DeepSoul Salutes Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis: Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige - "Disrespectful"

Our salute to the production team concludes with a track recalling the Time's earliest funk sound.
  |   Comments

DeepSoul's salute to the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis concludes with a song featuring two figures: a legendary diva and another well on her way to achieving that status.  "Disrespectful," a fast and furious duet between Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige, proves that the duo could adapt to different styles.  Indeed, the track recalls Khan's 1970s funk while modernizing it through Blige's presence and judiciously used breakbeats.  

In 2007, Khan had not released a studio album in a decade (her last being the Prince-produced Come 2 My House), thus Funk This was a welcome return to form.  Recruiting Jam and Lewis may not have seemed an obvious choice, with Khan's milieu 1970s and 1980s funk and the duo pioneering New Jack Swing. Yet the combination worked, with production wisely toned down to best showcase Khan's powerhouse vocals.  Much of Funk This includes covers, including Prince's "Sign O' the Times," Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand," and the Doobie Brothers' classic "You Belong to Me."  However, Khan, Jam, Lewis, and other composers cowrote fresh tracks that maintained the old school vibe while playing to the singer's strengths.  "Back in the Day" exemplifies this approach, as she narrates tough times growing up in a slightly raspy, world-weary voice.  

Not content to rest on her laurels, though, Khan contrasts the reflective mood with the fiery "Disrespectful."  Roaring with indignation at her neglectful lover, she and Blige trade barbs, their growling voices expressing their rage.  A guitar and drum loop adds a hard edge, although the refrain and bridge suggest a melancholy tone.  Every verse returns to Khan and Blige spitting out rhymes, each encouraging the other with grunts and exclamations.  The chord changes faintly recall vintage Rufus, although the beat reflects dirtier, Joe Tex-esque funk.  

Jam and Lewis avoid over-embellishment, eschewing electronic drums and keyboards for a more organic sound.  Khan's voice remains in the forefront, and her impressive range punctuates the relentless tempo.  "You don't wanna play around / 'Cause you could be history," she snarls.  As she trades lines with Blige, their voices rise in intensity--when Khan shares that she's "crazy" with anger and despair, the listener hangs on her every word.  Yet the duo can tamper their voices to share anguish as well.   "There are times that I do miss you / But I must keep movin' on," they croon in unison.  As the drums and guitar kick in, the wronged women regain strength, Khan ad libbing and letting her voice soar over the refrain "I remember when you used to love me."  Overall, hearing "Disrespectful" resembles watching two athletes in top form, both competing and complimenting one another. Critics and audiences agreed, as the song topped the Dance Music/Club Play Singles charts and earned Khan and Blige a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.  

Comparing "Disrespectful" to other tracks profiled in this Jam and Lewis salute, it's fascinating to note how it greatly contrasts with earlier cuts.  Here Jam and Lewis return to their early funk roots, reminiscent of their tenure with the Time.  They also demonstrate a gift for effectively showcasing women's voices, as evident in their work with Khan and artists such as Janet Jackson, Karyn White, and Cherrelle.  Overall, the duo impacted modern R&B through their seamless blending of soul, funk, techno, dance, and pop to create an all-encompassing sound appealing to multiple audiences.  "Disrespectful" allowed the production team to fully embrace the early sound they built upon to create some of the 1980s and 1990s' most distinctive R&B.