Freestyle — it’s the boutique genre of music squeezed between the ’80s (new wave, pop and hair metal) and ’90s (grunge, alternative and hip-hop).
“It’s an evolved electronic style of dance music with Latin influence,” says Judy Torres, who is dubbed the Queen of Freestyle. “The music is very urban and the subject focuses on love.”
Freestyle will be celebrated Saturday, April 7, at NYCB Theatre at Westbury with a show called “Louder Than Love — The Magnificent Seven Edition,” featuring TKA, Stevie B, Lisa Lisa, Judy Torres, The Cover Girls, Coro and Sa-Fire.
The freestyle sound stemmed from Miami and New York, using synthesizers backed with big beats on early hits like Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” and TKA’s “One Way Love.”
“It was affordable to make. All you needed was a drum machine, keyboard and studio,” says Stevie B, who, during the era, scored a string of hits, including “Spring Love” and “Because I Love You (The Postman Song).” “It allowed me the opportunity to experiment,” he says.
Torres adds, “A lot of people recorded out of their homes. I made my first two hit songs, ‘No Reason to Cry’ and ‘Come Into My Arms,’ in someone’s apartment.”
The multi-act freestyle bills are growing in popularity, annually filling venues like Radio City Music Hall and NYCB Theatre at Westbury. But it started years ago in NYC clubs like the Palladium, the Emerald City and Tunnel, plus Zachary’s in East Meadow.
“There’s something special about that time and that sound,” Torres says. “The lyrics were so genuine and straightforward.”
The fans, affectionately known as “freestyle freaks,” are still passionate 30 years later.
“They are working-class folks in their 40s and 50s who have kids now and enjoy reminiscing about their teenage years, when they were clubbing,” says Sa-Fire, who hit it big with singles “Thinking of You” and “Boy, I’ve Been Told.” “I think they still support the music because it brings them back to a special place in their lives.”
One of the biggest acts to come out of the scene was Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with crossover hits like “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” “Lost in Emotion” and “Head to Toe.” Lisa Lisa has made Port Jefferson Station her home and is looking forward to coming face-to-face with her Long Island fans at Westbury.
“I’m still in awe that people come to see the shows, and they know all the songs,” she says. “I get my energy from them. They come to have a party, and everyone is up on their feet, dancing.”
Heartthrob Coro, known for songs “Where Are You Tonight,” “Can’t Let You Go” and “My Fallen Angel,” views freestyle nostalgia as an escape for some from modern music.
“I think people appreciate the love music and ‘missing you’-type of stuff rather than what they are hearing now, which can be a bit violent at times,” Coro says. “With freestyle, the energy is always there, and it’s the same good vibe as it was back in the day.”
Today, a live freestyle show draws a multicultural crowd that collectively wants to move and keep things upbeat.
“There’s very little negativity when you come to a freestyle show,” says Stevie B. “It’s about total positivity and flashing back to some good times.”
Torres adds, “Sometimes the fans sing so loud we can’t even hear ourselves singing.”
At the Westbury gig, Live Nation is honoring Nayobe (they call her the Godmother of Freestyle) with a lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the genre as she performs her signature songs “Second Chance for Love” and “Please Don’t Go.”
“It’s a great feeling that we have not been forgotten,” Nayobe says. “But, I believe it’s because freestyle is not too heavy or too much. It’s just fun music that’s easy on the ear.”