Late ’89 found me working records to radio on the east coast. I was responsible for securing airplay from Virginia to Rochester for Wing Records. The label founder, Ed Eckstein formed the Wing imprint with the Polygram Label Group. The roster was a cool mix of Black Pop and New Jack that featured Vanessa Williams and Tony Toni Tone.
Ed had spent nearly a decade and a half in the employ of Quincy Jones during Q’s historic run of smashes that included his work with the King Of Pop. After that he spent a couple of years doing A&R for Clive Davis at Arista that yielded little but frustration so he jumped at the chance to call his own shots when Polygram came calling.
The label was headquartered in LA, and Eckstein needed steady airplay access on the eastern seaboard so the playa was recruited. We blew up nearly a dozen singles and a couple of albums together, set Vanessa Williams and Tony Toni Tone’s Raphael Saadiq off on paths that they are still on over twenty years later and quickly got hot in a competitive environment. Ed had ears.
Working Black Pop records with melody and strong lyrics completed nearly a decade of “carrying” records for me. I’d impacted the arcs of hot Hip Hop joints, independent labels, new producers and neophyte acts that I’d had a hand in breaking, and it finally began to payoff. I was invited into the A&R fraternity by a startup label with deep pockets, international distribution and no roster. I was in the game.
Irving Azoff had been the chairman of MCA Records and left at the end of the ’80s to create Giant Records with the backing of Warner Brothers Records. When I was invited to join his venture, I’d been seasoned through time served in radio, retail and records. I joined Giant in early ’90, and I knew a hit when I heard one.
As I’d previously written, George Jackson and Doug Mc Henry had the Barry Michael Cooper penned, New Jack City set up at Warner Brother films, and as was the common practice of the day, had the soundtrack rights assigned to Warner Brothers Records. The subject matter for the film called for the direction of the soundtrack music to be Urban.
Benny Medina, the head honcho over Warner’s Black Music operation was set to do his thing with the record- when he was too slow to return one phone call too many of Jackson’s. Frustrated with what he perceived to be Medina’s indifference, Jackson, ever the operator, called Azoff, and had the record assigned to my department. History was about to be made.
My department head had prepared for a career in music by serving in the traditional entertainment preparatory role of an airline stewardess. Through this launching pad, she’d met and married the brother/manager of an important Black Pop vocalist. When addictive behavior derailed the relationship of the brother and the vocalist, the former stewardess became the new manager, and hitched her wagon to a star. She was an industrial strength networker and parlayed her client’s success into a high visibility post at Giant as well as relationships with several prominent industry leaders. She’d been engaged to a close friend of the playa’s and through that, identified him as a comer.
All through the spring, summer and fall of ’90, blood sweat and tears were mustered to get the New Jack City music “right”. A staff member at Andre Harrell’s Uptown/MCA imprint forwarded a demo on blue eyed new jack swingers, Color Me Badd. Keith Sweat played a finished song for the playa at Sidney Miller’s Black Radio Exclusive convention in New Orleans. Johnny Gill was approached to contribute after he scorched a midnight performance at that year’s Jack The Rapper radio confab in Atlanta. Guy was slated to appear in the film, and their performance made the record. Troop, Levert and Queen Latifah turned in a stirring rendition of Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City mashed up with the O’Jays’ For The Love Of Money. Al B. Sure! produced a track on his high school friends F.S. effect. A friend from Sugar Hill Records, the great Grandmaster Flash laced us with a dope track from female MC Essense. Stanley Brown, a protege of Run/DMC’s Jam Master Jay blessed Christopher Williams (who had a role in the film) with a funky uptempo track that made the record. By the fall of ’90, the record was shaping up nicely, but I needed something more.
to be continued….