Paying Tribute To R&B Legend Kashif    

New York is home to some of the most influential sounds in musical history.

Hip-Hop was born in The Bronx and the New Jack Sound originated in Harlem, home to musical geniuses such as Teddy Riley, Keith Sweat and the man we pay tribute to today, Kashif.

For those not familiar with the last name, it’s time to do your research because he was not only a musical genius, he was also one of the biggest names in R&B that you probably have never heard of.

But for those of us who were ’70s babies, particularly those of us from New York City, we knew his voice and his work and today our hearts our heavy as we learned about his passing this morning. He was 56.

Born Michael Jones on December 26th, 1959, Kashif came up in the foster care system and was subjected to years of abuse. But then he found music and a mentor to encourage his talents, and a legend planted his roots by the simple introduction to the obligatory middle school instrument, the flute.

Through his teacher’s efforts, Jones enrolled in a school with a great musical program, and by the age of 12, he learned how to play the trumpet, piano, flute, saxophone and tuba. After playing in clubs, he joined the band B.T. Express, of “Do it (‘Till You’re Satisfied)” fame, as a keyboard player and vocalist and then moved on to play keyboard for Stephanie Mills.

Jones would eventually convert to Islam and change his name to Kashif Saleem, and his new name would be the one that would become the stake in the ground for his musical career.

He would produce, write and create songs for some of the biggest names in classic soul in the ’80s such as Evelyn “Champagne” King (“I’m In Love”), Stacy Lattisaw, Meli’ssa Morgan, George Benson, Expose and Whitney Houston (“You Give Good Love”). Kashif was also credited with launching the career of another musical legend, Kenny G.

I remember listening to voices such as Mills and King on KISS-FM and WBLS in the ’80s and begging my father to buy their albums, records which I still have today.

When I heard about Kashif’s passing, I immediately thought back to the days of turning on my Panasonic “boom box” to 98.7 KISS to listen to the songs that would mean so much to me over 30 years later, and Kashif was part of that rotation.

I will always remember Kashif for “You Love’s Got A Hold On Me” and his duet with “Love Changes” with Meli’ssa Morgan. From middle school to high school, Kashif had a role in some of my most favorite R&B hits, which meant that his musical contributions were part of some of the most interesting and memorable times in my life.

I still have those tapes, recorded from programs hosted by DJs such as Yvonne Mobley, and those are days in Black music which can’t be duplicated. It was a time when you couldn’t wait to watch “Soul Train” or “New York Hot Tracks” to catch the best urban music videos.

It was a time where, if you were lucky enough to have cable, the only place you could see these videos was on BET’s “Video Soul” with Donnie Simpson. It was a time before “Yo! MTV Raps.” It was a time that many outside of that era don’t understand the significance of or don’t truly appreciate, sometimes assuming that Hip-Hop was the only sound that came out of the inner-city.

But that’s because they don’t know about artists and true musical talents such as Kashif. Hip-Hop was an emerging presence that would go on to dominate urban and mainstream music, but classic soul in the ’80s never gets its proper respect.

The voices, lyrics and sounds of this period is something that we are missing in music today, with only a few still carrying the torches for these ’80s stars.

So as we mourn the loss of Kashif and the genius he possessed, let’s not forget that between Madonna, Duran Duran, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five and Run DMC, there was a sound that gave birth to talents such as Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys. And for those of us who were there, Kashif was one of the main creators of that sound.

So RIP Kashif and thank you for giving us sounds to listen to, groove to, reflect to and reminisce about. Thank you for giving us lyrics we can remember and sing along with.

And, most importantly, thank you for giving us real music.

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