The Underrated: H-Town

By @TrueGodImmortal

In the 90's, R&B music was at an all time high. From the start of the decade, there was a more suave and smooth aura around a majority of the singers, as the vibe went from the upbeat yet electric feel of the early-mid 80's to a more New Jack Swing sound in the late 80's-early 90's to a mixture of sounds in the early-mid-late 90's. As crazy as it may sound, R&B was slightly diverse in image during the 90's. You had your solo male R&B star, who could either be a smooth vocalist making bedroom anthems, or he could be an unlikely star strumming a guitar, playing piano, or singing songs of hurt and desire. There were stars who could balance both, and there were groups who were on different sides of the coin as well. While the main focus of R&B is always seemingly love and all matters dealing with it, the presentation of it in the 90's was so vast that it appealed and still appeals to people all over the world today.

There were many, many groups in the genre during this period as well, but if I'm being honest, no group was as underrated as the Houston, TX trio appropriately known as H-Town. G.I., Shazam, and the amazing lead singer Dino came onto the scene officially in 1993 and while they weren't the biggest group or the most highlighted, they had the music quality without a doubt. Signed by Uncle Luke to his Luke Records imprint back in 1991, the trio set out to make something special with their debut album. R&B in this era was on the tail end of the New Jack Swing Era, so H-Town would create their debut album with a bit of New Jack influence. That album would become one of my personal favorites of the decade and a classic staple in 90's R&B.

That album was "Fever For Da Flavor", which struck platinum in 1993 based on the hit song "Knockin Da Boots". Now, don't get me wrong, while "Knockin Da Boots" is a classic track and a top 5 90's R&B song, that album wasn't limited to just that one hit. The platinum selling album featured some solid songs such as "Sex Me", "Treat U Right", "Won't U Come Back", and yet another bedroom anthem in "Lick U Up". H-Town seemed to specialize in making songs for the bedroom, and it worked for them, as the production they chose always seemed to linger around the slow and sensual side. What elevated the group so much, in my opinion, was the vocal talent of lead singer Dino. Dino is one of the more underrated and slept on singers of our time vocally, and the proof is within this album.

However, the story of H-Town forever seems to be rooted in their biggest hit, "Knockin Da Boots", which is their first and only # 1 R&B single. The song is raw, a bit unpolished in lyrics, but what carries it over to being a hit is the slow, layered production coupled with the easily catchy hook, which is simply "give me some good love... some body rocking, Knockin Da Boots" and it works. The production and the hook made it a hit, but for a number of H-Town fans, it was the extra vocal runs and adlibs at the end that truly make the song. In 90's R&B, things were so over the top at times, but that's what we loved about the music. Almost every song had an extra run of vocals and adlibs near the end, each with their own flavor and style. "Knockin Da Boots" had that and more as the ending bridge just leads into a bevy of adlibs that forces you to learn them and sing along each time you hear the song. It is honestly a lost art in R&B today.

With the release of Fever For Da Flavor, H-Town saw some success, winning a Soul Train award (the equivalent to a Black Grammy at this point) for Best New Artist, and being nominated for the best R&B song with "Knockin Da Boots". They would embark on a tour with Shai, Silk, and SWV, who are coincidentally three more of the most underrated R&B artists/groups of the 90's. With this newfound fame and success, H-Town decided to strike quickly again, getting right back to work on their 2nd album. Their second album "Beggin After Dark" wasn't as big of a hit as their first album, but certainly made a dent, as the album was certified gold. This album featured more humorous sex songs in general (likely unintentionally) with "Sex Bowl", "One Time Gigolo", but despite the humor within the hooks and some of the lyrics, these particular songs are truly infectious to sing along to. The album featured a big hit in their classic song "Emotions", which is one of my favorite songs from them as well. Though Beggin After Dark didn't captivate as strongly as the debut, it's still a really good and entertaining album.

R&B moves in strange directions sometimes and to be honest, so do the artists. So, I was shocked when I saw the usual raunchy and aggressive H-Town making an album touching on women's issues and calling it Ladies Edition, Woman's World. However, this album isn't bad by any stretch, just different. It's likely just a marketing scheme or maybe really growth in the artists, but when this project was released in 1997, it didn't capture the attention like it should have. Songs like "Julie Rain", "Don't Sleep On The Female", "Ways To Treat A Woman", and a few others would likely be championed by today's overly eager feminists or perhaps accused of some form of patriarchy, but in 1997, it hit more so as a "Let's appreciate the women we love and have hurt in the past" deal than anything. However, no song on this album beats the amazing "They Like It Slow", which is slightly in the raunchy essence of H-Town, with the production to match, but gives pointers on certain aspects in the bedroom. Whether most women truly "like it slow" or not is obviously up for debate by those women only, but this song does the job and even sets the tone for yet another bedroom anthem by the trio, just in a slightly different method. If you're a fan of "Emotions", "Part Time Lover"(off the Above The Rim soundtrack), their "A Thin Line Between Love and Hate" cover, or the classic "Knockin Da Boots", then "They Like It Slow" is definitely a song for you.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck the group in 2003, when the lead singer Dino was sadly killed in a car accident, which was eerily similar to what happened to him back in the video for "Emotions" in 1994. That truly changed the dynamic of the group and the spirit behind them, but they kept moving on as a duo. H-Town took a long hiatus before Dino passed, but still kept working on music throughout that time, so a new album with Dino's vocals was released in 2004 titled Imitation of Life. Though 20 songs were a bit overkill for this album, it's not a bad album either, it just managed to fall short of the standard set by their other projects previously. Songs like "More Ways To Love A Woman", "Slow and Easy", and a few others embodied that traditional H-Town feel however and were an enjoyable listen. However, with Dino gone, things would never be the same.

H-Town still moves on as a duo and have an album out titled Child Support (hilarious title), and features singles with Jodeci (the 90's R&B Gods), but regardless, their prime and greatest time will forever remain when they were a true trio. Fever For Da Flavor, Beggin After Dark, and Ladies Edition are all solid albums, with Fever being a classic, and when we talk 90's R&B, we should make sure to never ever leave H-Town out of the conversation. Period.



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