R&B
market with the classic "(You Are My) All and All." It was also one of
the first Freestyle records to crack the European market.Although
Freestyle was still in its early stages, it was fast becoming dance
music for the 80s.
By the summer of 1987, WQHT (Hot 103) was on top of the ratings in New
York, and it was their heavy emphasis on Dance music, especially
Freestyle, that got them there. The success of Hot 103 broke down the
walls for Freestyle at the mainstream station WHTZ (Z-100) in New York,
which was one of the most influential Top 40 stations in the country at
the time. When Z-100 started playing the biggest Freestyle hits
happening on Hot 103, other mainstream stations around the country
followed. Power 96 in Miami, whose playlist was loaded with the latest
Freestyle tracks, rose to the top of the ratings in Miami, as did Power
106 in Los Angeles, following the same formula.
Soon after, another city - Chicago - came on board. Through the exposure
of club D.J.'s and a college station called WCRX at Columbia College,
Freestyle began making noise in the Windy City. Clubs like the Riviera
and venues like the Navy Pier Ballroom began throwing Freestyle jams
with performances by Sa-Fire, TKA, and the Cover Girls.
In June of 1987, TKA released their third straight hit single, "Scars Of
Love," the title track from their first album. The album would go on to
become a Freestyle classic, spawning six hit singles. The fourth
single, "Tears May Fall," was played as an instrumental on a bootleg
tape in clubs for over a year before it was released in November 1987.
This streak of hit singles earned them their title "Kings of Freestyle."
The fight for the title of "Queens of Freestyle" was more competitive.
The Cover Girls' third single was the ballad "Promise Me," another hit
for them. "Inside Outside," their fourth and final single from the
hugely successful "Show Me" album brought them back to the clubs in a
big way and continued their hit streak. But the abundance of female
artists in Freestyle as well as the fact that the Cover Girls would be
taking time off to record their second album, left the door wide open
for someone to step in and swipe their title.
India, whose real name is Linda Bell Caballero, made brief appearances
with TKA in their early shows. Although she never sang on any of their
singles, she did record a version of "Dancing on the Fire" with TKA and
performed it at a few of their shows. When India decided to record on
her own, she took the idea to remake Jellybean's "Dancing on the Fire"
with her. Jellybean, reproduced the track (without TKA) and released it
as her first single.
Nayobe, along with India, was one of the most gifted female vocalists in
Freestyle. She proved this with her slamming performance on her fourth
single, "Second Chance for Love."
Corina began her successful career in Freestyle with the song "Out of
Control," which was also the first hit to producer Carlos Berrios. Tina
B., then the wife of producer Arthur Baker, returned to the music scene
with "January February." Tina had a big hit a couple of years earlier
with "Honey to a Bee," an electro-hip-hop classic.
Debbie Harry, formerly of the 70's and 80's new wave band Blondie, who
is probably as far from a Freestyle artist as you can get, came up with
one of the biggest cult-classic Freestyle records ever with "In Love
With Love," thanks to the additional production and remix by two also
unlikely Freestylers, Justin Strauss and Murray Elias. They took an
otherwise tired pop dance record and turned it into a moody yet slammin'
Freestyle club jam.
Another big Freestyle club record that came from an unlikely source was
"Arabian Nights" by the Latin Rascals. The track was taken from the
"Bach to the Future" album, an album of classical pieces set to dance
music. The song was originally an instrumental, but when the track
received extensive club play, the Latin Rascals re-recorded the song
with vocals and released it, making it the first song recorded by the
Latin Rascals as artists. They had already made a name for themselves as
one of the busiest producers and remixing teams in Freestyle, producing
cuts for the Cover Girls, Sa-Fire and TKA among others.
This period in Freestyle saw many artists developing their own style and
sound, although most of the hits were being produced and performed by
the same handful of people who originated the sound of Freestyle. The
floodgates, however, would open in the coming year, as many artists and
labels jumped on the Freestyle bandwagon.
In late 1987 and early 1988, major labels jumped on the Freestyle
bandwagon. Virtually any Freestyle record that received airplay on Power
96 in Miami, or on Hot 103 in New York was picked up by a major label.
Sa-Fire signed to Mercury. India to Reprise, Sweet Sensation and Corina
to Atco, Cover Girls to Capitol, and TKA's next album, although on Tommy
Boy, was distributed through Warner Bros.
Meanwhile in South Florida, the "Miami sound" was also garnering
attention from major labels. Company B, Stevie B, Linear, Will to Power,
and Exposé's later hits defined this form. Many labels confused New
York Freestyle and Miami Freestyle, thinking they had the same audience.
They thought their promotional strategy would work for both genres,
which resulted in skipping the all too important step of cultivating a
record at the street and club level before going to radio. This often
led to poor results for the New York-based Freestyle. New York
Freestyle, even in its most polished forms, retained a raw edge and
underground sound, using minor chords that made the tracks darker and
more moody. The lyrics also tended to be about unrequited love or other
more somber themes, dealing with the reality of what inner city teens
were experiencing emotionally.
Miami records on the other hand, tended to be more optimistic, using
major chords similar to those used in early disco giving them a more
upbeat sound. This is probably why the Miami records fared better at
mainstream Pop radio than New York Freestyle. Some Miami artists like
Stevie B, after doing their first shows in the New York market, saw the
difference and began using the Miami sound combined with New York
Freestyle, often with successful results.
Also in early 1988, Louie Vega moved to yet another new club. The old
Studio 54, the most famous club of the Disco era, reopened as the new
main club for Freestyle. Roman Ricardo, meanwhile, continued to D.J. at
1018 while Baby J was the D.J. at Roseland. All three clubs remained
packed. Other D.J.'s in New York who were instrumental in breaking
Freestyle at this time were Juan Kato at L'Amour East, Scott Blackwell
at 4-D, and Gungie Rivera at La Mirage and Chez Sensual. These D.J.'s
were important because whatever Freestyle records became big for them,
were usually the next Freestyle records that would make it to Pop radio
across the country. However, this was not always the case. Two records
stand out as songs that were huge hits in clubs, and favorites of true
Freestyle fans, but were somehow overlooked by radio. These were "Don't
Take Your Love Away" by Lydia Lee Love and 'You'll Never Find Another
Love" by & More.
"Mirage" by Jellybean featuring India was Jellybean's return to his
roots as a D.J. at the Funhouse. After two Pop offerings from his 'Just
Visiting the Planet' album, Jellybean wanted to tap into the fans he had
made with "The Mexican." "Mirage" is a totally re-recorded song with
India on vocals, and was the B-side to the 12" of "Just a Mirage."
Sa-Fire followed two previous hit singles with "Boy I've Been Told," her
first outing for Mercury Records and her first big Pop hit. Sweet
Sensation released "Never Let You Go," their biggest club hit. Judy
Torres returned to her trademark sound after the disappointing response
to her previous single - the Pop radio-minded 'Love Story." The
comeback, "Love You Will You Love Me" was exactly what the fans wanted
and put her back into the spotlight. TKA made it six in a row with
"Don't Be Afraid" the final single from the "Scars of Love" album. The
track had been played in clubs for months as an album cut, and Tommy Boy
had intended to only release it promotionally to clubs. However due to
the club response, a few radio stations picked it up and Tommy Boy
eventually released it on 12' commercially.
In the spring of 1988 Cynthia, from East Harlem in New York City,
released her first hit single, "Change On Me." It would be the first of
many hit singles she would release that would make her one of the
biggest selling solo female singers in Freestyle and one of Freestyle's
most popular female performing artists.
By 1989, Freestyle was at its peak. That year saw many established
Freestyle acts releasing new quality releases as well as many promising
new artists releasing their first singles. One of the best of the new
crop of artists was George Lamond. Born in Washington, D.C. and raised
in the Bronx, George's first love was graphic arts but after numerous
amateur performances at local talent shows and hanging out in the
Freestyle clubs around New York, George knew he wanted to be a singer.
His first single, "Bad Of The Heart," was originally released on the
independent label Ligosa Records, with the artist credited as Loose
Touch, of which George Lamond was the lead singer. The song did well in
its first release but Ligosa, being a small independent label, lacked
the resources to give the record the exposure it deserved. The owners of
the label, Mark Liggett and Chris Barbosa, who were also the producers
of the song, decided to shop George to a major label. Columbia Records
signed George and released "Without You," his second single. Columbia
Records then re-released "Bad Of The Heart," now with the artist
credited as simply George Lamond and the song became a smash reaching
the Top 30 on the Pop charts. George became an instant favorite among
Freestyle fans with his powerful voice and energetic performances.
Another artist who made another impressive debut was Coro with "Where
Are You Tonight." Coro, who had spent the previous few years in the
Stevie B. camp in Florida, relocated to New York and signed to Cutting
Records. Despite the amount of time he spent in Miami, the influence on
his music was definitely New York. The success of "Where Are You
Tonight" prompted yet another major label, Virgin, to pick up its first
Freestyle artist from an independent label.
Freestyle favorites Sa-Fire, TKA, The Cover Girls, Sweet Sensation and
Cynthia continued their hit streaks in the summer of '89. "Love Is On
Her Mind" (The Latin Rascal Remix) was Sa-Fire's follow-up to the Top 20
smash "Thinking Of You," her first ballad. Sadly, her record company,
Mercury, decided not to work the song at radio, but many of the stations
that supported her previous songs made the record a moderate hit for
her. "You Are The One" by TKA was from the motion picture "Lean On Me."
The soundtrack, which was released by Warner Bros., never took off, nor
did the movie. However, a few key stations discovered the song months
later and Tommy Boy released it on 12". It eventually became one of
TKA's biggest Pop hits up to that time, and also appeared on their
second album, "Louder Than Love."
"Take It While It's Hot' was the title track to Sweet Sensation's highly
successful debut album. Of the eight cuts on the album, five were
released as singles. The Covers Girls' second album marked their debut
on Capitol Records. Their first single for their new label, "My Heart
Skips A Beat," reunited the Girls with the producer and writer of their
smash "Because Of You"- Robert Clivilles and David Cole respectively.
The results were just as impressive as their first pairing. The record
regained The Cover Girls' clout at Top 40 radio.
Tony Moran broke from his longtime partnership in The Latin Rascals to
record an album for Cutting Records to showcase his production talents
called "Concept Of One." The album featured familiar artists such as
Noel and Brenda K. Starr as well as some newcomers. It also featured two
songs with Tony on lead vocals. One of those songs, "Dance With Me,"
became his first hit as a solo artist.
Cynthia also returned that summer with "Dreamboy/Dreamgirl," a duet with
labelmate Johnny 0. The song would become the biggest selling single
for both artists. Pajama Party, yet another three-member, Latin female
Freestyle group, had one of the biggest Freestyle hits of the summer
with "Yo No Se." Ironically, it was the first and only Freestyle hit to
date with a completely Spanish title.
Despite the great number of hits that summer, it was at about this time
that the Freestyle backlash and downfall began. House music and rap were
gaining in popularity and beginning to find slots on radio playlists.
Crossover radio. which had achieved its primary goal to secure the
listenership of the English-speaking Latin community, now was seeking to
expand its audience. Hispanic artists were gradually being replaced by a
wave of new Dance/Pop and R&B/Crossover groups such as Paula Abdul,
Milli Vanilli, Bobby Brown and New Kids On The Block, all of whom were
enjoying massive exposure on MTV. The success of these groups would play
a key role in the downfall of many of Freestyle's biggest artists.
The period between the second half of 1989 and the beginning of 1991
were perhaps the worst of times for Freestyle. Crossover radio had found
new stars in Paula Abdul, Milli Vanilli, New Kids On The Block, Bobby
Brown and Hammer. These artists were successful not only on crossover
stations but R&B stations as well. They also received massive
exposure through video on MTV and BET. These slickly produced artists
and videos now defined "crossover". For the first time crossover radio
was breaking songs that their rival stations (R&B and Top 40) were
also playing. Previously, an Urban record would first break at the
R&B stations, then the crossover stations, then finally the Top 40
stations. Now, urban records by many established stars were
simultaneously breaking at all three formats.
At the same time Freestyle had become a four-letter word. Freestyle
producers looking to make a quick buck often recruited young Hispanics
from clubs, regardless of talent, to record hastily put together songs
and put them out on the track show club circuit. They figured even if
only one station played the song, they could make a thousand dollars a
night doing shows and split it with the artists. The splits usually
favored the producer. A flood of horrible Freestyle records resulted
that even the most devoted fan would be ashamed of. This only fueled the
Freestyle bashing and downfall. Latin artists were now perceived as
untalented street kids recording sappy love songs with overly used chord
progressions and off-key vocals. Crossover radio became all too aware
of this perception by their audience and responded by gradually
eliminating Freestyle from their playlists.
This seriously hurt the more established Freestyle artists.
Unfortunately, these artists responded by abandoning the Freestyle sound
on their new singles, a move that would help seal Freestyle's fate.
Artists such as TKA, Sa-Fire, Sweet Sensation and the Cover Girls, felt
they needed to try to duplicate the sound that was now happening at
radio and MTV in order to compete with pop music's new megastars. All of
these artists released singles in 1990 that did find a new audience (in
most cases, not a very large one) but totally alienated their core
audience. TKA with "I Won't Give Up On You" and Sweet Sensation with "If
Wishes Came True" actually achieved their highest charting pop singles
with these tracks. However, R&B radio and more importantly MTV
ignored their success. For the most part Freestyle's biggest stars were
unable to move on to the next level with their new sound.
With the best artists abandoning the sound and new artists recording
inferior tracks, Freestyle was all but over. Fortunately, TKA, playing
it smart, had recorded two Freestyle tracks on the "Louder Than Love"
album (the same album that contained "I Won't Give Up On You"). They
were able to rebound by releasing these two tracks in 1991. The first
release was "Give Your Love To Me". It was one of the first Freestyle
records to use hip-hop loops.
Another artist that utilized hip-hop loops and almost single-handedly
revived Freestyle was Lissette Melendez from East Harlem. "Together
Forever" would define "new school" Freestyle. The track is exactly what
Freestyle needed: a new sound without abandoning the elements that made a
song Freestyle. The release of this single should have inspired
Freestyle producers to experiment and try new ideas. Unfortunately it
only inspired imitations, none of which would equal the vibe and energy
of "Together Forever."
It was the flood of imitations that lead TKA to release something that
was far from "new school" but certainly not old school. The song was
"Louder Than Love," the title track from their second album It would
become TKA's signature song and the biggest hit of their career. George
Lamond followed up his smash "Bad Of The Heart" with two hit singles
during Freestyle's rebound "Without You" and "Look Into My Eyes." All
three songs were included on his hugely successful first album, "Bad Of
the Heart." Coro also released his sophomore single "Can't Let You Go,"
which easily matched the success of his first single.
Three old school artists returned after long absences with new tracks.
Noel's guest spot on the Concept of One album resulted in his first hit
single in three years with "The Question." The Cover Girls released a
double A-side single with "Don't Stop Now" and "Funk Boutique." Corina
teamed up with the producer of "Together Forever" - Carlos Berrios - and
came up with the highest charting Freestyle record on the Billboard Hot
100 to date. "Temptation" had a sound similar to that of "Together" but
it was the songwriting of Frank Reyes that helped the record transcend
the scores of Lissette Melendez imitations. After a near death
experience, Freestyle seemed headed for a complete recovery.
With its sudden resurgence in 1991, Freestyle again seemed healthy and
poised for a comeback. However, the comeback would be short-lived. In
late 1992, Hot 97 in New York, Q102 in Philadelphia, Power 106 in Los
Angeles and many other crossover stations completely pulled all
Freestyle records from their playlists to move in a more Urban
direction. These stations were responsible for more than half of a
Freestyle record's potential sales. There were still a few stations
playing Freestyle but not enough to make a song a national hit. Many
major labels knew this all too well and began dropping Freestyle artists
from their rosters.
Before the mass exodus of these stations, a few key releases sent
Freestyle off with a bang.The Cover Girls released "Funk Boutique," the
B-side of "Don't Stop Now." It would set them up for the release of
their first album for Epic Records titled "Here lt Is." It was their
third label in as many albums. The first official single from that album
was the remake of the Rose Royce ballad "Wishing On A Star." Despite it
being The Cover Girls biggest hit, they were dropped from the label a
few months later.
Coro's third single, and the second released by Charisma Records, was
"My Fallen Angel." It would also be the biggest hit of his career and
ironically, he was dropped from his label soon after. He would continue
to record under his original label Cutting Records. Corina followed up
the highest charting Freestyle record ever ("Temptation") with the
equally slammin "Whispers," only to be dropped by her label after just
one follow-up single (the aptly titled -"Now That You're Gone").
Cynthia returned with "Love Me Tonight," her most street-oriented cut
and the first single not produced with Mickey Garcia and Elvin Molina.
Many felt this single was the change in direction she needed to compete
with the "new school" sound that was emerging. It was also the last
release for MicMac Records (not counting the re-release of older tracks
from her first album). Cynthia was not dropped from her label but won a
battle with her label to be released from her contract.
George Lamond released his second album, "In My Life" for Columbia
Records. The first single from that album, "Where Does That Leave Love,"
proved just as popular as his previous releases. The follow up singles
from that album "I Want You Back" and "Baby, I Believe In You," which
were not Freestyle releases, did not fare as well. For months after,
George's status at Columbia was on hold until he finally was released in
Aside from the veteran artists, a few new artists and two that had not
been around for more than 5 years released hit singles in 1992. New
artists Laura Enea and Nyasia released "This Is The Last Time" and
"Who's Got Your Love," respectively. The tracks were heavily influenced
by Lissette Melendez' trademark sound. Another artist who borrowed a
little from that sound was Giggles with "What Goes Around, Comes
Around," produced and written by Charlie Rock, the writer and producer
of the Cynthia/Johnny O. duet "Dreamboy/Dreamgirl." It was the first big
hit for her, since "Love Letter" back in 1986.
Lil Suzy's big hit "Take Me In Your Arms" was not her first single.
"Randy," a song recorded when she was just seven years old was her first
release on Fever Records. "Take Me In Your Arms" was recorded at the
ripe old age of 15. Voyce, a Puerto Rican male trio from Brooklyn
released "Within My Heart." The inevitable comparisons were made to TKA,
but they proved themselves as performers in their own right. The song
was produced by Carlos Berrios and Angel Lebron, one of the members of
the group. The future of the group would have been more promising had
they not come out at a time when Freestyle was in a tailspin.
1992 also saw the break-up of two of Freestyle's biggest groups. Sweet
Sensation began the year by replacing members Margie and Sheila with
three new members. The remaining original member Betty Lebron would
again be the featured vocalist of the newly formed group. The new
version of Sweet Sensation did a few shows but in the two and a half
years since have not released any new material. It was thought that
Betty would eventually go solo.
At the end of 1991, Tony, Kayel and Angel (TKA), despite coming off the
biggest hit of their career "Louder Than Love," decided to part ways to
record solo albums. They each wanted to try experimenting with new music
but felt they could not do that as TKA. Their fans expected them to
continue making the music they had for the previous seven years and the
guys were unsure of how they would react to a new sound. There were also
differences of opinion between the group about what direction that
would be. The only solution was to do separate albums. They decided to
continue doing shows while they prepared to record new albums and not
announce that they were breaking up.
Kayel had begun recording his first solo album. He had about three songs
completed when he felt that he did not want to end TKA without doing
one more song. He went to the other guys with the idea of releasing a
greatest hits compilation and including a new song. TKA's Greatest Hits
was released in February of 1992 with 14 songs. It included all of their
single releases, as well as "I Can't Help It," "Is It Love" and
"Maria." "I Can't Help It" was a cut from the "Louder Than Love" album
that got extensive play even though it was not released as a single. "Is
It Love" was a duet with Tony Moran that was to be included on his
first solo album that was never released. "Maria" was actually a song
recorded for Kayel's solo album, but he decided to release it as the
last song from TKA. The idea really paid off. The fans loved the album
and "Maria" became a huge hit. The album itself actually outsold their
first two studio albums. TKA's last performance together was on Oct. 11,
As 1992 came to an end, so did the Freestyle era. As with Disco in the
seventies, Freestyle never truly died. Freestyle records continue to be
released, just as dance records continue to flourish in different forms
despite the "death of disco" in 1980. But the days of the Devil's Nest,
Heartthrob, 1018 and the new Studio 54 are gone, just as the days of
thee-piece suits. Saturday Night Fever and the old Studio 54 are gone.
Disco and Freestyle captured a certain feeling that reflected the times
they flourished in. They produced their own stars, their own dances and
their own fashions. Most of all they produced songs that will bring back
great memories for the people who experienced it. Hopefully the
Freestyle classics included in this compilation will do that, and as
with Disco, endure, and be discovered by new fans in the years to come.
Note: At the time of this printing, George Lamond, Corina, Sa-Fire,
Cynthia, and the Cover Girls were recording new material for release on
new labels. Lissette Melendez continues to record for RAL/Columbia. Her
second album "True To Life" spawned the Top 40 Hit "Goody Goody." Kayel
of TKA released his first solo album "Swing Batta Swing" under the name
K7 and received his first gold record.