Freestyle music

Freestyle music
Stylistic origins Electro-funk, disco, post-disco, Italo-disco, hip hop, R&B, and various forms of Latin music, Eurodance
Cultural origins Early 1980s, New York City and Miami, Florida, United States
Typical instruments Syncopated beats and bass lines—Use of the Roland TR-808 and other drum machines—Usage of synthesizers
Mainstream popularity Mainly popular in New York and Miami, with several national hits in the 1980s and early 1990s. Popularity declined around 1992, mostly underground now
Derivative forms Florida breaks, melodic funk, funk carioca
Regional scenes
New York-Philly, Miami-Orlando, Los Angeles-San Diego, Chicago metropolitan area, Greater Toronto Area, San Jose-San Francisco, San Antonio, TX

Freestyle or Latin freestyle, sometimes referred to as Latin hip hop, is a form of electronic dance music that emerged in the early 1980s. Mostly popular during the mid 80s to the early 90s. It continues to be produced today and enjoys some degree of popularity, especially in urban Latino and Italian communities, as it did when it first came on to the scene.[1]



Notable performers in the Freestyle genre include Stevie B, Shannon, Cynthia, Collage, Johnny O, Safire, George Lamond, Lil Suzy, Judy Torres, Information Society, Exposé, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, La India, TKA, Corina, Nocera, Company B, The Cover Girls, Noel, Pajama Party, Shana, Will to Power, Sweet Sensation, Seduction, Linear, Lisette Melendez, Angelina, Laissez Faire, Coro, and Rockell.


The music first developed primarily in the Latino communities of New York City in the early 1980s. Initially, it was a fusion of synthetic instrumentation and syncopated percussion of 1980s electro, as favored by fans of breakdancing. It was also influenced by sampling, as found in hip hop music. Key influences include Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force's "Planet Rock" (1982) and Shannon's "Let the Music Play," the latter of which was a Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hit in early 1984.[2] Several freestyle songs entered the Billboard Hot 100 charts during 1987, marking this as the first year that freestyle got acknowledged on US radio stations. Songs such as "Come Go with Me" by Exposé, "Show Me" by the Cover Girls, "Fascinated" by Company B, and "Silent Morning" by Noel helped freestyle go mainstream that year. By 1992,[3] however, house music, which was based partly on disco rhythms, challenged the relatively upbeat, syncopated freestyle sound. In the early 1990s and on through the 2000s, the electro and Latin hip hop influences of freestyle were supplanted by house music.

Term usage

DJ mixing

Why Freestyle music is actually called "freestyle" is subject to speculation. Some feel the term may refer to the mixing techniques used by DJs spinning this form of music (at least in its pre-house incarnations). Freestyle's syncopated beat structures demanded that DJs get creative, incorporating aspects of both electronic and hip-hop techniques; they often had to (or had more freedom to) mix more quickly and more responsively to the individual pieces of music.

Others believe it refers to the vocal technique: singing melodic pop vocals over the kind of beats that were previously used only with rap and semi-chanted electro-funk vocal styles was a form of freestyling —getting creative by mixing up the styles— somewhat akin to the use of the term in reference to competitive freestyle rap.

Another explanation is that the dancing associated with this music allows for a greater degree of freedom of expression than the other music that was prevalent at the time. Each individual dancer is free to create his or her own style.

In Miami, the freestyle name evolved after confusion between Tony "Pretty Boy" Butler's track "Freestyle Express" by Freestyle and Debbie Deb's "When I Hear Music," a slightly older but more popular track that was produced by Butler. The sound became synonymous with Butler's production, and the name of the group he was in, Freestyle, became the genre's name. The group itself got its name from the members' love for BMX Freestyle Bike racing.

The sound

It is a genre with rather clear features: a dance tempo with stress on beats two and four; syncopation with a bass line, lead synth, or percussion, with optional stabs (provided as synthesized brass or orchestral samples); sixteenth-note hi-hats; a chord progression that lasts eight, 16, or 32 beats and is usually in a minor key; and relatively complex, upbeat melodies with singing, verses, and a chorus, with themes about love or dancing. Freestyle music in general is heavily influenced by Latin music, especially with respect to rhythms and brass-horn and keyboard parts. The Latin clave rhythm can be felt in many songs (such as in the defining “Clave Rocks” by Amoretto). The tempo of freestyle music is almost always between 110 and 130 beats per minute (BPM), typically around 118 BPM. The keyboard parts are often elegant and clever, with many short melodies and countermelodies, again a strong influence from Latin music. It also features complicated drum-machine patterns that a human drummer would have extreme difficulty playing.

New York Freestyle

Many people cite 1983's “Let the Music Play” by Shannon as being the genre's debut hit. However, others contend that Afrika Bambaataa, with his hit release "Planet Rock," conceived Freestyle's first child. The track was, indeed, frequently earmarked as the first freestyle song produced. However, “Let the Music Play” eventually became freestyle's biggest recording, and it still receives frequent airplay through radio and other venues. The song was produced by Mark Liggett and Chris Barbosa, who changed and refined the electro funk sound, adding Latin American rhythms and a syncopated drum-machine sound.

This new sound rejuvenated the funk, soul and hip hop club scenes in New York City. While most of the neighborhood clubs were closing their doors for good, some Manhattan clubs were suddenly thriving. Places like the Roxy, the Funhouse, Broadway 96, Gothams West, Roseland, Webster Hall, The Underground, Palladium, and The Tunnel, that played this were packed. Records like "Play At Your Own Risk" by Planet Patrol, "One More Shot" by C Bank, "Al-Naafiyish (The Soul)" by Hashim, and "I.O.U." by Freeez became huge hits. More established European artists like New Order ("Confusion," "State of the Nation") both inspired the original Freestyle sound and then responded to it by incorporating certain Freestyle elements into their own productions.

Other producers from around the world soon began to replicate the sound in more radio-friendly productions. Records like "Let Me Be the One" by Safire, "I Remember What You Like" by Jenny Burton, "Running" by soon-to-be pop stars Information Society, and "Give Me Tonight" by Shannon enjoyed heavy New York radio airplay.

Many of the original freestyle artists – and the DJs who played the music, such as Jellybean, Tony Torres, Raul Soto and Roman Ricardo – were of Puerto Rican ancestry. This was one reason why the style came to be very popular among Latino Americans and Italian Americans, especially in the New York City area. This marks a notable merging of underground Latino, Italian and African-American urban cultures, hence, the names Latin Hip Hop or Latin Freestyle. Now, the more neutral term Freestyle was preferred. Both performers and producers associated with the style came from around the world, including Information Society's "Running", which was written by Turk Murat Konar, Paul Lekakis is Greek, while Freeez, Paul Hardcastle and Samantha Fox, are British. A further fusion of beats arose when Duran Duran and The Latin Rascals teamed up to produce a remix of “Notorious”. Freestyle also touched the Asian community with the release of "Youngboys" by an Asian artist by the name of Leonard (aka Leon Youngboy), with a remix by Eddie Davis ( "Hungry For Your Love" by Hanson and Davis) and became the famous "SYB War Mix".

Freestyle radio in New York was exemplified by the production team of Tony Moran and Albert Cabrera, known as the Latin Rascals. Their original music on WKTU included Freestyle classics like 1984's "Arabian Nights", and later more hip-hop oriented projects, such as the Cover Girls' "Show Me" (1986). Tony Moran later went on to form his own project, Concept of One, and the duo continued to produce big name Freestyle artists into the early 1990s.

Freestyle has continued to have a strong following in its founding city, New York. Although a club sound, Freestyle has begun to spread back into the mainstream media. Beginning in 1996 New York's WKTU radio station began holding live concerts titled "Freestyle Free for ALL". They also presently hold Freestyle nights (Weekends), dedicating a few hours to freestyle music hosted by Judy Torres. Since its debut the concert reinserted Freestyle into the lime light paving the way for new releases later that year, such as "Do Unto Me" by Coro. After the popularity of Reggaeton began to diminish interest in Freestyle began to increase, with some radio stations giving up their Reggaeton blocks for Freestyle blocks. In 2006, WKTU invited Coro to perform in their "Beatstock" Concert which was very well received. Although Freestyle remained an "old school beat", its popularity continued to expand further than New York City and Miami, beginning to spread into Europe. In 2008, arguably the largest Freestyle concert in its existence was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The concert titled "Freestyle Extravaganza" sold out and was one of the most celebrated concerts.

Chicago Freestyle

In the late 1980s Chicago acts developed their own Freestyle sound which was Chicago House infused. One of the first was Legacy & Code 3 – Girls Do It Just For Fun which came out in 1989,an reissued in 1992 with newer mixes and a more polished vocal. It was a huge hit. But the first Chicago Freestyle record Forever Amour originally released on a green label in late 1988 that featured Troy Guy. Before he left the group because Mickey Mixin Oliver took the reel to reel recordings and had the record released under his name. So Troy Guy started a group called D'zyre and released Forever Amour. And in turn Mickey Oliver started Innefect and released there version of Forever Amour. The D'zyre version is one of the top Freesyle songs of the genre. Other Artist that were released prior to these in 1986 and 1987 are Soraya – I Never Loved You,Sheba - Can't Let Go. In the 1990s to mid 1990's saw Freestyle in Chicago explode, with many acts coming out. While Freestyle was dying out in other cities in Chicago that was farther from the truth. Where even legendary Chicago House Music Label D.J. International were releasing and pressing Freestyle records. While former artist who left the label Kool Rock Steady dissed D.J. International in his trax Back By Popular Demand claiming that the label was going broke by releasing Freestyle.Which was probably exaggerated if they were going broke it had to with the cut throat business that the record companies had of doing business. The 1990s saw plenty of artist who came out Chicago who enjoyed success D'zyre, Innefect, L.A.W., Legacy, Issac, Rochelle, Georgie Porgie, Charlie Babie.

In late 1985 A station WCYC run by Harv Roman was playing more of the underground House while also playing and introducing the New York Freestyle acts on the radio.Many of the acts got there big break because of Harv Roman.WCYC can be credited for Freestyle success in Chicago.While Harv Roman still promotes House and Freestyle at club Studio 63 on 63RD Harlem.

Miami Freestyle

WIOQ (Q102) in Philadelphia, WPOW (Power 96) in Miami, KPWR (Power 106) in Los Angeles, WBBM (B96) in Chicago, WQHT-FM (when it was Hot 103.5) in New York, and XHRM-FM (Hot 92.5) in San Diego began playing hits by artists like TKA, Sweet Sensation, and Exposé, Sa-Fire on the same playlists as Pop superstars like Michael Jackson and Madonna. Tracks like TKA's One Way Love, " Sa-Fire's Don't Break My Heart and Sweet Sensation's Hooked On You received new life and the success of these tracks as well as the just-released Show Me by the Cover Girls helped get them added to stations around the country. "(You Are My) All and All" by Joyce Sims became the first Freestyle record to cross over into the R&B market. It was also one of the first Freestyle records to crack the European market. Although still in its early stages, Freestyle was now getting national attention, and was fast becoming dance music for the '80s.

"Pretty Tony" Butler produced several huge freestyle hits on Jam-Packed records out of Miami. Most notable for Debbie Deb - "When I Hear Music" and "Lookout Weekend" and Trinere's "I'll Be All You'll Ever Need" and "They're Playing Our Song".

Company B, Stevie B, Paris By Air, Linear, Will to Power and Exposé's later hits defined Miami Freestyle. One of the most important pioneers and influential players within the Miami freestyle scene is the entrepreneur, music executive and music producer Tolga Katas. He is credited with being one of the first persons to create a hit record entirely on a computer. His top notch productions influenced many copy cat producers that tried (and failed) to copy the sound he created for hits such as “Party Your Body”, “In My Eyes” and “Dreamin' of Love”, all performed by Stevie B. His record label Futura Records became an incubator for great, high quality Freestyle music. The group Linear, who got its start there, was eventually picked up by Atlantic Records which resulted in the group achieving international success. Many labels confused New York Freestyle and Miami Freestyle, thinking they had the same audience. They thought their promotional strategy would work for both genres, which resulted in skipping the all too important step of cultivating a record at the street and club level before going to radio. This often led to poor results for the New York–based Freestyle. New York Freestyle, even in its most polished forms, retained a raw edge and underground sound, using minor chords that made the tracks darker and more moody. The lyrics also tended to be about unrequited love or other more somber themes, dealing with the reality of what inner city teens were experiencing emotionally. Also in the development of Freestyle was a club in the Bronx called The Devils Nest (on the corner of Webster and Tremont Avenues) which opened on August 2, 1984. Freestyle legends The Cover girls, Expose, and TKA performed there. Lamour East, Avonti's and Silver Screens were some notorious freestyle clubs in urban Queens New York, hosting many Latin freestyle artists and groups.

Philly Freestyle

In the early 1990s, several Freestyle acts emerged from the metropolitan Philadelphia, PA area (South Philadelphia; Camden, NJ; Trenton, NJ; Delaware County PA, etc.). Artists such as D.T.U. (Doin' The Ultimate), Full Afekt, Denine, Marré, The DuLaio Twinz, Sammy C, Tōn-Dé-Jon, Jamie, Angela Garcia, Nu-Evo, Divine Aire, Orlando, Jade, Equils-2 and T.P.E. (The Philadelphia Experiment) enjoyed regional success and many saw regular airplay on Philadelphia's FM radio station Q102 with DJ/Producer Gino Caporale (WIOQ 102.1 FM).

In 1993, the guys from D.T.U. (Anthony Ponzio and Anthony Santosusso) teamed-up with DJ Mike Ferullo to form Tazmania Records and T.P.E.'s Adam Marano would go on to form Viper-7 Records. Both record labels would eventually lead the resurgence of the Freestyle music genre in the mid-1990s with radio hits by such artists as Collage and Denine. Behind the scenes, Rob Federici and the Polygon recording studio were a major factor in the sound and success of both Tazmania and Viper Freestyle releases. Also in the mid-1990s, Philadelphia based DJ Steve "Mr. Miami" O'Neill opened Gecko Records (later known as Gekko Records). As Freestyle saw another rough patch later in the 1990s, Tazmania shut down while Viper-7 (now known as the Viper Music Network) moved on to cover a broad spectrum of music genres.

In the late 2000s, Freestyle began to see yet another resurgence in popularity. New Freestyle music from older, well known Freestyle artists, producers and record labels was being released. Live shows featuring Freestyle artists new and old were popular weekend attractions at Philadelphia area bars and night clubs. A major factor in Freestyle's new popularity came courtesy of Steve "Mr. Miami" O'Neill's near-weekly shows at Northeast Philadelphia's Roosevelt's On The Boulevard Bar & Grill (formerly known as The Route 1 Cafe, currently known as REDZ) creating a huge upswing in the region's Freestyle music scene.

In 2009, Tazmania Records reopened its doors and began releasing new Freestyle music. A compilation featuring some of the biggest acts from their past such as Pure Pleazure, Stefanie Bennett, Sammy C and Samantha was released in July 2009 (Tazmania Freestyle: Overloaded).[4] Unfortunately for Freestyle fans, Tazmania Records has since shifted focus to cover the more current sounds of Dance music, specifically Pop and House. The Viper Music Network had also announced plans for new Freestyle releases in the near future, but their website no longer makes any mention of these upcoming projects.

California Freestyle

Although Freestyle's main territory was New York and Miami, it did have a recognizable following in California, particularly on Los Angeles radio stations KDAY AM-1580 and Power 106, on San Francisco Bay Area stations Hot 97.7, KMEL and 107.7 KSOL (now Wild 94.9), and XHRM-FM (Hot 92.5), in San Diego.

Given California's large Latino community they greatly enjoyed the sounds of the Latin club scene in the East Coast, and although California Freestyle was not as prevalent in New York or Miami Freestyle, there were a number of successful California Freestyle artists that also gained popularity from Freestyle fans in the East Coast. Northern California Freestyle, mainly from San Francisco & San Jose leans towards a more high-tempo dance beat, some of it sounding almost like Hi-NRG. Freestyle in California was mostly being made in the Bay Area and Los Angeles reigns. Most of all it still retains the sound of freestyle.

California's large Filipino American community also embraced freestyle music during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Filipina songstress, Jaya (Maria Luisa Ramsey) peaked at number 44 in 1990 with her hit, "If You Leave Me Now."

Timmy T, Caleb-B, Jocelyn Enriquez, The S Factor, Angelina, Jossette, Emotion In Motion, Buffy, Adriana, Bernadette, Daize, One Voice, M:G, Stephanie Fastro & DJ Spanish Fly are all from the Bay Area, and from San Diego artists Internal Affairs, Gustavo Campaign, Alex Campaign, Jose Santos, Robert Romo, F. Felix, Marcus Gil, Tury Q (El Paso Tx) and Frankie Boy aka Frankie J were all notable freestyle artists from California.

Freestyle in Canada

Freestyle had a large following in the late 1980s and early 1990s throughout the Greater Toronto Area catering originally to the Italian and Greek population, although ultimately accepted by large from the city's vast multi-cultural base. Freestyle was prominent in all ages, venues, and various Toronto nightclubs that would also showcase House music. Canadians also invented their own term for the music called 'gino beats'. The fans of this music in Toronto were often referred to as 'ginos' (males) and 'ginas' (females). They often grew up in the 905 region. The term was not used in a derogatory sense such as 'guido' in America, but more a description of a Toronto male or female with a certain style (interest in fashion) and taste in music (Freestyle & House), and the behavior of blasting House music or Freestyle music while driving with the windows down, to try and attract the attention of females. By the mid nineties this market had moved almost completely to House music as their club music of choice. Lil' Suzy released several 12" singles at the time, that became immensely popular amongst the youth population in Toronto. She ultimately performed live on Electric Circus, a popular Canadian live dance music television program.

Its success was not just limited to Toronto. Montreal singer Nancy Martinez's 1986 single "For Tonight" would become the major breakthrough Canadian freestyle single to reach the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the girl group 11:30 (also from Montreal) had a brief taste of success on the Canadian chart with "Ole Ole" in 2000.

Freestyle as a pop-crossover genre

By 1987, Freestyle was at its peak on Top 40 Radio. By the early 90s,[3] Freestyle was disappearing from the radio air waves with radio stations such as Hot 103.5 turned Hot 97 starting a trend of changing their format to Top 40 music only. While the artists of the music such as George Lamond, Exposé, Corina, Sweet Sensation and the Stevie B continued to play on mainstream radio, other notable Freestyle artists did not fare as well. Carlos Berrios almost single handedly appeared to have saved the apparent demise of the music by creating a new sound, along with another writer, producer, Frankie Cutlass, used on Temptation by Corina and Together Forever by Lisette Melendez. Both songs released almost simultaneously were not only embraced by Top 40 radio but gave Freestyle a much needed resurgence in 1991 with Temptation going to the number 6 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. However, before its decline in 1990s, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, one of the first freestyle acts to get behind the microphone, began to make it big on the freestyle scene. Their records were produced by Full Force, who also made UTFO's music and even once worked together with James Brown. The music of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam was less electro and more pop, and that was also probably the reason why artists such as Corina, Stevie B, George Lamond, Sweet Sensation and the Cover Girls were able to crossover into the pop market. Cross-over influences became even more evident with greater fervor when The Latin Rascals produced a remix of Duran Duran's "Notorious" and The Pet Shop Boys' hit smash, Domino Dancing produced by Lewis A. Martinee, who produced many of Expose's hits.

Also notable during the 1980s and early 1990s, ballads released by primarily freestyle artists either crossed over to the pop charts, or fared much better than their existing chart entries, such as "Seasons Change" (Exposé), "Thinking of You" (Sa-Fire), "One More Try" (Timmy T), "Because I Love You (The Postman Song)" (Stevie B) and "If Wishes Came True" (Sweet Sensation). The ballad "I Still Believe" debuted Brenda K. Starr to the Hot 100.

Soon thereafter, however, freestyle was seemingly swallowed up by the mainstream pop industry: MC Hammer, Paula Abdul, Bobby Brown, New Kids on the Block and Milli Vanilli, with their hip hop beats and electro samples, were undoubtedly a new pop-mainstream form of the underground dance music of the 1980s, repackaged with catchier tunes, slicker production and MTV-friendly videos. An exception to this was Linear with the crossover hit “Sending all My Love.” The reason for this exception is that Tolga Katas, inspired by Milli Vanilli’s commercial success, incorporated their sound with his own which resulted in a top ten hit that definitely benefited from the group’s MTV-friendly video. Along with this pop appropriation of the genre and the success of these artists, not only on crossover stations but R&B stations as well, freestyle ceased to be as important as an underground genre, giving way to newer genres such as New Jack Swing and new forms of dance music coming from Europe, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Detroit, such as Trance and Eurodance, which seemed younger, fresher and newer than freestyle. R&B sensation Ciara featured freestyle on her third studio album, Fantasy Ride, having already used it on her “1,2 Step” hit single.

Post Freestyle-Era

MicMac Records is recognized as one of the pioneer record labels in Freestyle music, known for bringing artist such as Johnny O, Cynthia, Nyasia, Tiana, Soave and Clear Touch to the Freestyle scene. In 2004, MicMac Records relaunched and introduced new school Freestyle hits to the open market. The CDs were titled Then and Now. Following a success with the CDs the label released three more in the years following and remains active to date promoting many live performances mainly in Miami Florida which is known for having a large Freestyle following. In New York City the popularity of Freestyle's emergence have not gone unnoticed, there are several clubs and lounges that host performances on a regular basis. There are also online radio stations such as who broadcast 24/7 and allow listeners to scroll through an open library and request songs to hear. Onna Roll records whose Nasty boys and Donna Williams hits were more main stream although What I'm Feeling was the most played single in one day on WKTU at the time getting 63 plays, Big Al former president of Onna Roll does a freestyle night in NY still to this day.

There was a resurgence once again in the mid to late 1990s with labels like Artistik Records and Tazmania Records as well as a handful of indie labels. Artistik Records was created by Freestyle artist and producer Willie Valentin. Artistik was first distributed by Tazmania/Hot productions in early 1994 and then by Mic-Mac Records in 1995-1996. In1997 Wiilie Valentin ventured off on his own and distributed his label by himself and released singles by Synthia Figueroa as well as solo albums by Willie Valentin, Poze, Freeze and Synthia Figueroa. Artistik also released many compilation albums. Freestyle Parade 4, CPR's Clubhouse Freestyle Madness, Freestyle Mania volumes 1,2 and 3, Freestyle Parade 2K1 CDs 1 & 2, Dance Music Artistik Style and in 2010 Freestyle Parade 2010 "We're back again".

Freestyle, staying largely an underground genre with still a sizeable following in New York, has seen a recognizable comeback in the cities the music once dominated. In Miami, a Latin radio station shoved aside their Reggaeton music blocks to make room for Freestyle playlists. In New York, Freestyle artists languished in small venues mostly in the boroughs outside Manhattan until April 1, 2004, when local NYC impresarios Mike Cornette and Steve Sylvester contacted Fever Records honcho and Rap/Freestyle pioneer and producer Sal Abbetiello, the former owner of the Devil's Nest club in The Bronx, and single handedly brought Freestyle back into the New York City mainstream with StevieSly's Freestyle Party show at Coda, a live music venue in Manhattan that featured Judy Torres, Cynthia, and The Cover Girls and was attended by several celebrity special guests. The success of the "Coda" show breathed new life into freestyle in Manhattan. Subsequently, a summer 2006 Madison Square Garden concert showcasing Freestyle's greatest performers went very well-received, and new Freestyle being released appears to be well-taken by longtime Freestyle enthusiasts and newcomers alike. The Black Eyed Peas often use Freestyle lyrics, and Miami rapper Pitbull collaborated with Miami Freestyle artist Stevie B to create an updated version of Stevie B's hit, "Spring Love."

Freestyle influences can be heard in modern acts such as Chromeo and Sekrett Scilensce (Secret Silence), who also merges the New Jack Swing styling into his Electronic and Pop-Crossover productions.

In 2008, famed Freestyle music producer Carlos "After Dark" Berrios released a double CD titled "Don't Look Back" Sessions One and Two with 22 new tracks of Freestyle and Latin Freestyle. Known artists George Lamond, Lisette Melendez, Joei Mae (formerly of C-BANK), and K7 perform on the album as do new artist Katya and Jessica Fabus. Berrios produced most of the albums while Frankie Cutlass and Eddie Frente produced a track a piece as well.

Jordin Sparks' 2009 single "Let The Music Play" can be considered part of the freestyle genre.

In 2011, the New Aristocrats have released a remake of Stacey Q's "Two Of Hearts."[citation needed]


External links

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