It is widely unknown where the name “Freestyle” comes from, referring to the popular dance music genre that came out of the 1980s. Some consider it "rollerskating music" because of its appeal in roller rinks. I consider it "latin-infused techno music” because of its infectious synthesized latin grooves and innocent vocals. With hip-hop, R&B, and reggaeton dominating many Top 40 radio stations, I feel that Freestyle is long overdue for a comeback. I may have missed out on the nightclub scene in the 80s or live performances of any of these freestyle acts due to my age, but I am able to at least appreciate the music of the past, today.
Even the recently released compilation album “Forever Freestyle” gives listeners a chance to remember their favorite dance tracks from back in the day. Modern artists such as Gwen Stefani, Black Eyed Peas, and Janet Jackson attribute some of their musical influences to freestyle music.
Freestyle music had formed in New York and Miami in the mid 1980s.
The genre really owes credit to the German techno pop group Kraftwerk, who pioneered the electronic music movement in the late 70s with “Trans-Europe Express”, which was sampled by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force for their 1982 smash hip hop single “Planet Rock”.
In 1983, Shannon’s “Let The Music Play” became the first big freestyle hit, letting the world know that disco was dead, and that dance music was taking charge in the clubs. Composed by New York Producer Chris Barbosa, it changed the face of popular music, redefining electro funk with a heavily syncopated drum sound and Latin American rhythm. At the same time, Madonna released “Holiday” from her self-titled debut album, which contains elements of the New York Electro sound.
This new music genre called Freestyle quickly spread through nightclubs all over Manhattan, appealing mostly to the Hispanic American and Italian American demographics. While many fledgling freestyle artists were making hit records, more established European artists like Kraftwerk and New Order, who inspired the original dance music sound, began incorporating elements of freestyle into their own productions.
In 1985, the first crossover freestyle act was Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, who released their album “Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam Featuring Full Force, which included the #1 dance track “I Wonder If I Take You Home”. In 1987, they released their sophomore effort “Spanish Fly”, featuring the #1 hits “Head To Toe” and “Lost In Emotion”.
Another popular 80s freestyle act was Exposé. Formed out of Miami, Florida, their 1987 debut album “Exposure” went multi-platinum. Their hit single, “Point of No Return” featured keyboard riffs, a sing-along chorus, and a break beat drum pattern. The song was originally recorded in 1984 and featured the original group lineup of Sandra “Sandeé” Casanas, Aléjandra “Alé” Lorenzo, and Laurie Miller. Casanas and Lorenzo later left the group to pursue other interests and were replaced by Jeanette Jurado and Gioia Bruno. A re-recorded version of “Point of No Return”, featuring the new lineup, was released in the summer of 1987. Exposé had paved the way for other female freestyle acts such as Cover Girls, Company B, and Sweet Sensation.
In the late 80s, many white acts began to capitalize on the rising success of freestyle.
*Stacey Q (real name Stacey Lynn Swain) released her hit dance track “Two of Hearts” from her album “Better Than Heaven” in 1986.
*Taylor Dayne (real name Leslie Wunderman) had a hit album and single “Tell It To My Heart” in 1987. Although not considered a freestyle artist, “Tell It To My Heart”, the single, was very much in the style of freestyle.
*Pretty Poison released “Catch Me (I’m Falling)” featured on the soundtrack to the 1987 film “Hiding Out”.
*Minneapolis-based synthpop group Information Society released “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” in 1988, which contains a sample of a Star Trek episode with Mr. Spock saying “pure energy”. “Running” is released as a follow up single.
*Miami dance group Will To Power released their self-titled album in 1988 featuring “Dreamin’” and “Say It’s Gonna Rain” as well as the #1 ballad “Baby I Love Your Way/Free Bird”.
FREESTYLE IN THE 90s:
By the turn of the decade, gangsta rap as well as new forms of dance music such as House, Trance and Rave coming from Europe, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Detroit introduced a younger, fresher sound. Although Freestyle music was seen as less important at the beginning of the 90s, it was able to survive on many R&B/Hip Hop radio stations due to its popularity among the Latino American crowd.
Such 90s Freestyle Songs Include:
* Angelina “Release Me”
* Lil' Suzy “Take Me In Your Arms”
* Lisette Melendez “Together Forever”
* Rockell “In A Dream”
* Stevie B “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)”
* George Lamond “Bad Of The Heart”
* Corina “Summertime Summertime” (Originally sung by Nocera in 1986)