So I’m back again on the ’88 side of the game to put down a few words about Keith Sweat’s – “I Want Her”. Although this particular tune was released in September of ’87 it made its climb to the top of the charts by January 30th of ’88 to be exact. Produced by Teddy Riley many point to “I Want Her” as not necessarily the first New Jack single of note, but most certainly the most successful to begin this new wave of this hybrid art form. Now a statement like that is all well and good, perhaps even somewhat academic. In fact it sounds like someone removed from that time, space and culture wrote it. Yes, I’m being self-critical. Can we go with some realness for a moment? Are we allowed to do that?

On the personal experience side (which I think is what makes posts like these relatable)I don’t care about chart positions, records sold, none of that. I always think about how music makes me feel. Now it can be a very cool moment when a lot of people pick up on the same vibe. I kid you not I know I heard “I Want Her” for at least a solid month before I knew who Keith Sweat was. I’ve talked about this on some of our podcasts but growing up my hometown didn’t really have a Black Radio Station per se. The college radio station had shows on Friday and Saturday nights devoted to Black Music. By 1987 there was also an AM Station that devoted nights to Black Music. Yes call me a little bit of a snob but I wasn’t listening to new music in ’87 on the AM Frequency. Nope, just wasn’t going to do it and truth be told I don’t believe the station was playing the latest greatest anyway if memory serves me correctly.

So where did I hear “I Want Her”? I wasn’t old enough for the club but I did grow up in a college town. So by the age I was in ’87 I was somewhat of a veteran attendee of whatever Black Greek Fraternity or Sorority was throwing a party. These were straight up no frills dance parties. No food, no drinks, just a room a DJ and a good time dancin’ to whatever was hot in the streets. Now I’m going to date myself by telling you a few songs I heard in this environment for the first time.

First “college party” I went to was in Summer of ’85 that was the first time I heard “I Wonder If I Take You Home” by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam. I was a long way from college at this point. I was always tall and mature looking/acting for my age lol. The very next Summer? “Eric B. Is President” Eric B. & Rakim. When I heard that time froze. Very next late Summer? “Rebel Without A Pause” Public Enemy. There aren’t enough words. So this gets us to Fall ’87 and every party I went to it seemed like right around midnight the DJ would play “I Want Her”. I really wasn’t hip to what orchestra hits(one of the more prominent keyboard sounds in the song) were at the time(I’m not even going to front)but that sound in the intro was arresting to me. What was that? Who is this? This music was R&B but it was different. It sounded in spots like the Hip Hop music that I loved.

The other thing I noticed is that the ladies loved “I Want Her”. If you couldn’t get a dance at any other time of the night when “I Want Her” kicked off you could put your bid in and there was a very high probability that you wouldn’t be turned down. This music felt new. It felt like our generation had finally arrived on the scene to say “We’re here and now we’re going to be doing things our way!”. To watch the late 80’s youth movement unfold in realtime is a memory that I will always hold dear “I Want Her” was a very big part of signaling the arrival of this new movement. It’s part and parcel of why I’ve chosen to write this series this year. We’re just getting started!

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.