Wow, what a weird world this would be if Another Level, the Blackstreet album from ’96, was a cool, woozy feast of phat beats and inviting, seductive grooves? Well, a weird world we have, because it IS just that, despite the fact that the only song you seem to ever hear, and the only one anyone ever knows, is “No Diggity” with Dr. Dre and Queen Pen.
Something about the mood at work on Sundays just seems to fall prey to rampant, pungent tension, so I started going with urban music on the Bluetooth. As you might have guessed, when Another Level got to “No Diggity,” the proceedings prompted a wide array of singalongs and even some dancing. The album progressed, though, and seemed to slow down the tempo for most of the way but remain just as swanky, with the vocals routinely and even with moxie declaring themselves the king lovers, and the music always balancing percussion and synth in flawless, radio-ready balance. This is, in short, the album that a lot of other groups and individuals were attempting to make around this time, whether it was En Vogue, Dru Hill, Brandy, Shai and others.
The biggest shocker to me, though, might have been their cover of the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love,” which here takes on the slightly modified title of “(Money Can’t) Buy Me Love” but is still an obvious nod to the pop classic, despite the tempo being reined way in and the mix most hypnotically bass-heavy and oozy. Like all great cover versions, I think, “Blackbird” by Dionne Farris et. al., this Blackstreet take on an old standard changes the original version significantly, almost like finding the song reborn entirely in the form of another person’s perspective on its latent, ulterior potential.
Now, there’s music for listening to alone, and music for listening to in a group, and this is almost without question material that’s wedged within the latter of these categories. But it’s just SO good at occupying that authoritative realm in terms of soundtracking parties, dances, workplaces or what have you, that it’s stupefying that this stuff has gone unnoticed for so long. The big-group vibe, too, I think, helps the proceedings from getting too personal, like the ham-handed, awkward Frank Ocean and D’Angelo stuff can sometimes approach. It’s music that stresses mix and product over narrative and discourse, but in this way, is a rounded, perfectly eroded spherical ball of R&B that, you’d think, could fit squatly into about any situation you could conceive.