20 Years Later: Why 1996 Was Such A Crucial Year In Houston's Hip-Hop History

VIBE explores why 1996 was such an imporant time in Houston

The sound of Houston rap, a permeable gumbo of synthesized G-Funk bathed and washed in soul samples, organs and bass-heavy drums was just coming into its own in the mid 90s. In 1994, Scarface and his team, N.O. Joe, Mike Dean and his own Uncle Eddie crafted The Diary.

That album, rooted in Joe’s own idea of mixing church with Scarface’s rhymes as a menacing orator made it one of the greatest solo discs to ever leave the Beltway and firmly established Scarface outside The Geto Boys as a solo mainstay.

A year later, E.S.G, the Everyday Street Gangsta who had a little bit of Louisiana in his blood but plenty of Houston in his heart had released Sailin’ Da South, his sophomore album that contained “Swangin’ N Bangin," a minor flip of Public Enemy’s “Gotta Do What I Gotta Do” built around synths and occasional drums. The tie between The Diary and Sailin’ Da South is that they began a timeline of events that resulted in 1996 being one of the strongest years all-around in Houston rap.

If The Diary proved Houston rap could sell on the charts, Sailin’ Da South eventually made E.S.G. bedfellows with the greatest A&R in the history of Houston — DJ Screw. The disc jockey/producer/A&R who at the time had a contract with Russell Washington’s Big Tyme Recordz began releasing his screwed & chopped mixes through the imprint, tagging together West Coast favorites from Spice 1, Dr. Dre, Compton’s Most Wanted and burgeoning Houston rap group Street Military.

However, Screw wanted more. By 1996, his roster of friends who had hung around his apartment was the Houston version of a lyricists lounge. And 1996 would not only be pivotal in crafting his legacy but also that of a duo from Port Arthur, Texas who spent most of 1994 promoting an album that, unbeknownst to Middle America was made under the influence of dipped weed.

Scarface, UGK, DJ Screw & The Screwed Up Click helped establish the multitude of musical styles in the developing Houston sound. It could be hard boiled trunk funk, it could be solemn piano melody that was more reminiscent of the blues than whatever came of New York City rap. Although Face had hit a high water mark with The Diary, J. Prince of Rap-A-Lot Records wanted another Geto Boys album.

The Resurrection became the first major Houston rap release of 1996, a Geto Boys reunion where everything seemingly clicked. “Still” eventually translated the group’s early horror core into a burped-out funk middle finger towards authority. “Group harder than an erection,” Willie D blasted on the record, which gained greater highs after its usage in Mike Judge’s Office Space film. A flip of War’s “The World Is A Ghetto” turned into the group’s most on the nose record. The Geto Boys seemed celebratory, even if they consistently discussed death and harsh situations occurring left and right. “It’s double jeopardy if you’re black or Latino,” Bushwick Bill rapped on “The World Is A Ghetto” and he seemed more like the shortest prophet than a group’s Chucky-esque mascot.

Records like The Resurrection were propelled by the magic created from The Diary. Transitive moments like these proved that the Getos were more than “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” and more. When they first arrived in 1990, they were among the early rap groups battling their label and the government over explicit lyrics. By 1996, it was welcomed. Gangsta was in fashion and the bones they made in Houston’s Third & Fifth Wards made them more akin to wise sages than newcomers. A three year break between albums reaffirmed that. Meanwhile, further east in Port Arthur, Pimp C had heard of N.O. Joe and what he had done on The Diary. A classically trained musician himself, Pimp C understood that UGK was still tinkering to craft their own masterpiece.

When Ridin’ Dirty arrived in August 1996, it signaled a change in how people viewed UGK across the country. Whether it be Pimp C’s production and sample choices from Mayfield to Pink Floyd, the hard cutting, unflinching nerve behind records such as “Fuck My Car” and “Murder” -- or Bun B turning into a human rap supernova on “Murder” alone, it affirmed to the world that UGK wasn’t just some gold tooth, Southern rap group without a purpose. They were men on a mission. As much internal strife Pimp C was attributing to making records in the industry and wanting proper credit, all of the anger and fury was funneled into Ridin’ Dirty.

On “One Day," Pimp & N.O. Joe slowed the Isley Brothers’ “Ain’t I Been Good To You” to an unmistakable crawl, something like a slow moving funeral parade. Ronnie Spencer was asked to mimic Ronald Isley and eventually turned a career out of being a damn near perfect Isley that never made the group. It’s funeral music, a musical turn that has made men quiver like children and sit back and somberly reflect. For Chad Butler & Bernard Freeman, it was daily life near Port Arthur, Texas.

If The Diary is Scarface doing his best to portray himself as Houston’s rap Muddy Waters then Ridin’ Dirty is Pimp C & Bun B doing their best at making a rap attachment to The Thrill Is Gone. It’s blues in the way that every bit of pain and suffering gets stretched into brief masks of happiness. In Houston rap history, there may not have been a more furious second verse than “Murder” from Bun B. There may not be a more “perfect” encapsulation of what UGK was and eternally will be than “Diamonds & Wood,” which Pimp C credited as his favorite UGK song ever. The hook alone let something else be known about UGK, they, like most of Houston were jamming screw. The sample, deriving from .380’s “Elbows Swang” wasn’t repurposed to be cool or to be of the times, it was a dropped pin in the land of an already Southern rap album. Even though The Geto Boys & UGK had created moments with their respective albums, only one man had the tools to provide the sound of an entire city whenever he hopped behind the tables.

DJ Screw is connected to Scarface by mere proxy. He’s connected to UGK by appreciation and collaboration. In 1996, Screw & UGK created Chapter 182: Ridin’ Dirty, a screwed and chopped UGK tape where Pimp and Bun freestyled over records of the day at Screw’s house. The tapess become a rarity, almost a mythical one in the legacy of DJ Screw. Screw had already begun building a roster in 1996 of rappers who would become neighborhood then regional all-stars. There was Lil’ Keke, a mosquito needle of a rapper who rapped about drug discrepancies and constant braggadocio. When he broke through on “Pimp Tha Pen” on Screw’s classic 3 ’N The Mornin’ Pt. 2, he started crafting the language that became synonymous with the city. Phonetically, words like “plex”, “elbows”, “slab” had already been part of Houston’s lexicon but they were further out in the global stratosphere now.

3 ’N The Mornin’ Pt. 2 kept up with Screw’s love for E.S.G., the man who shouted him out on Sailin’ Da South and brought joy to his heart. Pt. 2 differed from Pt. 1 in how much Screw avoided looking at the West Coast to tie his music together. E.S.G. warned people about jacking for Screw tapes since they were so popular, Big Moe broke through singing about codeine and .380’s “Elbows Swang” made an appearance, setting the stage of the song’s usage in “Diamonds & Wood”. If there was any one great thing behind DJ Screw, it was his ability to connect the dots with complete strangers who then became lifelong friends. The most famous Screw song was recorded in 1996, the “June 27th” freestyle made for D-Mo that lasted for 35 minutes, making stars out of Big Moe, Big Pokey & Yungstar, all over Kriss Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right”.

1996 was a transformative year in Houston rap, establishing one timeless album, a return to form for a rap trio who first kicked the door down and a DJ who would become not just synonymous with the city but in rap culture as a whole. It may not be the best year the city’s ever produced but it yields to very few in terms of the seeds planted that would blossom years later.

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Vybz Kartel Speaks On 'Of Dons and Divas' Album With 'Boomshots'

Little known fact: the very first post on Boomshots.com went live February 10, 2009. The title? Don't Ramp With Kartel. Adidja Palmer and Grace Hamilton's smash collab "Rampin Shop," an X-rated excursion on Ne-Yo's "Miss Independent" version, was taking the streets by storm and had the internet spinnin' like a satellite dish—just as a new platform for dancehall and reggae was born. VIBE had not yet ceased print publication but the mighty Boomshots brand, which started as a monthly column in Quincy Jones' glossy hip-hop magazine, was already leveling up on the digital frontier—at the same moment, Kartel and Spice were about to elevate hardcore dancehall to new heights.

Over the years Boomshots and Kartel have kept in touch. The first of our timeless interviews, "Reasoning with Di Teacha," was just the beginning. Boomshots founder Rob Kenner published a profile of Kartel in The New York Times in 2011. From time to time we would link up with the Worlboss and various representatives of the Portmore Empire—search BoomshotsTV for a refresher if you're playing catch-up. Back in 2013, we held a reasoning via email due to circumstances beyond our control, which would be Kartel's first interview behind bars. He has come a long way since then. Check the stats: Over half a billion streams, 100+ #1 songs in Jamaica, not to mention all the dancehall stars he brought to the world's attention, from Popcaan to Tommy Lee to Gaza Slim—and the list goes on straight up to Sikka Rhymes and UTG. And don't forget the international collabs with the likes of Rihanna, Missy, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Major Lazer, Akon, and Eminem. And just the other day Kartel received his first solo plaque from the Recording Industry Association of America for the certified gold single "Fever" off his album King of the Dancehall. In honor of this accomplishment, not to mention the release of his latest magnum opus, Of Dons & Divas, the time seemed right to catch up and hold a reasoning with Adi.


Congratulations on “Fever” being certified gold. Is that the first solo gold record in your catalog? Where is the plaque hanging right now?

Nuff Respec' Rob. Yes, it’s my first solo gold record which is long overdue you know. It’s hanging in my cell right beside the spot for my new Grammy award.

What does it take to stay at the top in dancehall?

I dunno where I heard it or who said it, think it was Einstein. Someone asked him, “What’s the secret to success?” And he said Hard Work. The person replied laughingly “No seriously, 'What is the secret to success?'"

What sort of precautions are being taken for incarcerated persons during the Corona Virus pandemic? Do you believe it might be a “plandemic”? We’ve heard different reports over time, how is your health?

I think it’s a plandemic, but you know BigBoss.Gov, always throwing us off the trail and any hint of query leads to "Oh, he a conspiracy theorist" and I’ll leave it at that. Did you know China makes the most face masks worldwide? Yeah, I'm good. Ain't no corona in prison on J Wray and Nephew.

Your legal team put a lot of work into the recent appeal. Were you surprised at the verdict?

They could’ve done waaay better. Bert Samuels came out gunning but this is Jamaica. Slave colony at its best so no, I wasn’t surprised.

We vividly remember our conversation after Sumfest 2011 when you introduced us to the members of the Portmore Empire. It’s hard to believe it’s been 9 years since then. How have you managed to stay mentally focused and maintain your strength all this time?

I always tell people I think it’s the way I’m built. I'm a stubborn person so I use that as my strength i guess... that and some good weed. I love to read so most of the time I’m in a book or my book, writing. Time is relative still... so it's whatever.

What are the best three books you've read lately?

Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Up 2 Di Time Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto

What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter protests over killings by police in Minneapolis, Louisville, and Atlanta? As the author of ‘Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, do you think Black people’s struggle is different in America and the rest of the world?

Every Black person's struggle is the same no matter where you are. Some issues might take precedence over others but it’s the same top 4 or 5 issues. High unemployment, high single-parent families, high crime rate, high people(drugs), and some bullshit religion that’s not ours. About the George Floyd incident... What’s new about it? Not a damm thing.

The last time we were in touch you mentioned that some of the artists who first "buss" through the Portmore Empire had betrayed you, specifically Popcaan and Tommy Lee. Have you forgiven them since then? Tommy Lee is featured on your new album, Of Dons & Divas. Did you consider featuring Popcaan? Are you proud of all the things your proteges have accomplished?

I mean, I'm a forgiving person so I have forgiven as I have been forgiven because at the end of the day no one’s perfect, and sometimes when you address stuff while you’re angry you usually say some hurtful stuff. It is what it is though, and I’m proud to see their victories... It all started from Bounty Killa, this "buss artiste as an artiste" thing (as far as I’m concerned), so I just pay forward and that’s the result. Time is the healer still.

Over the past two decades, you have consistently innovated creatively. You introduced a fresh new sound to dancehall on your recent album To Tanesha. We also heard some of that sound on UTG’s Skinny Jeans album and on brand new cuts like “Bad Gyal” and “Say a Prayer" from Of Dons & Divas . Is there a particular producer you worked with to get that sound?

I’ve always change my style so it’s about Kartel, not a particular producer. My inspiration comes from many things at once for example To Tanesha was inspired by Tanesha, but the overall sound I just created to set the tone for the album. Now as it relates to the riddims, I’ve been working with Jay Crazie heavily on my last few projects. He’s super talented and we click like presidential. Also Melio Sounds (on To Tanesha) and this Yankee youth called Guala Beats on both albums. He made the "Bad Gyal" track as well as "Neva Was Da One" on To Tanesha. Ricardo Redboom Reid is my sound engineer and mixer.

What are your thoughts on the Verzuz battle between Bounty and Beenie? How strong is dancehall as a culture and business at this very moment?

I loved the clash. Those are two legendary iconic artistes bar none. Dancehall has always been big business even without the buying power of the other genres, namely hip hop and reggaeton...which Jamaicans invented.

On the song "Uptop Gaza" you said, "Killa ah me daddy—still show allegiance to Alliance." What do you appreciate most about Bounty Killer? Do you regret falling out with him in the past?

I appreciate most that he helped me realize my potential without prejudice. I didn’t grow up with him, we weren’t school mates. So I love and honor this man to the fullest. Falling out with the big boss was necessary still... that’s how America was built.

When you first started your career you went by the name Adi Banton. As a fan of dancehall and an aspiring artist, what did Buju mean to you at that time?

When I heard Buju Banton I was captured instantly. I remember I left school and went straight to Chancery Lane and bought "Stamina Daddy." I even tried to call the 9277039 # even though he SPECIFICALLY said "girls here is my line..." Ninja Man and Buju are my two main influences in music. BTW i gave out a number of my own in "Kartel Completely" ft Gaza Indu.

In a recent interview, Buju stated “Kartel still run the place.” How do you think you and Buju relate to Jamaican youth today? Who would you say are your respective audiences in 2020?

My core fanbase is still young adults even though I’ve been around long enough to have fans who have grandkids... I don’t know Buju’s core except that i am one.

Have you heard any of Buju’s new music? Of Dons & Divas had the same release date as his new album Upside Down. Was this planned or a coincidence?

It's coincidence but isn't it maad? And good for the music too because I think it’ll bring a buzz to the whole Grammy-mania in Jamaica. Like I said he’s my deejay so for me it’s great. I want him to sell 10 mil on the first day. Me? 10.1 mil—LOL.


Who is the girl we hear on that amazing “Nice Things” intro?

That’s Missy the dancer from New York via Waterhouse Jamaica. Famous dancehall dancer, she does a lot of Kartel videos on IG so i reached out.

What qualities does it take to be a Gaza girl?

Love Kartel and B. Love Dancehall

You have collaborated with some of the leading female artists in the game today from Rihanna and Nicki Minaj to Spice and Shenseea. How did you choose which divas would appear on Of Dons & Divas?

First, lemme say Big up Spice. I was put on to Jucee Froot's IG by my son's mother Sophia. She a Yankee... from New York so she (obviously) loves hip hop. So I reached out to Jucee as well because I liked what i saw. She was a young rapper but she had star appeal up the wazzoo! So that's how we collabed on "Bad Gyal." Daniboo is a straight Gaza girl and a very very famous dancer. So when she decided to do music I immediately reached out to her and as you can see, she has the title track. Lisa Hyper is original Gaza Capital (Block 5 Waterford) citizen and Lisa Mercedez I met through a brother of mine called Black Azan from May Pen. She bad AF too! Sounds like Patra but with her own grit.

“No Prison” is a powerful song driven by a powerful idea. Can you talk about the inspiration for that one? Tupac spoke about the power of love versus the power of fear. Which one do you think is stronger?

I just took my pen up and wrote what came to my mind. It’s a song for my muse or rather from my muse who gave me the inspiration to put pen to paper. In relation to (B), I think fear is stronger. Love brings entitlement, which more readily breeds betrayal than fear.

“Pretty Butterfly” is definitely a standout on the whole album. Who produced that one? When did Lisa Hyper first get down with the Empire and what is special about your creative chemistry with her?

I produced all the tracks from scratch working tirelessly with the engineer to fine-tune songs to my liking. Lisa as I said earlier is day one. Even from before I became a star I knew her. I grew her, so the chemistry is so natural.


“Presidential” is one of the baddest tunes on the album. How does it feel to know your music connects with people from Germany to Canarsie?

Thanks, it’s one of my favs. Daddy 1 and Sikka Rhymes do more than justice to the song. New school warriors at work with the veteran. It’s an accomplished feeling to know my work is loved globally because I work hard for my fame. Natural talent yes, but also the hard work.

You’ve got two features from the 6ix on this album—Daddy 1 and Squash. What do you rate about the 6iix? Does their movement remind you of Gaza?

The 6iix is real! And yes Squash reminds me so much of myself in that he came out and immediately created his team and pushed them to the heights without prejudice. That’s what I respect about Squash as a human being. Real kind-hearted person. Daddy1 is for the schoolaz...They love him, especially the girls. So yeah, 6iix is Gaza-affiliated and vice versa.

Sikka Rhymes has overcome a lot, surviving diabetes and an attempt to take his life. He’s also given us some great music like the track “Superman” as well as “Depend on You.” What was the most important factor for you to decide that he was ready to become the official Gaza VP?

Sikka is real strong. Plus he has a good heart, always helping people, always looking out for others... hence GAZA VP. Plus he's a really talented hard-working person as well... He records himself in his house, writes his own songs, etc... He too reminds me of me in so many ways. I like Sikka and I know he will go far once he doesn’t change the formula.

On “Depend on You” you mention that you feel “government do it for spite.” How do you find the strength to keep going against all odds when such ideas enter your mind?

I am Stubborn. I’ve always known I was gonna be a great man and in Jamaica that comes with a big fight from the system if they can’t say "THAT'S MY BOY." I'm nobody’s boy—not even my dad's.

The new UTG album Skinny Jeans is a major step forward for Likkle Vybz and Likkle Addi since the days of PG13. That evolution continues with new songs like “Militant Coup.” What sort of advice have you shared with your sons about surviving the game?

I see them sometimes and we talk... In a few years when they take over, you’ll see what we spoke about. Slimatic is also on "Militant Coup"... She’s my cousin.

On the track “Worldboss” there’s a recording where someone is talking about “we nah stop block the roads.” What was the bad treatment they were protesting?

Yes, it was some incident about police brutality. A staple on the nightly news.

Do you believe people are going to be brainwashed forever or is there hope for an awakening?

Brainwashed forever. That’s what Gov does. Create as many sheep as possible. So the only awakening is the movie.

Over the last ten years or so we’ve seen a new movement with roots artists such as Chronixx, Kabaka, Protoje, and Koffee. What do you think of this new movement?

I was born mid-70s grew up in the 80s, so I grew up on that stuff. I love reggae (dubstep my fav) so the new movement is just the continuation of the original.

The song “Big Bizniz” talks about your name living on. What do you think is your greatest legacy so far?

I can’t be stopped again. My legacy in Dancehall is one of the most powerful. In the top 5. I brought new ideas and concepts to Dancehall musically and as a businessman. I altered/changed the culture to suit me... Clarks, tattoos, rosary, and big bizniz. I am the most influential Caribbean artiste in 20 years. Tell 'em put that in your pipe and smoke it.

The flow on “Jump on the Beat” is crazy. Nobody in any genre raps like that. What would it mean to you to receive a Grammy for your work?

It means a lot to win the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. I mean, aren't accolades a part of greatness?

Give thanks Adi... Until next time—stay up.

Stream Vybz Kartel's Of Dons & Divas

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Isabel Snyder

VIBE Vault: Jada Pinkett Smith Talks Motherhood, Marriage & Sexiness In May 2001 Issue

Ever since playing streetwise Lena James on the college-campus sitcom A Different World, Jada Pinkett Smith has portrayed many a sexy shortie with attitude, boast a tough-as-nails swagger with a dash of vulnerability. Her film career—highlighted by Menace II Society, A Low Down Dirty Shame, Set It Off, Jason’s Lyric, and Woo—has been dotted with every possible permutation of the strong ghetto girl in distress.

But with mature roles like Bamboozled’s socially conscious Sloan Hopkins tucked under her belt, the Baltimore native who once spit verse with a teenaged Tupac Shakur in high school is proving to be more than the stereotypical neck-swiveling drama queen. Pinkett Smith has taken on a roster of challenging characters: exploring family matters in Fox Searchlight’s April release Kingdom Come, as well as starring in the highly anticipated pictures Ali (with husband Will Smith) and The Matrix 2 and 3.

But don’t think this woman is strictly business. The 29-year-old feels the upside of growing pains in both her professional and personal lives. As the mother of two youngsters (Jaden Christopher Syre, 2, and Willow Camille Reign, 6 months) and stepmom to 6-year-old Trey, Pinkett Smith is macking the maternal lifestyle—juggling play circles, early morning call times, and a little conjugal nookie on the side with the talented Mr. Smith. This pint-size fireplug’s still got teeth-gritting edge.

VIBE: Tell me about your character Charisse in Kingdom Come. I hear she’s pretty headstrong.

Jada Pinkett Smith: Definitely, but she’s a fool. She’s really self centered and headstrong about all the wrong things; she can’t see outside of herself. The patriarch of the family has passed away, and her focus is still all about her. It’s like, Sis, it's not all about you right now.

Co-starring with LL Cool J, Whoopi Goldberg, Vivica A. Fox, Toni Braxton, et al, you’re doing another movie with a predominantly black cast. But you know what they say about working with our people…

It’s always been such a pleasure working with black directors and black casts, because you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining yourself. It’s the same reasons why white people do all white films. These are the people you can relate to, that have the same experiences as you. I’ve never had any drama, only love. Like in Set It Off: There was so much buzz that there was going to be some drama with four black women working together, but that was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a film.

You’re married to Anthony Anderson’s character in Kingdom Come. Can we expect any love scenes like you’ve done in the past? We all remember you rolling in the grass with Allen Payne in Jason’s Lyric.

None of that anymore. My older son is a little bit too old for me to be doing that if it’s not with his dad [laughter]! That part of my life is in the past. I’ve got sons now, and I’ve got a little girl. That was the other, younger Jada, who didn’t have any other responsibilities but to herself. Now I’ve got to think about my kids.

Of all the characters you’ve played—from manslaying Woo to stand-by-you-man Lyricto gangsta-boo Stoney to knucklehead Charisse—which of your roles is filled with the most Jada?

I really wasn’t in a space of maturity with that character to really fall into the depths of Lyric’s vulnerable space as I would’ve liked to. I think about it today, and I go, Wow, I could have done this and done this. That was another side of myself that I wasn’t comfortable showing yet. And from A Low Down Dirty Shame, Peaches was basically Jada at that time but to the third power. Set It Off was definitely Jada to another level. Stony was rah-rah but not that rah-rah [laughter]! That’s exactly how I would be—scared but [knowing I] gotta do my thing. Woo was truly the other side of Jada, like Honey, please talk to the hand [laughter].

If Woo was your alter ego, how did you deal with trifling men before you met Will? 

The best punishment is just to be out. There's so much you can take, I was definitely one of those chicks that would hang in there for a minute trying to week it out. But once I realized in my head that it just wasn't it, I rolled. Then niggas was was like, “Well, where you going?” I was like, Man. I told you. You saw me hanging in there with your crazy ass, trying to work this out. You know what I'm saying? Now you want to know where I am? I’m somewhere not with you.

Was there a specific incident? 

Nothing really, because when I was younger, I wasn't living right either. I can't really say that someone did anything so bad to me, because whatever they did, I deserved it.

Jada Pinkett Smith is a former playa-playa in repentance? 

You can say it however you want [laughter].. I was young in Hollywood. I didn't know about relationship and commitment. Unfortunately, that's something that we're not really taught, especially in our households. Most of us come from very dysfunctional places. Will is the first monogamous relationship I've had. I never knew what it took to have a healthy relationship or what commitment was all about.

How have the kids impacted your coochie-cooing sessions with Will?

HA HA [big laughter]!!! Well, shoot, kids are always going to put a little damper on that parade, but not so much that you can’t handle your business. They come, and, once again, you have that transition period where you have to find your groove within this new lifestyle you've been given. But it hasn't been drama. We've handled it very well [naughty laughter]. 

Inquiring minds want to know the real deal with Will Smith. Does he come correct in the boudoir? 

I'll just say this one absolute fact. For all the women who want to know, all the women in the VIBE world: Will puts it down! I could not be married or be monogamous with anybody who didn't. That's real [big laughter]! All I have to do is look at Will, and everything gets turned on from that. I'm pretty much an easy catch. He’s got beautiful eyes, and his physique now is out of control ‘cause of Ali. Yeaaahhh… It doesn’t take much for my buttons to get pushed. 

But Will is tall, maybe 6’2”, and you're so petite. 

It doesn't matter. Size doesn't matter. He says this all the time: I can't come at him in a bad way. And I’m like, Whatever, Daddy—just bring it. That's why we're such a happy couple. We can't be mad too long. 

It's great to have such a strong physical connection. 

And also the spiritual connection. The friendship even deepens sexual connection. When all of that is tied in together, it never gets tired. You have your times when you're kind of slow—if you're working, or during pregnancy. That's why it's important to have that friendship and that spiritual connection. That's what keeps it all together until the physical aspect of it booms back in, because everybody has their slow times.

Your children will grow up faster than you realize. What kind of relationship advice will you give them? 

You basically have to go with the flow. I know for my daughter, I probably won't put restrictions on her in a [harsh] way, because, being female myself. I understand the type of freedom a young girl needs. But when I talk about freedom, I mean you have to have a sense of responsibility. That's very difficult in our culture, because we're basically selling being a ho as what it is to be a woman today. If you're not a ho, then you're not really down or you're not really hip. I don't talk about freedom in that sense—basically just giving it away to whomever you want. There was a time when black women were very uptight about their sexuality. I think right now we're going through a space where we're finding our freedom as far as our sexuality, but I think we're going to our next extreme. We're going to find that middle ground. I hope by the time my daughter is of age we'll be at that space.

You're considered one of the sexiest people in Hollywood. What’s your definition of sexiness?

Really [laughter]? Well that is quite an honor. I'm learning as I get older, because I haven't always been this way. I'm gaining a better understanding as I mature that what people are attracted to most of all—and especially my husband, who's pretty much the only person I have to worry about these days—is beyond my physical. I'll be 30 this year. I'm moving into a whole other space of my womanhood! So I've kind of outgrown that whole, well let me go out with my short skirts on, with my stomach out or my bust up. I don't necessarily think that's something I have to do. I feel like I've been there like hardcore [laughter]. I might go back to feeling like that. Now I'm finally feeling like a woman, whereas before I was a little girl just trying to be a woman. Now I'm really feeling myself. Trust that with Kingdom Come, Matrix 2 and 3, and Ali, y'all will see a whole new Jada. Believe me. Y’all bouts to see it like y'all haven't seen it. 


This article originally appeared in VIBE's May 2001 issue. Written by Brett Johnson | Photography by: Isabel Snyder and others.

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'The Old Guard' Celebrates Women On Both Sides Of The Lens, Says Director Gina Prince-Bythewood & Actress KiKi Layne

Gina Prince-Bythewood is not new to this. Her decades-long screenwriting credits go back as far as 1992 when she contributed to the Cosby Show spin-off, A Different World. Her directorial debut happened nearly 10 years later with her 2000 film, Love & Basketball which grossed over $27 million in the U.S. box office and went on to become a black cinematic classic. Since then, Bythewood directed more films like The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Beyond the Lights (2014). Today, Bythewood is stepping away from the dramatic and romantic films of yesteryear and making her mark in the genre of action films with the new Netflix movie, The Old Guard.

Based on the comic book by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard stars lead actresses Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road, Hancock) and KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Native Son). Theron plays Andy, an immortal mercenary recruited for a mission to protect the mortal world. Layne plays Nile, a U.S. Marine recruited to join the badass task force. Before her "rebirth" into her new eternal life as a soldier, she learns about life as an Old Guard, what she'll stand to gain and lose as undying warrior and more.

Upon receiving the script, Bythewood was "incredibly excited" and happy to have an opportunity where she could not only take on a different type of cinema but also bring a young Black female hero to life and into the spotlight. "I knew the type of action film I wanted to do, an action drama," she says in an interview with VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle. "And I knew absolutely when I got the opportunity, that I wanted us [Black people] to be in it." And that we are. With actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) taking on a supporting role, Layne holds her own in the action-packed feature film as she tests her body's limits in scene after scene. The rising star would be sure to let you know how physicalities set her and her character apart.

"I mean I love the opportunity to be that physical," she says. "Nile still has so much heart and, being led by Gina, being encouraged to dig deeper into that and to not be afraid of her vulnerability, which was exciting. So I kind of play that, but then still play that physical strength and being a Marine and all of that. So I would say that would actually be the biggest difference between us."

The Prince-Bythewood and Layne sat with Belle to discuss the limitations around the term "Black cinema," being a part of a film that has Black women in front and behind the lens, and what they hope for The Old Guard's impact 20 years from now.


On how music inspires her screenwriting:

Prince-Bythewood: Music is everything to my process. When I start to write, I create soundtracks for myself too. If it's just songs that either speak to what I'm writing or open me up emotionally to what I'm about to write. I have soundtracks for myself for directing, and then I create soundtracks as I'm editing. It's everything and I love doing songs for score. I love the traditional score, but I also love songs for scores. And those are songs that just help elevate the scene, add a little bit more emotion. It doesn't take over the scene, but it absolutely aides it and songs tell such a story...I love soundtracks, it goes back to Purple Rain. Where you could listen to that soundtrack and then watch the movie again in your head because the songs were that distinct, that's what I love to do with my films.

On the Black women she pulled influence from when preparing for her role:

Layne: Black women who I find to be strong and just maybe haven't seen it represented that way on film. Honestly, just thinking about my mom. Angela Bassett was the biggest example of strength. Who else was I thinking of? Those are like the first students to kind of pop in my head of just like, especially with Angela, the way that she just carries herself. There's such pride and dignity and integrity to her that I just, I mean love. Period. But it was definitely something that, when thinking of Nile, trying to bring some of that in there as well.

On the limiting term "Black cinema" as it relates to Hollywood:

The term "Black cinema" is not a negative to me, nor to us. My issue with it is with Hollywood. In terms of Hollywood using that to describe any film that has a black person in it. So suddenly they feel like, "Oh, we've done our one black film." As opposed to, "We should be in every single genre. Sci-fi, Western, love stories, period pieces." That's who we are, that's the breadth of our humanity, that's what I want to see. I just don't want to limit us, but I revel and celebrate black cinema and black film.

On how they would like The Old Guard to be remembered 20 years from now:

Layne: In 20 years from now, I would hope that it would be, you won't necessarily remember, but as a, I don't know, a piece of getting Hollywood to tell more of these types of stories with women at the lead in front of and behind the camera. I'm hoping that it will be an opportunity that leads to more doors like this being opened. Just showing that we're just as capable and it's just as interesting when we do it.

Prince-Bythewood: And then I'll just add in 20 years, if people are still watching this film that says it all, that this film had longevity, it spoke to them and it was a world and it's characters that they wanted to see again and live with again. And as artists, I think that's a pretty incredible thing.

Interview's music bed provided by Gus.

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