Kid Ink Full Speed album Kid Ink Full Speed album

In His Own Words: Kid Ink Breaks Down His 'Full Speed' Album

Kid Ink isn't too keen on taking things slow. At least, that's what his third studio album Full Speed is telling us.

The Batgang rapper's disregard for moving at a snail's pace is well-documented on the new 12-track project, as he shines a light on living the fast life: stacks, stunting, smoking, strippers, sex. You know, the usual. For the avid partiers, his voice is a familiar one to eardrums. "Show Me," "Main Chick" and "Body Language" have been mainstays in the infectious DJ Mustard section of club playlists. "Hotel" is slowly starting to pick up steam. From a technical standpoint, he's a rapper. However, he tends to float somewhere in between spitting and singing on Full Speed, riding the beats and melodies produced by the likes of Mustard, Metro Boomin, Key Wane, DJ Dahi and more.

But something's a little different from his last LP, like his feet are more firmly planted this time around. He's not fishing for singles anymore and wants to be known for his own flow, not how much he makes backsides jump in Supper Club (although, yes, some of that is still present on Full Speed). He knows exactly what he wants people to know about Brian Collins, the person.

"My Own Lane was something where I was showing and improving more, putting pressure on making sure my old fans didn't think I changed on them and the new fans knew what I was about based on the whole album and not just one record," he told us. "With Full Speed, the difference is the growth. I had a little bit more confidence and direction. It wasn't really a guessing game. I'm more comfortable with my voice and [I don't] have that pressure of insecurity."

The Cali-bred rapper broke down his album track-by-track, detailing his three personal faves ("Be Real," "Like A Hot Boyy" and "Cool Back"), how the album features came to be and even the key to deciphering a Young Thug verse. —Stacy-Ann Ellis (@stassi_x)

"What It Feels Like"
Kid Ink: This was a record I was having fun with because I like the production more than anything. It wasn't a song that was directed towards trying to come up with a hook or anything like that. Just having fun in the booth. I heard this beat and kind of freestyled this idea together. That's what gave it that intro feeling and vibe, because I was just going off of my first [thought] and not really having a direction and kind of going all over the place with it. It wasn't a focus on being the intro until it was done. It was like, 'Yo, this sounds like the intro.' Not because of the beat but because of the energy on it.

"Faster"
Kid Ink: I try to throw people off in the beginning by not going straight for singles on the album. I try to go for the hard-hitting records. It's a stronger song, more hip-hop. They usually expect the "pop-er" singles from me or the radio records that they usually hear. "Faster" is a song I recorded on the tour bus at like four o'clock in the morning. There were only like one or two songs that I recorded on tour that made it to the album. It's a record that people wouldn't expect from me production-wise. The subject matter is just living a faster lifestyle, focusing on what females talk about and trying to be a part of this and that. They really get sucked into it and can't really handle it. Same thing with guys. There's people that want to be a part of this rap lifestyle or the entertainment lifestyle, get into it and really be in it.

"Dolo" (feat. R. Kelly)
Kid Ink: I got off tour and was just going through and recording single records, things that sounded like they could be singles as far as for the radio. This was a record that was in production in the first album. Me and R. Kelly were trying to get a record done for My Own Lane with the same producers but the song just didn't get done in time for my part, the ending and the production. We saved the idea, sending records to each other back and forth during his album process to see if I had any ideas. I just kept that distant relationship with him and reached out every once in a while and from there, they asked if I had anything for R. Kelly and I did. It was new age for him. It had a brand new sound and I thought it was something of a vibe he's touched on before, something he could probably rock with. Instantly we got a response like "R. Kelly's down" and we went over it two times. He had two sessions to record and add more stuff, which was a blessing. I got a verse and a hook, so you know, I couldn't have asked for more. "Dolo" is a common word that I don't think anyone has touched on in a record, so I felt it was an open lane. It's a word that I say all the time more than anything and is part of my regular vocabulary. 

"Body Language" (feat. Tinashe and Usher) 
Kid Ink: The "Body Language" record was tricky because I wasn't really thinking about recording an album or a single at that point. I was just in the studio with Cashmere Cat and Stargate and I was wondering what'd happen, whether it be I make an accidental record for myself or write something for them and the projects that they're doing, because they work with so many big artists. That's how I feel like I got the record, because I did a song in that session with them and they used it. A lot of the songs got around to other people but this one record never got picked up and it was a record I never forced or talked about because it wasn't something I felt. It was just a demo I wrote for somebody else, whether male or female.

Four months goes by and they asked me if I heard it at Usher's new studio and I said, "Yeah man, we need to make that work. I'm down with the Usher feature." And this was before he even had anything out on the radio. He had one single but no feature tracks. I tried to reach out early but didn't explain to them—because I wasn't in the studio with them—that it was a female feature on the record. So from there, the label made me go find a female artist since they were good with the Usher part. At that time, Tinashe wasn't just in my face a lot, just from being in the same circles in the city and working with the same show people and being at the same venues. She beat me No. 1 for the charts and I came in No. 2, so just to congratulate the situation, I reminded her, "Yo, I got this record. I think I played it for you before to see if you wanted it, but I got Usher on it now." She vibed with it so we went to the studio in Vegas and made it happen. 

"Hotel" 
Kid Ink: I was talking about this situation that I believe is becoming pretty common, or more open rather, where people are in these swinger relationships and it made the female more confident to approach couples and be a part of that. I've heard situations where it's peoples' jobs, like they have sex with couples instead of finding boyfriends or anything like that. It was a funny play on the situation where there's a girl in the club and she's into you, then two seconds later, she's into your girlfriend. Whether it be in the strip club and the strippers are only dancing on your girlfriend but she's still giving you the side eye. It had me thinking that like, "Are you having thoughts about… ?" When I played the idea for my boy, Verse Simmons, he had this extra section where he said to throw it on the hook and play it and we'll make it a movie. It's something that's in the entertainment business a lot, so I played on that idea and from there, played it for Chris in the studio. We cut two records that night, but that one I knew it was a guarantee so he rocked with it and I still got the other one off that. I think he has a special plan for it, but we're definitely getting it out there for sure. 

"Cool Back"
Kid Ink: "Cool Back" was a record I enjoyed on a personal level. Being myself, not worried about another radio record for anyone else, just having fun. I was touching on the basis of bringing cool back. Fashion itself was getting to a point where to be dirty is in, it's fashionable. And that's something that I never felt or really understood, so with this record I wanted to touch base on people getting back to being a little clean and not as rugged. I respect it to an extent, but I think it got a little out of hand with everyone just liking to look dirty on purpose. I felt like this was a record that was personal for me and touched home. It might even be picking at some people, but not really.

"Be Real" (feat. Dej Loaf) 
Kid Ink: That record came together by DJ Mustard coming to the studio and dropping off beats. I'm always looking for that one beat that sounds different than any other beat that someone gives me. This was one that felt like it still had his Mustard vibe to it, but when we put the verses on it, it went to a whole other level. The plus side is he gave me this beat that had a hook written by one of his female writers, and she was saying all this gutter stuff about different subjects. All the way from baby daddies to dropping off that child support, and not having no dough or pulling up in a raggedy bucket. She was talking about a lot of real hood shit to where I was like, 'Who can say these lyrics the right way and have it come off directly?'

I thought it could only be Nicki Minaj at this point because everybody else is not going to be believable. Nicki Minaj or Rihanna-type stuff. But I can't go that big right now, those aren't my homie-homies, like [their features cost] $100,000. I remembered how I got introduced to Dej Loaf, my friends put me on her. I just fell in love with what she was doing and how that lane was so open for somebody and then at that time, I felt like she was the one. She came by the radio show and showed a lot of love, asked to come backstage and take a pic and everything, and was always respectful to the grind. I reached out to her and told her I had this one record that was right and she did everything and did her job, made it her own record, switched up lyrics and did all kinds of other stuff. We just put it together and made it into this catchy, amazing record. It's definitely going to be one for the club, but I think it's reaching its commercial status, too.

"Every City We Go" (feat. Migos) 
Kid Ink: The Migos record was produced by one of my in-house producers Ned Cameron, and we had this idea that was written by one of my in-house artists, Bricc Baby. He wrote this amazing hook idea. I couldn't hear anyone [on the record] for a second and then a couple weeks later, we got into the studio with Migos when they came to L.A. I played a record that was more their vibe, then I brought up the other record even though it was a different sound for them. I felt like they could attack it the right way. I left them with the record for a couple of hours and they wrote these crazy verses that I never heard from them on that level and the way they catered to the beat. They were riding the beat crazy. They're more club-driven artists and it seemed like I was using them more so for their sound than they were using me for mine.

So at that point, I cut a verse to this record and kept the other on stash. It's probably the closest to the personal record that I wanted to have. I always try to have a record where I can worry less about the punchlines and more worried about what I'm saying. This is the closest I was trying to spit and earn respect. I was really speaking from and telling the truth about where I come from. People think "Oh, they just gave him that record" or "He was copying their vibes." I try my hardest not to be like that but you still want to try and give the artist something that they can understand and be familiar with as far as the content so they know how to write their verses instead of them talking completely out of pocket. 

"Round Here"
Kid Ink: This one was produced by Key Wane. He gave me this idea and it played off of Deebo from Friday. The word Deebo means strong-armed, to take something away, boss up on somebody. So I used that for a theme, explaining situations where you gotta stunt on people even if you don't want to. You have to show and prove your status. I think ["Deebo"] goes all the way from going to the club and taking the right table to taking someone's girl—which is not my personal thing, but you know other people's situations. Just taking that charge. I didn't try to take it to being on some gangster shit, like I'm taking chains and taking cars and poppin' people. I'm not promoting robbing folks but I'm definitely just stunting.

The other day I had to do it at the club with a table because I walked in and the table they gave me wasn't the table I wanted or where they told me I was going to be. Sometimes I get to the club late, waiting on other people or getting ready to come from somewhere, and they'll give away the table and think that when I get there it's okay. No, I need this table for a reason. For me, it's different. I need to sit by the DJ, sit by this person, so I told them to move that guy. I don't brag about it while it's happening. I'm chill. I let security handle it. I'm not jumping on the table like, "Move out the way!" 

"About Mine" (feat. Trey Songz) 
Kid Ink: It's one of my favorite street records, especially where I'm from in L.A. We played on this theme with the "Why you bullshittin," which was kind of a play off the record done by Sugar Free, which is a big classic record where I'm from. I figured overall, Trey had this idea but I didn't like the beat it was over so I had to switch it up and tell him I was going to hit Mustard up and get a new beat. But I know how that can play sometimes when you change the beat and it might not sound the same with the cut lyrics and everything gets thrown off, but I'm glad he trusted me with picking the right beat. I know what I'm doing as far as production and knowing the keys and tempos. We found a brand new beat with a new age sound. Not the regular "Mustard sound." We went back and forth with ideas and lyrics and he took it back to his own studio at the crib. I was recording outside of the city at that time but we were definitely communicating, making sure the record came together and that we both felt like it wasn't a feature record. It was a Kid Ink and Trey Songz record. We made that happen as far as hitting the street hard without forcing. I think it's going to be a real big club record even if it doesn't hit the radio crazy, content-wise. It's a little strong for radio.

"Blunted"
Kid Ink: This was the second to last song recorded for the album. It was the point in the process where I'm not focused on singles. I was focused on having fun and it's close to the end time where I'm trying to squeeze records in. We got to the point where I don't want the album to sound like a bunch of singles or radio records. I want to still be me on the songs even though I was recording a bunch of singles for y'all to pick from. Let me just cut some new stuff in the studio and just have fun, go in there and record "Blunted" just off the fact that I haven't had a smoke record for a while and I do a lot of smoke freestyles. So I approached this song like it was more of a freestyle. I was talking about smoking but it didn't sound like the typical smoke record. I felt like only smokers could understand the lyrics. If I played this and people who didn't smoke listened, I'd have to be like, "Nah, if you know what I'm talking about, you'll understand and it will make you appreciate it." If you understand that 1.5 grams is a fat blunt then in the smoker's mind, he'd understand. I wanted to use the word "blunted" because it hadn't been over-stressed and used. I try to always come up with something new for the smoke records because there aren't too many cool smoke words out there. 

"Like a Hot Boy" (feat. Young Thug and Bricc Baby Shitro) 
Kid Ink: Bricc Baby is somebody who grew up with me in L.A. He's family and we're close friends. He was someone who was rapping but was also still in the streets and doing his thing in Atlanta. From there, he ran into [Young] Thug, Migos and all their producers, and was in that circle. He was living that lifestyle for a minute to where he came back to the city and I got him back into his music game. He was bringing these dudes around me. I ended up meeting Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, Migos and Metro Boomin and all these guys. I got this record and started writing this hook. Then, I had this one line at the end that I was stuck on and was just thinking of a word. I always tell everybody in the studio, "If you got something, go in the booth and say it. Don't be afraid to say it. Go in the booth, because it might be crazy." So he went into the studio and said, "Getting cash money like a hot boy." I was like, that's the hook. We went with that and we wanted to write more to that section.

The whole song became themed around the Hot Boys and we can talk about the new hot boys in the streets and throw the words around. I used to be the biggest Hot Boys stan so it wasn't going too far left for me to come up with the rest of the lyrics, the moments and how I felt at those times. Thinking about the new Hot Boys, I was thinking about Birdman and then Lil' Wayne and Young Thug. Like this could be a cool play on everything and make it seem fun. This was before any of the beef, we were just having fun. I sent it to Thug and he just laid it down like it was his own record. That's really what I wanted. He sent the verse and I said "Nah, I need Young Thug on the hook doing melodies and all that stuff." So he went back in and re-cut it. Right after the show one day we got it back right before the album was done. I remember being in Miami and getting the verse done at four in the morning and being completely wasted but understanding everything that the words said. And then I remember being completely sober and I forgot all the words. I was like "Yo, this sounded way crazier when I was drunk. Like I got everything he said." But when I was sober, I had to really decipher it. If you can't understand Young Thug, you gotta be lit. 

Grab Kid Ink's Full Speed album on iTunes here.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Trae Patton

J.Lo’s ‘World of Dance’ Proves To Be A World of Opportunity

For two years, Jennifer Lopez, Ne-Yo, and Derek Hough have introduced some of the world’s best dancers to viewers across America. Their NBC weekly competition series, World Of Dance, fills living room television sets with high-flying stunts and out-of-this-world routines. The show’s multicultural acts each bring a distinct flavor to their every step, tracing back to their native homelands.

Now in its third season, the dance tournament is divided into various categories befit for each act’s demographic. The brackets are divided into levels: Upper, Junior, Upper Team, and Junior Team and they’re all in the race for a hefty $1 million. Yet with all that talent in one room, you can bet the competition is stiff. It’s also nerve-wracking trying to impress superstars like Lopez, Ne-Yo, and Hough for a qualifying score.

There’s The Kings, a group from India that flies across the stage in lightning bolt speed. Their precision is just as massive as their dash, everything is carefully coordinated into perfection. Then there’s The Heima from Seoul, South Korea that offers an incredible fusion of Asian culture paired with beautiful choreography.

Surprisingly, if J.Lo would’ve had the chance to compete in a show like her own at the beginning of her career in the early ‘90s, she admits she would’ve passed on it.

“If I was on In Living Color, I probably wouldn’t try out for World Of Dance,” she says seated on a leather couch at a private party room at Los Angeles’ NeueHouse Hollywood. “I probably would more be watching World of Dance and cheering on my friends. The level of tricks and technical skills is not something that I had when I was coming up. Even though I know my flips and tricks just a little bit, I’m in awe of what they are able to do.”

It’s also exciting to learn from the contestants, some of which she says end up working with her after the show is over.

“I’m from The Bronx. I’m a hip-hop girl at heart so I’m always looking at what the young kids are doing, and trying to do that too,” she notes.  “Let’s get some young kids here so they could teach us the new steps.”

While the new generation of dancers are exciting, it also isn’t taken lightly by the judges—especially for Ne-Yo. The award-winning R&B artist is known for his tough criticism, and he isn’t generous when it comes to scoring. His methodology is earnest yet simple: show and prove.

“If I’m going to give you a million dollars you’re going to earn it,” the 39-year-old says flatly. “Whether you’re an eight-year-old or a 38-year-old, your skill level is what makes me go, ‘I’m going to talk to you like a person who wants a million dollars from me.’ It is what it is.”

Hough adds that the judges often disagree when it comes to scoring.

“We’ve had full-blown arguments after a performance where we’re behind the desk and I just straight-out disagree with some of their things, and with their opinions,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “But that’s what makes us judges. We’re going to have different opinions, and we’re going to have conflicting ideas. I think ’cause we’re so passionate about it, we’re so invested, and we love dance. We’re all fans of dance, and we want to make this the best we can possibly make it.”

Amid Ne-Yo’s tough rubric, there’s no denying that working alongside Lopez has a positive effect on his work ethic.

“J.Lo is over here killing the game,” he says. “It makes you go up because she’s the ultimate. She comes in sharp, alert, charismatic, every single time,” despite having a million other things to do the second the show is done taping.

World Of Dance is something Lopez also enjoys with her family. She watches it with her children and says her son Max wants a chance to compete to win the million dollars. “They love the show and they love the electricity of the show. It’s powerful, it’s young, it’s fun,” J.lo says.

What gives the show its power is the exposure that it grants contestants whether or not they win the grand prize. “Getting on that stage in itself is a victory,” Ne-Yo says. “You’re in people’s houses every week. If you can’t parlay that into something whether you win a million dollars or not, you’re not hustling right.”

World Of Dance airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on NBC.

Continue Reading
Courtesy of Rialto Pictures

The Ying and Yang of ‘Yardie’ Star Aml Ameen

There’s a scar above Aml Ameen’s right eyebrow that he got when he was three years old. Thirty years later, the British actor can laugh at running face first so ferociously he split his head open. The victim he was charging at, his cousin, walked away without a scratch.

Cracking himself open is what Ameen did in order to embody the role of D, the lead in Idris Elba’s directorial debut Yardie. Adapted into a screenplay from the 1992 Victor Headley novel of the same name, viewers see Ameen take on a character who’s more morally ambidextrous than he is ethically ambiguous. The film spans two decades and locations—Jamaica and London—as D grapples with his brother’s murder and enacting revenge while diving deeper into a treacherous drug world.

To become a true yardie, Ameen who’s British-Jamaican and Vincentian, went full method acting. After living in Bob Marley’s homeland for three months, when Ameen returned to London, friends, family or whoever met him anew.

“People met me as D, they met me as the part. The mindset, I was only speaking patois. All the cast and crew met me as D. And so, by the time I came back I had gotten out of my own way to a large degree in terms of any trepidation I might have,” he says. “When you immerse yourself fully into a world and you give over to a part often you start by feeling like you’re faking it. But after a while, your body doesn’t know you’re telling it something. It just starts to believe it. So let’s just say you’re telling yourself every morning ‘I’m ugly! I’m ugly! I’m ugly!’ Your body will start feeling that. It can be a bit traumatic, but you don’t have to do as much work. So that foundation of playing D gave me a lot of confidence.”

Ameen isn’t unattractive. In fact, he’s handsome. Standing a hair above 5’6” his tall personality supersedes his actual height. His toasted almond skin is clear. His lips full. He smiles often but there’s a resting smirk that gives way to slight mischief or an undetected superpower. It could be his ability to transform to a spliff smoking badmon, or maybe it’s the courage he mustered the night before this interview to perform at New York’s famed Nuyorican Poetry Cafe. Either way, something’s there.

D and Ameen however, couldn’t be any more different. Ameen is measured, deliberate with his words and tidy. His Ray-Ban sunglasses accent his blue striped button-down and his tan wool coat. D is unpredictable, shaggy; his locs an orchestra of controlled chaos. D also isn’t opposed to shooting first and to channel his character’s demeanor, Ameen channeled his Uncle Kirk.

“My Uncle Kirk is one of them stoic, handsome, men from his time in the 80s. There are loads of pictures I have of him and he’s just one of them men who didn’t really smile but when he smiled it was like is he smiling because he’s happy with what you’re saying or not?” he says. “I’ve got a lot of British in me and we tend to be polite by default. You see Jamaicans, they’ll look you in your eye and talk to you like this [with a straight face] for all of the interview and it’s fine with them. There’s an intensity.”

As a first-generation Jamaican, I can attest to the seriousness that runs through the island. Despite the sun, the rum and the savory oxtail gravy, Jamaicans don’t joke around, or as we say: we nuh romp.

Serendipity was at play when Ameen and Elba first met in an elevator both heading to the same Los Angeles-bound flight. They discussed the book and Elba’s script. Ameen’s verbiage of choice is “sanitized” when describing the difference in the brutality of D on screen compared to the novel. Over time, the young rebel develops a coke habit and to bait Clancy, his brother’s killer, D rapes the mother of his children. In the movie, however, after breaking into their home and points a gun at Clancy’s girlfriend, D grants privacy when she pretends to breastfeed her child.

And while D doesn’t explicitly say it, he has a death wish. If you watch the film properly as Ameen suggests, you can see moments in which D is chasing after his own demise. Ameen’s only desire is to live his life fully, a reality he better understands isn’t a luxury afforded to many.

“I’ve experienced people who died who were my age, and not died from like the usual gangs or that sort, but like a heart attack, 33 years old, dead. Another friend pushed off a balcony by his girlfriend. Uncle died three days ago, my dad’s brother,” Ameen says. “When my two bredins died, it was a certain feeling, but with my uncle dying I had more of an understanding of D’s journey, which I had to imagine now, than 18 months two years ago during filming. It’s very hard to fill the void of a family member dying. You never know when your card is going to get pulled, so you want enough time to do stuff, but at the same time once real people die in your life that you love you fear it less.”

D also never worked with The Sexiest Man Alive. Ameen describes Elba’s directorial hand as less controlling and more freeing. Elba would later invite Ameen to his home while filming The Mountain Between Us where the two shaped the character. Once the two-time Golden Globe winner yelled “action!” Ameen said he was granted the autonomy to do what he wanted.

“[Elba] wanted me to method act and we discussed the general mindset of D, the look that he wanted to achieve. He wanted a uniform accent, things like that. And then he just set those parameters and left me to go in and do it,” he says. “He knows the type of actor I am. He wasn’t like, ‘All right, this is how I want you to do it.’ I’ve worked with first-time directors before. I never worked with an actor-director and he gave a lot of space. There were only so many moments when he was like, ‘This is what I want’ and he allowed me to create this world where I lived.”

While going full method was the approach that made for the best performance, it wasn’t always easy for some on set. Ameen rarely broke character and admittedly held others “hostage to his process.” He was so intrinsically D, it took him roughly eight months to let go of him once the film wrapped.

“Not like talking patois all the time, but the state of being. Every morning as D I’m waking up to gunshots as my alarm clock. Every morning I’m sitting in bed for an hour or two imagining the murder of my brother. If you’re a person with a conscious, that’ll run on your mind. It took me a while, definitely.”

I forget my follow up question and the room gets quiet. We’ve been talking for close to 40 minutes. Ameen uses this chance to turn the tables and question me. We discuss zodiac signs and Miles Davis. There’s a younger version of the late jazz legend Ameen believes is equally complex and intriguing. He admits he’d love to portray him. Instead, he’ll have to settle for Netflix’s forthcoming Inside Man 2, a departure from the Spike Lee-directed crime-drama which starred Clive Owen and Denzel Washington.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” I tell him.

“I ain’t tryna fill em. That’s the goat,” Ameen says of Washington as he chuckles. “I could be the ram if they want. I can be the little lamb.”

He opens his Spotify app and plays “Blue In Green.”

“What’s your star sign?” he questions.

Every man I’ve ever loved (whether reciprocal or not) is a Leo, so when I learned of his July 30th birthday, I was...annoyed.

VIBE: We don’t get along.

Ameen: Who don’t?

VIBE: We don’t.

Ameen: Why do you say that?

VIBE: I looked it up. We don’t get along.

Ameen: Is that the attitude you came to the interview with? That’s terrible. What’s your sign?

VIBE: I’m a Gemini. I find Leo men are, it’s almost astonishing, how confident they are, and like unjustifiably so sometimes.

Ameen: And that’s what I remind you of?

He takes a sip of water and leans back. He crosses his legs and continues to listen to Miles while scrolling through social media on his phone. A smile emerges on his face. Like his Uncle Kirk, I’m not sure if he’s smiling because he finds our banter fun and playful, or if his unknown superpower is bubbling at the surface.

“Interesting,” Ameen says.

Continue Reading
American musician Millie Jackson performs onstage at the Park West Auditorium, Chicago, Illinois, May 30, 1980.
Photo by Paul Natkin

Music Sermon: Millie Jackson - The Original Bad Girl

You know that auntie who you were nervous to bring your young male friends around back in the day because she might proposition them in the kitchen when nobody was looking? Or the auntie liable to cuss out a family member or two after dinner for something that happened 12 years ago? The one that women in your family whispered about, warning not to leave men around alone? Who your mama didn’t want you to spend too much time with, but you were always excited to see because she was entertaining and was gonna slip you a little pocket change?

That auntie listens to Millie Jackson.

Millie Jackson is not just an R&B singer. She’s a Rhythm & Blues singer. She’s card party music. Your parents having people over and you’re not allowed to come downstairs music. Working class black folks hanging out down at the VFW after a long week with some well liquor music.

She’s been called “the queen of raunchy soul” and “the Godmother of rap,” because of her signature, no-holds-barred lyrical content and her long “raps” – profanity-laced, sexually explicit stories and jokes – interwoven through her songs and live sets. Auntie Millie is part singer and part outrageous comedienne – but don’t take her as a joke. She’s a deceptively serious artist, with career highlights that went largely unnoticed because of the raunch.

In our continued celebration of bad-ass women in music for the month of March, we present 11 essential Auntie Millie facts.

1. Her Singing Career Was an Accident

One Thursday night, Millie Jackson was hanging with friends at the Psalms Café on 125th Street in Harlem. The restaurant hosted an open mic on Thursdays, and Millie was clowning a young woman for her terrible singing. Her friends bet her $5 to get up herself and sing, and she did it – even though she had no training as a singer. A club promoter in the audience offered her a gig the following week, someone saw her there and offered her more gigs, and that continued. She sung around New York and New Jersey for a couple of years while still working full time, and eventually landed a spot touring with Sam Cooke’s brother, LC. After one short-lived recording contract, she signed with funk and soul label Spring Records (co-founded by the father and uncle of Loud Records founder Steve Rifkind). She was so unsure her career would stick, she asked for a leave of absence from her job instead of quitting. It became an extremely extended leave.

Her trademark “rapping,” the long intros, interludes and dialogue breaks Millie masterfully blends into her songs and live sets, was also an accident. Millie had no formal vocal training, so she wasn’t a strong singer at the beginning of her career. When people in supper clubs and lounges would start talking to each other and turning their attention away from the performance, she started talking to them to keep them engaged. It became a key part of her artistry. Millie doesn’t just sing you a song, she tells you a story.

2. She Developed Her Raw and Raunchy Style Because of Gladys Knight

Millie and Gladys sound alike. It’s hard to hear in Jackson’s grittier songs; in those, she sounds more like Teddy Pendergrass’s voice and Tina Turner’s voice had a vocal baby. In her ballads, though, you can close your eyes and imagine Gladys. Or at least Gladys after some brown liquor. Comparisons started almost immediately in Millie’s career. It was potentially a problem– the label held back a single because they thought people would hear it and ask for a new Gladys album – so she began to separate herself from Knight with her raw sound and lyrical content.

Over time, that separation also included cursing. “Gladys started rappin’ on (“Help Me Make It Through the Night”) and I’m like ‘Ok, now she’s gonna rap? I guess I’ll just cuss,’” Millie once explained. “She’s too much of a lady to curse.”

Jackson leaned all the way into the explicit language and topics - the Washington Post called her “a veteran virtuoso of vulgarity” in 1986 - until those two factors nearly overshadowed not only her raw talent, but the fact that her songs were also technically fantastic, complete with incredible arrangements and expert live instrumentation provided by the Muscle Shoals Swampers, one of the best rhythm sections in music history.

3. She Flipped the Concept of the Concept Album

Caught Up is the concept album "Trapped in the Closet" wanted to be when it grew up.

While Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye were creating cohesive bodies of work that reflected community, racial and environmental turmoil, Millie focused on what was happening in the home. Spring Records paired the singer with producer Brad Shapiro, whose credits include Wilson Pickett and James Brown, and he took her to the famed Muscle Shoals to record with the studio’s legendary session musicians, the Swampers.

Millie knew she wanted to make an album where “one song keeps going into the next song,” like a long story. Caught Up is a narrative about an affair, but from two perspectives: the first half of the album is from the mistresses point of view, the second half is the wife’s.

“We knew we were onto something (after “If Loving You Is Wrong”),” Jackson explained in an interview. “Then somebody in the studio asked ‘what now?’ And I said, ‘we finish the story. We’ve heard from the girlfriend, but what about the wife?'”

Concept albums were still new, and Spring Records didn’t know what to do with a project featuring nine-minute songs and no clear radio tracks. They brought in one of the most influential black radio DJs in New York, WBLS’s Frankie Crocker, and played it for him. He left the label with the only pressed copy of the LP so he could play “If Loving You Is Wrong I Don’t Want to be Right” immediately.

Jackson has admitted to being the other woman multiple times in her own life, but wanted the representation on the album to be “fair,” and include the wife’s experience. Her interpretation of the betrayed wife wasn’t a broken-down woman crying into a pillow, either. The songs cycled through a full range of emotions, from shock and anger to sadness, defeat, defiance and pettiness.

The label’s skepticism was unfounded; Caught Up reached No. 4 on the Billboard R&B album chart and No. 21 on the Pop chart. The success prompted a follow-up album, Still Caught Up, but the original is considered Jackson’s definitive work.

4. She Helped Turn Cheating Into an R&B Genre

Torrid affairs and adultery weren’t new topics in music, but they were relatively new to R&B. In the early ‘70s, songs about cheating – not about the aftermath, but basically celebrating cheating - were mostly found in juke joint blues and country western music, and were rarely from the woman’s perspective. “These were conversations that women had with each other on the laundromat. You didn’t hear them on records,” Millie explained in a recent interview about Caught Up. “You especially didn’t hear them on the radio.” Billy Paul, Luke Ingram, Johnny Taylor, and Millie – all singers who straddled the line between blues and soul - helped change that. By the mid-70s, adultery R&B was a full-blown subgenre, with songs like “Woman to Woman” and “From His Woman to You” (because “Woman to Woman” apparently required a reply), then later came “As We Lay,” “Secret Lovers,” and a long list of others. Songs about the wife calling the side, the side responding to the wife (the temerity!), the husband talking to the side, the wife proclaiming love to her side. It was a mess. But the songs were hits, so you might need to ask your parents and grandparents some honest questions about exactly what the hell was going on in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Millie’s unfiltered and uncensored take on cheating was the centerpiece of her career. “(Infidelity is) my whole repertoire,” she explained once when asked about crafting the stories for her songs. “Do you decide whether or not you want to talk about a certain part of an infidelity? Is it a man? Is it a woman? Is it both of them? Or do you want to go and start talking about what infidelity calls to life, or how it ruins a relationship, and not pertaining to anybody in particular. But, see, just like that you can write 25 songs on infidelity.”

5. Millie Was a Women’s Advocate

The primary topic of Millie’s music, after infidelity, was sex. Not making love. Sex. As in, “you got to handle this.” Like infidelity, sexual demands from the woman’s point of view was topical fare for dirty blues, not R&B.

Don’t start something you can’t finish Frustration ain’t no fun Half way lovin’ just don’t get it Stay there ‘til the job is done.

I would be remiss to not point out the breakdown in “All the Way Lover,” wherein Auntie Millie plants seeds that bore fruit for future generations, advocating for enthusiastic participation in oral sex, or what she called “parteè.”

We thank you for your service and advocacy, Millie.

With the songs hitting close to home about husbands cheating, wives kicking those husbands out, side chicks getting fed up, and calling men out to get focused in the bedroom, Millie believed she turned the male demographic off. “Men did not want my records in their house,” she claimed in an interview. “They wouldn’t come to see me live. Because I spoke truth to women, I got a reputation for being rough on men.”

But Miss Jackson would get at women sometimes, too. She took time, often, in her live show to address “saditty b**ches” who were being too lazy or too uptight to take care of business at home. This was also a form of advocacy, though, in the form of “Sis, stop bullsh*ttin.’”

Millie was a new kind of voice for women’s independence and agency. “Women loved it. I was speaking to them,” Jackson explained to her hometown Atlanta Magazine. But she was talking to women in a way some didn’t consider proper or respectable. She didn’t care. “I didn’t sell record to bougies. It was the poor people who bought my music. The women who bought Diana Ross did not buy Millie Jackson. The people in the projects understood me. I was down and dirty. I told you like it was.”

She once compared men to bad credit, which I’m laughing about even as I type this because it’s so genius and perfect that I can’t even. It’s an analogy all women understand too well – and we also understand the plot twist on the end when she gives it up anyway (Kanye shrug). She kept it real.

6. Low Key, She’s a Hip-Hop OG

Millie had already established a reputation for her “rapping,” which in the ‘70s meant long dialogue during song breaks, a style made popular in soul music with Isaac Hayes. Millie expanded the technique, telling full narratives that connected her songs. After “Rapper’s Delight” became a hit, her label wanted her to give the new style of rap a shot. In 1980, she recorded a track called “I Had to Say It” that she meant as a spoof of “Rapper’s Delight,” but she was spitting bars on the low. The subject: black men who start dating white women once they’re successful. It would set the timeline on fire today.

She told Song Facts in a frank 2010 interview that the song’s inspiration came unexpectedly. “I was thinking of what the next album (was) gonna be, and I had run out of things to talk about,” she shared, “So we’re on the tour bus and I’m going through Jet Magazine, and I’m saying ‘Okay. There’s Arthur Ashe – with a white woman. There’s the guy that plays Shaft on TV with a white woman. Damn, there’s O.J. Simpson – with a white woman… Somebody needs to say this. Why don’t I say this? I have to say this.” And she said it with her signature IDGAF delivery and candor.

Now I got your attention again I wanna speak to you about white girls On the arms of our black men

Millie was just playing around, but Coca Cola explained to her, when they reached out for Sprite's 1999 Obey Your Thirst campaign, that she technically held the distinction of being the first woman to cut a rap song. The campaign, “5 Deadly Women,” featured rappers Eve, Amil, Angie Martinez (remember when Angie was a rapper?), Mia X and Roxanne Shante.

Jackson makes a surprise appearance at the end of the series as The Master, and I applaud Sprite for doing their homework and including her. She was kind of an easter egg, because not many people in the spot’s target audience knew who she was on sight.

Her hipping and hopping on “I Had To Say It” aside, Millie’s been credited as the foremother of Salt-n-Pepa, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, and all female rappers who didn’t take no sh*t from the boys and unabashedly harnessed the power of sexuality in their music. She’s also been heavily sampled in hip-hop for decades: J. Cole, Prodigy, EPMD, Too Short, Poor Righteous Teachers, 50 Cent, Memphis Bleek, Lil’ B, Boogie Down Productions, Young Jeezy, Trick Daddy, Blacksheep, Cam’ron, Geto Boys, Yo Gotti, and Fat Joe have all cut Millie a publishing check.

At least three rap acts have sampled/covered her “Phuck You Symphony” alone, which I understand because it’s perfect for hip-hop – just like she is.

7. Her Live Show is Off the Chain

Millie doesn’t just give you a stage with a spotlight and some crooning (and I say “doesn’t” because Auntie still performs). No ma’am, no sir. There’s a full band, including a tight ass horn section, background singers, the whole nine. Also, she doesn’t just sing, it’s part comedy act. She’s a cross between Richard Pryor and popular ‘90s comedian Adele Givens (I truly believe Adele studied Millie).

Millie Jackson’s Live and Outrageous album is essential listening. The show’s energy is palpable even through audio. At her peak, Jackson’s concerts were regularly sold-out. She served costumes, flair, choreography, dramatics, and powerful vocals. Even as her stage show scaled down in later years, Millie Jackson live was no less of an experience. She’s also known for audience participation - if you’re sitting in her line of sight you might become part of the show. Be ready.

8. She’s a Boss

Millie Jackson is absolutely not a contrived artist. Her image is all hers, her musical choices are hers, her career path is hers. There are no Svengali stories, no tales of the label pushing her in a direction she didn’t feel comfortable with. None of that. Millie did what she wanted. Her label did try, in the beginning, to change her sound. They sped her vocals up on records so her voice would be in a higher pitch than her deep, earthy alto. But after “Hurts So Good,” they let her fly.

Millie has been self-managed her entire career. Her one marriage, at the beginning of her success, lasted only eight months because her husband tried to control Jackson and her business. “He thought we were gonna be the next Ike and Tina Turner. He thought that he was gonna tell me what to do with my life, and I decided that was not gonna happen. Case closed.”

Millie has also always maintained a large degree of creative control. She co-wrote most her songs from the beginning, and starting with Caught Up, she also co-produced her albums. And she fought when her record label tried to minimize her contribution. “I went down to Muscle Shoals to show (Brad Shapiro) how I do what I do, and co-produced the album. And when the album came out, it said ‘Album concept by Millie Jackson,’ and I hit the ceiling,” she shared in an interview. “I stood up in the middle of the floor and cussed like a banshee. And finally (Spring Records co-head) Roy Rifkind said, ‘Can we please go to lunch? You gonna be the death of me yet.’ And (Spring Records co-head) Bill Spitowski said, ‘We’ll put it on your tombstone: Produced by Millie Jackson.’”

Self-management is a choice Millie realizes probably held her back from big deals and moves that would elevate her to a higher level of stardom, but it as one that allowed her to follow her career on her own terms. In the same interview just mentioned, she explained her unconventional decision. “I write a lot of songs, and I publish them, and I go to work when I feel like it. That’s why I never had a manager; I don’t need anyone to tell me when to go to work. I know if I want to work or not.” She’s also enjoyed a normalcy that her peers who reached higher heights of fame had to sacrifice. “I like being able to go shopping for myself. I go to the supermarket and nobody bothers me. I don’t have a bodyguard. I like that. I think I live a very decent life. I’m a long way from starving, and I’m still me.”

9. She Can Sing Anything

Jackson has half-joked often in her later interviews that people don’t pay attention to the more diverse aspects of her catalog.

“If you listen to Millie Jackson on the radio, you ain’t gonna hear nothing but ‘Back in Love By Monday,’ ‘Hurts So Good,’ and ‘If Loving You is Wrong.’ Like I haven’t made any more songs,” she once complained. “I’ve got thirtysomething albums, only got three songs to be played!” Well, a lot of her songs aren’t exactly radio-friendly, but she’s right. With the expansive discography she has (Millie kept recording until 2001), the cheating songs and the raunchy songs are most popular and well-known. Ironically, while critics bemoaned her resistance to growth over the years, she quietly released two country-inspired albums and a rock-inspired album, in addition to more weighted material. “I write a lot of meaningful songs, but nobody ever heard them,” she’s said. “Because in my case most people would rather only listen to infidelity.”

Her very first single, in fact, leaned more towards the social commentary that ‘important’ soul artists were embracing at the time.

Millie has always said she didn’t want to be a crossover artist, but she didn’t want to stay in an R&B lane sonically, either. Millie always wanted to explore rock and country. “Rock and roll is my spirit, really, but nobody cares,” she shared in a conversation about her lesser-known music. “Tina Turner came through and (everyone) forgot about that.” We’ll get to Millie and Tina in a minute.

Because of her willingness to explore a wide range of music, Jackson’s cover song game rivals that of Luther Vandross. Starting with Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right,” Millie has put her stamp on hits from Prince, Toto, The Stylistics, even country artist Merle Haggerd. Jackson released her version of his hit “If We’re Not Back in Love on Monday” less than a year after its release, changing the title to “If You’re Not Back in Love by Monday,” and switching up the song from a story about a husband wanting to work it out with his wife, to a mistress encouraging a husband and his wife to try and reconcile.

10. She Intentionally Didn’t Seek Crossover Success

One of the reasons Millie is damn near an obscure artist given her long career and tremendous output is her is because she stayed in a blues and R&B pocket – on purpose. “I was never looking to become that crossover pop star,” she once explained. “Let white folks cross over to me.”

Critics searched for explanations over the years why such a talented singer with Muscle Shoals production wasn’t reaching the pop stardom soul singers like Gladys, Aretha and Tina had achieved, and they usually blamed her language and lyrical content. In 1977, the New York Times opined “…with just a bit more attention to hooks, she could have consistent hits. That wouldn’t constitute selling out, if she’s worried about that, and it would help convey the underlying seriousness of her art to a broader public.”

But Millie was happy to fly under the radar. It gave her more freedom. “When you had all the problems with profanity in the music, nobody mentioned me. The senator’s wife never knew I existed. So I didn’t have to go to Congress.” Jackson was talking about the 1985 congressional hearings spurred by the Parental Music Resource Center, an organization founded by Tipper Gore after she purchased Purple Rain for her daughter, and “Darling Nikki” made her clutch her pearls. Most remember the hearings for the eventual result of Parental Advisory warnings on albums just as rap was emerging, but pop artists were the initial target. Prince, Madonna, Frank Zappa, even the Mary Jane Girls were in the roundup. But not Jackson. “Nobody mentioned my name. Nobody knew I was doing it. I didn’t have to deal with any of that.”

She did enjoy some pop success with Caught Up, but her biggest potential moment for a breakthrough was a 1985 duet with Elton John. Pop/soul duets were in fashion, but though the single was a moderate success in the UK, it never broke in the US.

11. She Has (Possibly One-Sided) Beef with Tina Turner

The two contemporaries Jackson has most been compared to vocally are Gladys and Tina – for example, Elton John approached Jackson for “Act of War” after Tina declined. Millie adores Gladys and counts the fellow Georgian among her favorite vocalists, but there’s something about Tina that just doesn't sit right with her. It’s unclear what the source of her dislike is, but I suspect it’s centered around Tina entering and dominating the rock/soul space as a solo artist just as Millie was plotting a move in that direction.

Jackson did finally record her rock-inspired album, titled Rock n’ Soul, in 1994. She told her audience at a Howard Theater show in 2012 she made the LP because “I wanted Tina Turner to know she wasn't the only black bitch to sing rock’n’roll.”

But then, according to Millie, Tina jacked her single. “I recorded (John Waithe’s) ‘Missing You,’ and I was all excited about it, it was gonna be my next single. And the guys at Muscle Shoals said, ‘Boy you got the song out quick! I heard it at a truck stop.” And I’m trying to figure out how in the world did they hear my song when it won’t be out for two week. And of course, it was Tina Turner, and we had to pull the single and come back with a different one.”

That was in the ‘90s, but Millie was throwing subs at Tina in the ‘80s. Jackson’s 1988 album The Tide is Turning included a song called “You Knocked the Love (Right Outta My Heart).” Listeners will easily hear the Ike and Tina influence in the song, but the track, a song about a passionate love turning into domestic violence, was a shot. “I did that one messin’ with Tina,” Jackson admitted in 2010. “It was about Ike and Tina, and the proceeds for that are supposed to go to battered women. But I didn’t call any names.”

After Millie stopped recording in 2001, she didn’t retire. She spent 13 years hosting a drive time radio show, continued to tour (when she felt like it), and wrote and produced a stage play based on her album Young Man, Older Woman which toured successfully for four years.

Now she’s posted up at home in Atlanta, and a few years ago she was working on a reality show concept for her family (please, contents gods, let this happen while she still has the capacity to do it).

But Millie should be out here at these awards shows and tributes with her contemporaries. She should still be mixing it up with younger artists who emulate her energy without even realizing it (she loves Rihanna, by the way). Auntie Millie is deserving of far more recognition and praise than she’s received. Not just for her outrageous and explicit music and performances, but as a complete artist: as a writer, a producer, a businesswoman, a creative, a pioneer. Alladat. Just because she didn’t go the route of No. 1 hits and stadium tours doesn’t make her any less accomplished. Respect Millie Jackson’s gangster.

--

#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.

Continue Reading

Top Stories