Random Song Reviews – 3/8-3/14/2022

Boyz II Men – I’ll Make Love To You

The early 90s were something of a golden era for R&B. We had the likes of R. Kelly, Jodeci, Silk and others scoring big hits, and a lot of those songs were freaky deaky shit. For a (scorching) hot second there, it looked like the clean cut quartet in Boyz II Men were playing catch up to a genre that had suddenly gotten a LOT hornier in just a couple years. The burgeoning success of gangsta rap and the raunchy lyrics of artists like The Notorious B.I.G. and Snoop Dogg forced R&B to dive deep into the sexy slow jam template. Boyz II Men had to follow suit, but they were going to do it on their own terms.

The end result was “I’ll Make Love To You,” a boilerplate slow jam with pristine 90s production that followed the formula of their blockbuster song “End of the Road” a little too well. The song was written and produced by hitmaker Babyface, a guy who knew exactly what he was doing in order to make a monster hit. Throughout “I’ll Make Love To You,” he layered keyboards, steady percussion, and canned strings to the desired effect, while Boyz II Men gave a melismatic vocal run around ridiculous, soft-focus lyrics about candles, a fireplace, and (duh) sweet, sweet lovemaking, baby.

The whole ordeal is laid on a little too thick, to the point where, if there’s any humor to be found in the sterilized lyrics and overwrought arrangement, the joke wears out its welcome pretty quickly. At least Boyz II Men’s peers sang about sex with a fiendish, ribald hunger, like they were wild animals. But that just wasn’t this quartet’s brand; they couldn’t sex you up or sing about knockin’ boots or how they were going to be freaks in the sheets. They had to class it up. They were going to “make love,” a phrase so sanitized and old-fashioned it must have sounded odd even in 1994. In the hands of Boyz II Men, sex isn’t a fun activity, but an act to express intense devotion. The Billboard charts don’t lie; a lot of people liked that message. But I prefer a little more heat in my slow jams, and “I’ll Make Love To You” strikes me as ice cold.

Score: 4/10

Ini Kamoze – Here Comes The Hotstepper

By 1994, Ini Kamoze was an elder statesman of Jamaican reggae and dancehall, but in America he was basically unknown. That all changed with the unlikely rise of “Here Comes The Hotstepper,” a great song that’s only made better by its unusual history. You can read that history here, courtesy of Tom Breihan’s excellent Number Ones column on Stereogum, which I recommend adding to your regular online reading digest.

Breihan’s entry also runs down all the samples used in “Hotstepper,” and there are quite a few. This was the standard practice in the early 90s, and it made for a glorious, adventurous era in hip-hop that sadly faded once the clearance process became more structured. Producer Salaam Remi added a mix of old and new sounds and references to craft a hip-hop song with dancehall cred; US audiences were already primed for this sound thanks to artists like Snow. Meanwhile Kamoze’s work on the track is confident and clever. He glides over the track with absurdly fun one-liners and endless hooks, and his patois, unlike the aforementioned Snow, is coherent and accessible to American ears.

“Here Comes the Hotstepper” is a JAM. It’s a 90s hip-hop song with dancehall flavor, and it works in every moment. Every sample is immaculately utilized, every one-liner perfectly timed, every hook strategically placed and repeated for maximum effect. It boggles my mind that it took so long to climb the Hot 100, but this was the era of Boyz II Men dominance, so in that context it makes sense. Regardless, the track is so damn fun it renders itself somewhat timeless, especially since Jamaican-influenced sounds would continue to make their way into pop music. “Here Comes The Hotstepper” hits just as hard as it first did on the dance floors of 1994.

Score: 9/10

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