what’s freestyle? even if you think you aren’t familiar, chances are that if you have more than a passing interest in hiphop r&b soul or even house and garage, then you will have heard several of its exponents.
originating from miami in the mid 80s, freestyle can best be described as a straight mashup of electro, hiphop, r&b, house…anything goes. hence the name. it became hiphop for girls. yes, female rappers such as roxanne (both of them) salt-n-pepa and jj fad were doing their thing, but this was much sweeter and more accessible.sometimes, it was so plaintive as to be almost offkey and out of tune but I think that adds to its charm, and is more honest than giving cassie, britney and mya recording contracts and manipulating their weedy warblings. freestyle sounded like it had been made on a casio keyboard, and it most probably had been. the studio version without the ‘wake me up before you go go’ demo button though. vocals that sounded like they had been recorded into a handheld tape deck gave the whole affair a more dangerous edge.
the look? quintessential late 80s styling with a latin edge. big backcombed curls, big earrings…and relaxed pastels for the heat. freestyle itself could perhaps be summarised with the above image – aspirational neon cocktail. totally 80s, totally miami.
when I visited florida a few years ago, I didn’t expect to hear any freestyle. i thought that one of the things that had made me want to visit miami for so long would be long gone, a distant memory of twenty and thirtysomethings now fully immersed in the house or r&b scenes. but it was everywhere!
crunk had just exploded but from the local radio stations, you’d never guess. we cruised happily up and down the a1a, and in and out of walgreens and taco bell, to the sounds of freestyle for two weeks. i highly recommend florida to anyone needing some sunny late 80s nostalgia…
ten sounds of party 93.1 south florida – download here
lil suzy – take me
well, if i hadn’t known this track before i went to florida, i certainly did by the time i arrived home. played about four times a day and considering we didn’t spend that much time in the car listening to party 93.1, you can safely assume this was a dj favourite…
stevie b – spring love
uk peeps may only know stevie b for his dreary 1991 hit ‘because i love you’. it seems the only reason he got away with releasing that dirge was that he had already established some credibility on the freestyle circuit. and promptly flushed it down the toilet.
nice and wild – diamond girl
no pic exists for this group, who had several freestyle club hits – this is my favourite. perfect example of electro meets hiphop meets 80s jheri curl soul.
expose – let me be the one
i do remember expose being hyped as the next big thing in smash hits in the late 80s. well, they didn’t take off in the uk but appear to have done well natively and are fondly remembered. i think when en vogue arrived i was slightly confused then realised they were a completely different group.cover girls – show me
like expose, touted as the next big thing but the uk didn’t really get freestyle so they sank without trace until they shifted direction. i seem to remember they covered ‘wishing on a star’ so they must have had some success over here.
lisa lisa and cult jam – i wonder if i take you home
electro favourite that was hard to categorise at the time. lisa lisa and cult jam continued to have success, with ‘all cried out’ (later covered by allure and 112) and c&c music factory remixed ‘let the beat hit em’ (heard that on the radio last week – still sounds amazing). lisa went solo in 1994 with album ‘LL77’ to rapturous reviews but uh, it was all a bit alternative and grey for me…i much preferred the colourful nonsense of the 80s.
shannon – let the music play
perhaps the first freestyle hit, apart from freeez‘s ‘iou’, which i’m not sure counts as they were from london, not miami. plus, ‘iou’ was a wedding reception favourite even back in the day, which surely disqualifies them. anyway, this track along with madonna’s poppier ‘holiday, changed the face of dance music in 1984.
joyce sims – all and all
this song was doing nothing and going nowhere until kurtis mantronik picked it up and laid the vocals over his ‘bassline’ instrumental. suddenly it was everywhere and not everyone realises its a remix – a bootleg at that.
debbie deb – when i hear music
one of the biggest freestyle hits. i had to include a more recent photo of debbie as she looks awful in her 80s shots. circulation defying skintight bleached jeans, sausage in a condom style boob tube, blonde hairdo that looks like it would come off in one piece…ick…sometimes i’m glad i wasn’t really old enough to pick all of my own clothes in the 80s.
seduction – two to make it right
much like expose and the cover girls, assembled to cash in on their success. probably wore the least clothes out of the three and had the least hits as well…