One time I was hanging out with music writers in Montreal at a festival (flex) and someone asked me what my favorite piece of music criticism was (music critics are boring people, remember this). At that exact moment, Kanye West, Twista and Jamie Foxx’s “Slow Jamz” came on the bar speakers, and since I didn’t want to just say, “I don’t know, Chuck Klosterman, I guess?,” I said, “this song.” Everyone laughed and moved on.
Now, I was full of shit (and French wine) then, and I’m full of shit now. But, really, when you think about it, “Slow Jamz” might be the best song as music criticism ever. It’s a song that’s topline subject is making sure you’re not just playing DMX in the club, because women want to dance to slow jamz, but really, it’s also a veritable guide to the best music to play if you’re trying to get down. Foxx, West and Twista mention 24 different R&B groups 50 times here, and omissions are almost as important as the stuff that does get mentioned. You’re hearing three critical minds tell you the best music to bone to, over one of the three best songs of this century.
But that’s not enough for me. I want to take their music criticism from 2004 to its listicle conclusion. What you are about to read is a scientific, inarguable, ironclad list where I attempt to rank the 24 artists referenced on “Slow Jamz.” I use a proprietary algorithm which I don’t feel comfortable divulging here, but know that it includes reference hilarity, reference frequency, artist overall quality, how many times I myself have boned to said artist, how many Coogi items each artist owns, and album covers.
As a sidebar, about 3 years ago, I made a list of all these artists because I wanted to create a game for myself at record stores: I vowed to get an album from every artist mentioned here. I just found a Ready for the World LP, and thought I was done. But then I did this list and realized I forgot Jodeci, an artist I didn’t realize was referenced here till just now. Moral of the story: never underestimate Jodeci.
Without further ado, here’s the list:
Mentions: “Some New Edition,” Jamie Foxx at, :44, 1:50, 4:00, 4:55
New Edition’s debut album is a stone cold classic, but ultimately, Bell Biv Devoe and Bobby Brown solo had better slow jams. Plus Jamie doesn’t sing their name so much here, which puts it behind some of the references here where it’s physically impossible to say the artists names anymore without singing their name like Jamie does here.
Mention: “I’ma play this Gladys Knight, me and you gonna get right,” Kanye West at 1:33
Shouts to Gladys Knight but I can’t forgive her for what she did to the Pips.
Mention: “Freddie Jackson,” Jamie Foxx at 2:11.
I have never said “Freddie Jackson” in conversation without singing his name like Jamie does here. That might have been Freddie’s lasting impact on millennial popular culture until Freddie wears a cummerbund on this album cover. With that cummerbund, it’s hard to accept him as anything other than the realest out. Ever.
Mention: “Ashford & Simpson,” Jamie Foxx at 2:19
I will go to my grave believing Ashford and Simpson had the ideal marriage: they remained lovers and songwriting partners till Nick Ashford died in 2011. They wrote for Motown, and then stayed together till one of them died. A single tear rolled down my face listening to “Solid as a Rock” just now.
Mention: “Sly and the Family Stone, let’s get the party on, Sly and the Family Stone, let’s get the party on,” Jamie Foxx at 4:24.
The thing I love about this reference is that it’s the last original artist referenced, and I imagine Jamie running back into the booth to drop this during the outro like, “Nah, dudes! We forgot Sly!”
Mentions: “Smokey Robinson, Smokey Robinson,” Jamie Foxx at 2:03 and 2:16.
Yeah, the reference here is weak, but, like, Smokey wore this on an album cover. He gets preferential, inexplicable listicle treatment for life.
Mentions: “A little Anita will definitely set this party off right,” Jamie Foxx at :34, 1:42, 3:49, 4:43.
Sade lives on as the quiet storm R&B singer hip kids still listen to, female division, but Anita should really be filling that role. She’s got nothing but heaters. Playing Anita will get you grinded on, guaranteed.
Mentions: “Some Minnie Riperton will definitely set this party off right,” Jamie Foxx at :46, 1:53, 4:03 and 5:00
Because no one can hit the notes she hits here, even though we have developed song technology that allows Swedish DJs to have hit songs. She’s still singular. I also love that this is maybe the snobbiest reference here: Janet Jackson can’t get a mention, but Minnie Riperton, who died prematurely of cancer and only released six albums, does.
Mention: “Put you in a daze with Maze,” Twista at 3:24.
I love the double meaning here. I would bet that there are a not insignificant amount of you who had no idea Maze was a band, not Twista describing tricking someone with a tough corn maze.
Mention: “Al Green, hey, Al Green, hooo,” Jamie Foxx at 2:34.
Because he did "Let's Stay Together," and also because of this Vine.
Mention: “You ain’t know Twista can work it like the Whispers?,” Twista at 3:10.
For a pack of dudes who wear matching suits, the Whispers always sound like a group of pervs to me, for some reason. Which makes me love them more, obviously. Also, this reference is flawless; what does “work it like the Whispers” even mean?
Mention: “Hit the stop light, get into some Isleys,” Twista at 3:12.
I want to live in a world where this is an oblique reference to “It Was a Good Day.” I want to interview Twista and only ask him if that’s something I’m imagining or if it’s real.
Mention: “I love the way you be holding me when I’m listening to Jodeci,” Twista at 3:32.
Facts only: Twista likes getting snuggled while listening to Jodeci.
Mention: “The rims still moving so I’m bumping a little Spinners,” Twista at 3:13.
The fun part about Twista’s verse is that he finds increasingly hilarious ways to work in references to R&B groups. Jamie spends the whole time just naming them; Twista works them in to his verse. So here, because he has spinning rims, he decides to listen to the Spinners.
Mention: “Come with me and sip on some Evelyn Champagne,” Twista at 3:08.
The best music criticism introduces you to music you’ve never heard of, and until I started trying to buy records based off artists mentioned in this song, I had never heard of Evelyn “Champagne” King, a disco-era singer who had hits at 18 and to her early 20s, and then sort of disappeared. She made music as recently as 2007, but nothing touches her torch anthem, “Shame.”
Mentions: “Put my Earth in the wind smokin’ fire,” Twista at 3:20 and “Earth Wind and Fire, baby, let’s take it higher sweetie,” Jamie Foxx at 4:32
Is there a better expression for smoking weed than “put my earth in the wind smokin’ fire”? Go ahead and think of one. I’ll wait.
Shout out to the white devil sophistry of Rap Genius for this one: Apparently this might be a reference to Love Doctor’s “Slow Roll It,” a song about, well, slow rolling it. The thing that might give this credence is that Love Doctor was a Chicago DJ, and since Twista and Kanye are from Chicago, this might be a Chicago in-joke. Either way, there are #levels here.
Mention: “Let me get your sheets wet, listening to Keith Sweat,” Twista at 3:23
Facts only: Twista gets really sweaty lying in bed, and also listens to Keith Sweat.
Mention: “Fulfilling our every temptation, slow-jamming, having deep sex,” Twista at 3:26.
This one isn’t considered “official,” but I refuse to believe that Twista used the word “temptation” in a song without thinking about David Ruffin. So I’m bumping this to number six.
Mention: “She got a light-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson, she got a dark-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson,” Kanye West at 1:19.
"I knew when I wrote the line 'light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson,' I was going to be a big star. At the time, they used to have the Virgin music [stores], and I would go there and just go up the escalator and say to myself, 'I'm soaking in these last moments of anonymity.’"—Kanye West
Mention: “And when I come over and bend your ass you be bumpin’ Teddy Pendergrass,” Twista at 3:36.
This one needs no more explanation.
Mentions: “She said she want some Marvin Gaye,” Jamie Foxx at :28, 1:36, 3:45 and 4:40, and “When it come to rocking the rhythm I'm like Marvin and Luther,” Twista at 2:57.
I can’t let any mention of Marvin Gaye pass without bringing up Here, My Dear. Marvin lost out huge in his divorce, and as part of settling the money he owed his ex-wife, the judge mandated that he had to turn over all his profits from the album to her. Instead of making a hit album, he made Here, My Dear, probably the angriest R&B album, about their failed marriage. It bricked, and his wife was even madder. Consider that when you think you are not giving a single fuck, Marvin Gaye could take it to another level.
Mentions: “She said she want some Ready for the World,” Jamie Foxx at :42, 1:48, 4:00, 4:53; “I played Ready for the World, she was ready for some action,” Kanye West at 1:25; and “You ready for the world, girl?,” Twista at 3:27.
There are only two artists mentioned by all three performers on “Slow Jamz,” and it means something extra that Ready for the World were one of them. They’re a supremely underrated group; they deserve to be canonized as one of the best groups of the ‘80s, honestly. They made songs about boning women who were much older than them, and they perfected the “Your man can’t love you like I can” song something like 30 times over their career. In a more just world, this would be number one.
Mentions: “Some Luther Vandross” Jamie Foxx at :30, 1:38, 3:47, 4:42; “I’ma play this Vandross you gon’ take your pants off,” Kanye West at 1:30; “When it come to rocking the rhythm like Marvin and Luther,” Twista at 2:57; and “And when some Luther come on, I hope you feelin me and still gonna be in love with me,” Twista at 3:35.
It can’t be anyone else here. Luther gets mentioned more than anyone on “Slow Jamz,” and for good reason; dude might have been the best slow jamz artist to ever live. I don’t think he had many songs with a BPM over 50 his entire career. There’s a reason rooms of women can be reduced to puddles screaming “LUUUUTHHHHERRRR” and there’s a reason he gets mentioned seven times on a song from 2004. Luther’s the god.
Andrew Winistorfer is VMP’s Classics & Country Director, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Philadelphia International Records, The Story of Quincy Jones, The Story of Impulse and the VMP Classics release of Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying, and executive produced the VMP Anthology The Story of Vanguard. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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