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 represented by.
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 born.
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 attention.
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 night.
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 1993.
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, 1992.
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.