DAR Music: Silk vs H-Town

By @TrueGodImmortal

There are unsung heroes in R&B music, and one thing that makes the genre so amazing is that many artists can go underappreciated over the years, but still become legends. Today, I wanted to take a look back at two groups that got their start in the 1990s, which is widely seen as the greatest decade of R&B music, and decide which group was better. The groups in question? The Atlanta based Silk and the Houston based H-Town. Both groups are known for their seductive bedroom anthems, their harmony, and their legendary singles. For Silk, their run started in 1992, with their debut dropping that year, while H-Town came to prominence with their debut in 1993.

Both groups came with legendary names behind them, as Silk got discovered and mentored by Keith Sweat, while H-Town got discovered and signed by a surprising legend in Uncle Luke. Unfortunately for H-Town, they would lose their lead singer Dino in a saddening accident in 2003, but their legacy was already solidified at this point. The two groups earned popularity through hit singles and while all of their albums didn't make a lot of noise (some did), they both managed to garner gold and platinum plaques. The question today is, which group was better? Is it Silk? Do the singles like "Freak Me" and "Meeting In My Bedroom" give them the advantage? Or does the scale tip in the favor of H-Town just off the strength of their all time classic "Knockin Da Boots"? That's what I'm here to figure out. Let's get into it.

The Atlanta group got their start in the early 90s after being discovered by Keith Sweat, and they never really looked back. With the release of their landmark debut "Lose Control" in late 1992, Silk took the world by storm instantly. The album was powered by three successful singles, the biggest being the infamous "Freak Me", which really took off throughout 1993. With the brash and straightforward lyrics in the hook like "let me lick you up and down... til you say stop", along with the infectious chant of "freak me baby", the song became an instant hit and went platinum domestically as well. It remains the highest charting and most successful single for the group, as it went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, and dominated the R&B charts for months. Aside from "Freak Me", the group experienced moderate success with the Keith Sweat produced and written "Happy Days" and they would experience huge R&B chart success with the title track from the album. The title track is one of their best songs, a smooth harmonic and melodic song that sees a piano driven rhythm backed by the group's vocals as they seek to find the right way to fix things with their woman after an argument. With three successful singles, Lose Control ended up going double platinum and is one of the best debut albums of the 90s in R&B.

After the classic debut, Silk would take some time to craft their sophomore project, and almost exactly three years later, they would return with their self titled 2nd album. Unfortunately, without the backing of Keith Sweat this go round, and the promotion of their label, the 2nd album didn't do nearly as well as their debut. Still, I love this album regardless. Their sophomore project is on par with their debut and there is a bit of variation in the sound as they worked with multiple producers. The album itself would barely hit gold, and while this was considered a flop at the time, it was a really good album. While the singles themselves weren't as successful on the charts, I often heard singles from this album on the radio. Their minor hit from the Low Down Dirty Shame soundtrack "I Can Go Deep" is featured on the album, as is the moderate hit "Hooked On You", but the best song on the album and one of their best songs period is featured in "Don't Rush". I wonder if the group had released "Don't Rush" as a lead single would the album have been able to catch more steam and get to platinum status. Regardless, the 2nd album from Silk was enjoyable for me, but a big flop for the group commercially, and they went back to the drawing board seeking new direction and also new management.

After finding both, the group would release their 3rd album and the last album that came during their period of relevancy. That's not a diss to the group at all, it's just that the 90s were the prime era for Silk and they've went through ups and downs ever since. Before I get into that, I have to talk about the album that many consider a comeback album, Tonight. Released three and a half years after their 2nd album, Tonight showed that Silk could fit in with the style and sound of current R&B while still keeping what we loved about them in tact. The biggest single from the album was the smooth "If You", which would become their biggest hit since "Freak Me", hitting no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and giving the group the visibility they wanted. They would bounce right back with the second single "Meeting In My Bedroom", which didn't chart as high as "If You", but is probably more memorable and more iconic of a song for the group. In addition to some other solid songs on this album like "Let's Make Love" (the third single from the album) and "I Wonder", Silk would see their work pay off as Tonight went platinum and restored Silk as a top tier group in R&B.

Unfortunately, after the 2001 album Love Session, the lead singer Gary would depart the group and the group would never really be the same. Their 2001 release was solid, but failed to hit the commercial success of their first three, and they fizzled out soon after for quite some time. The group recently returned with all of the members in tact for a 2016 release titled Quiet Storm, but it didn't garner much popularity. It's not a bad album, but fails to capture their glory of before, but make no mistake about it, when Silk was on, there weren't too many R&B groups better.

-I haven't been able to think of a group in the 90s that were more underrated than H-Town. Sure, they have some iconic singles, but they were more than just that. They had great albums, a lead singer with vocal range that hadn't been heard quite like this before, and they had the backing of Uncle Luke, which explained the raunchy nature of their music. When the group arrived in 1993, they instantly captivated the masses with their introduction single, "Knockin Da Boots", one of the most popular songs of the decade. The song became a hit and took over R&B radio and the charts in general. It would reach no. 1 on the R&B charts and even make a huge impact on the pop charts, hitting no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, setting the group up for a huge run. Shortly after the single took off, the group released their debut album "Fever For Da Flavor", which would end up being certified platinum. The group would end up with a second moderately successful single from the album with "Lick U Up", an equally raunchy (actually more raunchy) song that seemingly continued what "Knockin Da Boots" started.

After the success of their debut, the group embarked on tour, but decided to keep recording and build on their platinum momentum. While there was a bit of New Jack Swing style resonating through their debut album, their second album would take an even smoother approach in sound while remaining raunchy and seductive. That second album "Beggin After Dark" arrived in November 1994, and I can honestly say I think it's better than their debut, which is a classic in its own right. The album arrived after the group experienced some success with their contribution to the Above The Rim soundtrack, "Part Time Lover", which hit no. 9 on the R&B charts and they would win the Soul Train award for the best new R&B artist as well. Beggin After Dark wasn't as successful as their debut in terms of the sales or the charts, but musically it's a more concise project. The group focuses more on ballads this go round and the result is just about flawless. The biggest single from the album is their classic "Emotions", which didn't make a big impact on the pop charts, but did crack the top 15 of the R&B charts, earning moderate success. Other songs on the album that definitely pleased listeners would be the follow-up to "Part Time Lover" on "Full Time", the slightly hilarious "Sex Bowl", the smooth "Indo Love", and my personal favorite "One Night Gigolo". Beggin After Dark would end up going gold, and though it wasn't as successful as their debut as mentioned before, it is still a landmark moment in the career of the group.

The group would cut ties with Uncle Luke following their 2nd album and begin working on an album that was more centered to the needs and wants of women. Whether or not this was genuine, or an attempt to lure in more female listeners is unknown, but on the way to making that third album, the group stumbled upon a classic and decided to cover it for a film of the same name. That cover would bring them their biggest hit since "Knockin Da Boots", as it managed to crack the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, and hit no. 6 on the R&B chart. That cover was "A Thin Between Love And Hate". The cover was done just as well as the original as Dino was in rare form, showcasing his vocal strengths throughout the song and carrying it for the group as well. Shortly after that single hit and took off, the group would prep for their third album being released, and with a new style in mind for the project, the group would take a risk. That album would be released in late October 1997, almost three years after Beggin After Dark, and the question was, could H-Town actually craft a hit with their new direction and get fans to buy the new album and garner a plaque. The answer to both questions turned out to be yes.

With the release of their 3rd album, "Ladies Edition: Woman's World", H-Town went from the playboy image to men who seemed concerned about women and the issues they face. This album would be admittedly more respectful and less raunchy, featuring songs about sex, but not done in the overly brash way their previous singles were. Songs like "Don't Sleep On The Female", "Julie Rain", and "Jezebel" touched on some heavy topics, but none of those songs cracked the charts or really pushed the album. The song that did? The sexually driven "They Like It Slow", which is the only successful single from the album. The song would end up cracking the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 and hitting the top 15 of the R&B charts and pushed their album to garner another gold plaque. After this album, the group essentially walked away from the music game, losing relevancy and taking a hiatus for years. It was during this hiatus that Dino passed away in 2003, and the group was left as a duo due to those unforeseen circumstances. In 2004, the group would release their last album as a trio, as they featured Dino and his vocals on the new album Imitation Of Life. The album was a return to form of sorts for the group after their previous release and it is a great way to close out their legacy.

Though H-Town never reached the heights that some groups like Jodeci or Boyz II Men experienced, they are 90s R&B legends and have a legacy that stands up against a number of other groups in the genre. But the final question remains, are they better than Silk?

These two groups, who toured together in the beginning of their careers on the Coca-Cola Summer Fest tour, have very similar legacies. For Silk, their legacy is built around classic singles and two successful albums, while H-Town is also known for classic singles and a successful album. When picking who is better between the two, it's actually a much harder decision than I expected. Sure, Silk experienced more success album wise, and have a slightly bigger hit in "Freak Me", but there aren't too many songs more important in 90s R&B than "Knockin Da Boots". So, which group wins? Honestly, I lean more towards H-Town, as their first two albums are hard to defeat, but Silk honestly edges this debate by a very small margin. What tips the scale in their favor? While "Knockin Da Boots" and "They Like It Slow" are classics and hard to outshine, putting them up against the singles like "Freak Me", "Lose Control", "Don't Rush", "Meeting In My Bedroom", and "If You", Silk would have to take that discussion. That takes nothing away from H-Town and their catalog, and this choice was very tough, but I will take Silk in this debate. They're one of the greatest R&B groups to ever do it, so it's only right they win this discussion. It's that simple.



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