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The History of Freestyle Music
Written by Joey Gardner
Reproduced with permission of Tommy Boy Music & Timber! Records

What is Freestyle? In order to answer that question you'd have to go back as far as the death of Disco back in the early 80's. Disco was Pop music in the late 70's and one of the biggest radio stations in the country was Disco 92 (WKTU-FM) in New York. Disco 92's core audience was made up primarily of Hispanics and Italian Americans. When Disco faltered in the early 80's, so did WKTU's ratings. In a move to bolster their sagging ratings, WKTU changed their format (and eventually their call letters) to a more mainstream pop format and eventually to rock. Another station cross-town, WXLO (99X) also was changing its format. By 1981, 99X changed to 98.7 KISS-FM, an urban station hoping to chip away at WBLS' stronghold on New York's African American audience. In 1983, WHTZ (Z100) went on the air to take on WPLJ for the mainstream, primarily white audience abandoned by WKTU. Through all these format changes, one demographic - the huge Hispanic audience in New York went - overlooked. Most Latins opted for KISS-FM and WBLS, who did play the occasional club record, but other Latins found an alternative to hear new music. They went underground.

In 1982, when Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force released "Planet Rock," a new sound was born. Some called it "hip-hop be-bop" or breakdancing music. While most of the neighborhood clubs were steadily closing their doors for good, some Manhattan clubs were suddenly thriving. Places like the Roxy, the Funhouse, Broadway 96, Gothams West, and Roseland who played this new sound were packed. Records like "Play At Your Own Risk" by Planet Patrol, "One More Shot" by C-Bank, "Numbers" by Kraftwerk, "Al-Naafiyish (The Soul)" by Hashim and "I.O.U." by Freeze became huge hits in New York. Some producers wisely copied the sound and made songs that were more melodic. Records like "I Remember What You Like" by Jenny Burton, and "Let The Music Play" and "Give Me Tonight" by Shannon were all over New York radio. Many of these performers performed at the Funhouse and Roseland to packed dance floors. The people packing these dance floors were young Latins, mainly Puerto Rican. The D.J.'s who played the music, (i e. Jellybean, Tony Torres, Raul Soto. Roman Ricardo, etc.) were also Hispanic. However, those on stage performing these songs were not, neither were most of the producers making the music.

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