Freestyle 101 by DJ Zombie
I grew up on the west coast and Freestyle was a common thing to hear on the radio. Going back to the easly 80's this was the norm. I have found that most people did notgrow up with Freestyle but enjoy the sound. I wanted to create content on our DJ wesbsite that help educate and inform music fans of the history and where this great music came from. My brother James was the original Freestyle freak. I think he must have played TKA to the point of insanity. One Way Love was his song and that poor 12" was killed in 2 months. I cannot spin that one without thinking about hearing that 1 too many times in the Spring of 1986. Before I take you down memory lane.
When did it all began?
Freestyle or Latin Freestyle in its early years, is a form of electronic music that is heavily influenced by Latin Culture culture. Performers such as Sa-Fire, Information Society, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, TKA and Expos'e are notable performers of the genre. Freestyle originated in New York in the early 1980s. It continues to be produced today and enjoys some degree of popularity, especially in Florida, NYC, Boston, San Diego and other parts of the country.
The music first developed primarily in New York City and Miami in the mid-1980s. It eventually spread to many other cities with Hispanic populations. Initially, it was a fusion of the vocal styles found in 1970s Disco music with the syncopated, synthetic instrumentation of 1980's Electro as favored by fans of breakdancing.. It was also influenced by sampling.
What is Freestyle?
Some feel the term freestyle may refer to the difference between the mixing techniques used by DJs spinning this form of music (at least in its pre-house incarnations) and those who were spinning disco, the only other widely played dance music that incorporated sung vocals. Disco, with its relatively predictable beat structure, could be mixed with smooth, slow, and consistent techniques, but freestyle's syncopated beat structures demanded that DJs get creative, incorporating aspects of both disco and dance techniques; they often had to (or had more freedom to) mix more quickly and more responsively to the individual pieces of music.
Others believe it refers to the vocal technique: singing melodic pop vocals over the kind of beats that were previously used only with rap and semi-chanted electro-funk vocal styles was a form of freestyling —getting creative by mixing up the styles.
Another explanation is that the dancing associated with this music allows for a great degree of freedom of expression than the other music that was prevalent at the time. Each individual dancer is free to create his or her own style.
In Miami, the freestyle name evolved after confusion between Tony Butler's track Freestyle Express by Freestyle and Debbie Deb's When I Hear Music, a slightly older but more popular track that was produced by Butler. The sound became synonymous with Butler's production, and the name of the group he was in, Freestyle, became the genre's name.
Many people list "Let the Music Play" by Shannon as the first Freestyle track. Indeed, Let the Music Play became freestyle's biggest record, still getting heavy airplay through radio and other venues.
This new, exciting sound rejuvenated the funk, soul and hip hop club scenes in New York City. While most of the neighborhood clubs were closing their doors for good, some Manhattan clubs were suddenly thriving. Places like the Roxy, the Funhouse, Broadway 96, and Roseland that played this were packed. Records like "Play At Your Own Risk" by Planet Patrol, "One More Shot" by C Banks, "Al-Naafiyish (The Soul)" by Hashim and "I.O.U." by Freeze became huge hits. More established European artists like Kraftwerk ("Numbers") and New Order ("Confusion," "State of the Nation") both inspired the original Freestyle sound and then responded to it by incorporating certain Freestyle elements into their own productions.
Other producers from around the world soon began to replicate the sound in more radio-friendly productions. Records like "Let Me Be the One" by Safire, "I Remember What You Like" "Running" by soon-to-be pop stars Information Society, and "Give Me Tonight" by Shannon were all over New York radio.
Many of the original freestyle artists – and the DJs who played the music, such as Jellybean Raul Soto and Roman Ricardo were pioneers in the early days of Freestyle. They all came from Latin backgrounds and this was one reason why the style came to be very popular among latin cultures. Especially in the New York City area. This marks a notable merging of underground Hispanic and African-American urban cultures, hence, the names Latin Hip Hop or Latin Freestyle. Now, the more neutral term Freestyle is generally preferred. Of course, performers and producers associated with the style came from around the world.
Two other popular freestyle artists, Freeze and Samantha Fox were both of British descent. Latin freestyle also touch the Asian community with the release of "Youngboys" by an Asian artist by the name of Leonard (aka Leon Youngboy), with a remix by Eddie Davis ( "Hungry For Your Love" by Hanson and Davis) and became the famous "SYB War Mix". Freestyle became more than a Latin thing, it became an instrument to bring together and unite the dance music lovers of all nationalities.
Freestyle radio in New York was exemplified by the production team of Tony Moran and the Latin Rascals Their original music on wktu included Freestyle classics like 1984's Arabian Nights, and later more hip-hop oriented projects, such as the Cover Girls Show Me (1986). Tony Moran later went on to form his own project, Concept of One, and the duo continued to produce big name Freestyle artists into the early 1990s.
(Power 106) in Los Angeles, (Hot 103.5) in New York, and (Hot 92.5) in San Diego began playing hits by artists like TKA, Sweet Sensation,Expos'e and Safire on the same playlists as Pop superstars like Michael Jackson and Madonna Tracks like TKA's One Way Love, Safire's Don't Break My Heart 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. "(You Are My) All and All." by Joyce Sims became the first Freestyle record to cross over into the R & B market. It was also one of the first Freestyle records to crack the European market. Although still in its early stages, Freestyle was now getting national attention, and was fast becoming dance music for the 80s.
Pretty Tony "Butler"produced several huge freestyle hits on Jam-Packed records out of Miami. Most notable for Debbie Deb- "When I Hear Music" and "Lookout Weekend" and the queen diva of freestyle Trinere- "I'll Be All You'll Ever Need".
Company B, Stevie B , Linear, Will to Power, and Exposé's later hits defined Miami Freestyle. One of the most important pioneers and influential players within the Miami freestyle scene is the entrepreneur, music executive and music producer Tolga Katas. He is accredited as being one of the first persons to create a hit record entirely on a computer. His top notch productions influenced many copy cat producers that tried (and failed) to copy the sound he created for hits such as “Party Your Body”, “In my Eyes” and “Dreaming of Love”, all performed by Stevie B. His record label Futura Records became an incubator for great, high quality Freestyle music. The group Linear, who got its start there, was eventually picked up by Atlantic Records which resulted in the group achieving international success. 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.
Although Freestyle's main territory was Miami and New York, it did have a recognizable following in California, particularly on LA radio stations KDAY and Power 106, and in San Fran Bay Area. California back in the day was a incredible place to be during this time frame. The same excitement was occuring in the club scene on the East Coast, and although California Freestyle wasn't as prevalent New York or Miami Freestyle, there were a number of successful California Freestyle artists that also gained popularity from Freestyle fans in the East Coast. California Freestyle leans more toward a high-tempo dance beat, referred to as High Energy, but still retains the sound of freestyle.
By 1989, Freestyle was at its peak as an underground genre. Around this time, tons of artist had emerged. I was still in San Diego at the time and I was spining about 50% freestyle at the end of the decade. Aa personal favorite artist was Full Force. While they never made Freestyle themself they produced many Freestyle groups. They even produced UTFO. They had a big influence over Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. They were less electro and more pop, and that was also probably the reason why groups such as Lisa Lisa ,Safire, TKA, Sweet Sensation and especially the Cover Girls were able to crossover into the pop market at the end of the 1980s.
Over the years I have contiuned to play Freestyle music. There were a big shift and change in music styles at the end of the 80's. Freestyle slowed down along with New Wave and 80's Dance. The 90's brought a change in sound and direction with the music. I believe regardless of taste or style most people will hear Freestyle music and find it to be great Dance Music that is uplifting, positive and fun to listen to.
Please check out our Live 365 Radio Show to hear many of the great songs and artist mentioned on this page.
Top 100 List
1. Let the Music Play - Shannon
2.I Wonder If I Take You Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam
3.When I Hear Music-Debbie Deb
4. Don't Stop the Rock Freestyle
5. Fantasy Girl-Johnny O.
6. Spring Love -Stevie B.
7. Change on Me -Cynthia
8. Take Me in Your Arms -Lil' Suzy
9 Together Forever - Lisette Melendez
10. Show Me The Cover Girls
11. Come Go with Me Expose
12. Point of No Return Expose
13. Fascinated- Company B
14. Lookout Weekend -Debbie Deb
15. Silent Morning -Noel
16. Bad of the Heart - George Lamond
17. Temptation -Corina
18. I'll Be Loving U - Collage
19. I Can't Wait - Nu Shooz
20. Please Don't Go -Nayobe
21. I'll Be All u Ever Need - Trinere
22. Come Into My - Judy Torres
23. One Way Love -T.K.A.
24. Boy, I've Been Told-SaFire
25. Because of U-The Cover Girls
26. I Wanna Be the -Stevie B.
27. Tell it to My Heart - Taylor Dayne
28. Give Me Tonight - Shannon
29. Party Ya Body-Stevie B.
30. You Are My-Joyce Simms
31. Funky Little Beat -Connie
32. Diamond Girl -Nice & Wild
33. Hooked on You-Sweet Sensation
34. Clave Rocks -Amoretto
36. Dreamboy/Dreamgirl - Cynthia and Jonnny O.
37. Two of Hearts -StaceyQ.
38. No Reason to Cry-Judy Torres
39. Do You Miss Me? - Jocelyn Enriquez
40.Dreaming of Love-StevieB
41. Sending All My Love - Linear
42. I Remember What You Like -Jenny Burton
43. Sincerely Yours - Sweet Sensation
44. Baby Talk - Alisha
45. Can You Feel the Beat? - Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam
46. Set U Free - Planet Soul
47. Release Me - Angelina
48. In a Dream - Jossette
49. Feels So Good -Lina Santiago
50. Give Me (A Reason) - Buffy
51. Don't Take Your Love -Lydia Lee Love
52. Don't Make Me Wait - Bomb the Bass feat. Lorraine
53. The Mexican - Jellybean
54. It's Automatic -Freestyle
55. The Party Has Begun - Freestyle
56. Catch Me (I'm Falling) - Pretty Poison
57. Take It While It's Hot - Sweet Sensation
58. If You Leave Me Now - Jaya and Stevie B.
59. Head to Toe -Lisa Lisa
60. Say It's Gonna Rain - Will to Power
61. Don't Break My Heart - Sa-Fire
62. Maria - T.K.A.
63. You're the One - Sandee
64. (You're My One and Only) True Love - Seduction
65. Running (The Nest remix) - Information Society
66. Hungry for Your Love - Hanson & Davis
67. Dancing on the Fire - Jellybean feat. India
68. Where Are You Tonight? - Coro
69. Yo Little Brother - Nolan Thomas
70. For Tonight - Nancy Martinez
71. I Want You - Shana
72. Jam the Box - "Pretty Tony" Butler
73. Touch Me (All Night Long) - Wish feat. Fonda Rae
74. Yo No Se - Pajama Party
75. My Heart Gets All the Breaks - Monet
76. I Can't Live Without You - Angelique
77. Show Me How You Love Me - Elissa
78. I'm Search'n-DebbieDeb
79. Forever Amo'r - D'Zyre
80. They're Playing Our Song - Trinere
81. Pop Goes My Love -Freeez
82. Love Letter - Giggles
83. Latin Active-A Lighter Shade of Brown
84. If You Should Ever Be Lonely - Val Young
85. Baby Love - Regina
86. In Love with Love (remix) Debbie Harry
87. Summer Girls - Dino
88. & More - You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine
89. Honey to a Bee - Tina B.
90. Arabian Knights - Latin Rascals
91. Say'n Sorry-Denise Lopez
92. Who's Got Your Love? - Nyasia
93. Bleeding Heart - Bardeux
94. Stay in Love - Kromozone Project
95. Real Love - Lil' Johanna
96. Tears May Fall - T.K.A
97. Passion - K5 feat. Tammy Wright
98.Never Gonna Let U Go - Tamara
Endless Night - Cynthia
Highways of Love -Johnny O.
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