Phife Dawg: Memories Of Native Tongues' Five Foot Assassin

VIBE shares some insightful stories from the Native Tongues. 

On this jolting day that will forever mark the death of Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor -- the feisty, beloved member of hip-hop’s A Tribe Called Quest -- I am reminded of an incident that the rapper once laughably described to me as the lowest moment of his young, fledgling career. It was late 1989 and the celebrated Native Tongue rhyme crew -- featuring such rap stalwarts as the aforementioned Tribe, De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, Monie Love and Queen Latifah -- were all gathered to film the remix video for the infectious posse cut “Buddy.” For Phife, this was his moment to truly shine.

“That was the worst day of my life,” he mused to me back in the winter of 2007. “The video was hot. That was like the first joint I was on as an emcee before any Tribe shit. But at the video shoot the director skipped my part, and I was in there hot! Before the actual shoot, I’m bragging telling everybody that the De La video is tomorrow and I dropped my verse on there, so I’m going to be in front of the camera like, ‘What!’ [Laughs].”

Then came the punch in the gut. “They’re like, ‘Phife, we are not doing your part,’” he recalled. “Posdonous (of De La Soul) and them told me, ‘Yo, don’t even sweat that.’ But I wasn’t even trying to hear what they were saying.”

Phife would find redemption, but it would take a minute. His four-song appearance on Tribe’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990) was at best adequate. Q-Tip, the group’s charismatic leader and Phife’s longtime friend, shined the brightest -- a gifted emcee and producer who wasn’t afraid to go left while others often chose the most obvious of directions. Boundless DJ and beatman Ali Shaheed Muhammad was getting some much deserved buzz. And the adventurous spirit of fourth Tribe member Jarobi was still felt throughout the quirky release even though he had already left the group to pursue a career in the culinary arts.

That left Phife the proverbial odd man out, clinging to uninspired lines like, “Boy this track really has a lot of flavor/When it comes to the rhythms, Quest is your savior…” What happened next has become perhaps the most impressive lyrical jump in hip-hop history. Tribe’s landmark follow-up The Low End Theory (1991) displayed a hungry Phife on a mission to prove his doubters wrong. “I never walk the streets, think it’s all about me/Even though deep in my heart, it really could be,” he cockily delivered.

There were more scene-stealing rhymes to follow. While most fans go straight to Phife’s head-turning verses on such gems as “Butter,” “Check the Rhime,” “Scenario,” “Steve Biko (Stir It Up),” “Clap Your Hands,” “God Lives Through,” and Electric Relaxation,” it’s his underrated work on “Lyrics To Go” that captures the magic of Phife. “Today’s a hip-hop draft will I be top seeded?/Worked too frickin’ hard while all the rest were getting’ weeded/Steady kickin’ styles so I can reach that other level…I’m Jordan with the mic, huh, wanna gamble?”

But to truly understand the passion of Phife you have to know the story of the Native Tongue collective. What you are about to read is a throwback oral history on one of rap’s most beloved crews, which ran originally in the February 2007 issue of VIBE. You will see other Native Tongue members from Dres of the Black Sheep to the late Chris Lighty, who before becoming one of the most powerful figures in hip-hop was the Jungle Brothers’ road manager. And yeah, it's only right that Phife has the last word. RIP, Five Foot Assassin.

Native Tongues Oral History

AFRIKA (Leader, lyricist, producer and member of the Jungle Brothers):
I got into just living the hip-hop culture through being inspired bythe Zulu Nation. That’s why I changed my name from Shazam to Afrika Baby Bambatta. So, when I approached [future Jungle Brothers members] Mike G and Sammy, I was in the mind-state that I was going to make a record and put some music out. Hip-hop was getting taken out of Adidas sweat suits and gold rope chain and more into an intellectual level, and our album (Straight Out The Jungle) represented that. We had the Afrocentric thing, but we had an image that people could relate to.

Q-TIP (Founder and leader of A Tribe Called Quest): [Mike’s uncle] Red Alert had a hook-up with a small independent label (Idlers Records) and presented an opportunity for Jungle to record a single "Braggin’ & Boastin,’" which they did, and it got some buzz.

AFRIKA: I met Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (DJ, producer and member of A Tribe Called Quest) at Murray Bergtraum. Back then his name was J-Nice. I remember when people used to tell him he sounded like LL Cool J too much. [Laughs]
The name for the group came first. They called it Quest. And then I was like, ‘Let J-Nice be Q for Quest.’ At the time everybody was saying, ‘Get off my tip.’ To it turned into Q-Tip. Nobody ever thought about real Q-Tips.

PHIFE (Lyricist and member of A Tribe Called Quest): [Tip] is like my god brother. I’m talking about Little League baseball, trading cards and that kind of shit. I was just battling [anybody] that thought they could rhyme. Me and Jarobi (original Tribe member) were supposed to do something where as Tip and Ali were going to do something. Jarobi was our official beatbox in the neighborhood in the early days. But by the time Tribe got official as far as contracts and all that, he went to culinary school. So instead of being separately, Tip was like, "Come along with us."

Q-TIP: I actually worked with [the Jungle Brothers] on their first album. [But] Phife started me rhyming. We had the same musical taste and all of that. I was a fan of the Treacherous 3. Phife was the one saying, “Look, I’m rhyming…you should do it too.” And I thank him for that.

PHIFE: Mike G’s uncle was Red Alert, so he had KISS FM on lock pretty much back then. That’s how the JB’s got on and they pulled us along.

RED ALERT: Tip came through the channels of Jungle. I already had known he did "The Promo" and [produced] "Black Is Black" (Straight Out The Jungle). We were managing both Jungle and Tribe.

AFRIKA: The [Jungle Brothers] album came out in June ’88 and we hung around that summer doing shows. September ’88 we were booked on a European tour with Stetsasonic. They canceled out and we became the headliners and it was us, Queen Latifah, True Mathematics, Chill Rob G and DJ Mark The 45 King.

CHRIS LIGHTY (Founder and CEO of Violator management and former Jungle Brothers road manager): Red Alert would come to the Bronx and come to the projects and DJ. We would pester him to carry the crates. My crew of people, the Violators, used to be with Red all the time. We were Red’s little henchmen doing some things we had no business doing.


MASEO (De La Soul DJ): Prince Paul (Stetsasonic member and De la Soul producer) showed up to my school one day. We rolled out together and he said, ‘You’ve been telling me about this music, you’ve been hassling me a long time. I really want to hear it.’ Sure enough, we roll to my crib and I got the tapes De La Soul had been working on which were things like “Daisy Age,” ‘Plug Tunin’” and “Potholes In My Lawn.” And sure enough Paul was like, ‘Yo, this is some of the shit that I’ve been trying to introduce to Stetsasonic.’ Paul was dealing with a group that was great, but he was taking a backseat a lot of times. We went from dubbing cassettes to recording in a 24-track studio with Paul.

MIKE G: The Jungle Brothers met De La Soul in [Boston] in ’89 while doing a show [together]. We saw them a couple of other times and Afrika and Pos started kicking it. "Plug Tunin’" had just came out and we were like, "Okay, another group that is trying to step out boundaries. De La was coming from a whole different realm. The way that they put the humor into their music was something that had never been done from that train of thought. I was like, ‘Damn, Long Island???’ I could see where they were coming from with the particular samples they were using.

MASEO: It was all just happening fast for all of us. We were fresh out of high school and fresh off the block, making that transition if we were going to be hustlers or were we going to be in this rap thing? I was dealing with some issues in my life where I was involved with the streets heavy. I was a big part of the welfare system. Now, here comes this turning point in my life with this hip-hop shit.

DAVE (Lyricist and member of De La Soul): I remember the Jungle Brothers were rocking the safari stuff and wearing beads and Zulu Nation chains and I was like, "That’s different…that’s a little far out." But who was I to say that they were far out [Laughs]. Me, Pos (De La Soul leader and lyricist) and Maseo (DJ and producer) were wearing our father’s baggy pants and plaid shirts, and Rockports instead of the sneakers that everybody else was wearing. [Laughs]

AFRIKA: [Our style] was something that worked for us. Brothers were natural, down to earth, creative and living in a concrete jungle. We were wearing Timberlands and safari suits…that was just stuff that we started rocking naturally anyway without it being, ‘Ohhh, we are going to buy this for the album cover.’ The only thing that we consciously thought about was that every jam should have some social commentary. Just imagine “The Last Poets with a sampler.

POSDNUOS: Afrika came up with the Native Tongues name. Through Afrika is where I really understood Parliament Funkadelic. George would have all these different groups and titles from the same camp and that’s
what the mentality Afrika was on. And he took on that role as George Clinton.

MONIE LOVE (MC and member of Native Tongues/Radio personality):
[Afrika] wanted to help produce some of my album (Down To Earth), so he would come with me and sit in on my meetings with the label. I get to New York to do the New York part of my album and that’s when I met De La [and] stumbled upon the "Buddy" session. Pos and everybody was there, and being Afrika’s girl, and he’s vouching for me, Pos was like, "Yo, let Monie get eight bars."

POSDNUOS: De La wasn’t on it like that, but Prince Paul (De La Soul producer) had really helped to enforce that like, ‘Why not try it?" I was intimidated like, "Yo, this girl can rhyme her ass off."

MIKE G: [We filmed the "Buddy" video] in Astoria, Queens in a studio on Broadway. Tribe, Monie, Jungle, Chi Ali, Queen Latifah…everybody was there. It was like a little block party.

POSDNUOS: [De La] didn’t have a clue what 3 Feet High & Rising was going to do. Mike and Afrika were [great] on the rhymes and on the music. Tip was incredible with the beats, but Ali was as well. And Prince Paul was just an incredible producer. There were so many people in each crew that offered so much that when another crew was looking from the outside in, it was such an inspiration. I remember being in LA and Tip sitting me down in a hotel room on Sunset Blvd. And he let me hear, from top to bottom, [Tribe’s] People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He was like, ‘Do you think it’s good?’ I just wanted to smack the shit out of him [Laughs]. He was using beats that I had never heard before. It was like, ‘Yo, we got to get our weight up.’

MIKE G: We were working on our second album Done By the Forces of Nature and there was a lot of pressure on us as far as us just signing to a major label [Warner Bros]. Everybody was like, "Yo, you got to answer "I’ll House You," which took us around the world and really opened our eyes to the outside world of New York. But at the end of the day we had to make a credible record.

AFRIKA: Q-Tip had gone into something more jazzy, laid-back and personable to him. He started hanging around De La and that’s how he guest appeared on their album Three Feet High and Rising with "Me, Myself and I" and brought the "Black Is Black" rhyme pattern to that record.

Q-TIP: We just felt like [A Tribe Called Quest’s first album 1990’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm] was an extention of what De La and Jungle had did. It was all those sensibilities and we were just building on them. I kind of knew in the beginning that People’s was going to be a special album. I remember “Bonita Applebum”
being one of the last songs we recorded. That’s when I knew it was an exciting time. We didn’t really think about it…we just felt it.

PHIFE: I ended up just doing shows with A Tribe Called Quest because on the first album I was only on four joints. But right after the People’s Instinctive campaign was done with, I bumped into Tip on the train in Queens and he was like, ‘Yo man, we got to take this shit seriously man, because this next album is do or die.’ People really didn’t know who Phife was. It was more so that I wanted to contribute to the group just so that we could win all together. That’s when I came into my own on the Low End Theory album.


DRES (Lyricist and member of Black Sheep): I remember Matty C (influential hip-hop journalist) asking me, "Yo, what’s going to be the difference between Black Sheep and the rest of Native Tongue?" And I was like, "We are going to be the cats that can say ‘Fuck you.’"

AFRIKA: I thought Black Sheep were dope. I heard a little hoopla about the "bitches and hoes" thing. But everybody has a black sheep in the family, the complete opposite and they thought that out.

DRES: We would all be around each other bouncing off ideas off each other. And the records reflected that. We all just became friends. De La would do a skit and play it for us and we’re dying laughing. So now our whole aim is to do a skit that is equally as funny. That was Lawnge who played the [villain] in the De La Soul is Dead.

MONIE LOVE: [Back then], everybody was using Calliope Studios [in Manhattan]. Ju Ju [from the Beatnuts] was a major beat factor for the Native Tongues. He would provide beats for Afrika and Pos.

JU JU (Producer and member of the Beatnuts): Collectively we would all just make sure that everybody’s project was a success. You could go up there on any given night and see Tribe recording, Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep; I would be working on the Chi Ali album or something. I owe so much to each and every one of those guys

DAVE: There was a time when we were sitting in sessions with Tip on the Low End Theory and I was like, "Shit!" It was like, "Do you hear what they are doing down the hall!!!?"

Q-TIP: [Red Alert] was our manager and his manager was our lawyer, so there were conflicts all around. We thought that Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen (Rush Management) had done good by De La Soul, and we decided that we wanted to explore that. It was real tough because Red brought everybody together. Jungle didn’t fuck with us and everybody was hurt.

MIKE G: There was a lot of hostility with the way it went down. Tip didn’t really come to the table to say, "Listen, I want to break-off." [We thought] we needed more respect than that.

AFRIKA: Mike was a family man, a relationship man. But when he saw that he was like, ‘Yo, what’s up with that?’ I saw it was Tip was just doing his thing. But it wasn’t until years later that I was like, ‘Wait a minute…we never been on A Tribe Called Quest album.’ It became more business with them.

MONIE LOVE: Afrika and I had broken up at the time and I was actually seeing Scrap Lover, one of Big Daddy Kane’s dancers. We had Latifah’s birthday party at a club called MK’s in Union Square. There was this big rush coming from the steps of a fighting crowd coming in. All I saw was Mase swinging a chair and Pos fighting and Afrika throwing stuff. It was crazy.

DAVE: It was one of the thing that brought the whole theme of Native Tongues being down for peace to a "Yo, they’re not going for it anymore!" It was an eerie feeling.

MASEO: Success ruined a lot of Native Tongues. Things were happening too fast for some people and things were not happening fast enough for others. Money was destroying the relationship.

AFRIKA: Pos was saying things on the [Stakes Is High] record about the Jungle Brothers on "Break A Dawn" with the "I’ll tell you now Jungle Brothers on the run" line. To start a beef on record was like, "Alright???" We didn’t use records for that.

POSDNUOS: It wasn’t like on "Break Of Dawn" they found out about it later. I told them what I did. But it’s understandable how Tip and Jungle would have feelings that were negative about some of the shit I said. But I was speaking from the heart.

PHIFE: When you think of Jungle you think of Afrika first. When you think of De la, you think of Pos first. And when you think of Tribe, you think of Q-Tip first. All three of them niggas are just alike. That’s the funny shit. I really don’t know what the beef was between Pos and Afrika.

AFRIKA: Around 1996, we had a meeting when Tribe was making Beats, Rhymes and Life. But, It really didn’t help. There was a lot of A Tribe called Quest’s entourage, a lot of yes men around.

POSDNUOS: One of the things I remember in the meeting was that Consequence was in there and Jungle wasn’t saying nothing. So Consequence starts speaking and it’s funny because Mike G, I swear on my life, he is one of the most loving, positive cats. But to see that motherfucker mad…yo! Mike was like, "First of all, you weren’t there. You could hear the anger in his voice that said, "Consequence, you need to shut the fuck up." [Laughs]

MIKE G: I don’t think we really got cool again until like four years ago. From ‘96 to 2000 there was no real communication. But when I saw Pos in the hospital sick [with spinal miningetis.] I was like, "Damn. It’s bigger than this." I made it my business to try to be cool with everybody.

AFRIKA: I used to joke [a Native Tongues reunion] is not going to happen until cats are 60 years old with no ego and pride. But through Mace I found out where Tip’s mindstate was at and I spoke to him at length. He said he was down to do it. We also did a show with De La at the Wembley Arena in London for a Breakdance Championship, which was January of 2004. We did our show and came in on their show to do "Buddy." I felt childhood fun looking into Dave’s eyes.

PHIFE: When I was in Hawaii this past April, my manager called me out of the blue, and everyone Q-Tip, Ali) was on the phone. He approached us with this offer to do a Tribe tour. [We] started Vegas and [ran] in 15 cities and ended in early October. Folks can front on Native Tongues all they want, but they don’t want to get on stage with us and do rhyme for rhyme. You could play “Check The Rhyme” ten years from now in the club. I’m proud of that because you could only be hot for two months in this game.

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Music Sermon: Disco's Revenge - How Disco Demolition Night Sparked Evolution In Black Music

For years, disco was the black sheep of music genres. Characterized as schmaltzy and over the top, the sound of polyester suits, platform shoes and strobe lights. With this iteration of the dance genre in our minds, it was easy to understand how and why the genre met a swift end 40 years ago.

On July 12, 1969, the Chicago White Sox hosted “Disco Demolition Night,” now often referred to as the night disco died. Disco was the victim of a smear campaign, the effectiveness of which has only been seen again in music when 50 Cent destroyed Ja Rule’s career and Jay-Z’s “Death of Autotune” killed T-Pain’s. But those were artists. This was an entire genre - a culture, ended by 50,000-plus mostly young, straight white men who were tired (and afraid) of something that wasn’t for or about them.

Music fans and historians have had a collective realization over the last couple of decades that the anti-disco sentiment was all spin. Not really about the music, but who the music represented: Black, Hispanic, Latinx and LGBTQ+ people and women – basically everybody except the bros holding onto classic rock for dear life. By the late ‘70s disco had, in fact, become overly formulaic and cheesy, but in the early days the sounds were lush and rich, the “four on the floor” 120 bpm tempo was infectious and irresistible. Disco created new lanes for DJs and producers, pioneered the modern nightclub/lounge scene (for better or worse), and gave fans license to just dance and be free on the floor. Most importantly, disco provided a sonic backdrop for a changing America, and that’s why Chicago DJ Steve Dahl and his fans were determined to kill it.

In the early ‘70s, marginalized communities were gaining voice and visibility. The “end” of the civil rights movement with the 1968 sigining of the Civil Rights Act, the Stonewall Rebellion and subsequent repeal of a NY law forbidding men to dance with each other, and the rise of the women’s liberation movement changed the social conscience first in major cities, and soon the country. The rock and roll and protest music of ‘60s counterculture gave way to something new, especially in major urban metros: dance music.

On Valentine’s Day 1970, DJ David Mancuso threw an invite-only party at his downtown loft which turned into a weekly event, and eventually one of NYC’s hottest nightspots, The Loft. Mancuso’s parties were primarily meant as a safe space gay men, but attendance grew to anyone else who wanted to commune through dance. The Loft was the beginning of NYC disco club culture, and of the guest list-only nightspot. Studio 54 cranked that exclusivity up to create the velvet rope and table service scene we know today. Underground dance clubs like the Paradise Garage followed, niche community havens that served as an escape from the political and fiscal turmoil of the decade. Gay, Black, Hispanic, Latinx and some straight folks partied together all night, literally. The drugs and free love of hippy culture carried over to the scene, but there was usually no alcohol, until 54 opened. These first parties also broke some of the earliest disco hits, before they were called “disco.”

What we overlooked for years in disparaging convos about disco is that it was our music. Disco evolved from black and latin sounds; funk and soul with driving rhythm and layered instrumentation and production. James Brown’s band leader Fred Wesley once called disco “funk with a bow-tie.” It was smoother and more polished than funk, but more complex than straight soul. The proto-disco sounds that bridged the gap from soul to disco are largely attributed to two sources. The OG Barry White’s "Love's Theme" (which Barry composed and arranged; please put some respect on his name), is considered one of the first “disco” hits. That big sweeping sound he created with the 40-piece Love Unlimited Orchestra was a trademark of early disco songs. By the time “Love’s Theme” hit radio, it had already been in the clubs for about six months.

Philly Soul architects Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff are also credited as laying the foundation for the early disco sound. Philly soul was soul with a kick - a little extra percussion. A few more layers on the instrumentation. A little uptick on the rhythm. A bit more bass. It was danceable. You had to move!

MFSB’s “Love is the Message” (on Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International) became a favorite of the early disco set. It was the unofficial theme song of The Loft, a favorite of The Paradise Garage’s famous DJ Larry Levan, and fans of FX’s POSE will remember Pray Tell insisting the song be played nonstop at the balls for weeks, because it reminded him of the simpler, carefree years before the AIDS epidemic hit the community.

In 1972, Manusco found a super obscure import in a Brooklyn record store and started playing it at his parties, then other DJs started bootlegging it to play at their parties. Frankie Crocker, one of the most influential black radio DJs of the 70s, heard Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” and put it on rotation on NY’s WBLS. Atlantic Records - the one label that never missed a black music moment - licensed the song from Dibango’s original label and released a reissue. In the Summer of ’73, the song became the first official disco song to crack the Billboard Hot 100.

Disco wasn’t just Saturday Night Fever moves, especially pre-commercial peak. It was also pop-locking, the bump, roller skating jams - a lot of music we never stopped listening to, but just consider dance music, soul classics, cookout music, Soul Train line joints… We always just called it something else.

Disco also brought back hand-dancing (or couple’s dancing), which had disappeared in popular music after “The Twist” took over dancefloors in 1960. We’ve all seen old heads (or, if you’re my age, tried to get in with the old heads) getting their dance on and just watched in awe of how graceful, effortless and fun it looks. This ain’t nothin’ but the hustle.

Now that we’ve established that disco started as soul and funk with a little extra on it, let’s talk about how disco’s impact endures. Disco is short for “discotheque” - literally translated to "music library." Named as such because records were the focus at discotheques instead of live music. DJs controlled the room, and quickly became crucial to breaking a record. Songs started in the club, not at radio. DJ pools - which later became essential to hip-hop - were created during the disco era to get new songs and mixes out to the clubs as soon as possible.

In NY, DJs started remixing for the first time, extending the best parts (break beats, etc) of the hottest songs to keep the crowd in the moment (I still think NY DJs put together the most cohesive music sets because it’s in their DNA, but that’s another sermon), and eventually the 12” version was born. Or in the case of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You,” the 16:50 opus.

Disco also elevated the music producer. Rather than pairing one or two people/teams with an artist for the majority of a project, or automatically using label-affiliated producers, producers became sought after talent for their sounds. They were tapped for a song or two, or some had songs ready and just and needed to find the right vocalist. Producers were beginning to break artists, and the vocal stars were overwhelmingly black women. Church-bred black vocalists, to be exact.

Sounds were about agency, freedom, sexuality, belonging, surviving on their own terms, and they became anthems for the gay rights movement.

Disco allowed for a freedom of identity not seen before in popular culture. Androgyny, fluid and open sexuality, excess and camp. The more outrageous, the better, if that was your thing. Only in disco could an openly gay, COGIC-raised black man like Sylvester transcend from drag shows to superstardom.

As big as disco was growing in cities like NY, Philly and Chicago, it was still a somewhat niche culture. With disco came a level of glamour and opulence that the average American joe wasn’t ready to lean into yet… plus many still saw it exclusively as gay culture. Then, in 1977, “Staying Alive” and Saturday Night Fever changed everything.

Saturday Night Fever marked that tipping point all good things hit once the masses come on board. The movie framed disco around a straight, white (Italian) blue collar worker and white artists (the Bee Gees). Now it was palatable. The movie and soundtrack were both massively successful, and by 1979 disco had evolved from a cosmopolitan culture to a national scene. Discos started opening in small town USA, and labels rushed to have any artists who hadn’t dipped their toes into disco yet to record a dance track. Even hard core rock and pop stars - likeDolly Parton, Sinatra, the Rolling Stones - some with less success than others - all tried their hand. Rod Stewart hates disco hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” but it’s one of his biggest songs, so no matter how often he’s tried to take it out of his tours in latter years, fans want it.

Disney and The Muppets even got in on the disco craze, probably encouraged by Rick Dees’ 1978 utterly ridiculous, completely novelty No. 1 hit “Disco Duck.”

If we’re keeping it a buck, though, I had the Sesame Street Fever album, and it was a jam. Larry Levan ain’t just hop on any ol’ thing.

Ironically, the Bee Gees never set out specifically to create a disco sound, but they became synonymous with the genre. All of their songs for Saturday Fever had been recorded before the movie was made. But the affiliation defined them for the rest of their careers, and they hated it. "The media made it as if people were afflicted with {disco}," Maurice Gibb told The Washington Post when the group finally reunited to tour a decade later. "And then there were the Village People, 'Disco Duck' and 'Kung Fu Fighting,' all these stupid, silly records that were based on what we were doing but nowhere near it...Unfortunately, it cheapened what we did."

The phase of “stupid, silly records” is what comes to mind when most think of disco, but this was also when disco was at its peak. It was supplanting rock n’ roll as the sound of America, and straight white men started developing that anxiety that straight white men get whenever something isn’t centered around straight white men (see: everything happening in US politics right this moment). The anti-disco movement found an unlikely leader in a Chicago DJ named Steve Dahl. Dahl was a chubby, awkward guy with a baby on the way, when his station manager called him into his office on Christmas Eve 1978 to tell him the station was converting to an all disco format at the top of the year. It was like the moment in comic books when the otherwise normal person becomes a villain.

Dahl got another gig at Chicago classic rock station The Loop, but fed his animosity towards disco with daily segments where he’d “blow up” a disco record on air. He built a following, the Coho Lips: a group of young white men who, according to Dahl, “want(ed) to wear our t-shirts and our jeans. And we (didn’t) want to have to wear white three-piece suits to get laid.” (It’s like “economic anxiety”, but with clothes.)

He started hosting anti-disco events, first clad in Hawaiian shirts and then in full military uniform and helmet, where he’d lead enthusiastic chants of “Disco sucks!” as he broke albums over his head. The Chicago White Sox’s owner’s son was a fan, and suggested a co-promotion for a game: fans would bring a disco record to destroy in between double headers, for a discounted admission price of $0.98 cents. The event at first seemed a huge success - over 50,000 fans showed up with reports of 10,000 more outside trying to get in. But after Dahl appeared in an army jeep to set off the dumpster full of vinyl, things went left.

The firepower was stronger than anticipated and destroyed the field, pieces of vinyl started flying all over the place like missiles. The crowd descended from the stands, first in revelry, but then it became more like a riot. People set seats on fire, lit a bonfire in the middle of the field, threw bottles and albums. Players were barricaded in the locker rooms, staff was ordered to evacuate, and the police came to shut it all down.

People were rightfully horrified at the scene, recalling book-burning and dystopian warnings from Bradbury. But Dahl has consistently maintained that Disco Demolition Night wasn’t homophobic or racial, instead calling it a “joyous heat-and-beer-infused celebration” and “one of the greatest radio promotions in history.”

Chicago house pioneer Vincent Lawrence was a 15-year old usher at Comenski field that night, and remembers it differently. He first noticed that people weren’t just bringing disco records to destroy, but black music period. “There’s Marvin Gaye records. And Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life. Records that were black records,” he recounted on Gimlet Media’s Undone podcast. He tried to enforce a strict disco rule for the discount, but his boss overrode him. Later, as the melee grew on the field, Lawrence found himself confronted by anti-disco folks. “There were just angry people running up to me, getting in my face saying disco ducks, disco sucks,” he shared. “A kid came up to me and took a 12-inch disk and broke it right in my face. It was like a Marvin Gaye 12-inch or something like that. And I didn’t understand it, until much later, that that was just hate, and that they were directing it at me because I was black and the record was black.”

Disco Demolition Night became a national news story, and by 1980, disco was passe. The anti-disco militia had accomplished their goal; the genre practically disappeared from the airwaves, and punk, new wave and pop took over radio. But disco didn’t really die. It morphed. The underground house music scene immediately started bubbling in Chicago with a sound that was basically strippped down disco. In fact, house pioneer Frankie Knuckles called it “disco’s revenge,” but also thought, as he told music writer Jon Savage, a rebirth was necessary. “Those guys declaring disco being dead actually was kind of like a blessing in disguise, because (the culture) had to turn itself, because it‘d just gotten too much.”

Vince Lawrence, who was working at Disco Demolition Night to save money for a synthesizer, co-wrote and produced what’s considered the first house record, “On and On,” with DJ Jesse Saunders.

Some acts made the seamless transition to boogie music; the mellow, groovier side of disco.

Disco and house are the roots for so much of hip-hop, latin freestyle, techno and electronica, and now EDM. The name may have been tarnished, but the culture simply evolved, even as straight white men continue to fight the advance of anything “other” with all their might. At the core, great disco songs are just great songs. They inspire, they encourage, they speak to you, and they make you dance with abandon. How can anybody hate on that? Disco legend Gloria Gaynor summarized disco’s legacy for Vanity Fair: “Disco music is alive and well and living in the hearts of music-lovers around the world. It simply changed its name to protect the innocent: Dance music.”


#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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Courtesy of Lion King

Chiwetel Ejiofor Proves The Real Star Of The 'Lion King’ Is Actually The Villain

The bad guy makes the movie what it is. He tests the parameters of your empathy, understanding, and grace, forcing you to see what you’re made of.

This particular bad guy lets resentment fester and rumble in his belly, as his mighty and righteous brother merits admiration and reverence from faithful servants. When it comes to brains, he knows he has the lion's share, but it’s the permanent mark in the shape of a dagger slicing above his left eye that reminds him his brother is the sole proprietor of brute strength.

It's this same villain who deputizes himself among the others also tired of begging for whatever's left to orchestrate a felony so sorrowful, it plucks at your Adam’s Apple, pushing your screams and cries back into your throat because what’s done cannot be undone.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s embodiment of the deceitful Scar is just that: a wondrous amalgamation of pain, defeat, rejection and will bursting onto the big screen in Disney’s live-action remake of the Lion King. Jeremy Irons’ 1994 version of the antagonist, while still deceptive, encapsulated a bit of theatrics and bounce. The only telltale sign of Scar’s venom was his flowing jet-black mane. Ejiofor’s 2019 portrayal is bloated with greed, anger and the need to control. The use of the word “bloated” is hyperbole, of course, as on-screen Scar is thin, almost emaciated and physically hungry for the dominance he feels he’s owed.

There’s no need to rehash the 25-year-old film. Moviegoers can be reassured to know director Jon Favreau stayed true to the movie’s heart. He often replicated important scenes detail for detail, including the quintessential opening sequence with the sun rising over the Pride Lands as zebras, antelope, rhinos and other wildlife assembled to meet and bow to the future king.

And while we know Mufasa dies, his live-action death stings even more.

As Hans Zimmer’s “To Die For” thunders, the wildebeest come running down into the gorge and your 10-year-old self tells Simba to run. Hope is still a possibility after Mufasa saves his cub and leaps from the stampede onto the rocks and climbs to the top. Then your 34-year-old self soothes your inner child, because what happens next—the grave offense Scar commits—is irreversible.

But what most miss about Scar, even after 25 years, is under all of his deplorable ways lies his one admirable quality: ambition.

Scar saw himself among the greats and envisioned a kingdom under his rule. He let nothing get in the way of his chosen destiny, including his weak older brother. Scar couldn’t and wouldn’t settle for being a knight, or a duke or a lord. Scar wanted to be king, so much so betrayal and murder were mere casualties in the race to rule Pride Rock.

Who among us has ever gone after our future with more reckless abandon?

Ejiofor understood this insatiable need to ascend to the greatness Scar believed he possessed, and he channeled that with his voice. The east-London native’s lilt took on whatever emotions needed to give way to Scar's true intentions.

Whether it be the flat, emotionless way he dismissed Simba into the den. (“I don’t babysit,” he sneers) or the way he let his words dangle in the air as he covertly described life as Mufasa's brother ("Others spend their lives in the dark...begging for scraps"), Ejiofor’s reinvention of Scar is more than just a voice over. It’s the inflated and arguably updated blueprint Irons left behind.

Ejiofor showed that to embody Scar meant more than reciting lines from a page. It meant whatever couldn’t be expressed through physical emotion seen on screen had to be demonstrated in the inflections, whispers, and passion of his voice. Scar’s lustful desire to outshine his brother and his brother’s memory was on full display whenever Scar was on screen and Ejiofor zeroed in on that, even from behind a microphone.

With fervor, and indignation Ejiofor’s portrayal of Scar proved why, without him, Simba would be nothing. Without Scar, Simba wouldn’t have to face his biggest foe or know how to. While Mufasa taught him compassion, loyalty, and love, Scar taught him to fight. Scar is a liar and a cheat and will stop at nothing to get what he feels rightfully belongs to him. And yet, as vile as Scar is, he's also the unintended teacher.

Ejiofor knew that deeper than his fury and his jealousy, Scar was more than just a bad guy. Scar was an instructor who made Simba and audiences examine themselves and Ejiofor’s performance underscores that. Does it feel good to give Scar his flowers? Of course not. I wouldn't spit on Scar even if he were on fire. But let’s face it, there would be no Lion King if Simba didn’t have to fight for his throne.

So to Scar and to all the bad guys who help us roar a little bit louder, thank you for the unintended lesson.

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Jonathan Exley

Michael Jackson's June/July 1995 Cover Story: 'ACTION JACKSON'

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June/July 1995 issue of VIBE Magazine.

Michael & Me

Reporting By: Omoronke Idowu, Shani Saxon, Joseph V. Tirella, Josh Tyrangiel, and Mimi Valdés

JIMMY JAM, producer/songwriter (worked on HIStory album) Michael's the most intense person I've worked with. For him, everything is about the music and how to make it better. He also makes work a lot of fun. He's a kid at heart—his office is not like a normal office. He has all the kids' toys. A lot of times we'd be in session, in the middle of playing a video game, and he'd be, like, "Well, we got to do this. But go ahead and finish your game, though—I don't want to mess your game up."

The thing about Michael is his talent. If you put Michael onstage without the explosions and the other dancers, he'll still command the stage.

There's a song called "Childhood" on the new album, and I think for the first time, Michael has put a lot of his feelings on record. That song, for right now, defines where's he's at—the way he feels about himself and the way people feel about him.

HEAVY D, MC/label executive (rapped on "Jam," 1991) I was in California the first time I heard Michael Jackson wanted to record with me. I was, like, Nah, no way, he's too big, it can't be true. Then I got a call from Michael's people at my hotel telling me he was interested. But I still wasn't believing it—I thought they were setting me up for a TV practical jokes show.

So me and my partner go to the place, and while we were waiting we were talking and cursing up a storm—I was thinking that if it was a blooper show, they wouldn't be able to use it. Then Michael called and said he was on his way. When he got there he was just, like, 'Hey, how ya doin?'"

Michael's just as regular as everyone else. We talked about all the normal stuff guys talk about. He's real smart. People forget that he's the most incredible entertainer we've seen in our lifetime. His name is Michael Jackson, not Super Michael Jackson. He makes mistakes just like all of us.

My favorite Michael Jackson song is "Music and Me." It's an old one, about him and his music, his love for music, and the time they've had together. It's like a song that would be sung to a girl, but it's all about music.

R. KELLY, singer/songwriter/producer (worked on HIStory album) I thought it was funny when I told Michael Jackson I didn't want to fly, and he was giving me reasons why I should. I kept looking him in the eye, and I kept saying "uh-huh, uh-huh" and "oh, I see," knowing all the time that I would not be getting on a plane.

Working with Michael was definitely not just another day at the office.

KENNY GAMBLE AND LEON HUFF, producers (the Jacksons' Destiny album, 1978) Gamble: When we took Michael in the studio to overdub his voice, he had so many different ideas about songs, writing, and producing, I told him he could really record himself. He was very curious about a lot of things. He's a creative, spiritual, caring person.

Nineteen eighty-one's "Rock With You" is the most what Michael's about. I really believe he and Quincy have a magic together. Michael is a miracle.

Huff: When Michael and his brothers first came to Philadelphia, Gamble decided to walk them from the hotel to the studio. As they were walking, they were rushed by a group of girls. The brothers escaped by going into a movie theater. Once they made it to the studio, these girls camped outside the studio—and this was for a six-month period. To see 100 girls laying outside a studio at 3 and 4 in the morning for Michael and his brothers was something else.

My favorite Michael song? Nineteen eighty-seven's "Show You the Way to Go."

NAOMI CAMPBELL, supermodel/actress/singer (appeared in "In the Closet" video, 1992) Michael is very involved and on top of everything he puts his name on. He's shy and sweet, considering all he's accomplished, but he's a prankster. When I was doing the video, we had water pistol fights. He's a perfectionist.

TEDDY RILEY, producer (worked on Dangerous and HIStory albums) He's the greatest. Innovative. Black.

SLASH, Guns N' Roses guitarist (played on Dangerous and HIStory albums) He's a fucking brilliant entertainer, a complete natural. He's the only guy I've ever met that's real—for that kind of music. I grew up listening to the Jackson 5. I used to love "Dancing Machine."

We've been friends for a while, so he just lets me do what I want to do. I get a basic framework, and I just make up my part and they edit it. I wonder sometimes what it's gonna sound like, [Laughs] but every time, they do a great job. He's very shrewd. He's got a great, sarcastic sense of humor. People always ask me, "Is he weird?" Well, he's different. But I know what it's like to be weird, growing up in the music business.

I have to admit working with Michael Jackson is different than working with your basic, gritty rock 'n' roll band. One time when I went to play for Michael, he walked in with Brooke Shields, and there I am with a cigarette in one hand, a bottle of Jack Daniel's in the other, and my guitar hanging low around my neck. And he doesn't care. That's not the way he is, but I don't have to change for him. He accepts me for what I am.

TATUM O'NEAL, actress/friend I never worked with Michael, but he and I had a really wonderful friendship when I was 12 and he was 17. He used to dance with me, we'd talk on the phone all the time, and he'd say how funny it was that I was 12 and I could drive and he was older and couldn't. Michael used to come to my house when I was living with my dad, and I remember him being so shy. Once he came into my bedroom, and he wouldn't even sit on my bed. But another time when he was over, he played the drums, my brother played guitar, and someone else played another instrument, and we had a jam session. I had the tape of it, but I lost it somewhere.

When I was 12, he asked me to go to the premiere of The Wiz with him, and my agent at the time said it wasn't a good idea, maybe because they felt he wasn't a big enough star yet. He never talked to me after that. I think he thought I just canceled, but it wasn't me at all. I was a child doing what I was told. I want you to print that, because I don't think he ever knew that. I lost touch with him because of it, so I don't really know him anymore. But I love him; he's one of the nicest, most innocent people I've ever met. I love "She's out of My Life" because I think it describes our friendship at that time.

DALLAS AUSTIN, songwriter/producer (worked on HIStory album) Working with Michael is a different type of work. You're pressured timewise, but not by creativity or money. So you're left with mad freedom. You'd think he'd be very controlling, but if he likes you enough to work with you, he wants your expertise, not just another Michael Jackson record.

"Heal the World" and "Stranger in Moscow" from the HIStory record are, like, the makeup of Michael. I think he's taken on the responsibility to make changes in the world. He's the only real superhero. Think about it.

LISA MARIE PRESLEY-JACKSON, former wife Michael is a true artist in every facet of its nature—extremely aesthetic and very, very romantic. This is who he truly is despite degrading comments made in the past by certain larva.

Michael, as well as myself, have been severely underestimated and misunderstood as human beings. I can't wait for the day when all the snakes who have tried to take him out get to eat their own lunch and crawl back in the holes from which they came.

We know who they are and their bluff is about to be called.

QUINCY JONES, longtime collaborator/legendary producer Michael can go out and perform before 90,000 people, but if I ask him to sing a song for me, I have to sit on the couch with my hands over my eyes and he goes behind the couch. He is amazingly shy.

What people forget about him is that for the first time, probably in the history of music, a black artist is embraced on a global level by everyone from eight to 80 years old. People all over the world, especially young people, have a black man as an idol.

Reporting by Omoronke Idowu, Shani Saxon, Joseph V. Tirella, Josh Tyrangiel, and Mimi Valdés

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