Let the Music Play
April 30, 2010 10:32 PM   Subscribe

In 1980s New York, two songs - Planet Rock and Let The Music Play - hit the Latino club scene like an earthquake and the aftershocks created a new genre of dance music - Freestyle. Characterized by funky electro-style breaks made on a Roland 808, with Latin rhythms and uplifting vocals about love and loss, often sung by unknown and untrained singers, the sound has remained a force in pop music and has influenced house and breaks music to this day.

Here are some of the classics:

Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam - I Wonder If I Take You Home
Nu Shooz - I Can't Wait
Debbie Deb - When I Hear Music
Stacey Q - Two of Hearts
Sa-Fire - Boy, I've Been Told
Freestyle - Don't Stop The Rock
Taylor Dayne - Tell It To My Heart
Bomb The Bass - Don't Make Me Wait (actually a UK act pretending to be American) - Bonus New Bomb The Bass video.
Planet Soul - Set You Free (One of those rave cross-over tracks, by soon-to-be trance producer George Acosta).
Linear - Sending All My Love
Sweet Sensation - Take It While It's Hot
Expose - Let Me Be The One
Company B - Fascinated
Joyce Sims - All N All
Pretty Poison - Catch Me I'm Falling
The Jets - Crush On You

The Top 100 Freestyle Tracks
posted by empath (36 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
nice post.

Hard not to love some freestyle. I have a two hour track downloaded off of some long forgotten music blog years ago, of Bambaataa's Soulsonic Force in Germany taking over a radio show in 1983 that is some of the best music I own.

not exactly freestyle, but from the same time, 1984 -- Surrender Your Heart To Me
posted by puny human at 10:40 PM on April 30, 2010

All I have to add to this right now is that the mention of Nu Shooz rockets me back to like 1986, when I add a bunch of radio songs taped onto a blank cassette of the kind you could buy six for a dollar at Woolworth's. If someone does an FPP on like World Party now, I'm gonna have to check and see whether my laptop is suddenly growing cathode tubes and I'm typing onto an Underwood keyboard and recording all of this onto reel-to-reel or something. This is not a putdown, just kind of whoa.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:41 PM on April 30, 2010

The reason I made this post is that a month or so ago, I got a DJ gig where somebody asked me to play 'old school' stuff, and 'go back to my roots', but like my roots as a DJ are with like late 90s rave music, not hip-hop or top 40... so I was trying to remember all the dance records I loved as a kid, and they were all electro and freestyle. I didn't even really know 'latin freestyle' was a thing until I put together a set of all this stuff-- i just assumed Noel was a UK act like Depeche Mode, etc.
posted by empath at 10:46 PM on April 30, 2010

Btw, I would submit that Let The Music Play is the second best dance record of all time after I Feel Love.
posted by empath at 10:48 PM on April 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

My college housemate in 1983 had a Roland TR808 that was played and/or being programmed constantly. Good times.
posted by squalor at 10:53 PM on April 30, 2010

Thanks for this. Freestyle made its mark in California too, at least in the Asian and Latino communities. Fond memories of dancing to Set You Free in clubs, and using freestyle tracks on gym mixes.
posted by wuwei at 11:00 PM on April 30, 2010

does anybody have like a mixtape with all this stuff together?
posted by fallacy of the beard at 11:31 PM on April 30, 2010

Also Lil' Suzy.

I have a freestyle Christmas album that is pretty good -- Little Drummer Boy, Silent Night.
posted by puny human at 11:47 PM on April 30, 2010

looks like most of that album is up on youtube -- Collage - Last Christmas (nice!), Denine -Jingle Bell Rock, Intonation Feat Krissy- Winter Wonderland.
posted by puny human at 11:57 PM on April 30, 2010

Jade Starling --Last Christmas
posted by puny human at 11:59 PM on April 30, 2010

Nice post, empath!

made on a Roland 808

posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:23 AM on May 1, 2010

Nothing bumps like an 808.
posted by fuq at 1:40 AM on May 1, 2010

Great post, I didn't know this was a defined genre either.

actually a UK act pretending to be American

I'm pretty sure that was a one-time gimmick for the promo of the first single, Beat Dis, and by the time it charted they were definitely seen as a very British act - the cover of the Beat Dis 12" I bought at the time had a smiley on it - alongside Coldcut and, at the poppier end of things, Neneh Cherry, who Tim Simenon produced for.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 3:10 AM on May 1, 2010

Oh hell no, you linked Bomb the Bass and skipped Beat Dis and Bug Powder Dust! <>
That's okay, the new video was an awesome surprise.

so I was trying to remember all the dance records I loved as a kid, and they were all electro and freestyle

I hope some of these help
Egyptian Lover - Egypt, Egypt
Whodini - Freaks Come Out at Night
Grandmaster & Melle Mel - White Lines
Full Force/UTFO - Roxanne, Roxanne
Roxanne Shante - Roxanne's Revenge
Soul Sonic Force - Renegades of Funk
Art of Noise - Close
Doug E Fresh & Slick Rick - The Show
Art of Noise - Beat Box
The Shamen - Move Any Mountain
KLF - 3am Eternal
M.A.R.S. - Pump Up the Volume

also soundtracks like Breakin', Beat Street, etc

posted by hypersloth at 3:12 AM on May 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Holy shit, I totally missed the whole point of the post.
808 State would be pissed if Cubik were forgotten!!
posted by hypersloth at 3:20 AM on May 1, 2010

The whole point of the post was latin free style :)

You've gone off on a whole rave tangent.
posted by empath at 3:21 AM on May 1, 2010

wow I didn't only miss the 808, but the Latin too?
*nods, slinks off
posted by hypersloth at 3:29 AM on May 1, 2010

Yeah, but what about that grunge rave music the kids are listening to these days?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:59 AM on May 1, 2010

Don't forget the impact a couple of dorky white guys from Minneapolis had on the scene.

When I'm in the mood for some freestyle, I almost always go straight to the dubs. There's only a handful of vocal trax I can really enjoy.
posted by the bricabrac man at 4:25 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

we always called this "Latin Hip-Hop".
posted by djduckie at 5:31 AM on May 1, 2010

Great post. Many of those songs formed the backdrop to my own long-gone clubbing days in Essex and east London. Thanks.
posted by essexjan at 5:34 AM on May 1, 2010


Lil Suzy- take me in your arms

Rockell-In a dream"

para vida!
posted by djduckie at 5:36 AM on May 1, 2010

puny human

Is this be the Bambaataa mix to which you referred?
posted by the sobsister at 6:32 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

yay, DJ Duckie's got the right idea :)
posted by empath at 6:33 AM on May 1, 2010

What, no Coro? I AM DISAPPOINT.

In related house music/freestyle crossoverish news, Little Louie Vega produced the Cover Girls' "Show Me".

Pajama Party - Yo No Se

Collage - I'll Be Loving You

oh m god my neighbors hate you SO MUCH right now.
posted by elizardbits at 6:37 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

This pretty much sums up growing up in Brooklyn in the 80's (Williamsburg, when Italians and Puerto Ricans still lived there), listening to HOT 103 (before it became HOT 97). If you drove a Cutlass Supreme or a Monte with a decent sound system you were set in the ladies department. I have crates and crates of freestyle on vinyl from my early DJ career, now ripped to MP3 and sitting in storage in NJ.

In my experience, the "scene" seemed to focus on NYC/L.I./NJ/Philly, Miami, and San Diego -- all with their different styles. Nowadays if you're a fan of the music, you're part of some kind of secret society where you need to perform some kind of special handshake just to talk about it. Anyone unfamiliar with the genre would think it was total cheese if they heard it, and rightfully so, because it WAS cheese. All it's good for now is reminiscing about school dances and latinas you had a crush on.

From a technical perspective, the music was pretty far ahead of its time, with many tracks containing incredible cuts and edits that were made without the use of computers.

If you want a freestyle "primer" I would recommend firing up Spotify and checking out some tracks by artists like Cynthia, Johnny O, Judy Torres, Sa-Fire, Corina, Stevie B, TKA, Coro, Tiana, Noel, Lisette Melendez, Soave, George Lamond, or anything on MicMac Records, Metropolitan Records, or Cutting Records.
posted by Average Mario at 6:44 AM on May 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

That's it sobsister. Thanks. That is a hot set, much better to listen to and more indicative of the time period than the more well known Bambaataa Death Mix.
posted by puny human at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2010

I LOVE this stuff. I've never heard most of it before, but I can tell it definitely informed the sounds I remember from the artists that came right after it, when I started listening to rap and hip-hop in '91/'92. But it's better! You just gave me a whole list of things to look for at Vintage Vinyl this afternoon!
posted by limeonaire at 9:06 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

wuwei: Freestyle made its mark in California too, at least in the Asian and Latino communities.

OK, so this reminds me: After finding a Cover Girls album ("Show Me") this afternoon and listening to it in the car, I realized what it most reminds me of (besides blasting Latin stations on the New Jersey highway): Jpop! So many of the same flourishes are there...!
posted by limeonaire at 4:52 PM on May 1, 2010

Freestyle is one of my guilty pleasures.

It also as a certain appeal to me in that it is music I heard constantly in the 80s that seems to have been forgotten by the 80's Nostalgia Industries and therefore has a more authentic feel of nostalgia to me. If that makes any sense.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 6:34 PM on May 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't see how you can mention Planet Rock and not mention its roots, Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express". It's just not possible. Verboten, round our way.
posted by Sutekh at 11:43 PM on May 1, 2010

Man, I forgot how much I missed this stuff-- I listened to this all the time in 8th Grade.(between my NWOBHM phase and Punk phase) I distinctly remember Let The Music Play having a rather long shelf life, being a staple at every school throughout my Middle & High School years.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:11 AM on May 2, 2010

This is too good. I haven't heard "Set Me Free" in ages!
posted by vespertine at 2:00 PM on May 2, 2010

(Or "Set You Free", rather.) So excited I couldn't think straight.
posted by vespertine at 2:03 PM on May 2, 2010

"Let The Music Play" still gets played on B96 in Chicago to this day. It may not be in as heavy rotation as in its heyday or even into the 90s, but I guarantee that you'll be able to hear that song once, possibly twice, during a week's listening. It says something for a song fast approaching its 30th(!) birthday to still receive regular airplay on a station that's not relegating itself entirely to nostalgia for yesteryear.
posted by stannate at 1:34 PM on May 3, 2010

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