You don't often think of commercially successful groups as years ahead
of their time, but Guy certainly were. Their 1988 self titled debut
introduced the world to the New Jack Swing meld of soul vocals and hip-hop
beats, spawning such hits as "I Like," "Groove Me," "Spend the Night" and
"Teddy's Jam," while 1990's aptly titled The Future generated more
hits with "Let's Chill" and "I Wanna Get With U." Legal squabbles and
Teddy Riley's then expanding production/songwriting empire froze them in
time perfect specimens of a New Jack Swing sound undiluted by
collaborations with rappers (or even worse, singers attempting to kick
some lyrical flava) that came to plague and alter the genre in the 1990s.
A long ten years later they've reunited, and the question is: time has
passed, but has it passed by Guy? After listening to III, the
answer is a resounding no, as Riley and brothers Aaron and Damion Hall
have delivered an engaging album that keeps up with young bucks like K-Ci
& JoJo, Dru Hill, Ginuwine and Next by not changing a damn thing about
the approach that the trio found success with over a decade ago.
You know the drill: Riley peppers the album with dope beats and funky
soundscapes while the Halls harmonize with the strength of a gospel choir
and the charms of a lover pleading for one more chance. Ballads such as
"Not a Day" tear at the heartstrings, uptempo joints, including "Fly Away"
and "2004," are designed to set backfields in motion, and both the singing
and production is solid from start to finish. The most stunning track
here is "Why You Wanna Keep Me From My Baby" (RealAudio
excerpt), a tune estranged fathers will no doubt be singing to
their baby-mamma's answering machine all year long. A sort of post"No
Scrubs"/"No Pigeons," it features Aaron Hall thanking God for his "seed"
and letting his child know that he loves him regardless of what's happening
in the mother's life. While Hall isn't necessarily a narrator we can trust
he never really explains his separation from the family the
emotions are real enough to burn even the most casual listener.
Admittedly, there are a few nods to '90s innovations, of which "Love Online"
excerpt) is the most obvious example and, not coincidentally,
far and away the album's worst song. Borrowing a page from Timbaland's
playbook, Riley peppers the track with AOL samples, mouse clicks and
startup sounds from both a Mac and a PC, while the Halls fret about not
getting e-mail from a far-away lover. Suffice it to say that, after
listening to club bumpers like "Dancin' " (RealAudio
excerpt) and the steamy R&B pleadings of "Tellin' Me No," you
just doesn't picture any of these Guys needing to get their, er, log on.
Guy deserve kudos here not just for making an enjoyable album, but also
for not seeking out a gaggle of rappers to help them appeal to a younger
generation. III is the sound of a group that knows what it's doing
was right then and is still right now. Ahead of its time? Yes. But
back in time to reap what it sowed.