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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Let Jacquees Tell It, He’s The Jodeci Of This R&B Game

Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax doesn’t want to be the bad guy of R&B. He says this with a sinister, yet warm smile. With year-end debates taking over social circles, Jacquees wants all the flowers for his glowing debut, 4275. “I ain't never had a year like this, I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this,” he says, as he raises his iced out wrist to draw his progression. “It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.”

At 24 years old, the singer knows a thing or two about the ever-changing genre. Nearly half of his life has been dedicated to music, specifically to quiet storm-like sounds that now take on new meaning in our adult love lives. He’s hibernated under the radar for some time with his 2014 debut EP 19 and released gentle falsettos and big name features with Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and Trey Songz along the way.

But between his accolades, he’s been condemned for his favorable “Quemix” of Ella Mai’s “Trip” and now, his self-proclaimed status of “The King of R&B” for his generation.

"I just wanna let everybody know that I'm the king of R&B right now," Jacquees said in an Instagram post on Sunday (Dec. 9). "For this generation, I understand who done came and who done did that and that and that, but now it's my time. Jacquees, the king of R&B.”

R&B artists like J. Holiday and Pleasure P shared their two cents on the matter while the game’s most elite like Tank, Tyrese and Eric Bellinger dropping stacks of knowledge on the gift of consistency, respect, and talent. But Jacquees has these things and then some with legends like Jon B., Donell Jones and Jermaine Dupri in his corner. Despite quick reactions from his peers, Jacquees is confident in nature and proud of his space in the game.

“I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one,” he tells VIBE, just days before his “King of R&B” comments went viral. “You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees.”

Jacquees’ music is just a branch of what R&B has evolved into. Over the years, artists like SZA, H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, The Internet, Miguel and many more have flipped the genre on its head by churning out music that not only speaks to the soul, but to their vocal abilities. Successful R&B records aren’t confined to rap guest verses and traditional instruments now take center stage. But Jacquees sits in an interesting space seeing as his style caters to a grey area of folks who just heard their first Monica album yesterday and now appreciate a good nayhoo like the rest of us.

With hopes to release his sophomore album in February 2019, Jacquees chats with VIBE about his confidence, making 7275 and why he’s the perfect leader for R&B today.


What have you learned about yourself as a human and an artist in 2018?


quees: This was my biggest year. I made the most money I’ve ever made. I dropped my album and was able to take care of my family. I ain’t never had a year like this and I thank God for that. I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this, (slowly raises a hand to the ceiling) It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.

I think I learned about my whole self in 2018. Being that it was my biggest year, I went through a lot of stuff personally, but I think the biggest thing for me was listening to other people but also trusting myself. I have a strong mind so more of listening to myself helped.

Do you think you're the good guy or the bad guy in R&B?

Who do you think I am?

I think you’re a sweetie.

I don’t wanna be the bad guy, I’m a good guy. I’m easy to deal with. I’m a sweetie, but ain’t sh*t sweet though. (Laughs)

You have a lot of ‘90s and 2000s influence in your music. Do you ever feel you might sound dated, or do you think you’re bringing new sounds into the genre?

I just think I'm bringing a whole new sound. When I was younger, someone told me if you switch up what you’re doing, someone else is going to do it and you’re going to be pissed off. Just stick with it. When I was 14, everyone was telling me I needed to make club records but I didn’t want to do it. I remember CEOs saying, “Just let Jacquees do that [what he wants,]” because it’s a clock.

I figured out how to get my records at the club without changing who I was. I remember making “B.E.D.” and finding my flow on my project 19, you know? That’s when I got my swag.

What does love look like to you right now?

I think about a family. I think about me, a girl, a kid or something, like a whole family. One day I’m going to have it. I’ll still be in the game but I’ll say, “Yeah, that’s my wife over there with our son and daughter.” I'm getting older, too. I’ve been in the game for 10 years for real, but I’ll be 25 next year and soon they’ll be a little Jacquees.

There are a lot of layers in today’s R&B, especially in the mainstream resurgence it’s had. In that, there aren’t as many young male black vocalists being pushed to the forefront. I want to know your thoughts on where you exist in the genre today.

I think there's a big wave coming back right now because even if R&B didn't die down they weren’t promoting it that heavy. Artists were making songs, they just weren’t being acknowledged on a mainstream level. I think the game is really putting R&B back on top. You know, you’ve got artists like me, Tory [Lanez], Ella Mai, H.E.R., so many people, you know what I’m saying? Of course, you had Chris [Brown], Trey [Songz], all of them but that’s when we were in school. It’s a new time, ain’t no big male R&B singers.

I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one. You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees. They’re not rugged like me. You’ve got Jodeci and Boyz II Men. I’m Jodeci, they’re all Boyz II Men. I’m street, they’re not street like me. You can hear it in their voice. There’s a difference.

It’s no disrespect to nobody because they’re all my friends, but I still wanna be number one. If we’re playing the game and I lose, I’ll be mad as hell but I’m still a good person. I just want to win.

As you should. Everyone wants to make the best music they can–

But I ain’t no hater either. The game is like a sport. The game is like high school. I remember being at this year’s BET Awards and seeing certain singers and thinking, ‘Oh, they’re seniors.’ I knew I was a freshman, but I saw Meek and all of them thought, “He’s a senior.’ You know how it is when you walk through school in the first year. Then the second you’re like, “I’m the ni**a now.”

When I did the Soul Train Awards in November, I felt like a sophomore that everybody knew. They knew me from my freshman year, but this time I’m playing varsity.

You’ve said before you want to do this for a long time–

Yeah, I want to make music forever and it’s my choice. I want to make enough money for me to turn down shows because now, I have to take everything I get. I always tell artists, you got this much time to make this much money. Because after that, sh*t’s closed. I've seen it happen.

For me, I know I got longevity in this game because I'm an R&B singer and a lot of R&B singers have longevity if you take care of yourself, you know what I'm saying? Even rappers, you know what I'm saying? You keep that flow going, don't do no lame sh*t, you know you’re stick around.

How do you take care of yourself?

You gotta take care of your health. That's number one. Your mind and your health is your biggest thing. Keeping good people around you...stay in good spirits with me. I like to keep good people around me. I like people around me [who] make me laugh. Smile, I don't really like people around me that I got to be like, “What's going on?” I just like people who are themselves.

Stream 4275 below.

READ MORE: Tyrese, Usher And Others Reacts To Jacquees' Claim That He's The King Of R&B

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Music Sermon: The Groundbreaking Sprite and St. Ides Hip-Hop Campaigns

Today, rap music is used to sell everything from electronics to tax filing services to nut butter grinding machines at Whole Foods. We understand that hip-hop culture is essentially the root of everything cool and hip in culture, period, and it’s been commodified and appropriated within an inch of its life. But in the early ‘90s, the genre was far from Madison Avenue-friendly. Aside from the groundbreaking deal between Adidas and RUN DMC, brands didn’t yet see full value and impact of hip-hop…except in the food and beverage industry.

Beverage companies centering campaigns for the urban demo around black music was nothing new; Coca-Cola had ads featuring artists such as New Edition and Anita Baker singing their hearts out for the cola in the ‘80s, and Schlitz Malt Liquor had a legendary – and hilarious - run of spots featuring The Commodores, The Four Tops, Teddy Pendergrass and more through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. However, in the early ‘90s two brands put their entire business on hip-hop’s back, by not only building their brands but spring-boarding the recognition of the music and artists as a marketing and advertising tool: Sprite soda and St. Ides malt liquor.

In the ‘80s, Sprite was languishing behind competitor 7Up when parent company Coca-Cola decided to focus on the youth market, and the quickly growing hip-hop culture was part of the strategy. African-American ad agency Burrell Communications tagged hip-hop acts for a series of spots that began a long-standing marriage between the brand and the culture, starting with Kurtis Blow in 1986. It was one of the first national TV ads to feature a rapper.


In 1990, the brand kicked off the “I Like the Sprite in You” campaign, using rap acts that matched the soft drink’s bubbly energy, starting with Heavy D & the Boyz before partnering with Kid ’n Play the following year. The ads featured the artists clad in lemon-lime fare, rhymin’ about lymon.

HEAVY D - 1990 KID’N PLAY – 1991

With Kris Kross, they turned it up a notch and had us crunk inside the Sprite can. Edgy. Also, this was catchy as hell.


Then in 1994, a young brand manager from Clark Atlanta University named Darryl Cobbin had an idea for a new direction: Gen X was about authenticity and independence of thought, not following the hype. Sprite ditched the pop-friendly crossover acts and identified more “authentic” rap artists – lyricists with street and cultural cred – to rep the brand. “Lymon” was also out of the window, as they moved away from marketing taste and towards marketing attitude. (Cobbin later spearheaded the iconic, yet grammatically questionable, Boost Mobile “Where You At?” campaign.)

Gone were the bright yellow and green sets, because while the new slogan said, “Image is nothing,” it was all about image. Bright and shiny was traded for dark and gritty. Now we were in the studio; a fly on the wall for freestyle sessions. In the first spot of the series with Grand Puba and Large Professor, Puba closes with “First thing’s first, obey your thirst.” It’s legend even within Coca-Cola that Puba ad-libbed the phrase that then became the brand’s tagline that remains to this day.


The “Obey Your Thirst” spots also took us the street corner, the club, and inside the ring when Sprite resurrected the legendary KRS One vs. MC Shan battle.

KRS ONE & MC SHAN - 1996 NAS & AZ – 1997 THE LOST BOYS – 1997

By the late ‘90s Sprite had spent roughly $70M on the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign, tripled sales, and commanded a majority market share of the citrus category (which also included 7Up, Sierra Mist, and Mountain Dew).

Sprite had also succeeded in becoming an official and established part of the culture. They were family. The brand further expanded into urban youth culture through a partnership with the NBA, while continuing to evolve the creative of the rap campaigns.


Near the end of the decade, Sprite explored the overlap between hip-hop culture, comics and martial arts with a series of posse spots based on Voltron (representing all hip-hop regions) and the 5 Deadly Venoms (with all female emcees).


Over the years, Sprite has continued to be one of the most consistent brands in hip-hop. We’ve grown accustomed to spotting the logo everywhere from music festivals and shows to the background of BET’s hip-hop cyphers. They revitalized the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign with Drake in 2010 and paid homage to the greatest lyricists in rap with the “Obey Your Verse” campaign featuring iconic rappers and cans with classic lyrics in 2015.

SPRITE "Obey Your Verse - Cooler" (starring Rakim) from SHOUT IT OUT LOUD MUSIC on Vimeo.

St. Ides’ run with hip-hop doesn’t have the same happy ending as Sprite’s. The brand’s usage of rap petered out in the mid-90s after wide backlash and a series of lawsuits.

For St. Ides, hip-hop was the brand campaign. It’s how they built their business. The brand was introduced in 1987 and their rap campaigns launched in 1988. The malt liquor 40 oz., with significantly higher alcohol content than beer at around a $2 price point, was already a staple in lower-income neighborhoods and hip-hop culture. The “Crooked I” capitalized on that.

Parent company McKenzie River secured Ice Cube as their anchor spokesperson and tapped West Coast producer DJ Pooh to spearhead advertising creative. Pooh lined up a veritable who’s who of additional West Coast rappers over the years, including Geto Boys, Cypress Hill, Warren G, Snoop and Tupac; plus the thorough-est from the East, including Eric B and Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie and EPMD.

EPMD & ICE CUBE - 1991 GETO BOYS & ICE CUBE – 1992 ERIC B & RAKIM - 1992

Unlike Sprite’s campaigns which were first jingles and still felt like commercials, even when elevated to trading hot bars for Obey Your Thirst. St. Ides spots, however, looked and felt like straight up music videos with album-worthy production and flow.

ICE CUBE – 1993 MC EIHT – 1994 NOTORIOUS B.I.G. – 1995

Complex even named Wu-Tang’s St. Ides spot “Shaolin Brew” as one of the collective’s 100 best songs! (But at least it’s ranked near the bottom; #97.)


In fact, in 1994, the brand did turn the hottest of the joints into an album, with the St. Ides promotional mixtape dropping at your neighborhood liquor store. It featured full-length songs about getting twisted off the malt liquor from Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, MC Eiht, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Nate Dogg.

The Snoop and Nate track is low key a jam, still. Homegirl in the background starting at the 10-second mark is a whole mood.

This blatant marketing of malt liquor directly to black and brown youth wasn’t going to go unchecked indefinitely. It was all irresponsible, even while being genius for the demo. In 1991, the Wall Street Journal listed the St. Ides ad campaign among one of the worst of the year, which probably didn’t matter at the time since WSJ readers weren’t St. Ides’ base.

In 1991, Public Enemy released Apocalypse ’91: The Empire Strikes Back. The album featured “100 Bottle Bags,” a direct criticism against malt liquor companies marketing specifically to urban communities “…but they don’t sell that sh*t in the white neighborhoods.” Shortly after the release, St. Ides found itself in Chuck D’s crosshairs, and he fired the first in a series of big shots against the brand, marking the beginning of the end of their love affair with hip-hop. An 80-second radio spot featuring Cube used a sample of Chuck’s voice without his permission. The ad had already aired over 500 times on rap radio shows when Chuck sued St. Ides parent company McKenzie River for five million dollars (they settled out of court).

Then, St. Ides and McKenzie River fell under legal scrutiny from the New York State Attorney General in 1992 for using verbiage like Cube’s lyric “Get your girl in the mood quicker, make your jimmy thicker…St. Ides.” to suggest the malt liquor increased sexual prowess. Can you imagine the think pieces if that spot ran today?

They were later in hot water with the New York AG’s office again, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco (the ATF) for advertising perceived to the be targeted towards minors, with complaints that it glamorized gang affiliation and promoted sex. After having production completely shut down for a short while and getting hit with heavy fines, St. Ides tried to clean up its act, adding “drink responsibly” messaging into the spots.

By ’96 the run was over. Hip-hop was growing up, getting money and moving towards more sophisticated alcoholic beverage choices. Alizé and Hennessy, anyone?

The relationship between hip-hop and alcohol never ended, of course, but has continued to evolve to match the evolution of the lifestyle. We don’t go to the corner store no more, homie (save a brief return in the early aughts of Four Loko). We’re toasting to the good life with premium brands, some of which are now owned by the artists.

We can look back now with the wizened, woke eyes of maturity and possibly scrutinize our artists selling out at the expense of the community, but for the young and burgeoning hip-hop culture, both the St. Ides campaigns and the Sprite campaigns opened the door for the power and commodification of hip-hop and consumer brands. For better or for worse.

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J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

READ MORE: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, And Cardi B Lead 2019 Grammys Nominations


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