About seven seconds into the song “Replay,” a track on Jozzy’s new EP Songs for Women, Free Game for N**gas, we hear Sean “Diddy” Combs describe the beat in the background as the “Love Records sound.”
Jozzy was signed to Diddy’s newly minted Love Records last year, and while it’s clear that her offerings are an innovative take on R&B, it’s also obvious that her sound is an homage to the past. Throughout Songs for Women, Free Game for N**gas, we hear the singer’s beautiful voice juxtaposed with hard-hitting 808s, entrancing melodies, and bright kicks. Those same elements that Jozzy harmonizes over could easily be found on your modern-day rap hit. And the marriage of rap and R&B is a formula that Diddy knows very well.
More than 30 years ago, he was appointed by Uptown Records’ Andre Harrell to executive produce Mary J. Blige’s debut What’s The 411? From there, he teamed up with a collection of other producers to craft Blige’s sound. Prior to this, hip hop often sampled funk and soul songs for its beats, but R&B rarely crossed into hip hop’s territory.
The two genres were first introduced in the ‘80s when Teddy Riley ushered in the New Jack Swing style, which was an upbeat hybrid of hip hop, dance, and R&B. During this time, artists such as Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, and Johnny Kemp all had big hits on Billboard and were among the frontmen of the movement.
Building upon New Jack Swing, Diddy first experimented with his take on the style with Jodeci’s 1991 single “Come and Talk to Me (Remix).” A year later, when it came time to produce What’s The 411?, he and his team of producers — including Mark “Corey” Rooney, Tony Dofat, Mark Morales and Dave Hall, among others — created their own hybrid of hip hop and R&B that was gritty, simple, and smooth. Long before trap 808s and synthesizers constructed mainstream hip hop beats, they were primarily made of drum brakes and samples of riffs from the ‘70s and ‘80s. What’s The 411? embraced these elements and spawned breakout hits such as “Real Love,” “You Remind Me,” and its title track, officially introducing the fledgling blend to the masses. At this time, Diddy named the style “hip hop soul” and Blige was crowned the queen of the new subgenre. Though Blige has since become a global superstar, she never forgot her roots and has continued to work with rappers and hip hop producers over the course of her career.
After What’s The 411? pioneered the style, other mega artists like Aaliyah, Mariah Carey, and TLC later adopted it. Thus, this subgenre — that was strikingly different from R&B of the previous decade — attracted a younger generation of fans. A year after Blige’s debut, Diddy launched Bad Boy Records, and the label became the home for both rappers and R&B artists. It was there that the hip hop soul subgenre continued to thrive.
Thanks to the now-mogul and his in-house production team, The Hitmen, many of the label’s artists achieved mainstream success by embracing the sound. For instance, Faith Evans’ debut album, Faith, one of the first full R&B releases on Bad Boy, peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1995. Shortly thereafter, Total’s eponymous 1996 debut peaked at No. 23. Both projects spawned successful singles with the hip hop soul sound. Perhaps the most notable example was Total’s popular single, “Can’t You See.” The track, which featured Bad Boy frontman The Notorious B.I.G., was built on a hip hop-esque sample of James Brown’s “The Big Payback.” Throughout the remainder of the ‘90s, other Bad Boy artists, such as 112 and Carl Thomas, continued to popularize hip hop soul. As the years progressed, rap and R&B became “cousins” of a sort and crossed into each other’s territories often.
As the early 2000s arrived, hip hop soul continued to thrive — even outside of Bad Boy. It also segued into another subgenre called neo soul, which included all of the features from its predecessor and also incorporated elements of soul music from the ‘70s. Artists such as D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild and Jill Scott, among many others, were the spearheads of this movement. But a decade later, R&B sales began to decline.
In the 2010s, the next iteration of hip hop soul popped up when Bryson Tiller spearheaded a style called “trap soul,” which merged R&B with bass-heavy trap production. Since then, however, R&B as a whole has taken a backseat to other mainstream genres. This has led to much debate over the years regarding its place in the current musical landscape.
Diddy went viral last year when he said R&B was “dead” during an Instagram Live session with Timbaland. But, he seemingly set out to change that with the introduction of Love Records. Songs for Women, Free Game for N**gas is the first project released on the imprint. At the time of its founding, Diddy explained that the label would cater exclusively to R&B artists and said that he’s “focused on creating timeless R&B music with the next generation of artists and producers.”
And Jozzy represents that next generation of R&B. Much of the production on her Love Records debut sounds like today’s hip hop, but it still subtly embraces elements from the past. As a result, it can be more appropriately deemed as a modern-day offering in the hip hop soul lineage. For example, the project is filled with tracks like “Alone,” which is slick and sexy and others like “Commotion,” which is an 808-thumping trunk banger.
Jozzy is no stranger to blending genres. Prior to signing with Diddy, she penned Lil Nas X’s viral 2019 country-rap hit “Old Town Road.” She has also written for Beyoncé, Summer Walker, Latto, and more. Another reason Jozzy is so versatile may lie in her ability to appeal to both sexes. She explained her thought process when creating her EP in an interview with Diddy in February.
“Because I am a woman, I love women so much,” she said. “So, I always try to make music that makes women feel something. I also have so many homeboys and brothers that I love equally, so I never male-bash. Therefore, I created this project to give them some game about women.”
Also, when it came down to tapping into her sensual side for the project, Jozzy garnered inspiration from some of Bad Boy’s R&B vets. She told REVOLT that she was “inspired by all the artists that Diddy’s worked with from Total, to 112, to Carl Thomas… He just did a really good job at writing songs for women, like ‘Summer Rain’ and ‘[I Wish].’ If you look at 112, ‘Peaches and Cream’ and ‘Anywhere.’ They made songs that women could sing with their tongues out and eyes closed.”
Despite the project’s hints of the past, Diddy recently made it clear on Twitter that the Love era is not a rehash of Bad Boy. And Jozzy’s EP proves that she is well on her way to carving her own lane. Nonetheless, the singer’s project builds on Diddy’s legacy sound and carries the baton into the next generation.