Spearheaded by the club smash “Rump Shaker,” Wreckx-n-Effect’s 1992 album Hard Or Smooth is a crucial part of the New Jack Swing story. Executive produced by Teddy Riley, the album fused contemporary R&B’s melodious heart and amorous lyrical agenda with a boastful hip-hop swagger and attitude. Riley’s hard-or-smooth tracks are the perfect complement to the raps of Wreckx-n-Effect group members A-Plus and Riley’s sibling Markell Riley.
“It’s called the rump shaker, the beats is like sweeter than candy/ I’m feeling manly and your shaker’s coming in handy,” declares A-Plus on album opener “Rump Shaker,” slickly outlining Wreckx-n-Effect’s agenda. A-Plus’s verbals on the song are backed by samples sourced from James Brown, the Lafayette Afro Rock Band, and ’70s funk unit Manzel. Teddy Riley also contributes a guest rap that interpolates lyrics from DeBarge’s ’80s R&B hit “I Like It.” (Riley’s rhymes on the song are credited to a young Pharrell Williams, a fellow Virginia Beach resident.)
The opening note that “Rump Shaker” strikes carries across the rest of Hard Or Smooth. “Knock-N-Boots” embraces slinky musical territory as the group details a weekly schedule explicitly focused on bedroom conquests; the sophisticated “Tell Me How You Feel” brings in Tammy Lucas for an extra R&B sheen; and “My Cutie” sees Markell Riley pursue a crush “heart to heart, skin to skin, mind to mind.”
During its short reign in the late 80s and early 90s, New Jack Swing was huge. But the sub-genre was criticized by hip-hop purists for its pop-leaning sound. “We make hits the new jack style, but you knock us,” vents Markell Riley on album track “New Jack Swing II (Hard Version),” nodding to the charges. As one-half of the longplayer’s title suggests, however, there’s robust lyricism throughout Hard Or Smooth. As Riley confidently puts it on the same song: “Relax, ain’t no getting with these kind of brothers/ Teddy gets the beat ready, A-Plus writes the rhyme/ And me being Mark-miggedy? I just go for mines!”
In celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, uDiscover Music is publishing 50 album reviews throughout 2023 that highlight the breadth and depth of the genre. The Hip-Hop 50 logo was designed by Eric Haze, the mind behind iconic graphics for EPMD and LL Cool J.