Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. Today, The Second Disc reflects on one of the most beloved R&B hits of the 1990s, with the help of a special guest. After this intro, the post will be taken over by Eric Luecking, head of the blog Record Racks and a contributor to Okayplayer, NPR.com and Allmusic. He'll be looking back at Another Level, Blackstreet's sophomore LP and the disc that spawned the mega-hit "No Diggity."
Back in the summer and fall of 1996, you couldn't go anywhere without hearing Blackstreet's "No Diggity." With a fantastic video directed by Hype Williams that featured the staple of slowed-down dance sequences with girls in black cheerleader-styled attire, a club on a beach, and who could forget the marionettes - an old man on guitar and Lil Penny on piano? Add in Dr. Dre, who was moving forward from Death Row with the recently formed Aftermath label, and a new artist that Teddy Riley was trying to develop, QueenPen, alongside an absolutely infectious groove with some nasty drums, a thoomping kick and a snappy snare, on top of a Bill Withers vocal sample (the "mmm mmmmm"s from Withers' "Grandma's Hands"), well it was just the right recipe for one of the 1990s' best R&B and dance tracks.
I remember clearly waking up one morning in August of 1996 to get ready for a new (high) school year and seeing this video on MTV's morning run of videos (remember when they used to do that?). My hunch, in hindsight, is that it had been out a few weeks already getting steady rotation on BET before it couldn't be stopped from going over to Viacom's bigger brother. It stayed at the top of the video rotation and video music countdowns for what seemed like forever. Fifteen years later, it's still as funky and infectious.
The group itself had been shuffled prior to the album's release. Having hired two new members, Mark Middleton and Eric Williams, to replace Levi Little and Dave Hollister, the latter of whom was pursuing - and eventually found - a middling solo career, there wasn't necessarily reason to think the group would blow up like it did. Sure, they had success with their 1994 self-titled release, but that was mostly confined to urban radio.
The group would release follow-up videos including "Don't Leave Me," "I Can't Get You (Out Of My Mind) (Remix)," and "Fix," albeit the latter was in remixed form featuring the work of the dearly departed ODB, Slash in a career resurgence, and even Fishbone. "Fix" would be the next biggest hit from the album, thanks to the star power associated with the remix, followed by "Don't Leave Me" and "I Can't Get You (Out of My Mind)."
Interscope also found another single to release, their cover of "(Money Can't) Buy Me Love" by The Beatles, in various markets. That version, while most Beatles purists probably wouldn't agree, is actually a very nice rendition. With an introduction from a harp, it sets the stage for a dreamy version featuring tight harmonies by the group. The only distraction, albeit not a big one, is Teddy Riley's use of a vocoder. It's a reworking that's just crazy enough to work, but Riley, a hitmaker for numerous acts, knows how to produce a well-crafted pop song. Another couple of great slow jam from the album that surely served as the soundtrack to many makeout (and more) sessions: "Let's Stay in Love" and "Never Gonna Let You Go." Again, Blackstreet showed their penchant for coming together for lovely harmonies on the hooks, although during the verses, the group typically would let one member perform solo.
The album, a fairly long one at nearly 70 minutes, does, at times, get bloated with too many interludes (the "Motherlude," while I appreciate its intent, is superfluous). "Taja's Lude" is another one that, while cute, would have been best left on the cutting room floor as would have "Deja's Poem" even though both are short, each coming in under 30 seconds. The one interlude that really shines is actually more of a song - "My Paradise" - which has some great jazz-influenced vocals with basic scatting and even a doo-wop breakdown at track's end. And in today's world, "Blackstreet (on the Radio)" probably would have been a YouTube EPK to promote the album. (Interestingly, on this interview with Morris Baxter, Teddy Riley explains that group member Chauncey Hannibal is the "Black" in Blackstreet, and Riley himself is the "Street" in Blackstreet. The latter part is not accurate; an original group member, Joseph Stonestreet, who was featured on only one one track by the group ("Baby Be Mine," from the CB4 soundtrack, which predated the self-titled album by a year), was the reason the group was named as such by joining the "Black" from Hannibal (a nickname?) and the "Street" from Stonestreet to form the group name. Stonestreet left the group before their debut album.)
Interscope also used a common tool for the music biz in the 1990s: maxi CD singles and 12" singles. I forgot just how many different remixes there were for "Fix," "Don't Leave Me," and "No Diggity" until I started to research for this article. In collecting tracks to create a second disc of material for this Reissue Theory, I have included tracks that were either featured on these various singles or songs/remixes from the same period.
The remixes of "No Diggity" alone could fill an LP of its own. One of the main highlights was a reimagination of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" with a few vocal interjections of "No Diggity" to complement it, and, thus, credited as a remix of "No Diggity." Another popular remix was the hip hop mix of "Don't Leave Me" that Bill Bellamy, then the host of MTV Jams, would frequently mention, although a video for that version never surfaced.
Given all that, Another Level blasted the group into superstardom, which helped them to land guest spots with Foxy Brown ("Gotta Get U Home") and Jay-Z ("The City is Mine") throughout 1996 and 1997. However, some internal group conflict would break up this particular lineup of the band until 2003, when the lineup reunited to record Level II. That, too, was short-lived, as the group now has been reshuffled once again, seeing Dave Hollister return to the fold and Chauncey Hannibal out as a member.
Blackstreet, Another Level: 15th Anniversary Edition (Interscope/UMe)
Disc 1: Original LP (originally released as Interscope IND-90071, 1996)
- Black & Street Intro
- This is How We Roll
- No Diggity (feat. Dr. Dre & QueenPen)
- Good Lovin
- Let's Stay in Love
- We Gonna Take U Back (Lude)/Don't Leave Me
- Never Gonna Let You Go
- I Wanna Be Your Man
- Taja's Lude (Interlude)
- My Paradise (Interlude)
- Deja's Poem
- (Money Can't) Buy Me Love
- Blackstreet (on the Radio) (Radio Interview with Morris Baxter & Blackstreet)
- I Can't Get You (Out of My Mind)
- I'll Give It to You
- Happy Song (Tonite)
- The Lord is Real (Time Will Reveal)
Disc 2: Bonus material
- No Diggity (Billie Jean)
- Fix (Main Mix Remix featuring Slash and ODB)
- Call Me (Hip Hop Mix) (featuring Jay-Z)
- Don't Leave Me (Hip Hop Mix) (featuring Nutta Butta)
- Don't Leave Me (Goodbye Remix)
- Fix (Dezo Call Me Mix)
- No Diggity (All-Star Remix)
- I Can't Get You Out of My Mind (Remix)
- Don't Leave Me (Kooly High Mix)
- No Diggity (Will Remix)
- Fix (Linslee Remix)
- Happy Song (Tonite) (Full Crew Remix featuring Rimes)
- Fix (Smooth Shomari Mix)
- Kofi's Real Live Turntable Mix (featuring No Diggity, Man Behind the Music, Givin You All My Lovin, I Like The Way You Work, Fix, Don't Leave Me)
Disc 2, Track 1 from "No Diggity" CD single - Interscope INTDM-95003, 1996
Disc 2, Track 2 from "Fix" CD single - Interscope IND-95554, 1997
Disc 2, Track 3 from Soul Food soundtrack - LaFace 73008-26041-2, 1997) (variation of "Fix")
Disc 2, Track 4 from "Don't Leave Me Remixes" promo CD single - Interscope INT5P-6160, 1997) (contains a sample of Notorious B.I.G.'s "Warning")
Disc 2, Track 5 from "Don't Leave Me Remixes" promo CD single - Interscope INT5P-6160, 1997 (contains a sample of Guy's "Goodbye Love." Guy was a group that Teddy Riley was a member of and made popular prior to Blackstreet.)
Disc 2, Track 6 from "Fix" CD single - Interscope IND-95554, 1997
Disc 2, Track 7 from "No Diggity" CD single - Interscope INTDM-95003, 1996) (contains a sample of The Charmels "As Long As I've Got You" as written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and probably most remembered by the newer generation as the piano sample for Wu-Tang Clan's "C.R.E.A.M.")
Disc 2, Track 8 from Hav Plenty Soundtrack - Yab Yum/550 Music BK 69356, 1998
Disc 2, Track 9 from "Don't Leave Me" promo 12" - Interscope INT8P-6177, 1997
Disc 2, Track 10 from "No Diggity" CD single - Interscope INTDM-95003, 1996 (contains a sample from Cee Lo Green's former group,Goodie Mob, and their hit "Cell Therapy.")
Disc 2, Track 11 from "Fix" European CD single - Interscope IND-97521, 1997
Disc 2, Track 12 from Interscope U.K. 12" - INT 95563, 1997
Disc 2, Track 13 from "Fix" CD single - Interscope IND-95554, 1997
Disc 2, Track 14 from European CD single - Interscope IND-95567, 1997