Kashif: Dec. 26, 1959-Sept. 26, 2016
Music producer for Whitney Houston and solo artist Kashif dies at 56
In the annals of pop music, the multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and singer known simply as Kashif will probably be best remembered as the producer of Whitney Houston’s sultry 1985, You Give Good Love — and rightly so. Perhaps the sassiest track on Houston’s multimillion-selling debut album, You Give Good Love might have been just another soaring R&B ballad were it not for Kashif’s twinkling synthesizers and skyscraping drum machines making the whole production glimmer like Manhattan at midnight.
But for many ’80s R&B lovers Kashif — who died Sunday in Los Angeles at age 56 — was so much more than just that one Whitney Houston song. For a brief and glorious moment, Kashif was one of the hottest composer/producers around. During the mid-’80s, you couldn’t go to a party in the ‘hood where the DJ wasn’t spinning Kashif tracks such as Evelyn “Champagne” King’s Love Come Down or Howard Johnson’s So Fine, not to mention Kashif’s solo hits such as 1983’s I Just Got To Have You (Lover Turn Me On) and Stone Love.
Kashif was a Harlem, New York-born wunderkind who muscled on to the music scene with such speed, power and confidence that for a time he seemed like a one-man hit factory. On black radio in the 1970s, the sounds of funk and disco were giving way to a new strain of black pop that made ingenious use of emerging music technology of the time. Instruments and devices such as the Synclavier II sampler, the LinnDrum rhythm machine and the MIDI digital interface made it possible for lone-wolf producers to create entire recordings in basement studios.
Kashif was part of a post-disco vanguard including James “D-Train” Williams, and the SOLAR Records songwriting team, which included Leon Sylvers, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, among others. Like these and other composers/producers of the era, Kashif made music that was heavily automated, yet so superbly arranged, the listener got the sense that he/she was hearing a savvy, tech-enabled live band. The drum machines on Kashif songs boasted a weird humanity that went beyond technology. In a testament to his music tech skills, Kashif was later recruited as a creative consultant for New England Digital Corp., the company that created and manufactured the Synclavier.
His early productions reveal just how ingenuously he reconciled digital and old-school analog sounds. Kashif’s 1983 solo debut hit I Just Gotta Have You (Lover Turn Me On) showcases his signature production style. The track’s ghostly synthesizer refrain is girded by burbling synth-bass lines that make this jam just as effective in the bedroom, as on the dance floor. It’s hard to imagine evolutionary funk genres such as New Jack Swing happening without Kashif’s influence.
Of course, after witnessing how he invigorated Evelyn King’s career, it wasn’t long before other artists came knocking on Kashif’s door pleading for hits. As a result, Kashif composed and produced recordings for George Benson, Dionne Warwick, Melba Moore, Stacy Lattisaw, Meli’sa Morgan and more. He even made Kenny G sound funky.
In the ’90s, Kashif branched out, founding his own production company and applying his technical skills to producing documentaries and commercials. He self-published Everything You’d Better Know About The Record Industry, a book that counseled aspiring musicians on the harsh realities of the music business. In 2006, he created and founded Team iCare Foundation and produced the very first Walk/Run for Foster Care at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.
Impressive accomplishments, for sure. But for many of us, Kashif looms largest in our memories as the ’80s hit-maker who bridged the gap between warm humanism and potentially frigid musical technology. He gave good sound.
FIVE SONGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW KASHIF WROTE AND/OR PRODUCED
I’m In Love
Evelyn “Champagne” King (1981): The first time many radio listeners heard a Kashif production. Those hand claps. That unmistakable synth bass. Those exuberant vocals. The opening volley of what would be an explosively creative period for Michael “Kashif” Jones.
Betcha She Don’t Love You
Evelyn “Champagne” King (1981): Another track that evinces the rapport between Kashif and King. The beat lurches and lunges like Godzilla laying waste to Harlem, while Evelyn’s kittenish vocal lends an almost incongruous vulnerability.
Howard Johnson (1982): The sampled intro harmonies provide the breezy recurring refrain to this dance floor smash. The mid-song (3:23) chant flirts with rap, while the choogling guitar gives this track a Chic-like lift.
Inside Love (So Personal)
George Benson (1983): Where Kashif melds his synth-intensive sound with George Benson’s supple voice and Wes Montgomery-style guitar flourishes. Released the same year that Kashif issued his solo debut album.
Thinking About You
Whitney Houston (1985): On this deep cut from Houston’s now-classic debut album, Kashif deviates from his smooth funk sound, rocking your body with a dance track that juxtaposes Houston’s gospel-inflected vocals against thundering computerized drums that flirt with tribalism.