It was a cruise around New York, sponsored by ZIMA, a weird clear wine cooler that I’m guessing became the primary donor due to the first initial of the names. Either way, that was the first time I saw Zhané perform live. And my life was never the same after that.
Their first single was a smash. “Hey Mr. DJ” was a quintessential New York tune–centered around the DJ, and dope for getting a party started. But those voices… no one had heard them before. When Jean Norris (now Baylor) and Renee Neufville started shouting out the selector behind that beat from Naughty by Nature DJ Kay Gee, the crowd went wild. The song was the lead single from their debut project Pronounced Jah-Nay, so it got the party started. What was to follow, though, was something that wasn’t expected.
They… were GOOD. Like, really GOOD.
There were five singles released over a year and a half: “Hey Mr. DJ,” “Groove Thang,” “Sending My Love,” “Vibe,” and “You’re Sorry Now.” And none of those were even my favorite. That classification went to the ballad “For A Reason,” a track a placed on many a mixtape. It went on for more than six minutes, and with all of the angst and worry that went along with 90s breakup music, it was my go-to tune. The chemistry of the voices was undeniable. The tension was palpable. The arrangement was gorgeous.
Zhané had me at hello.
The album peaked at #37 on the Billboard 200 chart and #8 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart. WIth production from Kay Gee, Steve McKeever, Craig King, Naughty by Nature, and Norris and Neufville, the project went Gold in 1994, and was certified Platinum three years after its release.
And it was all because of those voices. What will always go down as one of the mysteries of the era is why Jean and Renee didn’t make more music together. What is now a common occurrence wasn’t the case back then: it was rare for successful groups to break up before they made at least three albums. This duo created two strong projects before they went their separate ways. I guess we’ll have to be grateful for what we got. Everything happens for a reason, I reckon. Heh.
Now, we celebrate Pronounced Jah-Nay. on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. You will always be in my rotation as well as a bright spot for 90s music.