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kevin gates vibe interview

Interview: Kevin Gates Talks 'By Any Mean,' Jail Time and Slanging The D'

In a corner lounge at Atlantic Records' New York office that overlooks midtown Manhattan, Kevin Gates is listening to Gucci Mane on a portable speaker. He says he carries it with him everywhere. Music seems to be embedded in his brain; multiple times during our conversation he bursts into spontaneous rhyme. He’s been making music since about 2006, but the Baton Rouge rapper didn’t get widespread attention until he dropped The Luca Brasi Story last year. With a hit song ‘Satellites’ and other deeply emotive records like ‘Paper Chasers’ and ‘Neon Lights,’ his style is all his own with more than just the trap on his mind.

For a guy riddled with criminal cases and depression, he seems calm, centered, almost Zen-like when VIBE sits down with him. Some answers are roundabout, while others are more profound than we expected. He’s playing Gucci’s ‘Truth’ loudly and I feel like an imposition with my iPhone-turned-recorder, but when it’s time to go, he cuts the music and says, “Ask me anything.”

Was the story [about his child’s birth] on ‘Movie’ true?
Yup. They’re all true stories. I’m inspired by everything that goes on around me. I may make a song about this interview. I’m a sponge. I’m very analytical. I notice the things that most people don’t notice. Like you got on Dunks.

Yours are cleaner.
Yeah, I wear mine two or three times and then throw them away. But I just wear the same [types of] shoes over and over. These are like the only shoes I wear, so it’s different. It’s really…I have a phobia, such as…I really didn’t have a lot at one point in my life. So it’s like if I get one little scuff on my shoes, I gotta…you know what I’m saying? For fear of how…I just love to be clean. I wear the same things, all of my clothes pretty much look the same. I’m a plain and simple type of guy. I don’t really do a lotta busy colors and things of that nature. I feel like less is more.

How do you feel about the early comparisons to Future when you got popping with Luca Brasi Story?
They needed someone to compare me to because it was new. We make comparisons…but if an individual were to go back and listen to Luca Brasi Story now, my voice is very distinctive. I know my voice is very distinctive because in a room of 100 people, my voice is always picked out. So I don’t look at it as a bad thing, they just needed someone to compare me to. [Starts singing] They sayin’ me and Future sound alike, I’m soundin’ like Future, maybe meanin’ Kevin Gates the future.

Who are some artists that inspire you?
I can’t say any artist inspired me, because I’m inspired by the things that go on around me. Now as far as the artists I listen to, they aren’t really in the rap genre. Lately, I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Edwin McCain, Lifehouse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ron Pope. Things of that nature.

Now as far as rappers that I listen to currently, it’s probably Fat Trel, Starlito, Fred the Godson, Maino and Gucci Mane. Because it’s realistic. I can relate to it. I’ve lived that. Starlito’s my brother. We’re gonna do more music.

Is there an official “Album” on deck?
I don’t look at it like that because By Any Means is an album. It was all original tracks and it was a body of work, a collection of songs. When I say By Any Means, we gon’ eat by any means. When I say eat, we gon’ get to this money by any means necessary.

I don’t pay attention to sales because it’s not about that for me. It’s about the music. Music is all I have. I suffer from depression. Severe cases of it. Not one case of depression, not a severe case, but severe cases of depression. Music is my only outlet, it’s therapeutic to me. It’s a release. It’s how I vent emotionally. So it may come out as anger on one song, it may come out as sad on one song, it may come out as happy on one song. Whatever I’m feeling at the time, that’s how I vent. I vent through my music. That’s the only outlet I have. And getting tattoos.

How have you dealt with depression in the past?
I don’t remember. Well…I did a lot of drugs. I didn’t do multiple drugs, but I overindulged in whatever drug of choice. As far as drinking syrup, if it was syrup, I’m drankin’ nothin’ but syrup. It’s an opiate, so it has the same effect as heroin on your body. You nod out. It’s like morphine. But it’s got a beautiful, wonderful taste to it.

I know you got a psychology degree in prison. What made you want to study psychology?
I just always wanted to study human behavior because every psychologist that I would talk to would tell me I was bipolar, and I know I’m not bipolar, so I had to perform a psychoanalysis on myself to find out that I have unresolved grief. I have trouble with letting go. That’s my problem. Anybody that has extreme highs and extreme lows is bipolar to any psychologist and that’s not necessarily the truth. You have to be intimate with a person to know that person, and when I say intimate I mean to know, so how could you come up with the opinion that this person is, in your professional opinion, bipolar when you deal with hundreds of people? You don’t know this person, you don’t live with this person. You sit down with this person on the couch and talk to them and let them talk about their problems. They’re not gonna let their hair down with you because human beings, and I’m included, are naturally guarded. I have trust issues with allowing other individuals to know my innermost secrets for fear of how I may be viewed. Everyone has this.

Can you tell me what you think some of the unresolved grief is over?
It’s everything…it’s on By Any Means, it’s in the music. I don’t want to just say it because my following, they connect with me through my music. They develop relationships with me through my music because of how honest I am, so if I were to just tell you some of the issues, that would take away from upcoming songs, and music is all I have. I don’t have anything else.

You’re somewhat of an avid reader, right? How’d you get into reading?
I’ve just always been a reader. My grandmother just expressed the importance of literacy, if I said that correctly. She just always expressed the importance of being able to write and being able to read. It was something she always instilled in me since I was young. Being in the neighborhood and the poverty stricken environment that I grew up in, I took a detour. I gravitated towards some of the individuals that did a lot of the wrong things with the right intentions.

Are you reading anything lately?
I’m re-reading a book I read because I rushed through it. It’s called The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel. It’s more about meditation, and what made me want to study meditation was…it’s like when working out, I used to box. And everything is controlled by breathing, so I was like if breathing has such a great effect on the body physically, what kind of effects would it have psychologically, emotionally, and mentally? Breathing is so important with physical activity, then how much more important is it with psychological activity? And I’m a big skeptic so I won’t just go off what an individual may tell me. I gotta do the research. I’ma get different literature on that one subject and just compare and contrast. I do my own selective studies.

What are your favorite kinds of books to read?
Whatever intrigues me, whatever piques my interest. I love vampire novels by Anne Rice but I also love Nicholas Sparks. Those two individuals couldn’t be more opposite. So how do you go from liking a Nicholas Sparks book about The Notebook and then read Anne Rice Memnoch The Devil about Lestat being a vampire?

A lot of people hinged on you mentioning The Notebook on Luca Brasi. What do you like about that book?
It was a true depiction of romance. It was the happy ever after and I never saw that in real life, I never got to see the happy ever after in reality. He didn’t do anything incredible, all he did was loved a woman. He said it in the book, “There will be no monuments left here for me after I’m gone and I won’t get any gold medals of any type, I’ve never won any awards. But I’ve loved a woman with all my heart.” That’s what he said. It was simple. It was beautiful. It was me. It resonated with me spiritually because that’s me, simple. If you see me tomorrow I’ll probably have on something similar to what I have on now because I’m just simple. Less is more, to me.

You talked to Peter Rosenberg about taking a lot of losses, whether being imprisoned or getting knocked out.
Teeth knocked out, broke nose, yeah…I done took a lotta losses.

What’s the worst loss you ever taken?
I don’t really know yet, because I have more losses to take. And then I can’t really call them losses. I just look at losses as a lesson for me because my greatest losses made me an even greater individual.

What’s the biggest thing that’s changed in your life since the music caught on?
My approach, my mentality, my perspective of it all. It took a minute to process it all, but I can see where…I used to have a certain attitude in the illegitimate realm and [now] I have a different attitude in a legitimate realm. I’m Kevin Gates more than I’m Luca Brasi [laughs].

At one time, nobody ever knew who I was in Baton Rouge. Nobody. No one cared about Kevin Gates. No one knew me. No one gave a flyin’ flip, I guess. No one. But I made believers out of men. I made them believe. They believe now.

What’s been the best experience for you since you’ve started taking music seriously?
I don’t really look at it as a best experience with it all because whatever moment I’m in, I have to completely engulf myself in that moment. Like right now, I am completely engulfed in this moment. I could have left the music on and bullshitted, but everywhere I go I like to turn it into a trap house environment. Even though we working right now, we got music on in the background, I bring my lil’ speaker everywhere I go. We waitin’ on the money to come, but we just talkin’.

The reason I don’t look at my greatest experience is because I would long for that experience to have been longer. So I’ve had good times and I’ve had bad times and I reminisce, maybe when I lay down, but throughout my day I keep myself engulfed in whatever moment I’m in because it could steer me into a depressed state. And I really don’t want to be in that state because then I would become an introvert, I’d be aloof. I’ma be somewhere else.

Who are some of your favorite producers to work with?
I don’t really know, because I know it’s a bunch of new producers I haven’t worked with yet.

Who do you want to work with?
I donno. Because a hot producer might not make a hot beat for me. I just love music. Most of the producers I work with, I don’t even know who they are. They had to tell me what song they did. I don’t want to get caught up in knowing what producer is who, because I would allow myself to be judgmental. “Who? I don’t want to hear him.” Let me hear the music. I’ma let the music instruct me on which way to go. Forwards, backwards, left, right. It’s like boxing. I’m only as strong as my opponent.

It’s like when I first heard that “out my window” [‘Wish I Had’], when I first heard that beat. First time I heard that song, I was in the car, “roamin’ around, all my thoughts been roamin’ around.” I just…it just…I knew. It’s like when I heard it, I got excited. My heart started beatin.’ I knew I was about to do it. It was a beautiful woman, I couldn’t wait to undress her. I told everybody, “Y’all get out the room. I wanna be alone with her.” Everybody got out the room. “In the car while roamin’ around, all my thoughts been roamin’ around, where I come from like a hole in the ground, ‘cept to me, still holdin’ it down / every car pass by with the music up loud while bumpin,’ roamin’ around / and then, tellin’ me to make a hit, but I really don’t get, why they walked on “Roaming Around?”

What was that B.o.B. and Flo-Rida line about? [“With Flo-Rida, nothing in common, I’m not a B.o.B.”]
Oh, because at one time the label was saying, “You know Kevin, you can make the song like that,” but I’m not him. I have nothing in common with him. He’s a great artist for what he does. I’m not him. And B.o.B. is a great artist but I’m not him either. I can’t be them. I only know how to be me. I’d rather you hate me for who I am than love me for someone I’m not. Any day. For real.

Can you take me through the process of how you write a song?
I don’t really know, but I know I write a lot of my best music in the car, like late night. Three, four in the morning. I’m in the passenger seat, I got my driver, my getaway driver. My Bonnie, I’m Clyde. That’s when everything is just settled. In the daytime it’s chaotic. Everybody just goin’ nowhere fast. In a rush to go nowhere. [laughs] The long road to nowhere!

The energy in the daytime is so different because everyone is so unhappy and depressed and you can pick up on that energy psychokinetically. So I like to come out at night. Everything’s settled, you can see more. You know, that’s when things like, “My favorite book’s The Notebook by author Nicholas Sparks / built a fake case just to run away but she won’t make it far.” That’s when those types of things come out, things like, um, “Deep conversation where I was always elated as if celebrating a thing of the past / ‘happy belated’ while handing her Franklins, just thought I restated if stated too fast / went to the pen and was livin’ upstate but feel I got away ‘cause I skated with cash / Made crooked lawyers and dirty attorneys who take all the money and say that they workin’ / FUCKIN’ WITCHU! STUCK IN THIS LOOP! WE JUMPIN THROUGH…” You know, I channel that emotion.

Some songs, like ‘Roamin’ Around,’ I rode around and listened to that beat for a month. It wasn’t on a project, I just had to leak it. Which is a greater, better song than ‘Satellites.’ ‘Satellites’ is a great song, but ‘Roamin’ Around’ is a bigger song. It’s way bigger. To me.

I would agree.
But I know this. It will come back and be bigger than ‘Satellites.’

Are there any artists you haven’t worked with yet that you want to work with?
Really, I believe what’s meant to be will be. And I don’t say that because I feel like I’m a psychic or anything, but if I wanted it to not rain today, that’s beyond my control. I couldn’t do anything about it not raining. So whatever’s meant to be, will be. It’s like if I don’t make it to one of my interviews today, it just wasn’t meant to me. So any artist that’s as serious about making music as I am, I’m cool with that. But if you tellin’ me, “Man, send me a verse and I’ma send you a verse.” No. That’s not collaborating. We don’t know each other and I’m serous about this music. I’m not about do to it because I think cross-marketing would be a great – no. Eff that. I don’t wanna do that. I wanna work with you. So if I’m not important enough for an artist to want to work with me, come sit down, block your schedule out, I’ma block my schedule out, let’s work, then we don’t need to work. And whenever we get a chance, we’ll work then.

I didn’t want to take my mixtape and pile it with features. For what? I don’t need that type of look. I can stand on my own. I’ve always been like that. I’ve always stood on my own two. I don’t need a team. I don’t do the entourage thing, you know, 30 people. I don’t do that. That’s just not me.

I want to ask you about video footage of you performing…
Go ahead, ask me.

You were on stage and you said, “I’m about dick too.”
I am. I meant that but they misinterpreted when I said, “I’m bout dick too.” I eat pussy good, but I got a big dick. I’ll dick you down too. Yeah I’m bout slangin’ dick too. In New Orleans – ah, I’ma say Louisiana – we call each other “bitch.” Like me and my dudes, “What up bitch? Bitch, I love you, bitch. I miss you, bitch. Wazzamn, bitch?” And people might misinterpret that like, “Y’all call each other bitch?” That’s just part of the culture. I ain’t gon’ lie. Gates will eat that pussy, but bitch, bout dick too. I got a good dick report. So a lotta people misinterpreted that, but I really don’t care. I don’t think it hurt anything, to me.

And then…everybody’s entitled to their own opinion of me. You could have your own opinion, but that’s not fact, because no one will ever think what I know. And it’s just all about me being secure in who I am as an individual. That’s opinion, that’s not fact. “What you mean he about dick?” Yeah, bring your ol’ lady over here and I’ll show you.

Because I rap a lot about eating pussy, eating booty. I do all of those things and people think, “all he gon’ do is eat pussy, all he gon’ do is eat booty.” Man I’m ‘bout dick too. Yeah I’m ‘bout dick. Don’t get it fucked up. I dick shit down. When I finish with her, she gon’ say she felt it in her stomach ‘cause I’ma put something long in her shit. That’s what I mean. So a lotta people tease me a lot, they used to tease me, ‘Kevin, all you do is talk about eatin’ pussy and lickin’ hoes in the ass.’ Yeah I eat booty, I eat pussy. But I slang dick too.

I tell every woman, if you want to be respected, Drake is a gentleman, but if you want a nigga that’s gon’ put you in your place, come fuck with me. Because when I approach women, ‘Good evening. How you doing? You’re very beautiful. I mean this with all due respect.’ ‘What?’ ‘I wanna spit on your pussy.’ [mimes gasp] ‘No one has ever told me that before.’ No, no one has ever had the confidence to tell you that before, but you look like a slut. I just really wanna treat you like a lady in the streets but treat you like a slut in the bedroom. And most women that love me are aggressive, like Luca Brasi, because I fight hard, I hustle hard, I also love hard, I fuck hard.

There’s been a lot of talk on the internet about Young Thug calling male friends “love” and what not.
Yeah, I call all my patnas love. “What up, love? I’m coolin’, love. What it do love?’ I can call right now on the speakerphone and my brother will pick up like, “What up, love?” Or “What up, loved one?” Things of that nature. “Loved one,” that’s too many syllables, so we’ll just say “love.”

But it’s misinterpreted. Most individuals are sheltered. They didn’t grow up in the streets. I grew up in the streets, I’m from a poverty stricken environment. I have a D.O.C. number, a Department of Corrections number, so my terminology and my colloquialisms will be different from an individual that never was around it. It doesn’t make them a bad person or anything, they’re just trying to figure out. But it’s a culture. It’s a way to speak without speaking. It’s a way to speak without words, but a lot of people don’t know that. It’s hand signals and everything that come with this shit.

Most people, they try their best to understand it and they take things so literal. But it’s really a beautiful thing because slang terminology is code lingo. Other people understand exactly what I’m talking about. Some people don’t, and that’s cool. I ain’t trippin’. Like I got an Elvis tattoo. Most people don’t understand what that Elvis mean. But if you’d have been in the streets, like they got dudes I’ve seen with a black panther tattooed on ‘em. I know what that panther mean.

Thank you for clearing that up.
I don’t feel like I cleared anything up. I don’t think I provided clarity. It’s just me. Not knocking anybody that’s involved in anything. I’m not opinionated. I love all of humanity. Whatever an individual chooses to do with themselves, long as it doesn’t affect me and they’re respectful with it, I don’t care what they do. Because I’m not perfect and I have flaws, so who would I be to be judgmental?

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Music Sermon: The One Minute Hit - When TV Theme Songs Were Lit

The idea of sitting around the TV for appointment television is an archaic concept. Multiple devices with screens for everyone in your home plus the control of streaming has changed how we consume nearly everything except sports, award shows, and Game of Thrones (until tonight). But the children of the 80s very much remember when TV watching was still an event, cable was basic, and the networks reigned supreme. Back in that era of genuine primetime programming, our favorite TV shows came paired with 30-second to one-minute themes. But not just a random little ditty to open the show; these were genuine mini-songs. Verses, chorus, hook, and maybe even a reprise for the end credits.

Now, a drive for more advertising inventory coupled with shorter attention spans has rendered the true theme song a rarity; but in the cases where they do still exist, the songs continue to be a key part of experiencing the show (again, like Thrones). The theme song draws you into the world of the show, it sets the tone, and it stays with you after. And the theme song game wasn’t a space like the commercial jingle game where only folks in the game know who the players are. The theme show business has its own OGs, but there are also names we know well - acclaimed producers, artists and musicians who helped create TV music magic. As such, there’s also a lot of hidden music history and connections behind some of these joints. I have watched an inordinate amount of television consistently throughout my life - you will pry my cable cord out of my cold, dead hands - and I consider myself an expert on the TV theme song. I offer you my list of some of the most soulful, slappin’ and impactful examples of the majesty of TV theme songs from yesteryear.

Sanford & Son

There is literally no music space Quincy Jones hasn’t conquered, including television. Q was in movie scoring land when Norman Lear’s partner Bud Yorkin came to him about composing a theme for their new show, Sanford and Son. “He said, 'I'd like you to write the theme for it.' I said, 'Who's in it?' And he said Redd Foxx,” Quincy told Billboard. “I said, 'Man, you can't put Redd Foxx on national TV!” I had worked with Redd Foxx 30 years before that at the Apollo. We used to do the Chitlin Circuit. I used to write this music for him to come out with.”

Q composed “The Street Beater” without even watching the Sanford and Son pilot. “I wrote that in about 20 minutes,” he said in an interview about his work in television. “I just wrote what he looked like. It sounds just like him, doesn’t it?” The funky, rag tag, backwoods bluesy song was the perfect musical accompaniment for Fred’s surveying his junkyard as Lamont’s truck rolled up, “It was raggedy, just like Foxx.”

Good Times

Norman Lear was the goat of working-class American storytelling on screen, but his shows also had some of the most iconic theme songs – “Those Were the Days” for Archie Bunker, “One Day at a Time” has great lyrics if you pay attention, he even had Donny Hathaway singing about pre-Golden Girls Bea Arthor for Maude. TV producers often used the same writing and production teams for their shows' themes, and Lear often tapped the husband and wife team of Alan and Marylin Bergman, who got their break co-writing with Quincy on “In the Heat of the Night.”

But as I said before, don’t let the TV theme song credits fool you, the Bergmans are two-time Academy Awards winners and in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. That’s the kind of talent behind Good Times.

The Good Times theme is a negro spiritual (there’s a Hammond B3 organ in it; issa spiritual), and singers Jim Gilstrap, from Stevie Wonder’s backing group, Wonderlove; and Somara “Blinky” Williams, a former original member of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) Singers along with Andrae Crouch and famed session player Billy Preston, put some extra oil on it.

You don’t believe me when I say this is worship music? Watch this.

I really wanna know what the Bergmans knew about hanging in a chow line, though. I’m not even sure I knew that was the lyric before Dave Chappelle told us.

The Jeffersons

Before we move on from Lear sitcoms we have to pay respect to the best black TV theme song of all time. And before you argue with me, let’s please look at the stats: a 35-person choir, stomping and clapping - even double clapping! - mention of fish fry, and a reprise over the end credits with hummin’ like your big mama used to do while she was cookin’ on Sundays. Winner.

Even though it’s one of the best-known sitcom theme songs ever, what’s lesser known is that another Lear alum was behind it – Ja’net Dubois, aka Good Times’ Wilona Woods, co-wrote and sang the theme. Also, the male voice that joins her in the bridge isn’t Sherman Hemsley (although it really sounds like it could be him) but career backup singer Oren Waters.

Ja’net, who was a singer as well as actress, ran into Lear on the CBS lot one day and shared that she wanted to display her talent beyond acting. Lear partnered her with Jeff Barry to work on the aspirational Jefferson’s theme. Jeff had pop hits under his belt as part of producer Phil Spector’s stable; he wrote “River Deep - Mountain High.” He also wrote “One Day at a Time,” and later “Without Us,” Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis’ yacht-rocky theme for Family Ties.

Dubois later told Jet magazine she pulled from her own experience once she’d “made it” with Good Times. “I moved my whole family. I bought (my mother) a house, bought her a mink coat. I did everything, retired her. I did everything I ever promised her.” And you can feel Ja’net’s testimony coming through as that moving van makes its way across the Queensboro bridge and up the East Side.


Sherman Hemsley had the good fortune of being associated with two entries in the Praise Songs of TV (I just made that up) category. Amen’s “Shine on Me” is not only a rousing bop, it’s a forreal and actual gospel song. The theme was written, produced and played by the father of modern gospel, Andraé Crouch, and sung by gospel legend Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Sister Vanessa was backed in the TV version by the choir from Crouch’s First Memorial COGIC church. She later did her own version, but it didn’t have quite the same oomph when slowed down a little and without the full voices of a choir behind her.

Sigh… Imagine a time when a sitcom about a deacon in the black church with a whole gospel theme song was a primetime network hit. Also shout out to “There’s No Place Like Home” from 227, which preceded Amen on Saturday nights.

The Cosby Show

We’re going to set everything about Bill Cosby the man aside for a minute to talk about the show and its music. Agreed? Amen.

The Cosby Show has to be in this conversation, because over the course of the show’s history, the theme song and opening sequence became a hallmark of the series’ greatness, and it’s a prime example of theme songs being deeper than just something to play over opening credits. Every season, a new adaptation of “Kiss Me,” the theme written by Cosby and Stu Gardner (who also co-wrote the themes for A Different World and Living Single), opened the show. The opening sequence featured a Huxtable family dance showcase, changing as the kids grew and the cast core cast added, and sometimes subtracted. We were as anxious for the Cosby season premiere to see the new intro as we were to see the show itself.

Season 3 is when it started getting crunk, with a little Latin action. Auntie Phylicia was gettin’ it.

In Season 4 (my least favorite), “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” mania had made its way to the Huxtable family with Bobby McPheren’s rendition and a bit of a roaring ‘20s (and for the sake of the show location, we’ll say Harlem Renaissance) feel. Elvin’s first year in the sequence, Denise’s first year out.

Season 5 was a production. Literally, it was staged like a Broadway production. By now, the show was known for exposing diasporic art and culture and the people behind it to the world whenever possible, and that was the intention here as well, on the low.

The set design was a little South Pacific-esque, and costumes had a Caribbean flair reminiscent of some Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater pieces - appropriate since the movement was choreographed by Ailey great (and Boomerang’s off the chain creative director) Geoffrey Holder. Cosby’s high school classmate James DePriest, one of the first internationally recognized African American orchestral conductors, arranged the music, played by the Oregon Symphony orchestra. It was sweeping and gorgeous and I remember it being kind of a big deal. Second season with no Denise in the credits. I think she had left Hillman and gone Africa by this point. Or something.

Season 6 is my favorite. It was a party. The entire family was getting it in to a jam session take on the theme remixed with Junior Walker and the All Stars’ “Shotgun.” Even though the opening was set in front of the Apollo marquee, this was the Motown sequence. “Shotgun,” was a massive crossover hit, produced by Berry Gordy, and featured Motown’s famed session players, the Funk Brothers on instrumentals.

Welcome back, Denise. And hi, Martin and Olivia. Theo and Vanessa were hitting. that. heaux.

Ok, actually, Season 8 is my least favorite. Least favorite season, theme song, opening sequence, all of it. Here, I think, it’s clear that the show was past its prime. This jazzmatazz intro didn’t feel super fresh or creative, and Theo was trying to hit b-boy moves, and cousin Pam clearly wasn’t comfortable, and Vanessa looked like she just got engaged to a 40-year old ninja named Dabnis, and Clair still had her coat on because she couldn’t be bothered.

But on the cultural side, it was still in theme. The mural was created by kids at Harlem’s Creative Arts Workshop, although a legal dispute over art clearances kept this visual from being used as originally intended in Season 7. On the horn is Lester Bowie, a trumpeter known for his free jazz style.

A Different World

Obviously, we were paying a visit to Hillman next. “A Different World” is one of the best theme songs of all time – for Seasons 2 through 5 (also one of the best shows of all time – for Seasons 2 through 5).

Dawn Lewis, aka Jaleesa, co-wrote the song with Stu Gardner. She was originally supposed to sing it, as well, until whoever hired her to write the song realized she was also in the cast, and whoever cast her as Jaleesa realized she also wrote the song. The collective powers that be thought Dawn singing the theme would center her too much when the show was about Lisa Bonet, so they went to Al Green. Yes, the Reverend Al Green. A version of the “Different World” theme song sung by Al Green exists out there in the world somewhere, and I now have a life mission to hear it. Producers didn’t like it, though. They decided to go with a female voice, and pegged folk and blues singer Phoebe Snow.

As the show went into its second season, producers decided to take a similar approach as The Cosby Show and flip the theme every season with different artists and styles. Then Aretha Franklin recorded her version, and that idea was dead, because why would you ever ask someone else to sing behind Aretha. Debbie Allen, who had just stepped in as the show’s executive producer (Aunt Debbie brought A Different World out of the middling fare of its first season to the strong, black and relevant show we remember it as, but that’s a different Sermon) called Auntie Re personally, and then brought her whole team from Detroit to LA on a bus (because Auntie Re wasn’t gonna fly, chile). Then, TV history was made.

“I just know that she came in and hit it,” Allen told Vulture. “It wasn’t like she had to do ten takes, that’s what I know. She just hit it. That’s what I remember and then we all kind of hung out and had food together, you know — she loved our show which is why she did it.”

I’m low key surprised Aretha agreed to do the song since her ex-husband, Glynn Turman, joined the cast in Season 2 and she’s petty like that, but she also watched a lot of television and was a fan. When most think of A Different World, they’re thinking of seasons two and beyond. That iconic montage we’ve see recreated in tribute again and again, from SportsCenter to Grown’ish Season 2 promos. Nobody references car washes and hanging out outside of….a barn, I think? Where they at a farm for the Season 1 opening sequence? (You can tell some white people put that together – no shots).

Finally, the last season of A Different World was sort of “Different World: The Next Generation,” so they went in a new direction for the theme with a very non-Boyz II Men sounding Boyz II Men (I thought it was Take 6 for the longest), but Seasons 2 through 5 still reign supreme.

Different Strokes

On to a different show about different worlds. Remember I mentioned OGs in the theme song game? One of them was Alan Thicke. Yes, Robin Thicke’s daddy was not only lovable TV dad Jason Seaver, but also a professional theme writer. Thicke penned the tracks for a couple of sitcoms, including Facts of Life (with Robin’s mama Gloria Loring on vocals), but his thing was game shows. Your grandma has Alan to thank for the “Wheel of Fortune” theme. He not only wrote but sang “Diff’rent Strokes” (sounding a little like his son), and I mean, the song is perfect. The opening, the harmony build in the second verse, the bridge, the breakdown “…and together we’ll be fine, ‘cause it takes…,” the hum at the end of the closing credits version. You can tell from this one-minute jamalam that Robin got his blue-eyed soul honestly.

Speaking of the Chappelle Show again (there’s a Chappelle reference for everything in life), Dave closes out his famous White People Can’t Dance episode (Season 2, Episode 3) with a spirited performance of “Diff’rent Strokes,” going into a “Facts of Life” vamp, backed by Questlove and John Mayer.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Living Single

I’m putting these two together because they’re two of the last examples of the explanatory theme song for black prime time television.

The Quincy Jones-produced Fresh Prince theme tells us Will’s entire back story and the premise of the show – a ‘90s hip-hop answer to the Gilligan’s Island theme.

Living Single’s theme conveyed the high energy city life the four upwardly mobile friends were navigating, with emphasis from Queen Latifah’s sing-rapping about her homegirls standing on her left and her right, and the legendary dancing silhouette that is Big Lez.

Both shows, songs, and visuals have become representative of the hip hop generation’s takeover of ‘90s black television and ‘90s black culture, and both continue to hold up amazing well 25 years later.

We haven’t even touched on the soulful ‘70s themes that became hit singles, like “Welcome Back Kotter” (my joint) or “Angela” from Taxi, or sketch show theme songs like Heavy D for In Living Color (or TLC for “All That,” for y’all younger folks), or the cartoon smashes. There are gems galore to be mined, all containing shining bits of nostalgia and callbacks to a simpler time. These songs often resonate with us even more strongly than our favorite singles from the era because they were a constant for years instead of months. And thanks to networks later devoting blocks of time to classic TV reruns like Nick at Night and TV Land, many of these shows – and theme songs – have been introduced to a new generation.

We’ve focused mostly on black TV shows, but there are a few theme songs that cross cultural, generational and international boundaries. When the Golden Girls premiered in 1985, the series featured a remake of the 1978 song “Thank You for Being a Friend,” and it has lived in all our hearts ever since. So much so, that a member of the black church delegation gave the song a proper remix a couple of years ago. Let this be a reminder that great TV theme songs were not only catchy songs that stuck in our heads for decades, but also impetrated universal lessons about life, love, and friendship.


#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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8 Best Samples From Megan Thee Stallion, Tyler The Creator And DJ Khaled's Projects

Megan Thee Stallion, DJ Khaled and Tyler, The Creator have more in common than just a release date. The artists also know a thing or two about thoughtful sampling.

Their projects, which all happen to be some of their best efforts, find inspiration from 70s soul and deep 90s underground jams. Jackson 5, Jay-Z and Sizzla were sampled on DJ Khaled's previous release Grateful, but with Father of Asahd, the producer and proud dad jumps back into the crates. This time around, modern hits are used like Ms. Lauryn Hill's "To Zion" and Outkast's "Ms. Jackson."

Megan Thee Stallion's samples also prove her rhymes aren't the only thing fans should pay close attention to.

Check out some of our favorite samples from this week's releases below.


Megan Thee Stallion- Fever 

1. "Hood Rat S**t"

Sample: Latarian Milton's Viral Video (2013)

Plucked from the wonderful world of viral videos, Megan uses the then 7-year-old's mischevious joy ride to accurately describe how she rolls with her crew.

2. "Pimpin"

Sample: DJ Zirk & Tha 2 Thick Family featuring 8Ball & MJG and Kilo-g  "Azz Out" (1996) 

There's something to be said about Megan's very clever samples. The chorus to the late 90s underground gem stems from southern legends like Tennesee's 8Ball and MJG along with NOLA's own Kilo-g. Megan grabs a few bars from the track and puts her own twist on them for the chorus: "Stick 'em up, stick 'em up, raise 'em up, raise 'em up Drop it off in his fucking face just to saw it off/Gotta get my a** ate, gotta make that a** shake/Gotta swipe this ni**a card so much they had to call the bank"

3. "Simon Says" featuring Juicy J 

Samples: Billy Paul, "Me And Mrs. Jones" (1972), "Looking For Tha Chewin,'" DJ Paul (Ft. 8Ball, DJ Zirk, Kilo-G, Kingpin Skinny Pimp & MJG) (1992)

Another variation of the aforementioned track is also heard on her collaboration with southern legend Juicy J. The soft intro by way of Bill Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" also offers a soulful touch to the track.

DJ Khaled- Father of Asahd

4. "Holy Mountian" featuring Buju Banton, Sizzla, Mavado and 070 Shake) 

Sample: "One Spliff a Day," Billy Boyo (1981) 

Boyo's legendary riddim has been used by a bevy of artists including SiR and Wiz Khalifa but Khaled's curation of the track with some of the biggest names in reggae takes it to another level. It also doesn't hurt that his longtime friend and icon Banton opens the album.

5. "Just Us" featuring SZA 

Sample: "Ms. Jackson," Outkast (2001) 

This sample definitely raises the eyebrows, but the careful loop paired with SZA's sing-rap flow makes it worth a listen.

6. "Holy Ground" featuring Buju Banton 

Samples: "To Zion," Ms. Lauryn Hill and Carlos Santana (1999) 

Grand opening, grand closing. Banton closes out the album with soul-baring lyrics and a thoughtful sample to match. Carlos Santana's chords from the original track give the song a sentimental feel along with Banton's lyrics about mass incarceration, cultural warfare and spiritual freedom.

Tyler, The Creator- IGOR

7. "A BOY IS A GUN" 

Samples: "Bound," Ponderosa Twins Plus One (1971) 

Tyler might have gotten inspiration to sample this song from Kanye West (Bound 2), but his take is smooth and subtle as he navigates through love and heartbreak.

8. "ARE WE STILL FRIENDS" featuring Pharell Williams 

Samples: "Dream," Al Green (1977) 

Underneath IGOR's tough exterior lies a gentle soul. The placement of Al Green's "Dream," on the latter end of the album takes the listener on a starry love high. Pharrell and Tyler allow the sample to act as a skeleton for the song as they point out how to keep love alive.

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Megan Thee Stallion Helps DTLR Celebrate Fashion's Past, Present and Future

Fashion retailer DTLR has always curated the best of streetwear, with their latest fashion show proving the evolution is real and influential.

The fourth annual show took place in Atlanta this spring under a theme titled, "Genesis."  The event took place in Atlanta, GA, with hosts Yung Joc and DTLR's Radio's Tiara LaNiece. DTLR's Apprelle Norton, David Storey and KeJuan McGee curated the event to take their guests "on a journey through the past, present and future of fashion, featuring the latest from top leading brands such as Nike, Puma, Adidas, Levis, Champion, Reebok, Fila, Black Pyramid, New Balance, Tommy Hilfiger, Staple, Hustle Gang, Akoo, Ethika, Odd Sox, and many more."

In addition to presenting some of the hottest looks out, the event also welcomed performances from VIBE NEXT Alumna Megan Thee Stallion. Appearances from the the "Big Ol Freak" rapper was an added effort on DTLR's Vice President of Marketing, Shawn Caesar's part to make the fashion show more of an "experience."

"We wanted to add more of an 'experience' feel to the show this year," Caesar said in a press release. "[We wanted]  to encourage more engagement and interaction from our attendees, and to aid in creating more memories and reasons to stay connected to the DTLR brand long-term."

DTLR is quickly becoming a part of a class of successful upcoming brands. The brand has more than 240 stores in 19 states and Washington D.C. and it manages to combine fashion, sports, entertainment, sports, and community empowerment into one; all while providing their customers with elite footwear, apparel and accessories to match.

See photos from the event below.



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