It may be hard to believe, but slow jam king Keith Sweat marks a half-century on earth today. And the man that launched a thousand late-night radio dedications has been helping boyfriends apologize and generally setting the mood for a good chunk of that time. Sweat got his start as early as the mid-'70s in his native New York City, first performing with a band and then hitting the nightclub circuit solo.
However, what music fans old enough to remember the '80s and early '90s
remember him for is his absolute domination of R&B radio in those
years. Sweat, with his pseudonym winking and nudging at the kind of
activity that often accompanied his music, was the king panty-dropper,
His voice wasn't as deep as many of his predecessors in the sexy troubadour tradition -- say Isaac Hayes or Barry White -- but it was silky and just gravelly enough to sound like he had lived some. In fact, Sweat's sensibility was very of the moment when he first hit the mainstream, mixing hip-hop and classic R&B into the hybrid known as new jack swing.
The first half of this past decade wasn't the kindest to Keith Sweat in sales -- there was a six-year gap between his 2002 album, Rebirth, and 2008's Just Me. Still, he's kept himself busy hosting his own late-night radio show, the nationally syndicated Keith Sweat Hotel. And late last year he dropped yet another record, Ridin' Solo. In a time at which most urban radio songs sound like Ibiza escapees, Sweat's keeping it real for the lineage of classic soul crooning.
Here are five of his top drawer-droppers.
5. "(There You Go) Tellin' Me No Again," 1991
This track from the album Keep It Comin' bears so many of the hallmarks of the best early-'90s R&B: placement on a dramatic movie soundtrack (New Jack City), a swelling group/echo effect on the chorus, and extraneous parentheses in the song title.
4. "I'll Give All My Love To You," 1990
How could you resist the synth line, the tinkling waterfall percussion effect ... or that flat-top?
3. "Make It Last Forever," 1987
Holy 808s! One of his earliest hits, this one married a chorus that was an unabashed double entendre with that era of hip-hop's slightly tinny, drum machine-tastic production. The track's staying power, though, is proven by its current resurrection thanks to Internet big-ups from Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt.
2. "Twisted," 1996
Keith Sweat - Twisted by ikalanikita
That hip-hop-lite beat, the interplay of male-female vocals, the white suits and faux-rococo settings in the video... Again, so '90s, yet so hard to delete from the brain.
1. "Nobody," 1996
Keith Sweat - Nobody by welcomeback
Yes, this makes two singles from the same album, Sweat's self-titled fifth effort. But the 1996 disc remains Sweat's biggest career smash to date in terms of sales (four times platinum), individual singles, and lasting radio airplay. "Nobody" is immortal. For those in long-term relationships, it's been known to instantly wipe away a decade of fights over toilet paper and laundry. For single folks, this song appears to hide subliminal messages encouraging you to drunk dial an ex -- resist the urge.
You're likely to hear all of them at his upcoming November 5 in Miami, when he performs as part of a nostalgia show at the James L. Knight Center dubbed "Best of the 90s." Also on the bill? Faith Evans and Boyz II Men!
Keith Sweat. 8 p.m. Saturday, November 5 at the James L. Knight Center, 400 SE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $55 to $55. Call 305-416-5978, or visit ticketmaster.com