Kashif never made a huge name for himself as a solo artist, but he cast a shadow throughout ’80s R&B as a kind of Narada Michael Walden-lite. He was a member of the great disco b-team B.T. Express in the ’70s before branching out as a producer/songwriter with Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “I’m In Love” (1981) and “Love Come Down” (1982), both R&B #1s. He had a feather-light touch as a producer, giving songs a clean, smooth groove that was funky but not too funky: this was bourgie funk for Reagan’s ’80s. He also, significantly, helped get Kenny G’s career started, leaving his fingerprints all over G’s second and third albums, 1983’s G-Force and 1985’s Gravity, the latter of which featured Kashif’s own vocals on the #24 R&B single “Love on the Rise” — building a base of support for G with black audiences in advance of his overground move with 1986’s Duotones (ironically, executive produced by Narada Michael Walden).
Walden and Kashif both contributed, however, to the 1985 debut album by a 19-year-old ingenue who Arista head Clive Davis had made his #1 priority: I refer, of course, to Whitney Houston. The first single released from her eponymous album was “You Give Good Love,” produced by Kashif, which became an out-of-the-box smash, hitting the top of the R&B chart and crossing over to #3 pop and #4 adult contemporary, going gold in the process. Kashif also cowrote and produced (and contributed some vocals to) the much more upbeat R&B-only single “Thinking About You,” which made it to #10 R&B. Meanwhile, Kashif himself was occasionally bothering the R&B charts, hitting the top 10 a trio of times from 1983-1986, never once approaching the pop charts. His closest glance to pop success on his own came with 1987’s Love Changes album, which featured the Dionne Warwick duet “Reservations for Two” — only a #62 pop charter but a #7 adult contemporary hit. The album’s title track, however, a duet with Mel’isa Morgan (above), marked his biggest solo success, making it to #2 on the R&B chart. (It’s also my personal favorite in his catalog.)
He continued working in the R&B trenches into the ’90s, but his heyday had ended. But his sound still endures; many of the songs I’ve mentioned can still be heard in regular gold rotation on radio playlists, and more recent hits like Beyonce’s “Love on Top” definitely owe a debt to Kashif’s early ’80s light/funky style. R&B was better for having him in it, and his legacy will live on.