On January 4, famed technologist Anil Dash and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda collaborated on a Spotify tribute to New Jack Swing, that much-beloved yet transitional period between classic funky soul and contemporary R&B.
“Okay! For the young people who might not be familiar with New Jack Swing (or old people who were distracted by grunge at the time), Lin-Manuel & I made you a New Jack Swing 101 playlist to learn from,” wrote Dash on Twitter. He added, “Shout out to Bruno Mars for the inspiration,” nodding to Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s New Jack era-referencing video for “Finesse (Remix).”
Music nerds will point out that New Jack Swing actually peaked in popularity around 1990——nearly two years before Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten blew up on the charts and made grunge mainstream. But this playlist is ultimately less of an authoritative history lesson than a very good fan mix. It collects major hits like Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” and underrated gems like Chuckii Booker’s “Games.” Feel free to quibble about whether Alexander O’Neal’s Minneapolis funk track “Fake” truly qualifies, or whether Xscape’s 1994 debut “Just Kickin’ It” and Blackstreet’s “Before I Let You Go” stretch the timeline a bit too far. And it’s unclear why Dash and Miranda tacked on a re-recorded version of Father MC’s “I’ll Do For You” at the end of their mix. Copycat and fake recordings of popular songs are the bane of streaming music.
Still, if you’re looking for some old-school grooves to do the Funky Charleston to, New Jack Swing 101 ain’t half bad. As Ice Cube once said, “You can New Jack Swing on my nuts!”