The Master Melody-Maker of New Jack Swing: Mr. Bernard Belle

1991’s "I Like The Way (The Kissing Game)" by Hi-Five commences with a gentle "boom", followed by four claps beautifully adorned with melodic (and peacefully deliberate) percussive elements. Next up, a number of crystalline, angelic sounding voices briefly cry out, "I", as the breezy tune confidently lifts off the ground. While gifted lead singer Tony Thompson riffs over the intro, the angel voices proceed to tickle the music with a blissful "oooh" (in step with the melody), and various in-and-out flashes of "I like…" and "the way…" ensue. As the track warms up, Thompson continues to pleasure the listener with his smooth-as-butter delivery, and soon enough, "I Like The Way" achieves its cruising altitude without a hitch. As the laid-back midtempo runs its course, the angel voices appear in generous portions, delivering the song’s unforgettable hook: "I liiiiike, the waaaay", and every memorable second of its shimmering background vocals.

One of the ‘angel voices’ belonged to Ms. Mary Brown, a vocalist affiliated with Teddy Riley through G.R. Productions, an all-star collective of young musical talent assembled from in and around the cities of New York and New Jersey circa 1987. By the spring of 1991 (when "I Like The Way" was released), G.R. Productions was disbanded, and Riley (the collective’s creative leader), invited a select group of former G.R. members to his new establishment, NJS Productions. Included in that number was Mr. Bernard Belle – the second ‘angel voice’ from "I Like The Way", who also co-wrote and co-produced the song with Riley.

Editor’s Note: A third individual, renowned studio engineer Dave Way also co-wrote "I Like The Way" with Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle.

In early 2003, enjoyed the wonderful fortune of being graciously granted an interview with New Jack pioneer, Bernard Belle. Mr. Belle is not only responsible for Hi-Five’s "I Like The Way", but he also co-wrote, co-produced (and furnished virtually all background and chorus vocals on) "Let’s Chill" by Guy, and co-wrote Michael Jackson’s "Remember The Time" with Teddy Riley and Mr. Jackson himself. Prior to those major accomplishments, Bernard Belle (as a member of G.R. Productions) was Guy’s musical director on tour. Mr. Belle also contributed his musicianship and vocals to virtually everything Teddy Riley touched between 1987 and 1992, including Bobby Brown’s signature super-hit (the second biggest single of 1989 according to Billboard Magazine), "My Prerogative".

Put concisely, Bernard Belle is a key member of the largely uncelebrated cadre of talent that worked very closely with Teddy Riley during most of New Jack Swing era. Incidentally, Bernard Belle is the younger sibling of classic R&B artist Regina Belle, perhaps best known (among general audiences) for 1989’s "Baby Come To Me", and 1992’s duet with Peabo Bryon, "A Whole New World" from Disney’s "Aladdin" soundtrack. Mr. Belle first linked up with G.R. Productions circa 1986, while he was music director for his sister’s North American tour. Among the original crew that he joined at G.R Productions were Gene Griffin (the business head of the collective), Timmy Gatling (Damien Hall’s predecessor as third member of Guy), Big Bub (lead singer of Today), RedHead Kingpin, Zan The Man, and Aaron Hall.

It is utterly crucial for serious New Jack Swing enthusiasts of all ages to note that the aforementioned individuals (and others like Al B. Sure, Kyle West, DJ Eddie F, and more) assisted Teddy Riley at various points, and in various capacities to create and perfect the "New Jack" sound. Bernard Belle’s particular specialty in producing the hits with Teddy Riley was his infusion of hauntingly warm, colorful, and fluid melodies. An excellent example of B. Belle’s vocals can be heard on Guy’s "The Future" (on the hook), and most definitely throughout one of the greatest love ballads of all time, "Let’s Chill".

Shall we begin? Here we go…

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