Some of my favorite song discoveries – whether it be through this challenge or otherwise – are the ubiquitous failed follow-up singles released by artists widely regarded as one-hit wonders. It’s true that Montell Jordan does not technically fall in the category of one-hit wonder (as with many so-called one-hit wonders, though I’ll digress), but you’d be damned to find someone who can name any of his other hit singles outside of his party anthem “This Is How We Do It”. Indeed, while “This Is How We Do It” was a tremendously successful debut single, grabbing the top spot on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts, none of his other singles came close to the amount of international success that the single attained. Nonetheless, he still maintained a string of top 40 singles all the way until his last top tenner, 1999’s “Get It On Tonite”, after which he seems to have faded into obscurity. My research tells me that he left his music career in 2010 to become a worship minister, but he still performs his most famous hit single at events and halftime shows from time to time.
One of the most prominent elements of “This Is How We Do It” (besides the title chant strewn throughout, which are really the only lyrics most people remember) is the looped sample of rapper Slick Rick’s classic jam “Children’s Story” acting as the backing music of the song. Jordan himself even performs his best Slick Rick impression in the bridge of that song. Knowing that, it makes sense that the two would collaborate in on a follow-up single. The result: “I Like”, which only made it to #28 on the Hot 100 and #11 on the R&B charts. In terms of its instrumental, it’s got pretty standard 90s R&B production, with the soul-infused hip-hop beats and rhythms of New Jack Swing. The introduction – about eighteen seconds in length – is actually the coolest bit of the song, with spooky, minimal synths coming in rather delicately to set the stage before the bass comes crashing in.
And then comes the second-best part of the song: Slick Rick’s verse. Now, it’s nowhere near the technical prowess and flow that he has demonstrated in his most well-known work, but chances are your favorite quality of Slick Rick’s rapping style is found here. His exaggerated English accent, his penchant for story-telling, and even his sleek rhyming style is all to be found here. I will admit, though, that the verse does need some cleaning up, if only because I’ve listened to it at least ten times and I still don’t really get the gist of it all. From what I can surmise, Rick might have rear-ended another driver in his “drop-top Rolls”, and as he apologizes, he suddenly realizes that the driver is a beautiful woman and is stopped dead in his tracks. The couplet at the end of this verse is the best part, I think: “Pretty, body definitely curvy, and thirdly / The way she died her hair bronze fitted her superbly”. Slick Rick’s flow has always been distinctly proper and well-enunciated; there’s no exception here and it’s a warm welcome to the rest of the song.
Unfortunately, the rest of the song doesn’t quite measure up to this intro. Instead of the upbeat party atmosphere of his most popular song, Jordan attempts a more mid-tempo soulful, lusty love song. I think this is where it’s revealed that he really doesn’t have too great of a voice when it isn’t working in chanting party anthems. At no moment in his performance do I feel that he is vocalizing at anything but an incredibly easy, safe range, and the fact that this melody is dull as hell doesn’t help. And even though there’s no indication that better lyrics would have made such listless production any better, per se, the banal lyricism certainly doesn’t help matters. The chorus is especially cringe-worthy: “I like the way you walk / The sexy way you talk / Ooh, I can’t help myself / Baby, I like”. Those are lyrics that songwriters apply as placeholders for better lyrics to come later, not lyrics they add to the final cut!
It’s largely jarring that such a fun rap verse would open up such a forgettable throwaway R&B song that is considerably less fun. And I can admit that maybe I’m being a little tough on a song whose sole purpose is pretty surface-level in the first place. But when I can mash “I Like” in with a slew of other sound-alikes with this particular era with little redeeming factor to elevate it further, that indicates a tiring tendency for record labels to churn out copy-paste singles that will inevitably get radio play and make money. One should expect more from their music, even sexy R&B slow jams from the 90s. I guess when it comes to Montell Jordan in particular, one should just stick to his party music.