At the start of 1992, I’d just turned 21 and had just moved back in with my folks, after a colossally bad 1991. Shortly thereafter I found a pair of jobs, a part-time daytime gig and a full-time overnight gig, the latter running cash register at a gas station. And the overnight gig meant that, whether working on a particular night or not, I was for the next six months (or however long I worked there) a night owl. This was great for one particular reason: at night, as other, more local radio stations reduced their power, and with the help of the clouds (off of which FM signals bounce), I could pick up (on my boombox, at home) Indianapolis’s R&B powerhouse, WTLC.
And talk about good timing: R&B radio in 1992 absolutely killed. New Jack Swing was still a thing (and people you wouldn’t expect to hear going New Jack were, like Charlie Wilson), but so was post-New Jack in the form of Uptown’s twin rising colosssuses Mary J. Blige (nearing the release of her debut What’s the 411?) and Jodeci (whose Forever My Lady was spending over a year on the Top R&B Albums chart), alongside such new stars as Toni Braxton (introduced via the L.A. Reid-and-Babyface-curated Boomerang soundtrack) and her label-mates TLC. Meanwhile, R. Kelly, then with his original group, Public Announcement and in the midst of spinning 4 top 10s off their debut, was busy showing off his skills as a singer/writer/producer triple-threat, especially around his forté of slow jams.
L.A. and ‘Face, along with the still-hot Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis (who themselves helmed the Mo’ Money soundtrack), were ruling the sound of R&B through the summer of ’92, as well. But they weren’t the only ones: Al B. Sure! and his musical partner Kyle West had their hands in not only Sure!’s comeback single “Right Now” but records for Tevin Campbell (“Alone with You”) and Jodeci (“I’m Still Waiting”), while Gerald Levert, riding the fourth single off his solo debut Private Line (“Can You Handle It”), also found time to help out his protegés Rude Boys (“My Kinda Girl”). L.A. and Babyface student Daryl Simmons worked with Alyson Williams on “Just My Luck” and After 7’s “Kickin’ It,” while ‘Face himself wrote Troop’s “Sweet November.” And I’ve not even mentioned the LaFace kings’ prized pony, Bobby Brown, who’d just dropped the first single from Don’t Be Cruel follow-up Bobby, the gleefully over-the-top “Humpin’ Around.”
Hip hop was in good shape, with east coast stars EPMD (the sublime “Crossover”) and Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth (the oozing-with-soul “They Reminisce Over You”) both riding big albums, Best New Artist-winners-to-be Arrested Development (“People Everyday,” jacking Sly Stone and improving on him) still mining their debut for hits, and an Atlantan named Jermaine Dupri making his name known with the backwards-clad Kris Kross. (The less said about Michael Bivins’ signee M.C. Brains, the better, frankly — but Bivins discoveries Boyz II Men had joined the L.A./Babyface camp and were ruling the late-summer roost with Boomerang smash “End of the Road.”) Oh, and lest we forget, Luke a/k/a Luther Campbell was enjoying a hit with “Breakdown,” produced by the then-new name Mannie Fresh.
And then there were the surprises, like Chaka Khan spinning not one but two top 10s off her fairly undistinguished The Woman I Am, following the ebullient #2 (!) “Love You All My Lifetime” with the midtempo #8 “You Can Make the Story Right.” Or reggae stalwarts Third World getting a top 30 hit with “Committed.” Or a posthumous top 20 record in “The Doo-Bop Song” for Miles Davis! And this is to say nothing of other top 50 highlights from the 8/29/92 chart, like the return of teen dreams Hi-Five (“She’s Playing Hard to Get”), a killer Shabba Ranks single (“Mr. Loverman”) from the Deep Cover soundtrack (which would lead to much bigger hits), and the first single from Miki Howard’s fourth album, which would not only head to #1 (“Ain’t Nobody Like You”) but be the last time she ever graced the R&B top 40!
The playlist accompanying this piece is, sadly, missing 8 songs, including Ralph Tresvant’s Mo’ Money entry “Money Can’t Buy You Love” (which swings surprisingly hard for a Jam/Lewis record), along with the aforementioned Alyson Williams, Rude Boys, and After 7 tracks, among others. You get enough of the era’s flavor, however, to get it. The ’90s may not have quite measured up to the ’80s in R&B, but they were pretty close — close enough, to be certain, as this snapshot shows & proves.