Hip-hop wasn’t the only genre that came out of the Bronx. There was also freestyle, which took the drum machine-fueled sound of early ’80s hip-hop and branched off in a completely different direction – gliding from upbeat house to disco-inflected tracks that sounded readymade for pop radio. Freestyle bloomed out of New York and Miami, with artists like TKA, Stevie B and Exposé (among many, many, many others) making hits that rapidly wormed their way into popular consciousness.
But freestyle would ultimately birth an even bigger level of international pop star: MC Hammer, New Kids on the Block, Madonna and others all built their own sound from freestyle’s core. Now, it’s all tangled up in nostalgia. Just about any freestyle song – from Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” to Debbie Deb’s “When I Hear Music” – now reads as quintessentially ’80s: glossy, upbeat and joyfully decadent.
We asked Benjamin Marra – the artist behind pastiche action comics like Night Business and Blades & Lazers – to illustrate trading cards featuring some of the luminaries that created a sound that would eventually define an entire decade.