The flip of the millennium was a wild time. Invoice Clinton was being impeached, and youngsters in every single place had been chasing fictional Japanese creatures as a result of, properly, you have gotta catch ’em all. And on prime of all that, we had been advised that as a result of computer systems wouldn’t know how to process dates after December 31, 1999, planes (and nuclear missiles) would fall from the sky.
Eleven days after the panic of Y2K subsided, one thing did shake the world—but it surely wasn’t what doomsday preppers thought: It was the newly liberated members of *NSYNC and their smash single “Bye, Bye, Bye,” which discovered the group lastly free from being proverbial puppets after a legal battle with former manager Lou Pearlman. No Strings Connected—which turns 20 this month—continued the wedding of pop, R&B, and hip-hop they teased on their debut, which even included TLC’s Left Eye as a function. The album’s success is plain: It offered 1.1 million models on its launch day, doubling those sales by the end of its first week.
However, No Strings Connected is way from good. As an illustration, the world did not want their remake of Johnny Kemp’s 1988 smash “Just Got Paid.” Nobody thought: “This track slaps. However *NSYNC ought to sing it.”
Hear me out: The one model of “Simply Acquired Paid” we acknowledge is the unique.
For so long as capitalism continues to exist, “Simply acquired paid, Friday night time” will at all times be a relatable sentiment. The idea is straightforward: I’ve acquired cash. The place’s the occasion? However earlier than we dive into the genius of that track, let’s take a stroll down reminiscence lane and bear in mind the way it got here to be.
Johnny Kemp, a Bahamian immigrant, arrived in New York Metropolis within the late 70s, hustling as a songwriter in Harlem. In 1986, he launched his self-titled debut album on Columbia Data. “Just Another Lover,” a standout from the album, has all of the dripping for a profitable 80s file. The bassline is mischievous, with a flirty refrain that includes a reasonably generic feminine vocalist. The lyrics discovered Kemp eager to be in an unique relationship, however managing to not take himself too severely: “And though I by no means wish to tie you down / I am into non-public property,” he sings.
The track spent 17 weeks on the Billboard charts, but it surely wasn’t earlier than lengthy till Johnny Kemp ran dry. And the singer knew why his debut flopped. “Lyrically it was weak,” Kemp told the Los Angeles Times in 1988. In accordance with Kemp, he and then-producer Kashif weren’t seeing eye to eye. “I used to be making an attempt to speak different individuals’s concepts—concepts that I wasn’t that loopy about.” Feeling powerless to voice his issues, he recorded the songs anyway. “It was a completely secure album,” he stated. “However secure simply does not really feel that good.”
A yr later, he’d lastly have the track he wanted, one with a bit extra edge, however the panache to make everybody really feel good—though “Simply Acquired Paid” wasn’t solely the track that he wished at first. Originally intended for Keith Sweat’s Make It Final Eternally, Kemp co-wrote the hit with Teddy Riley, and the track deserted the conventions of typical 80s music, leaning on Riley’s New Jack Swing union of R&B and hip-hop manufacturing.
In a matter of seconds, the modest model of Kemp from “Simply One other Lover” got here undone. The track’s sprawling intro was made for dancing, as Gina Prince-Blythewood brilliantly confirmed within the promenade scene of Love & Basketball. “Simply Acquired Paid”‘s loveliest high quality may be discovered within the snarl of Kemp’s voice as he practically raps the hook. Its soul is an extension of Harlem’s hustle, as advised by Riley, a local, and Kemp, who traded in his Caribbean island for Manhattan. The tip result’s one which many tried to duplicate, however few acquired proper—together with that turn-of-the-millennium pop group primarily based out of Orlando.
“For me, the New Jack Swing apex second was Johnny Kemp’s “Simply Acquired Paid,” producer Hank Shocklee told Red Bull Academy. “After that, all the things grew to become redundant… You may’t return and attempt to recreate one thing that already had its second. It is like telling the joke twice.”
The video spews Massive Friday Night time vitality. Naturally, Kemp cannot keep out of the mirror. For millennials, it is the equal of “Felt cute, would possibly delete later.” The town is buzzing. Individuals, for no matter motive, are busting out in full splits on concrete and dancing in flash mobs with out recording it for TikTok. Nevertheless it’s 1988, so you do not precisely query it.
Nonetheless, the singer wasn’t happy regardless of the track’s mainstream success; again then, the plight of discovering success as a Black artist meant being pigeonholed to “city music.” Johnny Kemp’s story is commonly handled as a footnote of 80s R&B. Google searches for his identify yield few outcomes besides obituaries from his death in 2015. It is a sobering reminder that Black artists will not be celebrated sufficient whereas they’re nonetheless residing.
“If we did not have to fret about Black radio, we might have taken extra dangers,” he advised the LA Occasions. Secrets and techniques of Flying, his sophomore album, nonetheless did not cater to his pursuits. “I would like to indicate totally different sides of me—pop, rock ‘n’ roll—however the place can I do it with out endangering my profession? An artist ought to be true to himself, reasonably than being completely involved about getting on the Black charts. However for a starting Black artist, no Black chart—no profession. What a selection.”
You may say that *NSYNC’s model of the track is an homage to Kemp, but it surely is not. There was no official video for the track, however the group carried out it on the 2000 Billboard Awards—wearing colorful pimp suits, no less. Being an ally to Black artists means greater than giving “Simply Acquired Paid” the Elvis treatment. Actual recognition would have been inviting Kemp onstage to share the second.
Twenty years later, Johnny Kemp’s legacy may be one spoken in whispers, however the irony that *NSYNC lined “Simply Acquired Paid” is sufficient to make you wince. Kemp’s shortcoming was that he was relegated to Black music, and *NSYNC thrived outfitting themselves in it. That’s precisely the way in which privilege is designed.
Kristin Corry is a employees author for VICE.