Think about your favourite R&B song that has that a rap verse, you know the one that hits the essence of the song. Or your classic hip-hop jam with that memorable R&B hook that finds its way to your inner soul. So where did it all start? Everything has a beginning right? Indeed. Let me take you through the song which we may owe it all to – Chaka Khan’s 1984 hit single ‘I Feel for You’.
So I have to admit, this song is one that features highly on my ‘request list’ when I want to have a really good sing-along, and dance like an 80’s child. I simply wish that I could hit those notes, which I sometimes attempt to do – though let’s leave that one for another time…
Chaka Khan has one of the most recognizable voices in music; she balanced that strong feminine vibe and flawlessly meshed it with sass and attitude along the way. During a time when R&B was taking a contemporary turn in the 80’s, she successfully delivered a powerful collaboration which would bring hip-hop to a mainstream audience.
So why was it a powerful collaboration? Well let me explain, Chaka Khan, the Queen of Funk and front-woman of the 70’s band Rufus teamed up with the legendary Prince on this track, added in Stevie Wonder’s tunes on the harmonica, and rounded it off nicely with a touch of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five’s Melle Mel. This was to be known as the first ‘rap break’ in a mainstream R&B hit.
So the significance of this, you ask? Well…it was 1984 people, and hip-hop was not on mainstream radio yet! You see, there was an opportunity to cross genres and introduce it to the whole world, to introduce an important cultural movement and celebrate its brilliance. And who better to bring that to the forefront of music listeners’ attention, other than the cream of the crop.
The people liked it, so much so that Prince (who originally wrote and performed the song in 1979) won a Grammy in 1985 for his contribution. Not to mention the song went on to become a chart success and sold millions of copies.
So then we have to ask ourselves, did Chaka Khan’s clever mix pave the way for other hip-hop artists like [insert your favourite 80’s/90’s/2000’s artist or group]?
Fast forward 28 years later, and you will almost always hear a melody hook, or a rap feature on any new released track. As I’m writing this, I try to quickly scan the music library that resides in my brain in search of a few examples of tracks that don’t feature either.
Actually, come to think of it, I’ve found more examples of unlikely hip-hop features than not. Genres such as Rock, Jazz, Electro Pop, and House have been embracing this cross pollination for some time and vice versa of course.
So the next time you hear this song, turn to the person you’re with and give them a quick run down in hip-hop history!