What Millennials Should Know About… Keith Sweat’s ‘Make It Last Forever’

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By: / June 17, 2014

To celebrate Black Music Month, VIBE spotlights some of music’s most essential timepieces for Gen Y to get hip to

KEITH SWEAT
Make It Last Forever (1987)

Most Slept On: Anyone who blasted Keith Sweat’s debut album during the winter of 1987 understood that the best way to kick it to this R&B classic was to let it run ’til track eight. Which means it’s damn near impossible to pick an underrated song given that radio seemingly embraced every cut on this highly influential release which doubles as Teddy Riley’s production breakthrough. But if by chance you were told that the future of all mankind depended on you choosing a sleeper track then you should go with Sweat’s alluring cover of the Dramatics’ regal ’70s slow jam “In The Rain.” It’s not that Sweat re-invents the wheel and tops the Detroit vocal group’s Tony Hester-penned classic. It’s the fact that the Harlem crooner had the good sense to stick with the proverbial script and keep the moody ballad’s atmospheric heart and soul intact.

Lines Best For Status Updates:
-“You may be young but you’re ready (Ready to learn)” (“Right And A Wrong Way”)
-“I want, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want her…uh-uh/Don’t misunderstand me” (“I Want Her”)
-“Shooby dooby dooby doo wop, baby/That means I love you, darlin’!” (“How Deep Is Your Love”)
-“Forget about the dinner, oh, honey/’Cause the only thing I’m hungry for, oh, baby, is you” (“Don’t Stop Your Love”)

Bet You Didn’t Know: That Make It Last Forever almost got derailed. Before its release, late influential New York DJ and WBLS program director Frankie Crocker decided to premiere Sweat’s first single “I Want Her” on his powerful Make-It or Break-It segment. “The people chose to break it,” Teddy Riley told The Atlantic in 2012. “They thought it was wack.” Good thing Crocker vetoed the vote, kicking off the genesis of a new musical era.

Synopsis: Before the release of the triple platinum Make It Last Forever, soul-based music was operating within two sects: the respected old guard (’70s survivors Frankie Beverly & Maze, Cameo, Luther Vandross, the Isley Brothers, and Patti LaBelle were still staples on what was still remarkably coined as the “black” charts) and the mammoth pop crossover of R&B-based icons Michael Jackson, Prince, and Whitney Houston. That all changed with the emergence of Sweat and Riley. Make It Last Forever gave birth to New Jack Swing, a groundbreaking Riley-conceived sound that married the streetwise swagger of hip-hop with traditional gospel and blues fueled chords. It was young, ambitious, and effortlessly sexy. Kool Herc’s DIY children finally had their own music to fall in love to.

The frenetic jams and baby-making soundtracks are unleashed at a furious pace. You want a mid-tempo cool-out groove? “Something Just Ain’t Right” should be added to the playlist. “Right and A Wrong Way” arguably possesses the most quoted first line of R&B’s late ’80s canon (see Status Updates above). “I Want Her,” (the first) and most important New Jack Swing statement, shoots out of the gate like a chest-beating sprinter who knows the race is all but a formality. “Make It Last Forever” damn near created another baby boom while “How Deep Is Your Love” makes the case that the more bass, the better.

At the center of it all is Sweat and Riley. The former at times has gotten a bad rap for his overt please-baby-please-baby-please begging theatrics. But that’s the magic of Make It Last Forever—and the formula that would allow Sweat to outlast many of his peers into the next decade. You believed the guy when he pleaded for his girl to stay on “Tell Me It’s Me You Want“: “I know a man ain’t supposed to cry/So why don’t I just wipe these tears on my eyes?” But it was Riley’s genius that gave Sweat’s emotional lyrics an infectious platform. The church-reared keyboardist and boy wonder set the stage for how urban music would sound for the next seven years as everyone from Janet Jackson, R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige to the King of Pop himself would latch on to Riley’s energy. Guy’s self-titled album may have been cooler; Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel more of a commercial game-changer; and Michael Jackson’s Dangerous was the sound of New Jack Swing going global. But Sweat’s genre-shifting Make It Last Forever is the first shot across the bow. This was the new dope. And everybody wanted an invite. —Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)