|Cultural origins||Early 1980s, United States : New York/New Jersey metropolitan area and Miami, especially among Hispanic and Italian Americans|
|Derivative forms||NYC hard house|
Latin freestyle (local terms include Miami freestyle) or simply freestyle music is a form of electronic dance music that emerged in the New York metropolitan area in the 1980s. It experienced its greatest popularity from the late 1980s until the early 1990s. A common theme of freestyle lyricism is heartbreak in the city. The first freestyle hit is largely attributed to "Let the Music Play" by Shannon.
The music was largely made popular on radio stations such as WKTU and "pre-hip hop" Hot 97 in New York City, and it became especially popular among Italian Americans and Puerto Rican Americans in the New York metro area, Philadelphia metro area, Chicago metro area, New England, and Baltimore metro area; Cuban Americans in the Miami area; Hispanic and Latino Americans and Italian Americans in Detroit, Los Angeles County, New Orleans and the Gulf coast; and Filipino Americans in Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Notable performers in the freestyle genre include Stevie B, Corina, Lil Suzy, Timmy T, George Lamond, TKA, Noel, Company B, Exposé, Debbie Deb, Brenda K. Starr, the Cover Girls, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Stacey Q, Sa-Fire, Shannon, Coro, Lisette Melendez, Judy Torres, Rockell, Paris by Air, Joyce Sims, and many others.
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1982–1987: Origin of freestyle
Freestyle music developed in the early 1980s, primarily in the Hispanic (Puerto Rican) communities of Upper Manhattan and The Bronx and the Italian-American communities in Brooklyn, The Bronx, and other boroughs of New York City, later spreading throughout New York's five boroughs and into New Jersey. It initially was a fusion of synthetic instrumentation and syncopated percussion of 1980s electro, as favored by fans of breakdancing. Sampling, as found in synth-pop music and hip-hop, was incorporated. Key influences include Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force's "Planet Rock" (1982) and Shannon's "Let the Music Play" (1983), the latter was a top-ten Billboard Hot 100 hit. In 1984, a Latin presence was established when the first song recorded in the genre by a Latin American artist, "Please Don't Go", by newcomer Nayobe (a singer from Brooklyn and of Afro-Cuban descent) was recorded and released. The song became a success, reaching No. 23 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. In 1985, a Spanish version of the song was released with the title "No Te Vayas". By 1987, freestyle began getting more airplay on American pop radio stations. Songs such as "Come Go with Me" by Exposé, "Show Me" by the Cover Girls, "Fascinated" by Company B, "Silent Morning" by Noel, and "Catch Me (I'm Falling)" by Pretty Poison, brought freestyle into the mainstream. House music, based partly on disco rhythms, was by 1992 challenging the relatively upbeat, syncopated freestyle sound. Pitchfork considers the Miami Mix of ABC's single "When Smokey Sings" to be proto-freestyle.
1987–1992: A pop-crossover genre
Freestyle's Top 40 Radio airplay started to really take off by 1987, and it began to disappear from the airwaves in the early 1990s as radio stations moved to Top 40-only formats. Artists such as George Lamond, Exposé, Sweet Sensation, and Stevie B were still heard on mainstream radio, but other notable freestyle artists did not fare as well. Carlos Berrios and Platinum producer Frankie Cutlass used a freestyle production on "Temptation" by Corina and "Together Forever" by Lisette Melendez. The songs were released in 1991, almost simultaneously, and caused a resurgence in the style when they were embraced by Top 40 radio. "Temptation" reached the number 6 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. These hits were followed by the success of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, who had been one of the earliest freestyle acts. Their records were produced by Full Force, who had also worked with UTFO and James Brown.
Several primarily freestyle artists released ballads during the 1980s and early 1990s that crossed over to the pop charts and charted higher than their previous work. These include "Seasons Change" by Exposé, "Thinking of You" by Sa-Fire, "One More Try" by Timmy T, "Because I Love You (The Postman Song)" by Stevie B, and "If Wishes Came True" by Sweet Sensation. Brenda K. Starr reached the Hot 100 with her ballad "I Still Believe". Freestyle shortly thereafter gave way to mainstream pop artists such as MC Hammer, Paula Abdul, Bobby Brown, New Kids on the Block, and Milli Vanilli (with some artists utilizing elements of freestyle beginning in the 1980s) using hip hop beats and electro samples in a mainstream form with slicker production and MTV-friendly videos. These artists were successful on crossover stations as well as R&B stations, and freestyle was replaced as an underground genre by newer styles such as new jack swing, trance and Eurodance. Despite this, some freestyle acts managed to garner hits well into the 1990s, with acts such as Cynthia and Rockell scoring minor hits on the Billboard Hot 100 as late as 1998.
Freestyle remained a largely underground genre with a sizable following in New York, but has recently seen a comeback in the cities where the music originally experienced its greatest success. New York City impresario Steve Sylvester and producer Sal Abbetiello of Fever Records launched Stevie Sly's Freestyle Party show at the Manhattan live music venue, Coda on April 1, 2004. The show featured Judy Torres, Cynthia, and the Cover Girls and was attended by several celebrity guests. The Coda show was successful, and was followed by a summer 2006 Madison Square Garden concert that showcased freestyle's most successful performers. New freestyle releases are popular with enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Miami rapper Pitbull collaborated with Miami freestyle artist Stevie B to create an updated version of Stevie B's hit, "Spring Love".
In the modern day, freestyle music continues a thriving fanbase all across the United States. In cities like New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, recent concerts by freestyle artists have been extremely successful, with many events selling out.
Influence on other genres
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NYC hard house
As Latin freestyle in the late 1980s and early 1990s gradually became superseded with house music, dance-pop, and regular hip hop on one front and Spanish-language pop music with marginal Latin freestyle influences on another, "harder strain" of house music originating in New York City was known to incorporate elements of Latin freestyle and the old school hip hop sound. Principal architects of the genre were Todd Terry (early instances include "Alright Alright," and "Dum Dum Cry") and Nitro Deluxe. Deluxe's "This Brutal House," fusing Latin percussion and the New York electro sound of Man Parrish with brash house music, proved to have an impact on the United Kingdom's club music scene, presaging the early 1990s British rave scene.
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Freestyle features a dance tempo with stress on beats two and four; syncopation with a bassline, and a louder bass drum, lead synth, or percussion, and optional stabs of synthesized brass or orchestral samples; sixteenth-note hi-hats; a chord progression that lasts eight, 16, or 32 beats and is usually in a minor key; relatively complex, upbeat melodies with singing, verses, and a chorus; and themes about a city, broken heart, love, or dancing. Freestyle music in general is heavily influenced by electronic instrumentation upon an upbeat dance tempo. Often the Latin clave rhythm is present in many songs, such as Amoretto "Clave Rocks" by Rae Serrano aka Amoretto.
The genre was recognized as a subgenre of hip-hop in the mid-1980s. It was dominated by "hard" electro beats of the type used primarily at the time in hip-hop music. Freestyle was more appreciated in larger cities.
The origin of the name "freestyle" is disputed. One theory is that the term refers to the mixing techniques of DJs who spun this form of music in its pre-house incarnations. Freestyle's syncopated beat structures required that DJs incorporate aspects of both electronic and hip-hop techniques, as they had to mix, or had more freedom to mix, more quickly and responsively to the individual songs. A second explanation is that the music allows for a greater degree of freedom of dance expression than other music of the time, and each dancer is free to create his or her own style. Yet another story holds that the freestyle name evolved in Miami over confusion between two tracks produced by Tony "Pretty Boy" Butler: "Freestyle Express" by Freestyle and Debbie Deb's "When I Hear Music." The sound became synonymous with Butler's production, and the name of the group he was in, Freestyle, became the genre's name.
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"Let the Music Play" by Shannon, is often named as the genre's first hit, and its sound, called "The Shannon Sound", as the foundation of the genre. Others like DJ Lex and Triple Beam Records contend that Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" was the first freestyle song produced. "Let the Music Play" eventually became freestyle's biggest hit, and still receives frequent airplay. Its producers Chris Barbosa and Mark Liggett changed and redefined the electro funk sound with the addition of Latin-American rhythms and a syncopated drum-machine sound.
Many early or popular freestyle artists and DJs, such as Jellybean, Tony Torres, Raul Soto, Roman Ricardo, Lil Suzy, and Nocera, were of Puerto Rican or Italian ancestry, which was one reason for the style's popularity among Puerto Rican Americans and Italian Americans in the New York City area and Philadelphia.
The new sound rejuvenated the funk, soul and hip hop club scenes in New York City. While many neighborhood clubs closed their doors permanently, Manhattan clubs that played freestyle music began to thrive. Records like "Play At Your Own Risk" by Planet Patrol, "One More Shot" by C Bank, "Al-Naafiyish (The Soul)" by Hashim, and "I.O.U." by Freeez became hits.
Producers from around the world began to replicate the sound in productions that were more radio-friendly. Records such as "Let Me Be the One" by Sa-Fire, "I Remember What You Like" by Jenny Burton, "Running" by Information Society, "Give Me Tonight" by Shannon and "It Works For Me" by Pam Russo enjoyed heavy New York radio airplay.
The production team of Tony Moran and Albert Cabrera, known as the Latin Rascals, created original music for radio station WKTU that included freestyle classics like 1984's "Arabian Nights", and later hip-hop oriented projects such as the Cover Girls' "Show Me".
Freestyle continues to have a strong following in New York. Coro performed in WKTU's well-received "Beatstock" concert in 2006, and the 2008 "Freestyle Extravaganza" concert sold out Madison Square Garden.
In March 2013, Radio City Music Hall hosted the very first freestyle concert. Top freestyle artists included in the line-up were TKA, Safire, Judy Torres, Cynthia, Cover Girls, Lisa Lisa, Shannon, Noel, and Lisette Melendez. Originally scheduled as a one-night event, a second night was added shortly after the first night was sold out in a matter of days.
Radio stations nationwide began to play hits by artists like TKA, Sweet Sensation, Exposé, and Sa-Fire on the same playlists as Michael Jackson and Madonna. "(You Are My) All and All" by Joyce Sims became the first freestyle record to cross over into the R&B market, and was one of the first to reach the European market. Radio station WPOW/Power 96 was noted for exposing freestyle to South Florida in the mid-'80s through the early '90s, as well as mixing in some local Miami bass into its playlist.
'Pretty Tony' Butler produced several hits on Miami's Jam-Packed Records, including Debbie Deb's "When I Hear Music" and "Lookout Weekend", and Trinere's "I'll Be All You'll Ever Need" and "They're Playing Our Song". Company B, Stevie B, Paris By Air, Linear, Will to Power and Exposé's later hits defined Miami freestyle. Tolga Katas is credited as one of the first persons to create a hit record entirely on a computer, and produced Stevie B's "Party Your Body", "In My Eyes" and "Dreamin' of Love". Katas' record label Futura Records was an incubator for artists such as Linear, who achieved international success after a move from Futura to Atlantic Records.
The groundbreaking "Nightime" by Pretty Poison featuring red headed diva Jade Starling in 1984 initially put Philadelphia on the freestyle map. Their follow-up "Catch Me I'm Falling" was a worldwide hit and brought freestyle to American Bandstand, Soul Train, Solid Gold and the Arsenio Hall Show. "Catch Me I'm Falling" broke on the street during the summer of 1987 and was the #1 single at WCAU (98 Hot Hits) and #2 at WUSL (Power 99) during the first two weeks of July. Virgin Records was quick to sign Pretty Poison helping to usher in the avalanche of other major label signings from the expanding freestyle scene.
Several freestyle acts followed on the heels of Pretty Poison emerging from the metropolitan Philadelphia, PA area in the early 1990s, benefiting from both the clubs and the overnight success of then-Dance friendly Rhythmic Top 40 WIOQ. Artists such as T.P.E. (The Philadelphia Experiment) enjoyed regional success.
Freestyle had a recognizable following in California, particularly in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego. California's large Latino community enjoyed the sounds of the East Coast Latin club scene, and a number of California artists became popular among freestyle fans on the East Coast. Northern California freestyle, mainly from San Francisco and San Jose, leans towards a high-tempo dance beat similar to Hi-NRG. Most freestyle in California emerged from the Bay Area and Los Angeles regions.
California's large Filipino American community also embraced freestyle music during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Jaya, who immigrated from the Philippines to Los Angeles, was one of the first Filipina-American freestyle singers, whose song "If You Leave Me Now" reached number 44 in 1990.
Freestyle's popularity spread outward from the Greater Toronto Area's Italian, Hispanic/Latino and Greek populations in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was showcased alongside house music in various Toronto nightclubs, but by the mid-1990s was replaced almost entirely by house music.
Lil' Suzy released several 12-inch singles and performed live on the Canadian live dance music television program Electric Circus. Montreal singer Nancy Martinez's 1986 single "For Tonight" would become the first Canadian freestyle single to reach the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the Montreal girl group 11:30 reached the Canadian chart with "Ole Ole" in 2000.
Elsewhere in the world
Performers and producers associated with the style also came from around the world, including Turkish-American Murat Konar (the writer of Information Society's "Running"), Paul Lekakis from Greece, Asian artist Leonard (Leon Youngboy) who released the song "Youngboys", and British musicians including Freeez, Paul Hardcastle, Samantha Fox, and even Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, who also adopted the freestyle sound in his 1984 album Secret Agent, having worked with producer Chris Barbosa. Several British new wave and synthpop bands also teamed up with freestyle producers or were influenced by the genre, and released freestyle songs or remixes. These include Duran Duran whose song "Notorious" was remixed by the Latin Rascals, and whose album Big Thing contained several freestyle inspired songs such as "All She Wants Is"; New Order who teamed up with Arthur Baker, producing and co-writing the track "Confusion"; Erasure and the Der Deutsche mixes of their song "Blue Savannah"; and the Pet Shop Boys, whose song "Domino Dancing" was produced by Miami-based freestyle producer Lewis Martineé. Australian act I'm Talking utilized freestyle elements into their singles "Trust Me" and "Do You Wanna Be?", both becoming top ten hits in their native Australia.
- Golden age Latin freestyle era
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