Kashif - Help Yourself to My Love — The Arista Anthology (2017)

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Kashif - Help Yourself to My Love — The Arista Anthology

Few figures in the contemporary R&B landscape of the early 1980s contributed as much to its evolution of sound as producer/songwriter/vocalist Kashif. While super-producer teams like Jam & Lewis and Babyface & L.A. Reid played a major part in its progression a few years on, Kashif himself was miles ahead of the pack in his stunning integration of cutting-edge synth-funk sounds with authentic rhythm-section prowess. Whether helming game-changing hits for soul superstars (Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “I’m in Love,” George Benson’s “Inside Love (So Personal),” and Melba Moore’s “Love’s Comin’ at Ya”) or pushing the envelope as an artist in his own right, the terrain that the former B.T. Express keyboardist cultivated during the first half of the ‘80s alone is more than many cover in a lifetime.

Kashif - Help Yourself to My Love — The Arista Anthology

Few figures in the contemporary R&B landscape of the early 1980s contributed as much to its evolution of sound as producer/songwriter/vocalist Kashif. While super-producer teams like Jam & Lewis and Babyface & L.A. Reid played a major part in its progression a few years on, Kashif himself was miles ahead of the pack in his stunning integration of cutting-edge synth-funk sounds with authentic rhythm-section prowess. Whether helming game-changing hits for soul superstars (Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “I’m in Love,” George Benson’s “Inside Love (So Personal),” and Melba Moore’s “Love’s Comin’ at Ya”) or pushing the envelope as an artist in his own right, the terrain that the former B.T. Express keyboardist cultivated during the first half of the ‘80s alone is more than many cover in a lifetime.

Soul Music Records’ two-disc release, Help Yourself to My Love — The Arista Anthology, bursts with 30 full-length (and sometimes, extended) tracks culled from Kashif’s five solo albums released between 1983 and 1989. The breadth of material surveys a variety of styles prevalent during those years that is consistently sophisticated in presentation. From the sultry underpinnings of the majestic groover “I Just Gotta Have You (Lover Turn Me On)”—his first single, to his glowingly moving duet with Dionne Warwick, “Reservations for Two,” and smoothly seductive slow-jam “Love Me All Over,” there’s a pronounced helping of class and allure throughout.

Kashif enjoyed 13 top-40 R&B hits while at Arista, and they are all here: signature cuts which helped to perfect the sound he had given rise to with earlier productions—the atmospheric “Baby Don’t Break Your Baby’s Heart,” the snappy “Love on the Rise” (a collaboration with Kenny G.); romantic ballads harmoniously blending emotion and finesse (“Are You the Woman,” “Condition of the Heart”); and even flirtations with new jack swing (“Personality” and a pop-leaning remake of the Four Tops’ “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)”). But the hits are only half of the story covered here. Hidden gems lie in album tracks such as “Edgartown Groove,” a reprise of “Are You the Woman” featuring a mind-blowing, improv-style vocal from Al Jarreau; the synth-tastic midnight gem “Love Has No End”; and the calm, yet fiery, “Lovers and Friends.” The latter, in particular, is an exemplary showcase of Kashif honing in on his unique qualities as a balladeer. While he might not have possessed the grit of Marvin Gaye or the silkiness of Smokey Robinson, what he developed in tandem with his singular songwriting and production skills was a coolly tempered combination of passion and gentleness that worked equally effectively on dance floor numbers and love jams.

Demonstrating just as markedly Kashif’s flair for distinguished instrumental exploration with an unexpected edge, the rippling 1985 mover “Movie Song” is built upon compact rhythmic candy awash with cinematically inspired programming flourishes, an impenetrable bassline, and light guitar fills. Meanwhile, the smooth jazz-esque “Kathryn” keeps the contagious groove of “Love Me All Over” intact, replacing the sensuous vocals with shimmering keyboard work in the spotlight. The structure of the subtle synthesizer effects, various ostinatos, and understated vocal fills which he melds in halfway through serve as merely one example of how forward-thinking his musical mind was.

Further evidence of this future-savvy approach is found in the late-night dreaminess of “I’ve Been Missin’ You,” an overlooked selection from 1984’s Send Me Your Love. Co-written by and featuring Kenny G., the number is not a sax-charged effort; rather, it’s a supple affair of synths and breezy jazz-guitar strums with an at-ease vocal and simple yet affecting lyrics. It makes even more sense upon reading the in-depth historical essay contained inside the accompanying booklet for Help Yourself to My Love: within, Kenny G. offers recollections about Kashif’s musical influence, as do backing vocalist B.J. Nelson, drummer Leslie Ming, and friend Kathy Sledge (of Sister Sledge).

While Kashif undoubtedly garnered a more than sizable base of devoted fans during his all too short lifetime, many longtime listeners probably don’t realize just how multifaceted and continually on the case he was in his solo repertoire. Help Yourself to My Love is the ideal collection for clarifying that. Highly recommended.

by Justin Kantor
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