As a rule, I don’t buy one hit wonder albums, but when I saw a copy of Nard in a used record store for $1, I could not resist. After all, I had never heard the instrumentals which made him famous, but was well aware of his one R&B hit “Who Do You Love” from a later album. What I would not realize was that I had been hearing bits and pieces of music from Nard for years and never even realized it.
Bernard Wright is not a name that comes to mind in hip hop, but the son of Roberta Flack and former jazz session musician’s debut album Nard from 1981 was one of the most heavily sampled albums from the gansta rap explosion in the early ’90s. Artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog and L.L. Cool J. were just a few of the performers who have sampled from Nard’s long list of memorable beats. One great example was Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” from 1995 which sampled from “Spinnin”.
The album itself was the 18-year-old keyboardist Wright’s fusion of R&B/funk and jazz. Wright was part of a short period of a Jamaica, Queens funk movement that produced hits like Jamaica Funk from Tom Browne. Enormously popular when new, it help set the standards for modern rhythmic jazz. In doing so, a few tracks like “Bread Sandwiches” from Nard became favorites for the Weather Channel’s background music.
Despite the instrumental jams, the album was composed mostly of R&B styled songs with vocals. Some of that singing came from notable artists like Bobby Floyd or Patti Austin on “Music is the Key”. Other songs featured raps (‘Just Chilling Out”) with a hint of synthesizers.
Wright was as young as 16 when some of these songs were composed, but a kind of maturity can be heard in the relaxed cover of Miles Davis’ “Solar”. Nard has faded into obscurity for all but DJs and rappers in search of a good sample. Ironically his next album Funky Beat would be made with hip hop in mind but has been all but ignored by today’s sampling masses.
Wright really peaked commercially in 1985 with his third album Mr. Wright which featured the hit single “Who Do You Love”. After that he would go back to being a session musician. He has worked with everyone from Cameo to Miles Davis and continues to work today as a keyboardist.