This is the 17th post in a biweekly series. Read about the series — and just what we mean by “freestyle music” — here. Freestyle Fridays post on the first and third Fridays of each month.

As a high school student in the 1980s, aspiring singer Lisette Melendez was a big fan of freestyle superstar Lisa Lisa. In 1988, Melendez got her break singing backing vocals for record producer Carlos Berrios, who had also worked with Sweet Sensation and Samantha Fox.

I love Lisette Melendez’s performance of “Together Forever” and her Roger Rabbit in video but I think Carlos Berrios is the interesting story here.

In the late 1980s, Colombian-born Berrios was a New York DJ and co-founder of freestyle and hip-hop remixers The Hit Squad. As his reputation grew, he moved into music production, including for “Out of Control,” the 1988 debut single of freestyle singer Corina. More on Corina in a moment.

Berrios signed on to Profile Records as the artist “Only In The Dark,” whose single “Make Noise” featured those previously-mentioned backing vocals by Lisette Melendez.  Berrios signed Melendez to Russell Simmons’s RAL/Colombia label and scored a Top 40 hit with his revolutionary production of “Together Forever.” Shortly after the success of “Together Forever,” Berrios produced Corina’s “Temptation.”

Many say that these two songs sound very much alike, and I guess I can hear it. But I also hear a progression between them. “Together Forever” sounds like earlier, late-’80s freestyle, while the slicker “Temptation” has its feet planted firmly in the early ’90s. The production on both songs is top-notch, but I prefer the shuffling perkiness of “Together Forever,” which has elements of Company B and Noel with house music flourishes. (Check out the brief housey sample at 3:07 in the video above which gets a fuller treatment in this remix.) Early ’80s freestyle had a strong influence on later ’80s house music, and this song pays homage to that connection in a small way.

On the other hand, “Temptation”  an inescapable radio presence in 1991  leaves me just a little bit cold. But what do I know? “Temptation” hit Number 6 on the US Billboard Pop Charts in the summer of 1991. Some call it “the highest charting freestyle song, ever,” but I hope I’ve made the case that Debbie Gibson’s “Only In My Dreams” which hit Number 4 falls safely into the freestyle category. At any rate, both “Temptation” and “Together Forever” are credited as helping renew interest in freestyle and dance music in the grungy early ’90s.

During the ’90s Berrios ran After Dark Records and changed his name to Carlos “After Dark” Berrios. In the late aughts, the soi-disant “King of Freestyle” spearheaded the “new freestyle” movement. These days, Berrios focuses on film acting and directing.

Fun Facts for “Together Forever”

  • Number 31 for nine weeks! on Billboard 100’s Hot Dance Music chart, starting February 16, 1991
  • Number 35 on Billboard’s Hot 100, April 6, 1991

Fun Facts for “Temptation”

  • Number 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales
  • Number 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100, August 10, 1991

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