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There's still a lot of time left in Summer 2020, but on the last day of July, we declared Koffee's "Lockdown" Boomshots' official 2020 Summer anthem. Produced by Dane "Raygad" Ray from the Unruly camp, the song finds Koffee asking all of the questions everybody in the world is asking themselves right now. What will the future be like "when the quarantine thing done and everybody touch road?" As soon as we heard this tune, we knew it was outta here! (That was way before we saw the video with cameos from Popcaan and Dre Island.) More than just a COVID-era contemplation, "Lockdown" is also a poignant love song that speaks to the challenges of romance during a time of the viral pandemic. As such, it represents a milestone in Koffee's catalog.
At the ripe old age of 20, the youngest Reggae Grammy winner in history has given us her first love song—and without overthinking it one bit, she might just have given us a follow-up to rival her breakthrough smash, "Toast." When you hear Koffee sing "if you love me, you should let me...," it's clear she is in her feelings on this one. Of course, everybody wants to know who this song was inspired by, but all we can say about that is just "cool." In her first interview since "Lockdown" dropped, Koffee tapped in with Boomshots' Reshma B on VIBE's Instagram Live and spoke about the inspiration behind the tune.
BOOMSHOTS: So much has happened and obviously, with the lockdown, we haven’t seen each other.
KOFFEE: That’s true.
We haven’t spoken since you won the Grammy so let me start with a big congratulations.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
You made history there. You’re the first female and the youngest to win a Reggae Grammy, as I’m sure you know.
So I’ve heard, so I’ve heard. (Laughs) Thank you.
How was that experience for you?
It was amazing for me being able to be there and represent Jamaica. Because at the end of the day, I feel like—even to be real nobody knew me at the ceremony. As you know the reggae category and some other categories are separated from like big categories like rap and stuff like that. So we’re not in the big ceremony. But it felt so good going up on the stage and collecting something on behalf of Jamaica, on behalf of reggae. There’s a lot to give thanks for regarding that. It’s good to be able fe spread light and just inspire people.
You know there was a time hip-hop was not getting televised either.
Yeah, so it’s a journey.
We all know someone who’s lost someone in this pandemic. It’s difficult adjusting to this new normal. How have you been coping with the lockdown?
For me, thankfully, I haven’t been directly affected by the COVID, and I don't’ know anybody who’s been directly affected. But I send my prayers out to those who have been and those who find it difficult during these times whether financially, even emotionally. It’s a very very very hard time and I can tell even out in the streets it shows. Before you had homeless people and beggars but now when you look pon them face it’s so rough. Me know say it tough out there. So me just a try to put that energy—channel it into anything I can, which for me is music. You know I’ve been working on my album.
How did the “Lockdown” song come about?
The song was actually a very spur-of-the-moment song. I had been planning to go into the studio with some musicians, like some guitarists, pianists, drummers, and stuff. And for the time being, that had been kinda stalled because of the whole COVID. So I was supposed to be in the UK actually doing a camp. And I was just going to the studio—you know Popcaan?
Of course, we know Poppy. Shout out to the Unruly Boss!
Sorry, my bad... I take it back! I take it back! Poppy has a studio, right? So I started goin’ by his studio to just record some stuff like in the meantime while everything is kinda shut down. And there I met a producer named Dane Ray. Now Poppy have a song weh him release the other day, I think it name “Numbers Don’t Lie” and him say, “More gal fe me and Dane Ray.” You get me? So you know say Dane Ray is like him bredren and stuff. So me set a link there and Dane Ray play me a track, which was “Lockdown” instrumental. And me just decide inna the moment, say, ‘Yo, let’s just write some lyrics to it. Some nice melodies that I’m feeling.’ And I literally just did it. And then probably like the week after that I just listen to the song and said “I really like this.” And me just call my manager like, “Yo, let’s do a video. This is who I want in it. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.” We call producer, call everybody, call videographer, and we just got it done and then we just release it. It was so—we didn’t even think twice. Me never think it woulda reach this far.
Everything went natural.
Yeah, just so natural.
And now you're hot like thermos!
It’s so crazy right now.
This is the first time we've heard a love song from Koffee. I hear you say things like, “Givin’ you my heart beg you take it from me.” It’s so touching to hear that!
Yo, that was so serious. I swear. Me nah go answer no question about who and the speculations. But I’m tellin’ you that song was so real, I meant that sh*t. (Laughs) I mean that!
Watch the full interview above.
As Verzuz continues to evolve and progress as a platform and brand, the battles have only gotten better and more competitive, with Snoop Dogg and DMX's celebration being the latest pairing to captivate the culture. Both making their debut during the ‘90s, Snoop was the first to crashland on the scene. Parlaying standout guest appearances alongside Dr. Dre on “Deep Cover” and The Chronic into a deafening buzz surrounding his name and debut album, Doggystyle. From there, Snoop has built a legacy as one of the greatest rap artists of all-time, reinventing himself in effortless fashion while continuously dropping hits that touch various generations of music fans, of all genres. With seventeen solo studio albums, as well as multiple collaborative and group projects to his name, Snoop Dogg is revered as a cultural treasure and hip-hop’s resident Doggfather. As one of the more formidable lyricists in rap with an onslaught of show-stealing guest appearances, DMX took the world by storm upon the release of his debut album, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, which sold upwards of four million copies and singlehandedly shifted the landscape of rap music. The first artist to release two chart-topping solo studio albums in the same calendar year, the Yonkers, NY native broke multiple records and is equally revered for his passion and spirit as he is for his music.
Given both artist’s affinity for canines and their stature as legends from opposite coasts, it was only right that Snoop and DMX face-off in a Verzuz “battle” to determine who’s really the top dog in this thing of ours. As a mix of classic records were spun by DJ Battlecat, Snoop Dogg arrived on the set first, decked out in a Doggystyle t-shirt, with DPG sweatpants to match. Not long after, he was joined by DMX, who rocked a red and black velour suit; he looked invigorated and as primed for a comeback as ever. As Snoop grabbed a few chicken strips to help sop up his liquor, DMX sipped on his Kool-aid and shared Now & Laters with his opponent, proving that some dogs are able to play nice, even in the heat of battle. Streamed from Snoop Dogg's home, this week’s Verzuz was as anticipated as any we can remember, as Snoop and DMX were both considered the biggest stars in rap at one point in time with catalogs that have given the culture countless hits and timeless records. The proceedings, which begin with a prayer by DMX, were set into motion, as Snoop Dogg took home-field advantage with the first salvo before positions reversed following the first ten rounds. Let the battle of the dogs begin.
ROUND 1: Dr. Dre’s "Deep Cover (feat. Snoop Dogg) vs. DMX’s "Intro"
For his first salvo, Snoop Dogg harkens back to where it all began: "Deep Cover," his inaugural guest appearance alongside Dr. Dre, which put him on the trajectory of stardom in 1992. DMX comes a bit from left field, launching into an acapella performance that provides the buildup for the intro to his blockbuster 1998 debut, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot. While "Intro" is an explosive offering, it is no match for the sheer impact of "Deep Cover," giving Snoop the first round
WINNER: Snoop Dogg
ROUND 2: Snoop Dogg’s "Who Am I (What's My Name)?" vs. DMX’s "What's My Name"
We’re reminded Styles make fights during the second round of this match-up of the dogs. Snoop Dogg continues to draw from his early catalog with his debut solo single, "Who Am I (What's My Name)?", while DMX answers the bell with his own "What's My Name," resulting in a dead heat.
ROUND 3: Snoop Dogg’s "Gin & Juice" vs. DMX’s "Get At Me Dog" (feat. Sheek Louch)
Doggystyle continues to get mined for material, as Snoop Dogg cues up his 1993 single, "Gin & Juice," one of his most seismic bangers. DMX, on the other hand, follows suit, drawing from his own monstrous debut album and firing back with his 1998 release, "Get At Me Dog.” This selection also brings about the origin of the record, which DMX reveals was inspired by an exchange with Snoop prior to the record’s creation. “The ‘Get At Me’ phrase, I got that from you,” X tells Snoop. This historical tidbit gives further insight into their relationship and is another sign that the pitbull and the Doberman are in for a dogfight of epic proportions.
ROUND 4: Dr. Dre’s "Dre Day" (feat. Snoop Dogg) vs. Ruff Ryders’ "Some X Sh*t" (feat. DMX)
Before taking the time to send a shout-out to the chat, Snoop Dogg tosses "Dre Day," him and Dr. Dre's lyrical tirade against the late Eazy-E and Uncle Luke, on the table. At this point, DMX misplays his hand, opting for a Ruff Ryders compilation joint that pales in comparison
WINNER: Snoop Dogg
ROUND 5: 2Pac’s "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted" (feat. Snoop Dogg) vs. DMX’s "Stop Being Greedy"
Snoop Dogg summons the spirit of 2Pac, whom he collaborated with on
“2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted," from the latter's 1996 release, All Eyez On Me, bringing an air of nostalgia to the proceedings. DMX, who circles the block with "Stop Being Greedy," puts forth one of his most bruising bangers, but Snoop's sole collaboration with Pac gets the win, albeit by a slim margin
WINNER: Snoop Dogg
ROUND 6: Snoop Dogg’s "Down 4 My Ni**az" (feat. C-Murder & Mr. Magic) vs. JAY-Z’s "Money, Cash, Hoes" (feat. DMX)
With the momentum fully in his favor, Snoop pulls out a big joker early, as his raucous No Limit banger "Down 4 My Ni**az" puts even more pressure on his opponent. However, DMX doesn't wilt, bringing in "Money, Cash, Hoes," his monstrous collaboration with JAY-Z, ending this round in a dead heat.
ROUND 7: Snoop Dogg’s "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)" (feat. Warren G, Nate Dogg & Kurupt) vs. Aaliyah’s "Come Back In One Piece" (feat. DMX)
The tempo shifts, as Snoop Dogg serves up one of his more syrupy ditties, "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)," a posse-cut of the highest order. Following suit, DMX comes through with the 1999 Aaliyah collab, "Come Back In One Piece," which is an admirable selection, but not strong enough to take this round away from Snoop, who shares his affinity for X’s bars on “What These Bitches Want.” In turn, X pays his respects for Snoop’s historic run as part of Death Row Records and gaining a respect for the west coast rap scene from afar.
WINNER: Snoop Dogg
ROUND 8: Snoop Dogg’s "Bi**h Please" (feat. Xzibit & Nate Dogg) vs. DMX’s "X Gon' Give It to Ya"
As the celebration of legends continues, Snoop Dogg looks back at his stint on No Limit Records once again with "Bi**h Please," from his No Limit Top Dogg album. X gets real festive with amped-up soundtrack selection "X Gon' Give It to Ya," which still retains replay value and Snoop remarks is one of his personal favorites out of his catalog. However, it is no match when pitted against Snoop's flow over this particular Dre beat.
WINNER: Snoop Dogg
ROUND 9: Snoop Dogg’s "Gz and Hustlas" vs. DMX’s "Who We Be"
Giving a brief backstory of Bow Wow's origins in the game, Snoop goes back to the Doggystyle well with "Gz and Hustlas," one of the few deep cuts played during the battle. Striking while the iron's hot, DMX manages to steal a round with his 2001 single, "Who We Be," one of the dog's more underrated anthems.
ROUND 10: Snoop Dogg’s "Tha Shiznit" vs. DMX’s "Let's Get It On"
Sticking to the script, Snoop Dogg, who gets inspired to delve into his lyrical grab-bag, pulls another classic from the vault, with "Tha Shiznit," a melodic groove that showcases Snoop's sinewy flow. Smelling blood in the water, DMX throws a haymaker with Swizz Beatz-assisted party banger, "Let's Get It On," stealing yet another round and keeping the competitive juices flowing.
ROUND 11: DMX’s "F**kin' wit' D" vs. Snoop Dogg’s "Lay Low" (feat. Tha Eastsidaz, Master P, Butch Cassidy & Nate Dogg)
As the order reverses for the second half of the battle, with DMX now going first, he gives insight into the making of It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, revealing he wrote three songs within hours of each other, one of them being the It's Dark and Hell Is Hot cut "F**kin' wit' D," a high-octane thumper that channels the Dark Man's energy. For a change of pace, Snoop Dogg slows down the tempo with "Lay Low," one of his more infectious salvos from his No Limit tenure.
WINNER: Snoop Dogg
ROUND 12: DMX’s "What These Bi**hes Want" (feat. Sisqo) vs. Snoop Dogg’s "Beautiful" (feat. Pharrell Williams)
DMX goes for the jugular with"What These Bi**hes Want," a timeless gem, which recently inspired a social media challenge that took the world by storm. Snoop Dogg, who keeps the same energy, doling out "Beautiful," his collaborative effort with Pharrell Williams, which he recalls being inspired by a trip to Brazil. “I got with my nigga Pharrell, and he was like, ‘Snoop, you gotta tap into your sexy side,’” the Doggfather explains. In spite of that intel, “Beautiful,”’ which may have been a bigger hit, lacks the punch of "What These Bi**hes Want"
ROUND 13: DMX’s "How's It Goin' Down" (feat. Faith Evans) vs. Snoop Dogg’s "Pump Pump"
Finally hitting his stride, DMX brings forth one of his more romantic numbers with the Faith Evans-assisted heater "How's It Goin' Down," while Snoop Dogg misfires with "Pump Pump," another selection from Doggystyle. "Pump Pump" is sure to get a positive reaction whenever it's played, but "How's It Goin Down" gets the nod in this round.
ROUND 14: DMX’s "It's All Good" vs. Dr. Dre’s "Bi**hes Ain't Sh*t" (feat. Tha Dogg Pound, Jewell & Snoop Dogg)
Dogs will be dogs, which is evidenced by this round, as both artists play both sides of the coin when it comes to women. DMX's "It's All Good" is more of a celebratory anthem dedicated to the ladies. “When you’re a New York nigga, the entire state of California is L.A.,” X shares. “I actually think I did record this out here, for my second album.” Snoop's appearance on "Bi**hes Ain't Sh*t," throws the scandalous ones under the bus and happens to be one of DMX’s favorite anthems in times of marital strife. Both have their place, but Snoop ultimately gets thrown a bone, winning one of the more crucial rounds of the battle.
WINNER: Snoop Dogg
ROUND 15: DMX’s "Slippin" vs. Snoop Dogg’s "Murder Was the Case"
After taking it to the streets, the party, and the bedroom, DMX and Snoop provide a moment of introspection, as both go with their most personal records to date. DMX, who plays "Slippin'," shifts the vibe of the proceedings, even tacking on an unreleased verse for good measure. This leaves Snoop Dogg no choice but to retort with "Murder Was the Case," resulting in one of the more sobering moments of the night.
ROUND 16: DMX’s "Ni**az Started Something" (feat. The LOX & Ma$e) vs. Snoop Dogg’s "Doggy Dogg World" (feat. Nanci Fletcher, The Dramatics & Tha Dogg Pound)
One of the kings of the posse-cut, DMX comes with one from his own debut, which boasts one of his more impressive rhyme spills to date. Instead of trying to one-up DMX with a harder record, Snoop plays to his strengths, cueing up "Doggy Dogg World," further evidence of how loaded Doggystyle is as a body of work, but not enough to net him the win.
ROUND 17: LL Cool J’s "4,3,2,1" (feat. DMX, Canibus, Redman and Method Man) vs. Snoop Dogg’s "I Luv It" (feat. The Eastsidaz)
Realizing he's hit his stride, DMX continues to delve into his laundry list of collaborative cuts, as he looks to do further damage with "4,3,2,1," on which he co-stars alongside four of the strongest pens of his error. On the other hand, Snoop makes his most egregious blunder of the night, playing "I Luv It," a collaboration with The Eastsidaz that may bang in smaller circles, but failed to move the crowd in a big way.
ROUND 18: The LOX’s "Money, Power, & Respect" (feat. DMX and Lil' Kim) vs. 50 Cent’s "P.I.M.P.: (Remix)" feat. Snoop Dogg & Bishop Don ‘Magic’ Juan
ROUND 19: DMX’s "Ruff Ryders Anthem" vs. Dr. Dre’s "Nuthin' But a G Thang" (feat. Snoop Dogg)
As the end of the regulation draws near, DMX gives us the moment we've all been waiting for: "Ruff Ryders' Anthem," the song that helped launch him into stardom. Not to be outclassed, Snoop also finished in riveting fashion with "Nuthin' But a G Thang," which boasts the introductory verse that will be spat verbatim until the end of time upon pressing play.
ROUND 20: DMX's "Party Up (Up in Here)" vs. Snoop Dogg’s "Drop It Like It's Hot" (feat. Pharrell Williams)
To end their face-off, DMX and Snoop each deliver one of their signature records, as DMX runs with "Party Up (Up in Here)," while Snoop comes with "Drop It Like It's Hot," both of which are undeniable bangers and regarded as cultural classics in their own right.
While many believed Snoop Dogg had a clear advantage in terms of longevity, hits, and overall discography, DMX managed to level the playing field through timely song choices, often offsetting the vibe and tempo of the rounds. Snoop, who got off to an early lead that looked insurmountable by the end of the first half of the battle, had plenty of firepower to work with, but failed to capitalize on his breadth of material due to questionable song placement in certain rounds. However, after taking every individual round into account, this Verzuz event shaped up to be the most competitive thus far, with both artists giving strong performances and ending the battle in a dead heat. As the vibes were all on a high note, the two icons even threw in a few extra joints for good measure, with X performing his 2003 hit “Where The Hood At,” while Snoop responds with his 2000 guest spot on Dr. Dre’s “Next Episode.” The two then dive into an impromptu freestyle session, with both artists wowing the viewers at home and those in the chat. When all was said and done, according to our scorecard, there was no clear-cut victor. That said, the ultimate winners were the culture and hip-hop fans who were able to witness two music icons celebrate each other and play records that helped shape the sound of music as we know it today.
FINAL SCORE: 7-7-6
"My man introduced me to some good extra lovin' He was lickin' and suckin' on everything...just the way you should. His extra lovin' was good! We laid there, sweaty, sex funky happy as we want to be, loving exclusively all night, all morning until our stomachs were growling hungrily."
- an excerpt from Jill Scott's poem "Exclusively," recited during an interview with Garth Trinidad on the Chocolate City program on Los Angeles' KCRW in 1999.
There is love that is patient and kind. Then there is love that entangles itself in your essence, demanding either rapturous consummation or defiant release. Even more significant, there is love that when you encounter it in person, it is a spiritual force of nature. It makes you, "want to go home and f**k." Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1—the two-decade-old debut album from “Jilly from Philly”—effortlessly walks the line between these three previously mentioned types of love.
Valentine's Day 2020 found Ms. Scott at the Maryland Live! Casino, in the suburbs between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD. There was no more ideal time to celebrate and highlight this album's legacy. Like the artist who created it, Who Is Jill Scott? is human, honest, and unforgettable. With its anniversary on July 18, Scott celebrated the momentous occasion (earlier in the year) with a series of concerts performing the album in its entirety, from beginning to end.
Playing Who Is Jill Scott?, from beginning to end has moments that are reminiscent of Philadelphia’s R&B tradition. “A Long Walk” was released in January 2001 and hit the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. It has a jazzy, mature, and timelessly familiar vibe that feels like an inclusive mix of everyone, male and female, who recorded a lovestruck ballad in the city from ”Me and Mrs. Jones” vocalist Billy Paul in 1972 to The Roots’ Black Thought performing “Silent Treatment” in 1995. Moreover, Jill’s live performance blends soul music’s relatability with the magical confluence of Afro-spirituality and visceral, directly-impacting sex appeal that gives a sentient insurgence to Scott’s lyrics. Thus, Scott’s contralto on these songs, in a cavernous room, is intensely warm and inviting.
On “Honey Molasses” and “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat),” the live keyboards feel a little hotter than they do on the recording. The raw sexuality in Scott’s voice both attracts and attacks. If Scott’s voice heard on record alone birthed a generation of millennials, seeing that voice, embodied and enlivened, is a joyously unique experience.
Just like Jill Scott, the person, Who Is Jill Scott? has matured. Jill’s classic material is spiritually emboldened from wisdom gained via living a life where the words she’s singing actually informed the actions of the life she lived. Scott’s live performance of the late ‘90s album feels worn in and comfortable. The songs don’t sound exactly like the album anymore.
Hearing Jill sing “The Way,” it’s a singalong as a shared experience that Jill initially voiced for a generation of women both young and old. The cadence of “toast, two scrambled eggs, grits” is elongated in such a way to not as much welcome in the voices of the largely female crowd of 5,000 strong. Rather, in it being Jill pausing, then “toast...two scrambled eggs. (Pause, comically elongated pause...Jill smiles, the crowd murmurs, laughs, whoops, then hollers in a throaty, seductive tone implying that the actions of the previous night that preceded the following morning’s breakfast were pleasurable)...GRIIIITS,” it’s a call-and-response, Black Pentecostal Church of Sex and Soul Food, moment.
"I've been performing this album for 20 years, and it's only just now that I realize that it's sequenced like a movie," Jill Scott notes during a jovial afternoon conversation. "It's a heavy album, where I'm the main character, that requires me to click in and out of these unbelievably intense emotions. This album is filled with songs that are meant to be seen, tasted, and touched. It covers everything from feeling light and bubbly to being pensive and sad. But it's the love thread throughout that unites it all."
Carvin Haggins—one of the album's six primary producers—echoes this notion. He says that on [Who Is Jill Scott?], Jill "was a woman telling stories that every woman knows, but is afraid to tell. It identifies with women going through those stories as specific gateways of life heading towards adulthood."
For instance, to hear the go-go-influenced single "It's Love," is always a powerful funk moment. But to experience the song sung by Scott—as she wears a multicolored kimono decorated with a bedazzled rendering of her face in the middle of her back, while African tribal dancers, enhance the moment on the stage’s background screen—you hear a whole other manner of expression as Scott becomes a wise griot awakening the Orishas. These stories set free and inspire the audience—especially women—to simultaneously navigate love and their Black humanity.
[Stream Who Is Jill Scott? Words And Sounds, Vol. 1 on Apple Music and Tidal]
Soul music's maturation into welcoming the fullness of what Neo-soul has become is a fascinating journey. Before the release of Who Is Jill Scott?, there was a stronger fusion between R&B and hip-hop defining crossover pop's acceptance of Neo-soul and less slickly-produced and sample-driven music. The gap was closing at the top of Billboard's 1998 year-end charts. In that year, Soul's traditional essence was the domain of Brandy and Monica, whose lovelorn teenybopper crush battle anthem "The Boy Is Mine" spent one-third of the year in Billboard's top 10, finishing at #2 of the Hot 100 overall singles of the year. Soul's New Jack lust—as represented by "Too Close," Next's homage to getting an erection on the dancefloor—was America's number one single for five weeks after spending an entire year on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. It was the #1 song of the year.
One year later, Jill Scott was recording her debut album in Philadelphia. In the camps of care-filled love and cocksure hip-hop passion had yet to meld her full sound. Jill Scott's experimental performances on Who Is Jill Scott? allowed for a more significant pop expansion of how Neo-soul synergized these divergent energies. This success did not happen without the aid of an impressive collection of musical superstars whose accomplishments precede them.Who Is Steve McKeever?
Steve McKeever was a Harvard-educated entertainment lawyer, talent manager, and record executive. He'd worked with Berry Gordy at Motown Records from 1991-1996, specializing in jazz and soul music with MoJAZZ, Motown's jazz imprint. Plus, he was instrumental in the sale of the label to Polygram Records in 1993. "By 1998, I was working on developing Hidden Beach Recordings, and Michael Jordan was our lead investor, so we had to put together the label in secret. Sony, our distributor, was expecting more jazz-type projects, but I knew that the original label pitch was to do things more left and right of the mainstream."
Neo-soul was emerging as a genre but had yet to take root in modern rhythm and blues. D'Angelo's 1995 album Brown Sugar and Maxwell's 1996 debut album Urban Hang Suite opened a door. Erykah Badu's 1997 Baduizm and a year later, Lauryn Hill's Miseducation of Lauryn Hill followed after that. Jill Scott was emerging as a Philadelphia-based cultural creative.
Her "Words and Sounds" spoken word and song event was gaining in popularity, as was the regular Black Lily showcase for female poets, emcees, and vocalists. She also was an understudy for the Collins Canadian touring company for the musical, Rent between December 1997-November 1998. Scott's popularity put her on the radar of The Roots, who had her write the Badu-performed hook on their 1999 hit "You Got Me." However, Scott did perform the track live with The Roots on some domestic and overseas tour dates in the same year.
"I lied to Questlove and told him that I wrote songs," Scott jokes while reminiscing. "He came to one of my poetry readings, and I said, ‘Yeeeah, yes I do, I...I write songs all of the time!’"
McKeever had been told of Scott's talents, so he set off to the city of Brotherly Love to hear her perform. Scott delivered a spoken word, rap, and soul vocal improvisational showcase for 45 straight minutes in front of the Hidden Beach chief and a crowd of musicians. He remembers fondly, "Jill extemporaneously sang and spoke her entire life story. It was unbelievable. It was like watching Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Biggie performing at the same time. It was jazz meets rap meets soul meets spoken word."The Making of Who Is Jill Scott?
By the late 1990s, A Touch of Jazz studios, founded by Jeff “DJ Jazzy Jeff” Townes, had become a hub for the "neo-soul" community of the Mid-Atlantic region. Conscious, underground rappers like Washington, D.C.based Kev Brown, and his Low Budget crew and The Roots, plus soul artists like Kenny Lattimore, had connections there. Impressively, over a decade at A Touch of Jazz, Townes incubated and developed producers and musicians that worked on albums for the likes of Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Common, D'Angelo, Nuyorican Soul, Anita Baker, Floetry, Musiq Soulchild, Bilal, Dwele, and Raheem Devaughn.
"Jazzy Jeff and I are both friends with a woman named Kim Mitchell [the mother of Jeff's youngest son, Amir Mitchell-Townes],” Scott told KCRW disc jockey Garth Trinidad in a 1999 interview. “She told Jeff I needed to be at A Touch of Jazz as a writer. I had only written 'A Long Walk.' When I visited the studio, I sat down with the producers, and I sang it. They said, on the spot, 'you're an artist!' I already knew that!”
Yet, the artist in her knew that dues needed to be paid. "I noticed that the walls in the lobby of A Touch of Jazz were carved with very intricate designs, but they hadn't been stained or polyurethaned," Scott recalls during our phone conversation. "I asked Jazzy Jeff if I could do that for him. He allowed me to do that. That gave me the ability to be in and around the studio more, and try to get into the booth to record. I almost died polyurethaning that room; it had no ventilation! But I'd just be in there humming and singing, waiting for the chance to stick my head into the room...when I did that, that's when 'A Long Walk' happened."
Along with Haggins, A Touch of Jazz hired five other producers—Vidal Davis, Andre Harris, Ivan Barias, Keith Pelzer, and Darren “Limitless” Henson—to work on Scotts’ debut album in 1999. "Jazzy Jeff taught us how to encapsulate the emotional vibe of the history of soul music," says Haggins. "As well, we were also all childhood friends who didn't do things the conventional way. We didn't know how to produce. We had original ideas and concepts that we combined with what Jeff was teaching us. Three guys were from the church and wanted the tracks to sound smooth, like what you'd play at a service. Three guys were hip-hop heads who wanted the beats to sound hard, like what you're playing in a Jeep. Jill's album became a guinea pig for these sounds we were trying to combine to make."
A creative scene that ultimately birthed an era of superstar moments for music’s millennial era had humble roots. "Philly was so fun and free back then. I like to call it a 'spooky punch.'" Scott's voice swells with excitement when discussing the emerging music scene in the City of Brotherly Love around the turn of the 21st century. "Nobody was checking for us, so the music was exceptionally pure. Kindred the Family Soul, the Jazzyfatnastees, Musiq Soulchild was around. Scott Storch would be playing the piano while Bilal was lying on the floor in Questlove's old apartment; it was an incredibly creative time. We were creating for creation's sake."
"We didn't know what the industry was doing," Haggins says. "A Touch of Jazz was in the basement of an office building. We came in, we ate together, played together, stayed grounded, and to ourselves." At a time wherein the first wave of what would later be known as neo-soul had established itself as top 40 charting, Black radio favorites, Haggins and crew remained nonplussed and focused. "We never thought too much about the Billboard charts. All we knew is that if we all loved something in the studio, that's the only way we knew it was good."
To wit, Scott adds on the recording of her debut album that "the chemistry of writing the album at A Touch of Jazz was effortless. I loved it. There are six cats down there. Each one plays their instruments, and they can get down! They're young; they travel, they work. They're into jazz, the blues, gospel, funk, they feel the music."
When asked about her musicality in 1999, Jill Scott jokes, "My mom was playing some good stuff and reading to me when I was in the womb!" She continues, "Once I was born, I do remember hearing a lot of Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Etta James around the house. That was my Sunday house-cleaning music." Combine those influences with the Nina Simone, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Notorious B.I.G. that McKeever heard during Scott's live audition, and a formidable blend develops. Mining that essence into 18 magical tracks requires a unique strategy to achieve artistic synergy between Scott and her producers.
"[Who Is Jill Scott?] is music created without apprehension," Haggins opines. "So the main goal of our work was to make sure that we played well, but not get in the way of Jill's creative force. As producers, we painted around her creative foundation. The honesty of the lyrical content had to shine through. That's the greatest strength of the album. Jill's lyrics are creating three-to-five minute movies that we're soundtracking. It works perfectly."
Haggins' strategy was an unabashed success, as Scott notes to KCRW in a 1999 interview. "There's space in how [Who Is Jill Scott?] was made. As an artist, I'm open; I like to feel the music, I'm free. I sing like I'm an emcee, even sometimes. This album makes you feel like you want to put your fist up in the air and say, yeah!"
The notion that Jill's basically a singing emcee has validity. Rap's fingerprints are all over the album. The Joe Williams and the Jazz Orchestra sample that underpins Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's 1992 hit "Ill Street Blues" appears in the deep cut "Brotha," adding a sonic heft to the ode to supporting Black men. As well, "Gettin' In The Way" is a master class in the craft of how a break and cadence can influence the feel of a song. Because of a drum, it’s much less a post-heartbreak ballad and much more a sing-song battle rap diss of a woman attempting to interrupt her relationship. It owes as much in vocal cadence to Biggie’s 1999 single, “Dead Wrong” as it does Aretha Franklin’s 1968 hit, "Think."
On "Dead Wrong," Biggie's flow is aided by a sample of the drum break from Al Green's "I'm So Glad You're Mine." It's a metronomic smack that's as thick in impact as it is broad in resonance. Biggie's laconic flow slumps over and around it, creating its unique funk-as-vibe. Davis' drums on Scott’s "Gettin' In The Way" are similarly thick as they are broad, allowing her warnings of violence to reside in a Biggie-similar funk. Seeing Scott playfully remove her earrings and add in some colorful words for added emphasis during her 2020 live edition at Maryland Live! bears truth to this impact.
"Yup! I've been trying to go for MC of the Year for 20 years! I'm about to fight in that song,” Scott says. “While working with the musicians, the sound and the energy of the music put the words on the tip of my tongue. The music told me that story. All I had to do was ride the beat."
Since her debut album, Jill's catalog stirs deep passions in listeners worldwide. Scott herself has also been known to simulate oral sex on stage with a microphone while performing her material. Related, "He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)" was described in a 2016 Revolt article as inspiring "a love felt 'in every way imaginable,' from hair follicle to toenails. It starts in a coo, transitions into spoken word, and ends in what sounds like a full-on tribal cry."
On the making of "Lyzel," Haggins relates a story that showcases the sacred and secular collision that makes the album special. "[Producer/arranger] Keith Pelzer was playing at his father's church at choir rehearsal when he came up with the chords for 'Lyzel.' He played it for Jill (who told KCRW that she felt like she was "taken someplace by it"); it stuck. Even if you're playing in church, you're also a young man experiencing life, and the church is working in you too, so that's what you get sometimes."
"He came up with that in church?!? Wow!!" Jill Scott reacts with pure shock when I tell her where Pelzer developed the chord progressions underpinning the song. "Those chords are so spiritual," Scott says. "The tone of my voice is really pure. I'm not doing a lot [tonally]. The vibe comes from a pure, childlike, even God-like place. Even more, 20 years later, it's when I sing it live, and the crowd sings with me, in my style. Note for note, it's amazing." The effortless nature of the creative energy behind the album is uniquely memorable. "I walked in, and he was playing it. I grabbed my pen and started writing on the spot. That's how a lot of this album happened. I'd walk in the room, hear what the guys were playing, and have an idea. We completed seven songs in the summer of 1999 like that."
Upon receiving Scott's album, mastering engineer Herb Powers Jr. was both flummoxed and impressed. "When I first heard it, I thought, 'This album is bigger than soul music. It feels like these are rap records that have bass lines bigger than house music records!'" By 2000, Powers already had 25 years of experience and was a Philadelphia icon, having worked with the likes of disco progenitor Philadelphia International Records. He also put the finishing touches on a series of quintessential New York hits including house and breakout rap singles like Loose Joints' "Is It All Over My Face?" and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock." He also went on to hone the New Jack Swing genre's vibe via Teddy Riley and Keith Sweat's works. As the engineer of note at The Hit Factory, Powers’ work was key in developing Bad Boy's crossover era of success, including Notorious B.I.G. albums and Sean “Puffy” Combs’ own No Way Out in 1997.
Powers continues, "When I was mastering [Who Is Jill Scott?], I kept going back and forth on if it sounded too heavy? Her voice is so big, yet so smooth. It partially occupies the bottom end. But there's still room for so much to occupy the top end of those tracks. The strings, the keyboards, everything. Neo-soul is hard and heavy like rap, but spacious like gospel and R&B. That's what makes it such a unique genre." Ultimately, he pays it the highest of compliments. "Whenever I enter a room where I need to test the acoustics, Who Is Jill Scott? is a go-to record that I play. The sonics on it are perfect. Jill's voice, the instruments, everything. It's timeless."Epilogue
At the end of her live performance on Valentine's Day night—while receiving her third standing ovation in 90 minutes—Scott said "There were many people who did not believe this album would be successful. Some people hated my hair, my body, there was even a radio executive who said, 'How is this pork chop eating [woman] ever going to sell records?'" Overwhelmed by the crowd’s effusive praise, she smiled while slightly sweaty and visibly exhausted. Revealing this little known career moment gave each person in the crowd something personal of Scott’s to take with them, forever.
"I cried so much when this album first came out. I didn't think it would connect with anyone," Scott remembers. "Then it sold 8,000 copies. I couldn't believe 8,000 people bought my album. Then it hit 16,000, 32,000—every week the number of sales doubled. Then they tripled. When I found out the album had gone gold, I had one question: What does that mean?! HALF A MILLION?!' I couldn't believe it."
When asked about the moment when he knew that creative gold had been struck with Who Is Jill Scott?, Haggins remembers being in Los Angeles in early 2001 for the Grammy Awards. "They had a billboard on Sunset Boulevard that said, 'Who Is Jill Scott? Over a million people know.' That was a real 'wow' moment. I couldn't believe that this album we'd created was so popular." When asked about the album's platinum-selling success, McKeever remembers, "Sony (Hidden Beach's parent label) thought that Jill's album would sell, say 22,000 copies, maximum. That would have been considered a success."
"My career is based on a stew of hip-hop, R&B, and jazz," Scott says, after pausing to let an ultimate declaration about her career resonate. "It's a good ole wholesome stew, and it'll help you grow." Who Is Jill Scott? being one of the ultimate showcases of how much someone loves Black love and Black music allowed it to foster Scott’s stardom. Its legacy, similar to Scott’s career, is based on growth. One woman’s words and sounds evolved into gospel hymn-like recitations repeated in concert halls 20 years after they were created. That’s different and special, in every way imaginable. Quite simply, like any stew we consume, that comes from kind hands and an honest heart, it’s love.