Category Archives: FUNK

All things relating to my appreciation of the ONE, in it’s musical, extra musical, and plain ‘ol ALIVE manifestations

The ’87 Sound: “Tina Cherry” by Georgio

One of the defining features of the R&B sound during the 1980s is the absorption of the musical innovations of Prince. The year 1987 was no different. “Tina Cherry” by Georgio is a fine example of the type of Funk that was inspired by Prince and The Minneapolis sound. Georgio Allentini is a Bay Area native, to the extent that one of my best friends went to High School with him. The word is that Prince pursued him for Paisley Park, which is a rumor many Prince fans vehemently deny but those close to the situation confirm. He ended up signing to Motown and seeing success on the dance charts with his album “Sex Appeal.” The influence of Prince is reflected in “Tina Cherry” through the synthesized dance groove topped off with an incredibly funky, furious guitar lick. It’s also reflected in the title characters name, “Tina Cherry.” So much so that when I was a kid and used to hear this on local Bay Area radio, I thought it was Prince! At that time I did not know “Funk” was a musical genre of its own, but I did know the word “Funky” and I knew what was “Funky” when I heard it! And this song definitely passed the funk test and has remained in my memory banks from that time till now.

Coming out as it did during the heyday of the 12″ club mix, there are many versions of “Tina Cherry.” But the one I selected here is the one I first heard on the radio all those years back and the one I feel brings the funk the hardest. The song begins with a big drum beat that has lots of air around it. On top of this they give us a phat ’80s horn stab, which revs up like an organ before slapping the groove. Also prominent is a cowbell methodically marking out all four beats of the groove. Georgio tells the doorman or his handlers to send her up to his room on the intro. When the whole beat comes in, its marked by a busy synth bass line, and those guitars, a high up the neck, hammer on and off funky blues guitar lead supported by a chocked chicken scratch that brings the funk to your face.

Georgio uses that funky base to tell a story about a girl whose name is Tina that “plays a cherry game.” He sings about how she “Works and works”, her hair, eyes, clothes, everything she has in the name of sex appeal. The guitar takes over on the chorus to the point that it sounds like Georgio is singing in support of the funky guitar. Georgio goes on to tell us that Tina is a Creole woman, which of course, in Black American folklore makes her a very dangerous woman in as many ways as you could imagine! Over the dance groove he goes on to spit double entendre like, “Tina baby/Dont make it hard/we’re almost there/let me park my car.”

This jam has fond memories for me because of the mesmerizing guitar groove. I can also recall a commercial for Georgio doing an in-store appearance at a now defunct local record shop, the Black owned “T’s Wauzi Records.” As it is “Tina Cherry” is a great jam from a lesser-known artist that exemplifies state of the art funky dance music in 1987, made under the influence of Prince and the Minneapolis Sound. In a decade of the ’80s that had few funk bands that were strong and was touched by the influence of emerging musical technologies and new genre’s, it was no small thing to bring the funk, and Georgio did it very well on this song and his album “Sex Appeal.” Definitley one to check out from ’87 if you’re unfamiliar with it!!!!

Here is the video for “Tina Cherry” which featured the song with a different mix, the guitar part is still there but the overall groove doesn’t work for me as much as the one I heard on the radio back in the day

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Filed under A Riquespeaks Curation, FUNK, The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Fake” by Alexander O’Neal

“Fake”, from Alexander O’Neal’s second album, “Hearsay”, written and produced by the legendary team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, is on the shortlist for my absolute favorite songs of 1987, the ’80s as a whole, and songs in general. The relentlessly pounding dance groove and O’Neals sharp, accusatory vocals and ad-libs were a sound I heard all the time that year, on the radio, from cars, on Soul Train, and from the stereo system in my own home. Jam and Lewis were coming off the success of Janet Jacksons’ “Control” album and taking their place as the preeminent production team in the business when this song was recorded. It’s well known that O’Neal was slated to be the lead vocalist for The Time until he questioned Prince Rogers Nelson about the business side of that group’s existence. Although he lost that gig to Morris Day, Jam and Lewis never stopped believing in O’Neal, which led to them producing his albums. “Hearsay” was an absolute smash in ’87, producing big singles such as “Fake”, “Criticize”, and another in his series of duets with Cherelle, “Never Knew Love Like This.” The smoking dance songs and duets were appropriate for a singer that Jam and Lewis viewed as a throwback to the male soul singer as exemplified in the ‘690s and ’70s by artists such as Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass and many others. This was very important for the 1980s because as the decade developed, that type of gutsy soul singing took a backseat to younger artists, female diva’s, and Hip Hoppers.

“Fake” is a song that is so appropriate for its era because it deals with the type of woman you might meet in Los Angeles or any big city where people are doing a lot of social climbing. This also was a big theme for Black men and particular then and since because the ethic in the ’80s aesthetically veered long ways from Aretha Franklin’s “Natural woman” of the late ’60s. The woman Alex sings about has different aliases for her name, wears weaves, calls him by other men’s names, and has different eye colors everytime he sees her. He sings, “Whenever I go out with you/I find out something new.” When I was younger, not being of dating age at the time, I thought this was just a funny story, like the scene with Anna Marie Johnson in “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka.” But as the years passed I came to hear other subtexts of changing relationships, social climbing, vanity and even white aesthetic standards in this song.

“Fake” has an angry, strong, paranoid tone that goes very well with the other, more political songs of the era such as “Skeletons” by Stevie Wonder, “System of Survival” by Earth, Wind & Fire, and “Sign O’ The Times” by Prince, not to mention the political Hip Hop released in that and the next year. “Skeletons” in particular has a theme very close to “Fake”, both being about deceptions on one level or another. It also has much in common with Public Enemy’s “Sophisticated Bitch” from their debut album. Now of course, “Fake” wasn’t written to be political, but the seething, pounding energy of the song was perfect for its era, just as in the early ’70s there were popular songs in Black music such as “The Backstabbers”, “Smiling Faces”, and “I Heard it Through The Grapevine”, that, while being about love matters, also revealed something about the political subtext of the Nixon era.

Plus on a groove level, “Fake” is a monster, built on a punishing, pounding beat that hits you like a boxer’s body blows. On top of that, there is a growling synthesizer bass, mixed with percussive live bass. The synth claps are loud enough to warn you a hurricane is coming while the synths hit you on the “One” like a Tyson uppercut, seeming to say “FAKE” in a way that supports O’Neal’s story. Behind that Jam and Lewis layer ominous harmonies that linger and sustain and sing almost like a choir. All of this is broken up slightly by a theme song worthy synth horn break before Alex gets a chance to once again violently state, “You’re a FAKE!/Baby!!!!”

“Fake” seems to dominate my musical memories of ’87, it seems that every time I watched Soul Train, for about two or three months, this song played on either a dance segment or a Soul Train line. Alexander O’Neal delivered a fine singing performance over Jam and Lewis’s punishing Funk beat. In fact, this might be the very finest dance/funk hit by a soul singer of it’s era. The interesting thing about the ’70s was it’s musical diversity, so that a singer like Al Green who was masterful at “ballads” also could riff over barn burning Funk as well. As the music business progressed things got a bit more segregated, but on “Hearsay”, Alexander O’Neal was a real true soul man who could do it all, including the hardest of hard funk. Jam and Lewis have stated that working with him holds a special place in their oeuvre, as they see it as akin to working with the great soul singers, though he didn’t have that sustained success. “Fake” for me is one of the funkiest soul songs of it’s era and one I will forever associate with that time period!

* Bonus Material: I was delighted when one of my favorite shows, the British/Netflix show “Black Mirror” had a great episode, “San Junipero”, set in ’87 ,where “Fake” was featured, which was the first time I’ve come across it in popular culture in a very long time

Here is a scene I will always associate with this song, from Keenan Ivory Wayans “Im Gonna Git You Sucka”

Alexander O’Neal on Soul Train!

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Filed under FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE, The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Rock Steady” by The Whispers

The Whispers “Rock Steady”, which hit #1 R&B and #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, is for my money, the top Backyard barbecue jam of 1987. The song was released as the first single from their album, “It Just Gets Better With Time”, at the perfect time to rule the summertime cookouts that The Notorious B.I.G would lament the loss of seven years later in his “Things Done Changed.”  “Rock Steady” was special for multiple reasons. Amidst all the youth-oriented music that would come to dominate the R&B sound in ’87, this song found a groove that all ages could identify with. It was also the first major hit for an artist outside of their own group to be produced by L.A Reid and Babyface, who would go on to define the sound of R&B in the ’90s. “Rock Steady” also was the biggest hit for The Whispers, capping off a career that began in the late ’60s and peaked through the ’80s and continues to this day. It also might be one of the last major chart-toppers, along with The O’Jays “Lovin You”, released that same year, from an R&B group that was powerful in the 1970s. So “Rock Steady” stands as not simply a great hit record, but a meeting point for the old and the new, a crowning moment for the veteran Whispers, and a new beginning for L.A Reid and Babyface, the next phase of R&B.

Dick Griffey’s Solar Records is the meeting point that made this record happen. It had long been The Whispers label since it’s early incarnations as Soul Train Records during the ’70s, and it was also home to L.A and Babyface’s band, The Deele. Around 1986 Griffey encouraged L.A and Babyface to move their band to Los Angeles to be closer to the label headquarters and try their hands at writing and producing. They set themselves up in a condominium and wrote songs every day, which the members of The Whispers got wind of and inspired them to cut their own deal with the duo for production services.

L.A and Face cooked up this killer, drum machine bass groove in their home studio, and when it was time to name the song, looked at the equipment that was holding their gear, all with the “Rocksteady” brand, for their lyrical and thematic inspiration. Of course, “Rock Steady” had been done by Aretha Franklin in ’71. And the rock dance, which was so popular during the Disco era, was alluded to in Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” from his breakthrough “Off the Wall” LP. The Whispers, always known as one of the best performance groups in R&B, perform their own variations of the dance in the video. “Rocksteady” was also a transitional music in Jamaica shortly before the advent of Reggae. The idea of “rocking” goes way back to the origins of Rhythm and Blues and Rock & Roll, as it was often used as a sexual double entendre, as in the old blues, “My baby rocks me with a steady roll.”  The songwriters pick up on that vibe here, as they talk of “steady rockin all night long.” That type of wordplay and allusion might also make this a very late R&B double entendre hit, as they signify about “rocking” on multiple levels. The term “rocksteady” then, is a very apt analogy to the type of steady, stable, strong middle aged love a veteran group like The Whispers should be singing about, with just enough youthful Funk to still be interesting.

This groove is built on L.A and Face’s drum machine figure, which is just as rock steady as the song title would suggest. It starts off hard on the one, leaves a little space and hits with a very melodic sounding four kicks in the second bar. The bass lines hug this drum beat perfectly, which seem to indicate the song started from that drum figure. The bass is played by a synthesizer bass with some slap bass sounds doubling the synth bass in places. On the top end of the tune you have synthesized horn sounds that have that big late ’80s, glossy digital feel. In between that there is a warm piano sound mixed with strings that provides the harmonic pads for the song. When the vocals go into the line, “I began to touch/but you wouldn’t let it”, the groove goes into another section, with the bass line and piano filling in on the same rhythm used in the vocals. All of this works out to the line “And then you changed your mind”, which is supported by very triumphant sounding synth chords that lead us right to Scotty’s “Whoa-Ho” and the triumphant call and response chorus, “We began to Rock! Steady!!!! Steady Rockin all night long!” When the words “Rock” are sung, they are answered by the synths.

Some of the sweet features of the song are the way Walter and Scotty trade off on the vocals, and also, the attention paid to instrumentation in L.A and Face’s programming of the song, which features breakdowns, a piano interlude, several percussion fills, and The Whispers sampled voices singing “Rock”. The production is clearly dance focused as it leaves plenty of space for grooves and breaks, much like another ’86/87 song, Cameo’s “Candy.”

“Rock Steady” would power The Whispers “It Just Gets Better With Time” album all the way to platinum and  begin a run for L.A and Babyface that would spill over into “Girlfriend” for Pebbles (which is a 1987 song we’ll cover here), and “Every Little Step I Take” for Bobby Brown the next year, and a whole world of other hits in the late ’80s and the ’90s. It stands out among all the other hits of ’87 as a strong example of veteran Soul artists at the top of their game making music with the upcoming generation, with classic results.

 

*The groove for “Rock Steady” was so potent a young Kylie Minogue had to use it the very next year

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Filed under FUNK, Music Matters, The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound….A Riquespeaks Curation

Despite the abundance of classic material I write about on this blog, my purpose in writing and posting is not nostalgia. I talk about classic music and people involved with Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul and other genres in order to curate various things from the past that somehow shaped who I and my community are in the present. But this particular project, “The ’87 Sound”, is personal enough to me to contain an element of nostalgia.

It just so happens that as I look back on my life, the year 1987, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017, just might be the year I achieved something close to musical consciousness. On a personal level, it was a very good year, I was in the 1st grade, friends and family who have long since passed on were still around, and things looked up. My Dad was returning to Liberia, West Africa that year, for the first time since our family left in 1980, and he wanted to tape the latest in American popular sounds to take back with him. ’87 was also the year I became a fan of Soul Train, which I used to watch right before WWF wrestling on local Bay Area channel 2 television.

On a larger scale though, 1987 represented an interesting time in popular music. It seems through an unscientific survey that by ’87, Black popular dance rhythm infected mainstream popular music in a way not seen since the late disco era. ’87 saw huge monster albums by Prince, Michael Jackson, George Michael, Jody Watley, Terrance Trent D’arby, and many other artists. It also saw Rock and Pop stars like INXS and Sting release albums that were on the cutting edge of Black urban contemporary rhythm and production techniques. Teddy Riley’s rise was also a factor, as he began to introduce more and more of the sound that would define R&B and pop in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was a time of Babyface going solo as well as producing the monster, “Rock Steady” for The Whispers along with his partner L.A. Janet Jackson’s Jam and Lewis helmed “Control” LP was still placing #1 hits on almost ALL the charts. And Hip Hop was standing on the verge of its Golden Era, with first albums from legends like Public Enemy, BDP, Eric B & Rakim and N.W.A, at the same time Funk/R&B veterans like Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Barry White gave us some of the best music they’d delivered since their 1970s heyday’s.

At that age, music was only one of my concerns, but just like sports, ’87 was the year I truly became interested in it for myself. And we documented all of that music of the time, mostly on yellow Memorex cassette tapes. What I think of when I think of songs in that year is an aggressive, tough, street-oriented beat, accented with synthesizers. The influence of Prince and Michael Jackson had now become a formal part of popular music, but so had the influence of Hip Hop. The music had shed some of the brittle, big beat coldness of mid-’80s industrial and synthesized sounds but retained their power.

Enjoy with me then, this trip back down the lane of late ’80s music. After losing my father and many other friends and relatives from that time, this music has taken on a special relevance for me as the sound of times past. But that does not take away the vitality and the good feelings in them! For some readers, these tunes will be nostalgic, and for some, they will be new! But I think that most will agree at the end of this trip, the year Nineteen Eighty-Seven A.D was a special one for musical grooves!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Oakland-Bay Area, Uncategorized

“The Band is his Orchestra/The Sounds of Delight”- A Riquespeaks feature series on Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones turned 84 earlier this month, in a year that has already seen the passing of such musical luminaries as Junie Morrison, Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jarreau and most recently, the cornerstone of Rock & Roll Chuck Berry. It is going on eleven years since we lost James Brown, who Quincy was three months older than, and we just lost Prince last year. It is now seven years since we lost the man who’s career is seen as Quincy’s foremost musical legacy, Michael Jackson. A few years ago, Quincy’s close friend and Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobbs passed on in a skiing accident. But Quincy remains a unifying figure, one who speaks to the history of African American music in the 20th century and how that tradition can be carried on into the future and recognized as a key contribution to world heritage.

One very interesting project that Q had on the table during the administration of President Barack Obama was to get music and American culture in general cabinet level recognition in the United States. He was not able to get that project accomplished, though I’m sure he gave it his all. Although that particular project was not successful, Quincy has used his own music and albums as a platform toward that very same aim.

Respect and appreciation for Quincy Jones was something I grew up with, outside of his production for Michael Jackson. His work with M.J might have been the main reason I was checking for this “old jazz guy” as a kid, but the facts are, my father was a serious Quincy Jones fan. I grew up hearing albums like “Quincy Jones plays the Hip Hits”, and “The Quintessence.” My father highly respected Q as somebody who took the mantle from the great jazz composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Gil Evans, and so many others. Q was highly proffesional, had trained at the future Berklee School of Music back when it was called “The Schillinger House”, and has also trained in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also was one of the first Black arrangers to be involved on an ongoing basis with film scoring.

Through all of this, Q was developing a particular brand of musical magic that prepared him perfectly to deliver three of the best selling, most incredible examples of American popular music ever assembled, namely, “Off the Wall”, “Thriller”, and “Bad.” Now I don’t mean to make these three albums the focus of Q’s entire career that encompasses so much of whats good in American music, from Count Basie, to Frank Sinatra, to The Brothers Johnson, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. But what I will do with this series is talk about how the unique musical, experiential and spiritual gifts of Quincy Jones were present throughout his career on his solo albums, which really meant Michael Jackson was stepping into a rolling train when he and Q began work on “Off the Wall.” Which also made possible the later star studded success of “The Dude” and “Back on the Block.”

The different musical approaches of Q’s albums, from his skillful use of guest stars, his choice in cover songs, his incorporation of his portage’s compositions, his usage of tones such as flutes mixed with synthesizer leads, his dipping into the old blues and African styles, his jazz based pop language, and his strong rhythm sections manifest themselves on his pre “Off the Wall” and “The Dude” albums. So this particular series will focus on how Q innovated this genre of the producer led album, which is a genre that would later give us great musical works such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Q really brought “The Producer” out as a star and musical artist in a way few have done. His skills as a producer were based in his skills as a composer and arranger, but when he reached the peak of his career he no longer needed to write or even arrange the tunes on his album. He mastered the very modern musical skills of setting the right tempos, choosing the right artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists, choosing the right songs, and a million other musical details that went beyond the magic of simply sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and writing a song. This magic of the producer is one that has been appreciated more and more by the music industry and the public at large in recent years. And it’s one I intend to explore in depth, from “Walking In Space” all the way to “Juke Joint”. Q’s success with MJ and his other R&B/pop hybrids in the 1980s was definitley not a fluke, but something masterminded by one of the greatest social musicians we’ve seen, the great Quincy Delight Jones!!!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Edition III: “Bra” by Cymande

One outstanding aspect of the musical climate of the late ’60s and early ’70s was the flowering in popularity of Black musical groups from parts of the Diaspora outside of the U.S.A. This trend was exemplified by acts and groups such as Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Manu Dibango, The Beginning of the End, Mandrill, T-Connection, Fela Kuti, Osibisa, Hugh Masekela, and today’s subject, the Caribbean funk group Cymande. These groups, through their expansive African based rhythms and the incorporation of other grooves cultivated by Africans estranged from Africa, both paid tribute to deep African roots as well as exemplified the new flavors that had picked up in the numerous ports of call along the Transatlantic slave trade. Today’s song from Cymande, their classic “Bra”, is a song that has stood the test of time as a unique example of Caribbean Funk.

“Bra” is a song that derives it’s unique rhythmic effect from contrasting rhythmic feels. While the tempo is brisk, Steve Scipio played a bass line that pulled back on the time, while the horns long sustained notes create another feeling on top of that. You’re grabbed from the first notes of the intro, as Scipio plays a firm note on the first beat and another beat on the upbeat of beat 2. He’s only playing TWO notes in the fist bar of the pattern, but the feel and placement of them is enough to create a baseline the listener won’t soon forget. Immediately after the bass hits hard on the first beat, guitarist Patrick Patterson plays a sweet toned guitar slide followed by some fluttering trills, in a style very similar to the Curtis Mayfield guitar ballad style. The horn section then comes in on the upbeats, playing a very sharp, staccato arpeggio, walking up the notes of a major chord, then holding the top note of the chord for a whole two bars, before working their way down and sustaining another note. All of this is laid on top of Sam Kelly’s drums, which are playing a variation of Clyde Stubblefield’s stop and start drum groove made famous on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”, with the rhythmic gaps/rests lining up with Scipio’s bass line. Working in concert with that are the conga drums of Pablo Gonsales. The result is a dipping, bouncing Caribbean funk groove with all the jerkiness of Island music, yet the pronounced “One” of mainland funk, with a sweet coating of melodic horns on top.

When the vocal comes in, the horns stop playing to give the vocals center stage. Joey Dee sings a tale of African redemption with a slight West Indian accent, with heavy reverb on his mic. “Time Has been lost for trying/we have been left outside/looking at passions dying/Emotions grow strong on time.” After which, the famous sing a long chorus is introduced, “But its all right/we can still go on.” Underneath the chorus the rhythm begins to get more active, as Scipio expands his bass line with class Jamerson/Rainey/Jemmont rhythmic business as Patterson also becomes more aggressive in his rhythm guitar strumming. The horn riff returns and on top of it all the percussionists start to spice up the groove with small rhythmic instruments, with the tambourine rattling like a snake for an instant. After the chorus the vital rhythmic bed continues on for a saxophone solo, under which the rhythm players introduce more variations. Midway through the song, the song breaks down to just bass playing along with percussion. The bassline on the break is an incredibly funky variation on the main rhythm, with the drums playing kick drums on all four beats and the percussionist teasing out melodic rhythms. The groove slowly builds up layer by layer until we get back to the top of the song for one last repetition of the main verse until the song comes to a close on a hard stomped out, “But its ALL RIGHT!”

“Bra” is a song that for a time I thought only my Dad and family knew, and I thought the group was African for the longest. Then in the ’90s Spike Lee used their songs on several movies of his that I enjoyed very much, including “Crooklyn” and “The 25th Hour.” I remember the first time I heard it on one of his films, excitedly showing it to my Dad and asking him what the name of that song was, because I’d heard it all my life but never knew anything about the group. It was later I found out Spike Lee’s connection to them made sense, because being a pan-Carribean group, with New York City’s strong Carribean influence, their music was very popular during the early day’s of Hip Hop, and “Bra” and their other fantastic hit, “The Message”, were considered early Hip Hop breakbeats that had even occasionally been sampled. Both songs are excellent examples of Post Civil Rights and Black Power era ’70s solidarity music, done by a group of Rastafarian funksters in England who’s origins spanned the Carribean. Their music as a whole very uniquely pulled together the Caribbean rhythms and Rastafarian ideology of Reggae with the hard edged vibe of American funk. Also there is much confusion over the title of this song, but “Bra” is simply the old school way of spelling a word that has been popular among Black people again in recent years, the shorthand “Bruh” for the word, “Brother.” This word is not only popular among American blacks (and now everybody else as well) but is also almost an official term of address in other Black countries, such as the great South African Hugh Masekela’s nickname, “Bra Hugh.” Also in Liberia where my mother is from it was a term of endearment, followed by the given name, for males you were close to. So the title of the song is in itself an example of the unique unifying ability of Cymande as a musical group that mustn’t be forgotten!

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Filed under Black Issues, FUNK, Liberia/Africa, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Edition II: “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah ft. Monie Love

One thing I’m always thankful for is that I grew into my appreciation for Hip Hop in the middle of it’s late ’80s, early ’90s “Golden Age.” Besides the dope funk samples, high tech rhymes and pure fun of the music and images of that era, one of the most valuable things the artists of that time did were strengthen my familiarity, understanding, and appreciation of Black issues. The majority of artists mentioned something in this vein at that time, but of course the most prominent were Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, X Clan, and The Native Tongue family. One of the most powerful records from the Native Tongue family was a record I discovered watching the local video music station, “California Music Channel”, with my father, Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s classic, “Ladies First.” This song hit me on several levels, from the smooth way the ladies sang the chorus, to the fresh sample based beat, the Afrocentric attractivness of the ladies rhyming, and the seriousness of it’s divestment era South African aparteid footage, which was possibly the first time in my life I’d seen those images.

After the video opens with powerful images of great Black women like Harriet Tubman, Sojurner Truth, Winnie Mandela and Angela Davis, the beat comes in. The groove is based on a funky drumbeat sample of Bahamian percussionist King Erricsons cover of The Doobie Brothers classic, “Listen to the Music.” The heavy fatback funk drumming is supplanted in this case by the prominent mix of King Erricsons hand drums. It creates a very similar effect to another prominent Hip Hop sample, Chuck Brown & the Soul Searcher’s “Ashley’s Roadclip.” Very soon after the drumbeat comes in, we’re hit by the sweet chorus, a female voice crooning “Ooooh/Ladies First/Ladies First”. The next time around another vocal comes in that harmonizes the first. After that sweet refrain, the music intensifies it’s aggressive funk, as a funky bass line comes in, which will repeat its one bar pattern for the song, and the top end is taken care of by a horn sample of five notes playing a syncopated melody. Latifah kicks in the door hard like Big Daddy Kane, “The ladies will kick it/The Rhyming is wicked/Those that don’t know/how to be pros/get evicted/A woman can bear you/break you/take you/Now its time to rhyme/can you relate to?/A sister dope enough to make you/Holler and Scream”, before she turns the mic over to the super fresh London born M.C Monie Love, one of my great crushes of that era! Monie gets on the mic and spits some super fresh, tongue twisting syncopated rhymes ending with “Let me state the position/Ladies first yes?/Yes.” After another short chorus interlude, Monie comes back rapping another verse, which she ends with “we are the ones to give birth/to a new generation of prophets/cause its Ladies First!” Queen Latifah follows her with a “lyrical freestyle” much looser than the tense rhymes of her first verse, and one of my favorite rhymes in the song is her call and response couplet, “Some think that we cant flow. Monie Love: “Cant Flow? Stereotypes they’ve got to go, Monie Love: “Got to go”. The South African Apartheid footage of the video is intersperesed with Latifah in a darkened conference room pushing giant African fist chest pieces off the map, as well as shots of Latifah’s two B-Girl dancers. Latifah and Monie go on to drop fleet lounged rhymes as the video features other female rappers of the day such as BDP’s Miss Melodie, who was KRS ONE’s wife at that time! Latifah ends the song with a freestyle lyric in a very laid back cadence where she speaks of the songs producer, DJ Mark the 45 King wanting her to “sing”, which she would go on to do later in her career in classics like “Just Another Day” and in her career as Dana Owens.

“Ladies First” made an incredible impression on me as a young dude, to see beautiful Black sisters rhyming so competently and invoking both the history of great Black women in America as well as how that connected to the struggles in South Africa. It did something to me to see all those Black people running from the Afrikaner cops in the days of Apartheid. In one of the great ironies of Hip Hop, Latifah’s rhymes were co written by a member of the Flavor Unit named Apache, who went on to have a hit with a song a few years later called “I want to Gangster Boogie with my Gangster Bitch.” That transition in itself pretty much summed up where Hip Hop went after the golden age, with the same MC who penned lyrics for this song penning “Gangster Bitch.” Apache pretty much renounced that part of his career in the later years of his life though. But no matter, I am thankful that Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s “Ladies First” formed a positive, strong attitude about Black women for me in my formative years. I remember my Dad, who was only impressed with Hip Hop when it was weighty or just so funny it could be enjoyed in a disposable way, enjoying this song on that video show back in 1989, and being shocked by its sophisticated potrayal of Black history and the then current struggles in South Africa. And no matter how far I or Hip Hop have strayed, I’m thankful that songs like “Ladies First” provided my foundation in the music and culture, as opposed to the negativity that often came later.

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