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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The ’87 Sound: “Sign Your Name” by Terrance Trent D’Arby (Sananda Maitreya)

Terrance Trent D’Arby (who now goes by the Buddhist name of Sananda Maitreya)’s 1987 LP, “Introducing the Hardline According to Terrance Trent D’Arby”, was one of those albums that totally rocked the International musical community in its time. D’Arby’s skillful mix of Funk, Soul, Rock and Pop flavors seemed to introduce an essential new artist, and D’Arby himself was not afraid to let you know this. When I was young, not knowing the full story, just by listening to the music and observing the artist, I thought him to be a part of the wave of UK Soul coming back to America from across the pond, along with groups like Loose Ends, Five Star, Central Line, and the great Sade. And this 1987 classic, “Sign Your Name”, has all the deep, brooding lovelorn groove of Sade at their peak. The writer Nelson George began to identify a style of music he typified as “Retro Nuevo Soul” during the late ’80s. This was the first stirrings of a Soul/R&B music that attempted to recapture the songwriting and sound of the classic soul records of the height of the ’60s and ’70s. D’Arby’s music was one of the prime examples of this impulse, and it would be seen again during the 1990s with the “Neo Soul” movement of D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and others. But “Sign Your Name” and the rest of D’Arby’s album would be a very early warning shot in 1987 of a return to a Black musical impulse deeply rooted in instrumentalism and songs of great emotional depth and substance, otherwise known as Soul.

The song begins with an irresistible groove, with a synthesizer bass patch laying a bass part based on an Afro Latin Clave rhythm, outlining a two bar chord progression. Underneath this bass groove is a grooving Conga drum pattern, and over the top is a synthesized string type of sound playing a deep blues, pentatonic melody. What’s amazing is that I always associated this song with being played live, but when one listens to it, you discover its actually a spare, human sounding, and very funky usage of synthesized instruments. The bass and groove modulate to some tense chords to lead you into D’Arby’s singing verse.

D’Arby sings his song in that unique vocal tone I remember from way back then, full, rich and chesty while also being fairly high up in the register. When he reaches the lead in line to the chorus, “We started out as friends….” the arrangement moves to those tense, questioning chords that sustain and decay on top of the Afro-Latin rhythmic break, to be picked up by the chorus, “Sign Your Name/across my heart/I want you to be my baby”,on which D’Arby and producer Martyn Ware lay down two parts of D’Arby singing in different octaves. The song progresses from there with D’Arby delivering impassioned, earnest vocals, and his vocal performance rising in intesity over the same sensous, undulating rhythmic groove.

“Sign Your Name” is one of my favorite songs from ’87 and it seemed to herald a new artist at the time. D’Arby seemed to be another uniquely talented artist in the mold of Prince, who could deliver Afro American music with the kind of idiosyncratic pop-rock edge that could attract a wide pop audience. And he did, with “Sign Your Name” in particular going all the way up to #4 on the U.S pop charts and his album selling platinum in a mere three days. D’Arby, like Jackie Wilson and James Brown, had a background as a boxer, and it showed in his physical, acrobatically macho performance style, in particular when he’d perform soul-funk classics such as “Soul Power” during his shows. D’Arby’s album was one that seemed to satisfy all sides at the time, from the contemporary fans to some of the old soul heads, to the critics, to the teen idol crowd, to the general pop crowds. Such success would not last for D’Arby, and he would take his life in a more spiritual direciton while also continuing to do music. Though he was not British himself, he did spend time there and end up crossing back over to the states by recording in British studios with British musicians, which in itself represented a unique crossover of American Soul, from an adopted country back to its homeland. So no matter what other intersting turns the career of Sananda Maitreya has taken, “Sign Your Name” still stands tall for me as one of the most passionate and deeply rooted Soul songs we were introduced to in the year of 1987!

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The ’87 Sound: “Casanova” by LeVert

“Casanova” by LeVert completes the Griffey like feat of Eddie LeVert and his sons Gerald and Sean both having R&B Number One hits in 1987. In the case of “Casanova”, written and produced by Midnight Star’s Reggie Calloway, the song also went all the way up to #5 on the pop charts, being used in several movies in the same year it was released. “Casanova” was a major touchstone for me in my childhood too, a pop R&B song with a clever lyric, strong singing and harmonizing, and a huge drum beat. It had an early New Jack edge that represented something new in R&B music at the time, a true R&B, soulfully pleading love song that had a pulverizing 1980s drum beat, as powerful as one you might hear on a record from UTFO or another Full Force production.

The song begins with that monster drum beat, in which the snare and the kick are both doing much damage, with a slight touch of the swing that would soon come to define the rhythmic feel of the early ’90s. On top of that big beat, Calloway lays a bright, gospel/pop, major chord happy, digitized Fender Rhodes sound. It’s interesting for me because I heard that sound in my youth without realizing it was the digital imitation of the Dynoed Fender Rhodes electric piano. So even in the ’80s when the real Rhodes was hardly used, the sound was still very influential! After a four-bar intro of drums and keys, Calloway lays down a glissando on the synthesizer bass, which comes in playing a laid back, swinging, sparse but funky line. On top of that, we have the harmonizing of LeVert, with space for Gerald to adlib. After setting the groove up, they hit us with the chorus on the top, “I ain’t’ much on Casanova/me and Romeo ain’t never been friends/cant you see how much I really love you? All of these lines are harmonized beautifully by the group, but they drop out to let Gerald sing by himself, “Gonna sing it to you time and time again”. After which comes the refrain, “Oh, Casanova!!!” When I first heard this as a kid, it was very chilling for me to hear LeVert harmonize over a straight drum beat in this fashion, with no music backing them, similar to the way I would feel a few years later when P Diddy and Mary J Blige started putting out R&B songs over heavy Hip Hop breaks.

The structure of the song itself is heavily groove-based, and other elements are added, like a synthesized flute sound and a funky muted guitar. It’s almost a minute and a half in until Gerald LeVert actually begins to sing an actual verse that tells us the story of the song. As Gerald sings the verse, funky guitar pops and accompanies his lines. Calloway brings in instruments in and out in a very tasteful way, supporting but never competing with the all-powerful, jaunty drum beat that lies at the heart of the arrangement. The lyrics are basically a showcase for Gerald LeVert’s strong vocals and his pleas of devotion, and the song goes to a nice bridge that introduces some new harmonic twists.

“Casanova” was a true hit in 1987. It was fresh, jaunty, high spirited, youthful sounding, and very funky. It rarely gets discussed for its musical innovation, as it joined records by Larry Smith the producer of RUN DMC and Whodini, Full Force and Teddy Riley and Club Noveau in mixing the sensibilities of R&B and Hip Hop successfully. The producer Reggie Calloway, along with his brother Vincent, were pioneers in this. After making such a mark with synthesizer funk in Midnight Star, they were on a very hot run in 1987 and 1988 in particular, producing other absolute jams such as Natalie Cole’s “Jump Start”, Gladys Knight & the Pips “Love Overboard”, and one of my favorite’s, Teddy Pendergrass’ “Joy.” For Gerald LeVert in particular, he would go on to become one of the most preeminent in his specific lane of the music during his era. Basically he was an old school Soul man in the late ’80s and ’90s, and a perennial favorite on Black radio. I recall reading an article where his father Eddie lamented the fact that Gerald possibly couldn’t get as big as his talent warranted because of where music was at the time. But both he and his brother Sean, both of them now deceased, are well remembered for the musical contributions they did make!

For me personally, “Casanova” was probably where I learned about who “Casanova”, the famous lover, was. I had probably heard of “Romeo” from other sources, but I surely learned about “Casanova” through this song. I remember my Dad enjoying this song greatly and being tickled by the approach it took toward a love rap. It had a self-depreciating angle similar to the one Sam Cooke used to take (Dont know much about…). When you add the fresh, powerful New Jack beat, with the synths and the energy of LeVert’s voices, you get a song that really encapsulates alot of my memories and good feelings about those days and one that always puts me back into that good groove when I hear it today!

Bonus: Three years later, the Griffey’s make like the LeVerts

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The ’87 Sound: “Lovin’ You” by The O’Jays


In 1990, baseball player Ken Griffey, and his soon to be superstar son, Ken Griffey Jr, both hit home runs in a game for the Seattle Mariners, becoming the first father and son duo to hit home runs in the same game. I don’t know if they were the first, but Eddie LeVert in his group The O’Jays, and his sons Gerald and Sean, with their group Levert, both hit the top of Billboards R&B charts in 1987. The O’Jays did it with this song, “Loving You”, which marked a reunion with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who provided much of the music and label for their ’70s success. “Lovin’ You” is an incredibly unique song for ’87, sounding as if it had been plucked right off one of The O’Jays late ’70s albums. Even though it’s live instrumentation, replete with human rhythm section and tasteful string backup were not common for ’87, it fit in very nicely with the “Quiet Storm”, “Baby Making Music” format that had developed through the ’80s.

The O’Jays had themselves helped pioneer that format with the subtly grooving side of their repertoire, which included songs like “Forever Mine”, “Darlin Baby”, and “Cry Together”, among many others.

“Loving You” represented a reunion of The O’Jays with the production of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. They teamed with Vince Montana of the original MFSB on Vibes and an arrangement from Philly Soul arranger Jack Faith. All of these musical chefs combined with The O’Jays to deliver this solid gold sensuous soul record in 1987. The record begins with upbeat piano riff that soon gives way to the laid back, sensously undulating bass line, backed by Faith’s subtly tasty, sustained horn arrangement, full of dark, warm horn tones that lay behind the track in a subtly supportive manner. The groove is slow and heavy, full of open spaces and pregnant pauses, with the whole arrangement stopping at an interval and hitting a tense chord before resolving. The 8 bars of music that start the song off before the vocals feel like much more due to the languid, luxuriously sensual pacing and arrangement.

The song begins, as The O’Jays did on so many hits, with Walter Williams crooning in his smooth baritone, “Lovin’ You/has made my life much sweeter baby”. As he sings that line and begins the next, Gamble, Huff, and Faith insert very tasty, fluctuating, jazzy guitar octaves into the arrangement, as the whole group joins to harmonize on the next line. Walter again sings the next lines, with the group harmonizing on “ooh baby.” “When I make love to you/I’m in Paradise”, Walter goes near the top of his full voice to sing “I’m in Paradise”, after which the drums and arrangement build up energy for the liturgical soul vocals of Eddie LeVert. Eddie goes on to sing powerfully about how his lover, makes him feel good from his head to his toes. The arrangement is much more obvious, and played at a louder volume, increasing in dynamics as a classical orchestra would. While Eddie brings the noise, Walter sings in an ecstatic falsetto in the background. After the power interlude, the arrangement simmers back down to Walters cool, “Lovin You/I need you in everything I do.” After that verse, a musical interlude follows, during which Jack Faith orchestrates and expands the piano riff that opened the song up.The song again goes to one of Eddie’s throaty interludes. The song includes a long vamp out section where the arrangers left room for the band to ad lib their way on out, led by Eddie, but eventually featuring the whole band going out on the line, “Everything’s all right.”

“Lovin’ You” stands out for me among all the songs I’ve talked about to this point that were released in 1987 because it represented such a timeless approach. Later on, during the 1990s and 2000s, musicians and producers all over the world would put in some serious study to try to make music with this Philly feel, including Lenny Kravitz on his classic, “It Aint Over.” But this song represented Gamble and Huff producing a classic song on The O’Jays in the late ’80s, replete with all the stylistic flourish of hits during their classic ’70s run. And this song also made it all the way to #1 on the R&B charts in November ’87, knocking Michael Jackson’s epic “Bad” off the top spot for one week. When it came out, I was a bit confused as to whether it was a current song or an older one. To my young ears, it sounded of the same vintage as all the other O’Jays music my father never stopped playing, as if it could exist on the same album as “Forever Mine.” In fact, I thought it was a throwback record that somehow got popular again. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that song was actually released in 1987. I can imagine a dyed in the wool soul fan in the late ’80s saying, “Hey, you hear that new one the O’Jays got? That slow one? It’s just like the old stuff!” And mean that with the highest of praise too! And it seals up the year of 1987 as a phenomenal one where Gladys Knight, Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, Prince, Michael Jackson, Stephanie Mills, Georgio, Sting, George Michael, and The mighty O’Jays could all exist and thrive on the Rhythm & Blues charts!

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The ’87 Sound : “Paid In Full” by Eric B & Rakim



Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid in Full” album was at the center of musical change in 1987. The musical, densely metaphorical, Black consciousness allusion-filled rhymes of Rakim, along with the rough and ready scratches of Eric B (and Rakim himself we would find out later), combined with the selective and sparse sampling of producer Marley Marl began to set the Hip Hop world on its side in 1986 with the singles “My Melody”, and “Eric B is President.” From almost the very beginning, Rakim’s precise rhymes rapped in his powerful, calm, but razor-edged baritone would introduce a new concept for rappers, the concept of “Flow”, which is rapping in a musical cadence that accentuates the rhythm and melody of the beat. The sound of Rakim’s voice and the peppy, Funky breakbeats that the combination of Eric B, Marley Marl, and Rakim himself chose for their music would also have far-reaching effects on music outside of the world of Hip-Hop, particularly in the world of dance music. In the very same year M/A/R/S would sample Rakim’s verse from the hit, “I Know You Got Soul” for their “Pump Up the Volume.” And the samples they used for this song, “Paid in Full”, would soon become the basis of dance hits such as “Back to Life” by Soul II Soul and “Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli. “Paid in Full” itself is a song that has always captivated me since I first heard it on my brother’s cassette tapes in ’87. Even as far back as that time, my basketball playing brother Herman introduced Rakim as “the Jordan of rap”, and that was before Jordan had won a championship! “Paid in Full” consists of one solitary rap verse over a funky, deadly serious rhythmic groove.

“Paid in Full” begins with a conversation between Eric B and Rakim, shouting out their record label and management team. Rakim tells Eric B he’s “trying to do the knowledge” so he can get “Paid in Full.” The phrase “do the knowledge” comes from the 5% Nation of God’s and Earth’s, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam that taught lessons that were to be recited from memory. It’s just another example of Rakim’s influence, as in the coming years, mastery of Hip Hop lyricism would also include the ability to use the esoteric languages of the Five Percenters as a means of both educating the audience while also taking Hip Hop braggadocio to a new, spiritually based level. This monologue takes place over the foundation of the track, a vicious drum break sample from The Soul Searcher’s “Ashley’s Roadclip”, a pre “Bustin Loose” mid ’70s hit for the Godfather of Go Go, Chuck Brown. “Ashleys Roadclip” is one of those classic Hip Hop breakbeats, and it has a unique sound, a strong kick and snare drum combo given flavor by the way the drummer opens the hi hats toward the end of the bar with a little bit of percussion sprinkled in and topped off by an insistent tambourine. It also has a high amount of reverb on the track. Before the rhyme starts, they kick the bass line in, which is a subsonic version of Dennis Edwards & Siedah Garrett’s “Don’t Look Any Further.” It has always fascinated me that they would use such a recent R&B song for a sample, but Rakim has said that was a song he and many other M.C’s always dug rhyming over in the park jams. And its understandable, as “Don’t Look Any Further” has a very unique for its time, deep dub Reggae style bassline. And then, when Rakim begins his rap verse, a flute spins melodies in the background. All of this signified an extreme street level, Ghetto yet global exoticism the first time I heard it, which would only be intensified by Ofra Hazra’s singing on the remix version.

Rakim mentioned that the title of “Don’t Look Any Further” also inspired the rhyme for “Paid in Full”, which was about a person trying to reform from a life of crime to find a legitimate job. He begins his rap with one of the most iconic lines in rap, “Thinkin of a master plan/this ain’t nothin but sweat/inside my hand.” He goes on to rap about leaving his house to look for work. He says he “use to be a stick-up kid” robbing people for a living, “But now I’ve learned to earn/cause I’m righteous.” At the same time that he goes to look for jobs, in the end, rapping is what will provide for him.

The British group Coldcut were commissioned to do the remix and the job they did is legendary and often heard as much as the original version. Coldcut interspersed cuts from James Brown’s “Hot Pants”, samples from other Rakim songs, and most crucially, Ofra Hazra singing her 1987 hit recording of the traditional Middle Eastern song, “Im Nin’a lu.” Ofra Hazra’s melismatic Middle Eastern singing added a special ingredient to Rakim’s dead serious, Islamic flavored rap that made for a true musical masterpiece with a truly new, Ghetto-Global thematic heft.

“Paid in Full” was probably one of the first rap songs I ever learned all the words to, consisting as it does of one verse. Rakim achieves the incredible feat of telling a complete story in one solitary rap verse. The song itself would be very influential with its combination of a breakbeat, the dub style bass of “Don’t Look Any Further”, and the musical instrument that is Rakim’s voice. In its remix form it was a big hit overseas, opening up the possibilities of Hip Hop music that could incorporate the music of the world. This past summer I attended a Rakim show in Oakland, California, and he let the audience rap the verse to “Paid in Full.” Which just goes to show the influence of Rakim, standing tall as a rapper who made rap sing!


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The ’87 Sound: “(You’re Puttin’) a Rush On Me” by Stephanie Mills

1987 was truly a peak year in the career of the great Stephanie Mills. The arc of that career coincides neatly with the decade of the ’80s as a whole, with her recording success beginning during the disco era of the late ’70s, following her star turn as Dorothy in the Broadway run of “The Wiz.” “(You’re Puttin’) a Rush on Me”, is a thumping electro Funk smash hit from her album, “If I Were Your Woman”, itself a smashing success. “Rush On Me” is a record of ’80s sexual politics that serves as a polite decline of an invite from a man, set to slow, steady synth funk, as if the groove itself is a recommendation to the songs intended to “slow down.” The song was written and produced by New York producer Paul Laurence, known for his work with Freddie Jackson, Melissa Morgan, and Evelyn “Champagne” King. In fact, he had another dance hit with Freddie Jax in ’87, the steppers classic “Jam Tonight.” Together, Mills and Laurence would drive this song all the way up to #1 R&B in the fall of ’87. Reflecting the aversion the pop charts often had to funk, the song would nestle just inside the Pop 100 at #85. Pop chart standings be damned, this is one of my favorite songs of 1987!

The songs begins out with a fat drum beat, replete with big ’80s snare sounds and deep electronic kicks. The hi-hats play a sneaky pattern that is melodic in and of itself, while the harmony is provided by those then state of the art, choral sounding keyboard tones. A bassy sounding synthesizer patch lays a faster, syncopated, double time feeling over the top of the track. After the 8 bar intro, the synthesizer bass kicks in, and its rock solid, matching the kick drum rhythms in a pattern/note sequence somewhat reminiscent of The SOS Band’s “Take Your Time.” The chorus is stated once right at the beginning, “You’re puttin’ a rush on me/but I’d like to know you Better”, with Stephanie drawing out the last line. She goes on to lay down her case very clearly, “I’m not the kind of girl/who has to lay it down before I fall in love”. She tells her suitor, “Maybe next time.” She says, “I know that we’re living in the ’80s/but some things never change.”

I heard and enjoyed this track many times back in ’87 and It still stands out as a unique one. Of all the R&B chart hits that had a funky edge in that particular year, this is one of the slowest and nastiest in terms of the groove. Which I think is such a good, fresh setting for its “Slow down” cautionary message. During the ’80s sexuality was explored in music in many overt ways, taking up where the Disco era had left off. This included specifically, more latitude for women to express sexual desire in ways male rock & roll stars had long done. Stephanie here makes it clear though even though society had changed to a degree and more things were permissible, one shouldn’t assume anything when it comes to sex! Which was a good lesson for me to learn before I even knew I needed it. Because at that particular time, all I understood was a funky synth bassline, a phat drum machine beat, and her unique, laid back, chilled out vocal phrasing in the chorus. Which is why years later, Stephanie Mills “(You’re Puttin’) a Rush On Me” is still a go to jam!

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The ’87 Sound: “How Ya Like Me Now” by Kool Moe Dee

Kool Moe Dee was one of the first rappers I ever knew. This is mostly due to this ’87 song, “How Ya Like Me Now”, and its companion hit from the same album, “Wild, Wild West.” What I couldn’t possibly know at that time, was that Moe Dee is one of the fathers of rap itself, one of the first lyrical technicians to explore many features of rap that later masters like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and even late masters like Eminem, would base their styles on. By ’87, Moe Dee was on his second solo LP after years as a member of the early rap crew, The Treacherous Three. He had also graduated from college with a degree in Communications. Moe Dee is from Harlem, New York City, which has long had a reputation of being the stylistic capital of Black America. This was reflected in Moe Dee’s slick leather outfits, knee-length boots, Leather “Golden Child” kufi’s, and Geordi LaForge oversized ski shades. And his old school Soul and Hip Hop orientation were exemplified by the way he hit cool, smooth dance steps while backed up by sharp-dressed dancers. It all added up to a package that I think was far more enticing to middle-aged Black music fans than the majority of rappers. And while Run DMC crossed Hip Hop over into the big money MTV, Pop/Rock audience, Moe Dee was successful in crossing Hip Hop over into the world of R&B radio, which is why I heard this song and “Wild, Wild West” alongside other songs from 1987 such as Alexander O’Neal’s “Fake.” And that laid a major foundation for the success other artists would very soon have in the next two years of the ’80s and the early ’90s

The heat that Moe Dee builds on in this song is a fued that he picked with the hottest solo M.C of the era, L.L Cool J. On the cover of his album, he has a bell-shaped Kangol of the type L.L Cool J wore underneath his Jeep. The accusation? That L.L was getting PAID (DUHHHH!) using his rap style. This all seems like typical rapper drama until you realize that for a lyrical pioneer like Moe Dee, who was in his late ’20s, which was territory no rapper had entered before, this was serious business, his livelihood. And I’ve learned in recent years that to the extent L.L based his style on that of T La Rock, who was the brother of Moe Dee’s Treacherous Three partner, Special K. And L.L in that era did have a penchant for vocabulary busting rhymes that Moe Dee and The Treacherous Three perfected.

The music of “How Ya Like Me Now” and who produced it is part of its historical appeal. “How Ya Like Me Now”, much like “Go See The Doctor” on Moe Dee’s previous album, were produced by the young Teddy Riley, who was making his breakthrough at that time. Teddy is truly one of the key figures in music over the past 30 years because of the way he mixed musicianship with Hip Hop sensibilities. Taking over from where Run DMC and Whodini producer Larry Smith left off, Teddy regularly produced both Hip Hop and R&B, keeping a funky street edge in R&B, and adding smooth musicality to Hip Hop. His incorporation of the swing of Go-Go would soon become THE beat for Hip Hop, and would be felt even after the music got much more spare in instrumentation.

For “How Ya Like Me Now”, Teddy delivers a hell of a groove, a funky, swinging James Brown influenced creation that took advantage of the new sampling technology in ways that sounded more like music and less like samples. The drumbeat is swinging and has ghost notes just like Clyde Stubblefield would play with JB. The sampled horn blasts hit hard on the “One”, much like Jam and Lewis did on “Fake”, and are then followed by a swinging James Brown-style horn part. The track is very bouncy, with a sprightly stop and start feeling. It finesses Moe Dee’s martial theme, floating like a butterfly around the lyrical battle ring, like a musical Muhammed Ali. On the bridge, Riley uses the synth horns to restate Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker’s “Salt Peanuts” theme. Which is both an example of an early, Pre Gang Star jazziness in Hip Hop, and also a throwback to the Sugarhill Records era practice of interpolation, which would be key in the future of Hip Hop as artists like Dr. Dre and The Neptunes endeavored to sample less, and play more music.

“I…….throw my tape on/and I watch ya/three seconds later/I got ya…”, Moe Dee begins his rhyme, and it is an excellent one, simple on the face of it, but truly an exercise in perfect rhymes, multiple rhymes, and subtle rhythms, as well structured as an essay. It exemplifies Moe Dee’s focus on “sticking to themes” and his pride in being able to rhyme coherently without digressing. One of my favorite lines is “Rap is an art/and I’m like Picasso.” Now for a while I thought Moe Dee was taking the easy way out because Picasso is the most famous artist of the 20th Century. So did he mean he was simply the best artist in Hip Hop? But Picasso wasn’t known for painting pretty pictures, which Moe Dee does here with a sharp, precise rhyme. Picasso took a little bit from here, and a little bit from there, so is a rap artist being like Picasso a reference to how rappers take words and expressions from everywhere, or Hip Hop music takes beats that might not seem to belong together and puts them together? Whatever he meant, its the one line I got when I asked a friend to quote a Moe Dee rhyme a few years back.

Back when I was a kid when my Uncles and Uncle figures talked about rap, they were talking about Moe Dee. The “How Ya Like Me Now” video and performance footage exhibit how Moe Dee took sharp technical rap and put it with the traditional showmanship and sharp dressing of R&B, Soul, and Funk. That is a package that would totally disappear in the ’90s and I have never been satisfied with Hip Hop since. Maybe Diddy tried to revive it but he was nowhere near as skilled an M.C as the great Moe Dee!!! But the fact that Moe Dee was able to do it here is an example of why that was a special time for music all across the board!

As a bonus, Moe Dee’s performance on Soul Train, where he seemed to be on that shortlist of M.C’s Don Cornelius dug!

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