Multifaceted R&B-Pop musician Kashif passed away from undetermined causes in his Playa del Rey, California home on Sunday, September 25. He was 59 years of age.
Family members Mike and Pam Stitt state, “We are saddened by the passing of our brother. We ask for your thoughts and prayers to be with us at this time.”
Kashif Saleem sprang to success in the early 80s as a pioneer of a fresh new stripped down sound of R&B production centered around exquisitely and spaciously dispatched synthesizers and drum machine patterns. This sound produced mega club/radio hits for himself and others before he landed his greatest success at the helm of Whitney Houston’s breakthrough classic, “You Give Good Love.” Kashif parlayed his windfall of success into a career second half spent largely as an author, educator, mentor and documentary filmmaker. He wrote the book “Everything You’d Better Know About The Record Business” (a more artist driven matter of fact spin on a more technical existing industry bible), and founded Kashif University at Morningside High School in Inglewood as an integrated education and arts program. And he was in the process of working on an epic ten-part documentary “The History of R&B Music and Its Influence On World Culture” at the time of his sudden passing. Kashif had conducted over 200 interviews on four continents and in 18 cities. It was to be the ultimate evidence of Kashif’s continued and passionate commitment to African American culture, history and the education of young people in the arts coming behind him.
As a product of the foster care system, Kashif’s steadfast passions were having close friendships and a loving family environment for himself as well as creating such situations for others. Kashif founded the Team iCare Foundation to improve the quality of life for children in the foster care system through educational programs, enrichment activities and mentoring. On July 26, 2008, his foundation held a 5K Walk/Run event that resulted in 247 individuals signing up to become foster parents. Blessed with a boisterous personality and an infectious sense of humor, Kashif Saleem had a heart of gold.
Born Michael Jones in Harlem, New York, December 26, 1956, he grew up in various Brooklyn foster care homes. Music would be his salvation from abusive treatment suffered there, starting with self-teaching himself a $3 song flute in elementary school. Attention and nurturing from his junior high school music instructor Robert Wedlaw found him laser focused on mastering many musical instruments, primarily keyboards. As a teenaged protégé, he became a member of the Disco/Funk band BT Express, arriving as a teenager on the road with them before notching electric piano/Moog synthesizer/organ/clavinet and sole songwriting credit for the song “Time Tunnel” on the band’s third LP, Energy to Burn (Columbia – 1976). He wrote “Sunshine” on Function at the Junction (1977) and contributed keyboards on Shout (1978) before striking out on his own. His first gig was working as keyboardist with Stephanie Mills which led to studio work with the likes of Nona Hendryx, Gloria Gaynor, Pleasure, Change, Fonzi Thornton, Tavares and the Four Tops. Studying Islam, Michael took the name Kashif which means “discoverer” or “explorer.”
The early to late `80s proved particularly incomparable years for Kashif. Overall, he racked up 17 R&B charting singles in Billboard magazine between 1983 and 1990, five of them Top10 hits, including “Baby Don’t Break Your Baby’s Heart,” “I Just Got To have You (Love r Turn Me On),” “Personality” and a duet with Melba Moore entitled “Love The One I’m With (Love Turn Me On).” His highest charter was “Love Changes,” a remake of a 1978 hit penned by Skip Scarborough for interracial Rock band Mother’s Finest that Kashif rearranged as a duet with Meli’sa Morgan which soared all the way to #2 in 1987. For his efforts, Kashif received six Grammy nominations, the majority in the R&B Instrumental category and the best known being “Edgartown Groove” featuring largely wordless vocals by jazz great Al Jarreau.
Kashif’s greatest successes were by far as a producer/songwriter for others, beginning with Evelyn “Champagne” King whose disco career he resuscitated with the cutting edge 1981 funk-pop hit “I’m In Love” followed by “Love Come Down” and “Betcha She Don’t Love You” from her runaway smash 1982 LP, Get Loose. That same year he also nailed the biggest hit of singer Howard Johnson’s career with the club fire-starter “So Fine,”contributed to the album Feelin’ Lucky by the trio High Fashion (forging his relationship with group member Meli’sa Morgan), and composed and produced “Inside Love (So Personal)” for a man he considered an idol, George Benson.
Snatched up by Clive Davis at Arista Records, Kashif was instrumental in spinning a little known saxophonist named Kenny Gorelick (Kenny G) out of jazz group The Jeff Lorber Fusion into R&B-Jazz crossover solo success with the album, G Force. He also wrote the lead single “Easier Said Than Done” for the original lineup of Average White Band’s final LP, Cupid’s in Fashion. But it was his production of the song “You Give Good Love” for Davis’ priority artist Whitney Houston that launched the superstar into orbit with a self-titled album that sold over 17 million copies worldwide. Though the song was written by a young up and comer named LaLa, it was Kashif’s biggest success as producer. Kashif also wrote and sang a duet with Houston on that album titled “Thinking About You.” This renown led to a duet with legendary Arista label mate Dionne Warwick entitled “Reservations for Two” and, later, an album cut co-write with the great Barry White titled “I Get Off On You” from the legend’s final 1999 CD, Staying Power.
In 2004, super producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis helmed Janet Jackson’s hit “R&B Junkie” which was liberally built from a sample of Evelyn “Champagne” King’s Kashif-penned hit, “I’m In Love.” That same year, Kashif was inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame as a Living Legend. In 2015, TV-One’s award-winning music documentary series “Unsung” devoted an episode to his career.
Kashif dreamed big, working tirelessly and selflessly to bring those goals to life. He packed an incomparable and daunting amount of achievement into his time on this planet. He will be deeply missed yet rests mightily in the seeds of inspiration he placed within the hearts of so many, be they peers or students.