July 23, 2016

Blackjack – Stay and Maybe It's the Power of Love

During the early 2000s, a young, new producer quickly rose through the ranks within the east coast rap community. He created a trademark for himself of finding old records, mostly soul songs from the 1970s and 1980s, and using them as sped-up samples in his various productions. While he created hit after hit for all the world-renowned artists that queued up for his services, he made sure to stash away the best and most unique samples. Some day he would need them for his own debut album. A long forgotten 1980 hard rock album must have given him much inspiration as he sampled it twice during his early career as an up-and-coming producer/rapper at Roc-a-Fella. 

When it comes to seeing through
The fool in me, the thing I found
One thing I've found
Lover, you never let me down

In the late 1970s, Michael Bolotin was a struggling rock musician. He had released two classic albums of both covers and original songs under the RCA Records label, but attracted no interest from neither public nor critics and was dropped by the label. To restart his career, Bolotin met with Bruce Kulick, a guitarist and member of Meatloaf’s touring band, and the two decided to form a new band together. The two sat down to write material for the band and were joined by two accomplished studio and touring musicians, drummer Sandy Gennaro and bass player Jimmy Haslip, to form a hard rock quartet. 

Quickly signed by Polydor Records and assigned to work with acknowledged producer Tom Dowd, Blackjack soon released their 1979 self-titled debut album. Despite the label’s promises of a smash hit, the album was met with lukewarm reception. The album only managed to reach #127 on the Billboard album charts, and the lead single, Love Me Tonight, did not fare much better and reached #62 on the Billboard Hot 100. To promote the album, the album artwork was formed to resemble a deck of playing cards. The also band embarked on a minor nationwide tour and briefly acting as opening act for artist such as Peter Frampton and Black Sabbath. 

Their sophomore effort, Worlds Apart, was released the following year. Bolotin and Kulick again supplied the band with all original songs, except for the opening song of the album, a cover of The Supremes My World Is Empty Without You, and the producer role was taken over by less acknowledged Eddy Offord. Largely ignored by their own record label and released with minimal promotion, Worlds Apart failed to make any impact on the record buying audience. With no way forward, the band disbanded without making another tour.

The musicians would eventually find more success in other ventures. Michael Bolotin, to his own surprise, was given another chance by the president of the label, but this time as a solo artist. After Anglicizing his last name, he released his third solo album under the name Michael Bolton and would be immensely successful with pop rock ballads throughout the 80s and 90s. Bruce Kulick joined the iconic rock band Kiss and remained as their lead guitarist for twelve years (1984-1996).

Few remembered the short-lived rock band, but a copy of their sophomore effort, Worlds Apart, must have been among vinyls in Kanye’s collection as he not only sampled it once, but twice in his early career. Kanye West was a hot, new producer that the year before had his big breakthrough when he looped the Jackson 5 classic I Want You Back to create the first single from Jay-Z’s acclaimed The Blueprint. Asked to return for the second installment of the Blueprint series, he took the guitar riff from the power ballad Stay and looped it continuously throughout the opening track of the album. A Dream is a tribute track to the late Notorious B.I.G., featuring his former wife Faith Evans, and also samples the entire first verse of his debut single Juicy to act as the second verse of the track. The song is known for the censoring of the line “Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade”, a reference to the 1993 bombing.

However, he saved the best from himself. Further down on the Blackjack album track list, he found another power ballad, with an infectious melody and a message of trust and love. An interpolation of Maybe It’s the Power of Love, sung by Chicago native Tarrey Torae, was used both as the chorus and looped, sped-up, throughout in Never Let Me Down, one of many highlights from his 2004 debut album The College Dropout. The lyrics were slightly altered from the 1980 original.

When it comes to being true, at least true to me
One thing I've found, one thing I found
Oh no, you'll never let me down

While teaming up with Jay-Z again, it was a poet and spoken word artist who stole the show. Kanye asked J. Ivy, a friend of his from Chicago, to perform on the song and he delivered arguably the best verse on the entire album. The three performers rapped about never letting down and J. Ivy, with divine inspiration, on never letting God down.

The track would receive acclaim from the sample’s originator. Michael Bolton, surprised but flattered at the second life of his old Blackjack tunes on the hip-hop scene, praised both the track and its positive message. The use of Stay and Maybe It’s the Power of Love would lead to resurrection in interest for the former band and the interest, perhaps unsurprisingly, led to the release of a new compilation in 2006.


(Note: Blackjack is not present on Spotify, so unfortunately we are unable to add them to the Spotify playlist.)

AllMusic.com Michael Bolotin
ChicagoTribune.com, DeVore, Sheryl. Michael Bolton is just getting started.
Complex.com Ahmed, Insanul. The Making of Kanye West's "The College Dropout".
Genius.com Kanye West - Never Let Me Down
Kulick.net Bruce Kulick biography 
Lakeland Ledger Barbosa, Susan. Blackjack thrills audience

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