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Illustration By Nicholas Rice

Aaliyah Week: An Ode To Static Major, The Pen Behind Aaliyah’s Self-Titled Album

Collaborators turned close friends share their memories of Static Major in the studio.

As part of VIBE’s Aaliyah Week, we’re rolling out a collection of stories focusing on the legacy of the “One in a Million” singer.

Stephen “Static Major” Garrett could be seen as a lyrical surgeon. He possessed the ability to cut out your aching thoughts and turn them into a string of therapeutic words, providing the much needed mental ease that you got from listening to his songs for other artists, or within the comfort of his Louisville brethren, Playa.

With his roots cemented deep in the church, Static Major's voice transcended the holy sanctuary and landed on the ears of Jawann “Smokey” Peacock and later Benjamin “Black” Bush. They formed the 90s group Playa -- which saw the addition and subtraction of members before it became just the trio -- after being discovered by Devante Swing of Jodeci at a concert. For Playa, music was a way of life. Black and Smoke’s first introduction via three-way resulted in a battle of the vocals, and they instantly knew they would click on wax. From winning top prizes at gospel expos to serving as a source of inspiration for Jodeci, the R&B group was determined to be a force to be reckoned with in front of the masses and behind the pen.

With the success of their debut album, Cheers 2 U, Playa set their sights on spreading their name even further across the industry. Although their second album was put on hold, the trio focused on their personal endeavors and Static was just beginning to jump into the rap world. Two weeks before the release of a hit song that was set to introduce Static to a new audience, he passed away before he could enjoy the success of Lil Wayne's track, "Lollipop." Weezy recalled the moment that Static brought the song to him in the studio, stating that, "Once he pushed play I knew it was going to be magic." He added that working alongside the Kentuckian "brought out the best of me."

Below, Smoke and Black recall their fondest memories of Static and Playa, working in Da Bassment/Swing Mob collective, and producers behind Aaliyah’s self-titled album reveal what it was like to work with the pen behind her last project.

 

From The Pew To Performing For Jodeci: The Formation Of Playa

Jawann “Smokey” Peacock: I grew up listening to a lot of gospel music and not necessarily at home, but I was always in church. At home when it came to the R&B side of things, pretty much anything that came on the radio or when you start talking about all of the 80s and the 90s R&B type hits. I started delving off into a lot of old school stuff, jazz, Harry Connick Jr. I think a couple of my biggest influences was probably John Pee K., Take 6, there’s just so many that I listened to but it all revolved around soul.

Benjamin “Black” Bush: My dad was a church pastor so it was a lot of church music, and I had older brothers and sisters so I had a wide range. It went from Stevie Wonder to Commodores, Al Green and then just being around the family. I got to hear a lot of stuff like gospel and jazz. Growing up, I pretty much liked anything. I appreciated all music.

Smokey: I’ve been a lot of places, touring, and I know it’s kind of hard respecting me saying this because I was born and raised in Louisville, but there is literally no place like it. Just even the way that it’s structured. It’s family-oriented to me. That alone built up motivation to do what I wanted to do. When it comes to Louisville not being accessible to the music industry, that brought forth motivation and pride within, that this is something that’s truly a blessing because not only does this not happen everyday, and not only does this not happen to everyone aspiring to be a singer, but it doesn’t happen with people coming out of Louisville that much because we’re not accessible to the music industry like New York or L.A., Detroit, Philly. One of the biggest aspects of inspiration that it brought to the table was just that motivation and pride that gave you the drive to do it, and to try to become as successful as possible.

Black: You had Nappy Roots, you had Playa, you got Bryson Tiller now, New Birth, there’s a lot of music and a lot of super talented people, musically, here. It’s a melting pot for music, and it’s a real church city. Music is everywhere. You can run up on a wino and he’ll be able to sing you under the table.

Smokey: Being able to sing and go from secular or we’ll be in shows on Saturdays doing songs that are secular and no one knows what we have to do in church on Sunday singing gospel, that was easy. It wasn’t really any different, it was just like singing a different song and having a different crowd in a different facility. But it was no different because we always sang whatever we sang as if it were a gospel song anyway. Gospel was the root of the talent to begin with. That’s where it all began, that’s what we knew best. When it came to singing gospel, we were a little bit more in tune with that than we were with the secular, but we just brought to the table what we brought to the church to the secular. That’s why we had such a fondness for Jodeci because nobody had been doing it like them. These two cats that were singing secular music were singing it like it was gospel. That’s what we were on. It wasn’t anything difficult at all. It was the same thing to us, just different lyrics. Now of course, you couldn’t do no hyping up the crowd, curse, nothing like that, but it was the same thing talent wise.

Black: My brother, he’s a pastor now, but he’s one of the most phenomenal singers in the city. Just growing up in my house in general helped cultivate everything. Everything I was hearing was just as dope at home.

Smokey: I think we all wanted to and aspired to do R&B more so than gospel. Black I know had been singing since a child, like K-Ci and JoJo, in a gospel quartet group. Static had been singing in the church, in the choirs, and we had all aspired, as most kids in the church, a longing for the street. You have those rebellious preacher’s kids, and I heard a story one time that Dalvin [Jodeci member] told me which I can relate to that type of thing. Him and Devante and a couple of others played instruments for their father’s church. At a point in time, there was something they call a praise break where everybody is shouting and the music speeds up and everybody loses it. He said that they started playing “Jungle Love” and his father looked over at him like, ‘Are y’all serious about that? Y’all better stop playing that type of music in here.’ Kids that are in the church heavy as we were, you long for the secular because it’s something different and it’s something bad but it’s not bad. We actually dealt with some people that would question but would not totally be with us doing both. I’ve heard it said that we were serving two gods and it’s like, ‘No!’ I knew then that I wasn’t serving two gods, I’m serving one God. It wouldn’t be any different than you selling cigarettes to kill people, or working at the liquor store. This is just what I’m doing, it’s no different than what Al Green did, or Aretha Franklin. I serve one God and that didn’t stop us at all.

The legend!!!!

A photo posted by Ben Bush (@blackplaya502) on

Black: Basically my dad wasn’t fond of it in the beginning, but he also knew that I was going to do what I wanted. My mind was made up. I wasn’t really worried about what people were saying, I just wanted to make sure that we succeeded so that whatever they were saying was wrong.

Smokey: In my church [Elim Baptist Church], and this is like in the 80s, we had our own little group. There were like four of us, and back in the days, and maybe they still do it today but I haven’t seen it, there would be something you’d call the brotherhood. The Deacons that sat on the front row of the church sang every second and fourth Sunday. They sang one song right after the scripture reading. We being singers and wanting to have a little group and do singing inside of the church formed the junior brotherhood. One of the guys named Charles Tilly went to Wagner High School with Static and knew him. With us aspiring to also sing secular music outside of the church and be a national R&B group, he mentioned Static and pulled him into the group, which was back in the 80s. We went on to win first place in the gospel expo in Louisville, and we did a number of things inside and outside of the church. After that group disbanded, we formulated another group.

"If I saw the melodies had Static wrapped up I wouldn’t bother him" ~ Benjamin "Black" Bush

Black: It was never one genre that drove me and I think that was probably equally across the board with Static and Smokey too. We all have that range of music. You got so many different genres. But soul music was a big thing.

Static & DeVante. Goodnight! 💖 #ForeverDeVante #devanteswing #StaticMajor

A photo posted by Forever DeVante (@forever.devante) on

Smokey: Back in the days in Louisville, the scene around the late 80s and the early 90s was full of R&B. It was full of different R&B groups. Around that time, boy bands were really big. It was so heavy in Louisville that it was almost like the NBA Drafts. There would be drafts of members from one group to the next, and I remember there was one point that we had six members in my group. There were a lot of us. We ended up one day going to, I want to say it was March of ’91, we went to a concert that had Jodeci, I think it was Boyz II Men, MC Hammer, there were a lot of people on that card. We went there with the aspiration of singing and meeting someone, but of course everybody’s dream is to get backstage. For one reason or another, that wasn’t happening with security.

Black: What’s crazy, Jodeci was our idol, how many people get to study up under their idol or a chance to meet them?

Smokey: There ended up being a security guard at a door where all the buses for the incoming acts loaded and unloaded, that remembered us from singing. It was either at a school or a church. We were so booked that we were singing at three churches every Sunday. We would sing at Sunday school, at the morning worship, then at the worship the churches would have in the afternoon or the evening. He remembered us from singing at something and was willing to let us go out there and see if we see anyone and sing for them, and he’d let us back in. When we went out there, Jodeci was the first people we saw. I think it was either JoJo or Dalvin that we saw and he said, ‘Let me go get my people, let me go get my brother.’ He brought Devante out and we sang “Stay,” and then we sang “The End Of The Road” by Boyz II Men. He liked us, took down our numbers and actually remembered my number over the course of a year or so, and ended up reaching back out once he got his Swing Mob label together, basically saying he was ready to deal. So were we, but at the same time since the groups had so many drafts, what ended up happening was there was a totally new group at the time. All he wanted at the time was me, so I said, ‘No, you need to come down here and check out my group.’ He came down, I think it was right after the Soul Train Awards, he had a stop in Cleveland and checked out a group named Sugah, which was Tweet. At the time Tweet wasn’t in it, but that’s the group Tweet became a part of in Da Bassment later on. After that he came to Louisville and checked us out. That wasn’t the time he created Playa, but that’s when he went on ahead and said, ‘I’m digging it. You three let’s roll.’ And there it was in ’94. Now, my mom don’t play. She didn’t give a sh** whether or not Quincy Jones was sitting right in the living room with us. I wasn’t going nowhere until I graduated high school. I graduated in ’94, and 45 minutes after I walked down the aisle for my high school graduation, I was on a plane. I was moving out to live with Devante in New Jersey.

Goood Morning y'all! 👋 #DaBassment

A photo posted by Forever DeVante (@forever.devante) on

Black: At the time, Devante had a studio rented for two or three years in Rochester, New York and we all moved there. We would go in the piano room and have this live singing session, set the mics up and just go. That could last for hours. I have fond memories of that time just because it helped cultivate me into the singer and writer I am now.

 

Class Is In Session: Da Bassment’s Crash Course On The Music Industry

Smokey: We always referred to that period of time as school. I’ll even go as far as saying as paying dues time. We learned so much—more than we actually did—and that prepped us, watching Jodeci and Devante just being around all of that talent. Missy, Tim, Magoo, Tweet, there was tons of talent that only the die hard Bassment fans know about that came out of Rochester, N.Y. It came to a point where Devante was working on The Show, The After-Party, The Hotel for most of that time and we never really had an opportunity to actually work with Devante on a record, maybe once or twice. In this big studio that we pretty much had to ourselves for a certain amount of years, there was what you called the pre-product room. Things that you want to lay down the groundwork for right now and it was wide open. I got in there and started messing with some knobs and started learning how to record, how to mix, how to produce, learning the actual keyboard and production equipment. That was the start for me, I pretty much knew how to prior to that when I was younger before I moved up there with them. I would get a dual cassette tape deck, record on one side, put that tape in the play back and record as if I’m copying it to another tape, but sing along to it at the same time and just keep switching as I stack stuff just to try to create stuff. I knew the method of that, but when it came to actually doing it on this real studio equipment and producing, that’s where I learned it all. Watching Devante, asking questions, being hands on... they say experience is the best teacher. That whole period of time was straight school. We wouldn’t be who we are today if it had not been for that period of time. I absolutely have no malice for that period of time.

Black: Rochester is similar to Kentucky, it’s just cold. It wasn’t moving as much as New York City, nowhere near. It still had a New York vibe, but demographic, size-wise it wasn’t. Louisville might be bigger than Rochester.

Smokey: I remember when we first got up there that morning—it was the first time I had ever been on a plane—and within 12 hours coming up there, Devante had just gotten robbed. I’ll never forget that. Moving up into that and saying, ‘It’s going down like that up here?’ I’m from the hood so it didn’t bother me, but at the same time, I am moving away at 17, 45 minutes fresh out of high school to New Jersey/New York, but I was the happiest person you could’ve ever met. Picture one of your biggest admirers and you get to actually work with them or they want to work with you and you move in with them. That sh** doesn’t happen everyday.

Black: Right before Jodeci, the Boyz II Men era came out and most of the guys were singing in falsetto. There wasn’t really any heavy crooners back then. No knock on that, those dudes were phenomenal. Al B. Sure still is in my playlist, those type of cats are definitely super talented, but Jodeci sounded like me. When I heard “Forever My Lady,” I was like, ‘Oh my God, those dudes sound like…’ it was just so soulful. We finally fit in. The church sound finally fit in.

Smokey: There was a time when I had produced a record, and it was rare that we were able to really work hands-on with Devante because he was so busy with Jodeci, but I was in the studio by myself and Devante just happened to come down there. When he heard it, he loved it so much that he wanted to sit down at the keyboard and start playing over it. I just felt so accomplished at that moment because it’s like, ‘I’m finally getting to work on my production and here Devante comes in, hears it and likes it, gives me the approval on it.’ He likes it so much that he starts playing on it. There was a time that I recorded a record that K-Ci and JoJo had came in and liked so much that K-Ci called his mama and was like, ‘Listen to this!’ They both got on [“Anything”] and sang it because it reminded them of a quartet gospel record. Being not just an aspiring singer but an aspiring producer and writer and having whom I look up to and whom I’m blessed to be in the company of comes in and validates what I’m doing and validates it so much so that you got somebody calling their mama, or got them wanting to be a part of that record.

Black: We all came up from Da Bassment, but we all stayed together. Missy, Timbaland, Ginuwine, Magoo, Tweet, we all stayed together, so even though we weren’t up under Devante’s umbrella, Timbaland produced half of our first album, Missy wrote on our first album, we wrote for Missy’s artists, Nicole Wray, we were still a family. Once we met Aaliyah it was like family. We went to prom with her, a lot of people might not know that. The business had to get handled, but anytime we were dealing with Missy, Timbaland, Ginuwine and Aaliyah, it was family first.

Smokey: There was always something innovative when you had Timbaland doing that beat that was just going to be straight up something crazy, and then you had Missy come in and she could write, she had melodies, she could sing, and she could rap, too. Then you got Magoo who could rap, and I know a lot of people familiarize his voice with Q-Tip, but regardless I don’t feel like they’re the same. I feel like Magoo had a unique voice. You start bringing in singing and it’s like what the hell just happened? What’s going on? Just working with them there was so much talent from different areas and with different backgrounds that you bring them together and it’s phenomenal. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, a lot of people have said it, it was like Motown. You can’t forget Ginuwine, Stevie J, he was in Da Bassment too. Prior to him getting with Diddy he was with us. He never really did get to cut any records. His biggest role was producing and he did a lot of stuff. He was playing guitar. We were all Da Bassment, we were all a family, but he was a part of Klownin Records which was Dalvin’s record label. But we were all there, we were all family and doing stuff together. A lot of the guitars and stuff like that that you hear on The Show, The After Party, The Hotel was him. Me and Stevie J in that pre-production room, we cut some records together. I knew that he could sing and play and everything.

Black: It was like college, because you were around arguably the most talented people. It’s like a football player going to Alabama. It’s the elite of the elite prospects. Everybody was super talented which made you bring your A-game everyday and you learned something from everybody so it was a melting pot. Sista learned something from Playa, Playa learned something from Sugah. It’s like being in music school.

Smokey: Devante always said, ‘Even if you ain’t a star yet, or a celebrity or famous, you still need to carry yourself like one.’ I think that’s one of the biggest things that I can remember, learning that regardless, still look the part, still carry yourself that way, which I felt like built self pride.

Black: Missy and Tim already set the bar high, and Ginuwine, too, so it wasn’t pressure behind our debut album. It was more so lets do what we do. We were up next. I always felt I was too young to feel pressured too. We were just doing music so I don’t think the pressure wasn’t doing the album. The pressure probably came from how are we going to write the album?

 

The Hurdles And Triumphs Of Cheers 2 U Debut

Smokey: Initially the brainstorming session was very frustrating. The business has a way of not respecting you or what you do unless you have plaques on the wall or you got hits under your belt. The irony about that is that somebody had to give whoever has a plaque a chance to get the plaque. I don’t think nobody understands that.

Black: We fought to work with Tim. Def Jam was thinking Timbaland hadn’t really blew up yet, so they were looking at Tim, Ginuwine, all of us as country. Once we got with Barry and Jomo Hankerson, once we got with them for management, and Aaliyah was winning, they had to listen to what they were saying, too, because we were the guinea pigs for their R&B even though they had Montell. He had a super big smash so they still didn’t know how to work an R&B record from the ground up. Barry came in and was very instrumental with them letting us write. Initially they weren’t trying to let us write at all. I can remember having big arguments in the studio, I can remember getting kicked out of sessions a couple of times for voicing my opinion about certain stuff in the studio. You’re dealing with Jodeci, Mary J. Biige, all these dope people and we got somebody that’s trying to produce our record that can’t sing, who’s trying to write our songs that can’t sing. It was very frustrating and sometimes I couldn’t hold it back. I had to let them know how I really felt.

Smokey: When we had a direction we wanted to go, we had certain records we wanted to do, we were unable to do them and we were bound by what they were telling us to do, Def Jam, and eventually whatever happened, happened with that and we ended up being able to direct our own path on the music tip. That’s why me and Tim pretty much produced half of the album. We were able to do what Playa does, not what they want us to do. They allowed us to go ahead and do what Playa does.

Black: We were just so happy to be able to put a record out. We were constantly recording. Even when we were working on Playa’s album, we’d be in the studio working on somebody else. When it came time for us, we pretty much knew what we wanted to do and how we wanted to sound.

Smokey: We had just embarked on management from Blackground and they became our voice. They were able to get us to where we wanted to be in order to let us create our own identities and not only the music, but the image was screwed up. It was what some guys from Louisville, Kentucky, and some guys from the 'hood looked at as, ‘I ain’t trying to wear this sh**.’ The shirt so tight you can see your heart beating through it. Tight pants, leather pants, and we’re like we don’t dress like that, we’ve never dressed like that. But we were still blessed and highly favored to even be in that situation. It had a lot to do with Blackground fighting on our behalf for what it was that we wanted and what we should’ve been granted from jump to be able to do and that’s let us be who we are, not who you want us to be.

Black: The biggest thing was when we first got with Def Jam, our A&R was trying to produce the record a little bit. We had to fight initially to even write and produce on our record. Imagine having a song out, “Pony” that’s rising on the charts and the A&R is telling you that’s a country record, that record isn’t going to do anything, but it’s steadily rising. Our management had to go in. We probably did about six or seven songs with that particular A&R and we scrapped all of that. Def Jam didn’t have a problem once we went in the studio and they actually saw what we could do. They didn’t have a problem with us writing our whole album outside of one song that Missy wrote. Smokey produced 70 percent, Timbaland produced 30 percent of the record. It was just more so once we got a strong management, the writing and other stuff opened up. Making that album was a dope process, but it made it special because it was our album. I don’t want to say seasoned vets, but we had been writing and producing in major studios from the mid 90s on down. By the time it came for our album our pens were sharp. Smokey’s production was sharp and we were ready.

"Static had reached a point where whatever he wanted to do after "Lollipop" was going to be major and bigger than it was." ~ Jawaan "Smoke" Peacock

Smokey: Whatever Tim did we already granted it as it’s the sh** and we just did what we did on it. He might come back and add something else, but he’s just so out there mentally when it comes to creating stuff. Like how the hell did you hear that? Or where the hell did you get that sound from? He’s just out there. It’s like if I went to the store and bought a pink suit, I’ll probably look damn good, but there’s a whole lot of people who will look at me and say, ‘I will never do that.’ There are a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with stepping outside of the box and that’s what Tim is best for and what gives him the title of innovator is because he steps outside of the box. It’s always interesting to hear and see what’s he getting ready to do now, what’s he going to do now? When I go to the studio tonight, what am I getting ready to hear coming out of them speakers because I know he’s on some other sh** and that sh** excites Tim. It excites him to innovate. That’s what I love about it. That just shows the passion that he has for music.


Black: We’ve been working with Tim since ‘93 or ’94. He never micro managed us. He would give us the track and let us do our thing. By the time “Birthday” came out we already had songs on Ginuwine and Nicole Wray and different artists. Tim and Missy knew, we all came up in the same camp together, so they knew the talent level before anybody else knew the talent level.

Smokey On The Album’s Title Track: When you think of a hit record you think that a lot went into it and I’ve learned, even some of my solo stuff, my first solo album that I put out had like 29 tracks on it and the song that I whipped up the quickest and didn’t put a whole lot of time and effort in to was the song that a lot of people were like, ‘That song right there!’ I’m like, ‘For real?’ I came up with that and been in the studio all night and just started playing some old stuff like at six or seven o’clock in the morning, cut it and went about my business and put it on the album, but never did I think that was a song that everybody would be like that one right there. I grew to learn that less is more and us recording “Cheers 2 U” was hearing that beat that Tim did, loving it for no other reason beside the fact that it kind of emulated “One in a Million” which we loved. We just wrote to it and sung it. It was nothing to go in the booth and sing this stuff and it’s done. It wasn’t any massive process or anything to ensure that it would be a hit record. It just turned out to be that.

Black: The track came on and Static came up with a melody and he just ran with it. Sometimes we would hear something and he wouldn’t need nobody else, if I saw the melodies had Static wrapped up I wouldn’t bother him and vice versa. He would let me finish, we were very cognizant of that zone. We were very cognizant of that part of the game too. We had been writing together since we left Louisville. That was my best friend, my big brother. Us three, even with how we sung, a lot of people don’t know this, Smokey might start off singing the top harmony, but by the middle of the song he might sing the bottom note. We would intertwine our notes or I could look at Smoke and know that we switched notes in the middle of the song.

Smokey: There was one time that Static said—and I don’t really know where that stemmed from and looking back now and connecting his death with it, it makes me think even more—but I remember one time he said when it came to his writing, he began to take more of a love for the writing more so than he did the actual singing because being from the 'hood, being from Louisville, singing was not a manly thing to do like rapping would be or playing football would be. I don’t think it had anything to do with that, I do know that’s how he felt and Black, too. I think he started to get more into the writing and enjoying the writing and he had said once that as far as me and Black that, ‘Y’all are my voices to my lyrics.’ We’re bringing his lyrics to life.

 

The Pen Behind The Red Album

Eric Seats (Produced "Rock The Boat," "Extra Smooth"): When we met Static, we flew out to Kentucky where he was living at the time and stayed there for a month just to do music. We stayed at his home and that’s really when we wrote the bulk of those Aaliyah songs. We did all the rough drafts in Kentucky at Static’s house, just pushing ideas out to present to Aaliyah. By the time we got there to present some stuff to her, she was checking off songs left and right because her and Static were tight. He knew how to convey her messages or whatever she was going through at the time and that’s why he ended up doing pretty much the whole record. She could bank on him to get that message out and still be her without forcing his own thing.

Bud’da (Produced "Never No More," "I Can Be"): His harmony choices, oh my goodness. Sometimes it was even hard to… when he would demo a song, whoever it was for, he would do certain songs and once the artist got on it you would miss Static being on it. The only person that wasn’t necessarily like that was Baby Girl. Aaliyah would get on there and she would take on what it was that he did, but give it a whole other energy and you’re like, ‘Okay, I get it.’ Missing all those nuances of being melodic, being clever and what the writing was, and just having the content of it all. When you think of the process we went through to do “Never No More” and it’s addressing abuse, it takes a certain person to go there. You could always write things that are relevant to the times and dealing with issues, sexual, or whatever the case would be, but there’s so many more people dealing with things like that, and we have a platform to create. I just thought it was admirable of him to even write something that would help to deliver people from situations and let them know that they’re not alone.

Seats: He’s the one guy that can make you feel like a woman wrote it. His range, and him catering to the individual that he’s actually in the lab with instead of just showing up and saying, ‘I’m Static and I write like this.’ The diversity to go from writing a “Pony” for Ginuwine to a “Rock The Boat,” he had the sensual side as well as the hard side too. He could separate that and write in that way. That’s what stood out because everything was different. Every song on that record, he didn’t use the same lyrics over and over.

Bud’da: Static was a muse for her, if that’s the right word. He was able to embody what it is that she was thinking. They could sit down and have conversations and laugh and certain things come about from the relation of it all, the relation of being cool. Fitting like a glove was one thing that was unique about Baby Girl. Out of anything that I’ve heard him do not just for myself, but for other people, whenever he would record something it had so much swag, it was so much him. It was hard for other people to articulate that without it sounding like him. Aaliyah was able to articulate what it is that he wrote and it’d be her. It’s not an easy thing to do unless you are exceptionally talented. Unless somebody really knew the inner workings of Blackground, of her process of making music, you would never know that there was this element behind her because it just fit so perfectly. Everything prior to the album was witty and just her. They were able to, together, cast this persona, make this person Aaliyah. It just fit like that.

Seats: Static is actually on every background vocal that KeyBeats did. He sung on there first and Aaliyah is like, ‘Don’t erase his, I’m going to sing on top of his.’ Much like a Sade does. I love that contrast of a male voice and a female voice without you necessarily having the male all in your face, like a duet type but just present. That’s magic, because you have a lot of people who like to do their own background so after you hear a whole album like that, you’re like, 'This is too much.' You want to hear another soul singing, another presence, another tone and it’s hard for one individual to be 10 individuals.

Jeffrey “J-DUB” Walker (Produced "What If," "I Refuse"): He just went with the flow. I’d go in and blaze up a beat. He’d come in and just start writing. With him, if he liked the beat he’s not going to wait too long, he’s going to jump in the booth and start singing and just lay it down. He was just dope, smooth. That whole camp was smooth.

Bud’da: Anybody who knows Static would say this. When he’s writing something or listening to something, he may be at the board and the music is really loud and he’s bopping, moving his head. If you’re bopping along with Static, you best not look at him because he’ll throw you off beat (Laughs). Static had his own bounce and it’s almost like he’s feeling the music. If you could envision it, it’s like a cartoon where you see a music note just floating around in the wind and blowing it around. That’s how he was. I loved that about him. He was so funny and always open. He was a genius and to this day I know that he’s inspired so many in relation to not just what he’s done, but just his process. Me writing songs to this day, I literally still think about Static and how would he attack this? Thinking about the process in which he meditated on things as well, he would sit there and listen. He had a notepad and he would go into the booth and sing some craziness, with the melodies and all the harmonies in his head.

"Sometimes we would hear something and he wouldn’t need nobody else,
Aaliyah could bank on Static to get that message out and still be her without forcing his own thing." ~ Eric Seats

J-DUB: Static had a weird way of writing where instead of his rhythm being 2-4 it would be on 1-3. The way that he moves when he wrote was so unorthodox, but it came out so dope. Static was in his own lane. He was just in another world. It’s like you have great writers and Static is one of them. He had a sound. Nobody could really write like him, still to this day. He was so clever with it, his wordplay was so clever, his harmonies and melodies and just how he rode a beat. It was incredible.

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The Influence Of Playa’s Music In Hip-Hop & R&B

Smokey On “If You’re Scared, Say You’re Scared:” It was initially a Playa song and it was going to be on the Woo soundtrack. It was to be in that movie but we ended up not putting it on the soundtrack. It’s just a record amongst others that we had from creating on the piano as you saw on that video that we had never released. It’s a song that I went on ahead and released myself because I felt like it needed to be heard. It was a good song. Through Drake, because a lot of people are doing it, even Chris Brown did it, being interested in that sound and that era of music, he dug through the crates and found some things that he wanted to use and sample. I definitely appreciate the acknowledgement that we were talking about something enough for him to want to use one of our records.

Black On “Don’t Think They Know:” That was the song that I wrote for the second Playa album. Chris Brown took Aaliyah's chords, they made a track around her parts, and I guess he wrote his part. The Aaliyah part was to be for the Playa album.

A photo posted by Ben Bush (@blackplaya502) on

Smokey: I believe though that had he been here, something different would’ve probably came of that situation, something more would’ve came out of that situation because I think that Drake’s true interest came from wanting to sift through Static’s catalogue and when he heard that he said, ‘I’ll take this right here.’ I thought it was amazing to me that he could take that and turn it into a rap record at that, but I love that record. That’s a record where he’s talking about something.

Black: It was funny because Chris Brown is an amazing talent. For him to like a record of mine that I recorded in 2000, 2003, it felt good as a writer and musician. You want to have a legacy too. It just proved that our music transcended us. It feels good to be liked. It was cool to see the next generation appreciate our music.

Smokey: Static would still be writing for everybody because he had reached a point like Missy before she came out as an artist, where she made a name for herself through her writing prior to. I think with that record “Lollipop,” Static had reached that point where whatever he wanted to do after that was going to be major and bigger that it was, and he was doing tons of stuff prior. He did stuff with David Banner, Jay Z, Destiny’s Child, he was at that point where he was on his way straight up hill. His solo album would’ve dropped, I believe, and would’ve been off the chain. But in all honesty, if you believe in the God I believe in, where he’s at right now is greater than where he was on his way to when he was here.

R.I.P. Static Major 2/25/08 #iAintForgot #StaticMajor #smokedigglera

A photo posted by Smoke E. Digglera (@smokedigglera) on

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Erik Umphery

Meet Ebenezer, The Crooner Poised To Restore Soul Into Modern R&B

Ebenezer is a man of few words but the purveyor of a million feels throughout his music. Before the novel coronavirus left the singer-songwriter isolated in Los Angeles, the London-born artist was at the VIBE office in New York a few moons ago playing his latest project, Bad Romantic 2.

A few laughs fill the room but what really takes over is the boptastic tune "3 am in London." With a sample from Kandi Burruss's 2000 release "Don't Think I'm Not," we get a look into his creative process. After revealing his origin story in 2018 with 53 Sundays, Ebenezer returned with the Bad Romantic series. It's a title bestowed to him by the many women he's dated. As a songwriter, engineer, producer, and composer for himself a slew of other artists like Jeremih, Ty Dolla $ign, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Stefflon Don, K-Pop faves SuperM and Craig David, love seemed to slip through the cracks. 

"I always try to make time," the crooner insists. He might not get love right all the time, but his determination to enrich modern R&B is a sword he's willing to fall on. While sharing stories behind cuts from Bad Romantic 2, a grin comes across his face as every tale is connected to love lost.

"It wasn't like there wasn't any lack of effort. It's just the way my schedule worked," he said about the making of "Flexible," a track bound to lead a quiet storm playlist. "I remember working so hard at the time that I was sleeping in the studio. I didn't have any money to go home [to London] so I had to work until something gave. I would mention how difficult it was but maybe she didn't understand the hustle or the grind at the time."

His hard work led to his latest single, "Flaws And All." The track speaks of his efforts to make love work no matter what, a notion anyone can relate to. As we continue to talk about love, one thing is for certain–Ebenezer is in love with creating. His eyes light up while breaking down each track and his shoulders ease up when he speaks about his versatility. In addition to the world hearing Bad Romantic 2, he's used social distancing to produce songs via his "Quarantine Studio Sessions."

 

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A post shared by Ebenezer (@ebenezersworld) on Mar 27, 2020 at 10:56am PDT

Below, get to know a little more about the elusive artist, the making of Bad Romantic 2 and some of his biggest inspirations.

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VIBE: With you producing at a young age, did you have support from your family?

Ebenezer: I'm a London boy but my parents are originally from Nigeria. They were on the run from immigration at one point but after things calmed down there was a big focus on education. They were like, "No you, can't. Education first." There would be big arguments and fights but eventually, I chose music. Or maybe it chose me? I started working and producing while on the phone with artists and things came together.

But I owe everything to my mum because she is the biggest cheerleader I've ever had. This woman had three kids and did everything to get by. She held it down. I had cousins who called immigration on us and they're supposed to be family–immigration comes kicking open the door and raiding the house. So I believe that the blessings I'm getting now are from God and our prayers.

What do you enjoy the most: producing/engineering or writing? 

I don't know if I can choose. I just use different parts of my brain for producing and writing. It is fun to split them up and bring them together at times.

What's your voice in R&B today? 

From childhood to the present, I've been in piece of s**t relationships and my songs reflect that. It's not be being vindictive to my exes. I take full responsibility for the things I've done and I try to be honest as I can in my music. The worst thing I could do is be one-sided.

There's that aspect of accountability missing in R&B these days so I get it. How is creating R&B-pop music for K-Pop artists? You worked with SuperM recently and it seems like they really enjoy the era of 2000s R&B. 

It's easier because they let you do whatever you want. You want a variety of harmonies because there's a lot of people in one group. But I like creating for K-Pop artists because you're able to let every individual stand out and have their own moment. It's dope they're adopting that sound.

Who are some of your inspirations? 

Kanye West for sure. My brother was a big hip hop head so I grew up on Rakim, Big L, Big Pun, Tupac, Biggie, Jay Z, Wu-Tang, but my decade has the Drakes and the Kanyes, so they were my biggest inspirations. College Dropout was the album that had me say, "I'm doing this music thing, I don't care."

My sister is a big R&B fan. She played a lot of Jagged Edge, Jodeci, stuff like that. So I was lucky to have the hip hop side and the R&B side presented to me all at once.

In addition to love and relationships, what else drives your creative process? 

It comes in stages for me. I like to make projects with a theme. For example, 53 Sundays was a project about growing up in London as an immigrant and the adversity we experienced racism and gang violence. It's how I overcame it and how my family dealt with it.

There's a lot of self-love in those songs because nothing is free, especially coming from having nothing. You have the Bad Romantic projects that are pretty self-explanatory in the title [Laughs]. I'm going to make it all tell a story so when you look back at the projects, it's a timeline and you'll see who I am.

What makes a "Bad Romantic and a "Good Romantic?" 

My exes are bad romantics. [Laughs]

So it's their fault? 

Nah, my exes would say there are some things that I'm good at and some things I'm terrible at. There are different love languages and what someone may require, I might not speak it. I like to provide gifts because growing up with nothing, you never want to see anyone without.

But I struggle with time because I'm always working and they had it. I have this thing called "The Okay Attitude." You can write me a novel in a text and I'll say, okay. Life expectancy for us is low as it is and we spend most of our time arguing about trivial things so if that's how you feel, that's how you feel.

And a "Good Romantic?"

Being attentive, caring, not being so selfish. I don't know, everyone is different. Some people require a lot. They say, "Shower me with gifts." But others say, "I just want your time, whenever you can afford it."

Unfortunately, I can't afford it.

What do you want listeners to get from your music?

That I'm just a bad romantic that's trying to better himself.

Stream Bad Romantic 2 here.

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Pony Boy

Slim Thug On His Coronavirus Diagnosis, Holistic Remedies And New Album, 'Thug Life'

Slim Thug, born Stayve Thomas, is a relatively healthy being. His daily regimen includes three-mile runs and keeping his diet in tip-top shape. Since he was 27, the rapper has battled high blood pressure and switched up his lifestyle for the better. Thirteen years later, the Houston native is hip to holistic methods like oregano oil to lower cholesterol levels, spirulina to reduce blood pressure and absorbing good vibes only.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported 1,303 people in the state have tested positive for novel coronavirus, one being Thug. The rapper and businessman was slighted after learning of his positive diagnosis on Tuesday (March 24).

Thug fell ill with a headache and a slight fever after running errands last week. While his symptoms were mild, his doctor provided him with a 24-hour test that confirmed it all. "Some people think I'm making it up," he tells VIBE over the phone Thursday (March 26). "Some people think I'm working for somebody, it's crazy."

As conspiracy theories permeate through social media, the 39-year-old is focused on keeping fans informed about the virus. His social distancing wasn't the best as he got a haircut a week before he was diagnosed, which is why he's firm on it today. "It's real and people should take it seriously," he said. "Especially for young people. You could pass it on, it could be deadly to somebody you love. You have to be a human and say, 'I have to protect others by not being reckless.'"

This hasn't changed Thug's plans to release his forthcoming album, Thug Life, Friday (March 27).  The veteran rapper who dropped classics like, "I Ain't Heard of That" and guest verses on Mike Jones' "Still Tippin," and Beyonce's "Check on It" wants his new music to be a safe haven for the times.

Released last week, his single, "This World" highlights today's ups and downs, with a telling sample from the late Charles Bradley.

The silver lining continues to glisten for the rapper. After sharing his diagnosis with fans, many began sharing black-owned businesses that specialize in holistic medicine. They include Soul Food Vegan and natural herbs from Jinka Premium.

In our conversation below, Slim Thug highlights the importance of social distancing, why rappers should stay connected to their fans and how the late Tupac Shakur inspired his new album, Thug Life.

--

 

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Just found out I got Corona virus

A post shared by Slim Thug (@slimthug) on Mar 24, 2020 at 10:14am PDT

VIBE: How have you been coping with this? Take me back to your initial thoughts when you found out all of this was happening.

Slim Thug: I was definitely surprised because I was trying to be precautious way earlier than a lot of people. I started to feel a headache and a fever and I've never had those symptoms so I thought, 'Man this Corona time, it's got to be something.' But at the end of the day, I haven't felt severe sickness or nothing.

I have high blood pressure, I already do this. I run three miles at the park and go to the gym every day, so I'm pretty healthy. You know, I never felt like I wouldn't be able to fight this off, I never really felt really sick or crazy sick, just kind of felt like a sinus infection.

With you being a healthy person, what has this told you about the virus?

It's serious and it can be deadly, but at the end of the day, if you're young and healthy and don't have any other underlying conditions, then you should be able to fight it off. My doctor shared how the only thing you can do is stay home and let it run its course. He said to drink a high volume of fluids like vitamin c to keep your immune system up.

Have you ever been interested in holistic practices?

I believe in medicine, I'm not gonna lie if I need a Z-Pack, I'm gonna get it (Laughs). But there's a lot of people around me who shared some things. I'm on a lot of herbs right now. They done gave me all types of kits and stuff that I posted on Instagram. I've been on oregano oil, black seed oil, and it's working. I'm trying everything from boiling orange peels to elderberry. I'm trying to stay on it, I feel good. I go outside and post up in the sun and try to drink hot tea during the day.

Hip-hop artists haven't said too much about the virus, but some are engaging more with fans on social media. What else do you think your peers can do with their influence during these times?  

If you're a rapper, you should be taking advantage of this time and giving content out to the world as much as possible. I've seen so many different artists be creative. Look at DJ D-Nice. About a year ago, I started spinning. I'm not really a DJ, I'm just having fun. But for D-Nice to have 150,000 people on his Live? You would never go to a club and DJ for that many people or never "see" Oprah and all of them. It's a whole new wave, a whole new world we're stepping into. You're reaching over 150,000 people and this is elite people at the same time.

It's inspired all the real DJs to get on. I'm seeing DJs from Houston like Mr. Rodgers spin for 12 hours straight and he had the whole city in his Live. We were all just in the comments, it's crazy, but it's amazing though because you have thousands there and you won't see that many people in a real club.

 

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After Hours Vibes are DIFFERENT in #ClubCorona. That 7am hour had me hella delirious and in rare form. Went in the bag and dropped that OutKast Spottie and brought the LIVE band out during my LIVE set. From 9p-2PM (17hrs nonstop) we went crazy. Long story short, don’t miss 2nite!! - s/o @honeyboneshawty for capturing this moment!

A post shared by DJ Mr Rogers (@djmrrogers) on Mar 25, 2020 at 1:11pm PDT

It's a new experience, so you have to be creative with it. My album Thug Life is out today [March 27th], but I've hosted a live listening on my Instagram. It was inspired by [2]Pac. Back in the day, he had a project called Thug Life and with Slim Thug being my name, I just had to use it.

I even saw Swae Lee [of rap duo Rae Sremmurd] do a whole concert. You just got to be engaged with your people and they will appreciate that because everyone is sitting at home bored with nothing to do. If they're busy now, they will have time to tune in later. All artists should be taking advantage of this moment, stay at home and give the people as much content as they can watch because they all want to see something right now.

What do you think it is about music that has people wanting it more than ever?

Music is just therapy to your body and soul. Whenever I'm stressed out, I got a playlist for that. I got a playlist for anything and any mood I need to be in. Music is very important because of a lot of Black people/minorities, don't go to therapy, they don't have a lot of access to resources that can help ease stress.

A lot of the times, a good song can do that for you, it can make you feel good. All of that. So it's very important. I feel like my content is good for these times. I have a song called "This World" that's about real-life stuff.  I got a record with [veteran Houston rapper] Z-Ro I'm finna drop that's like a gospel song to me. When I hear it, it just takes me there and I think people are going to feel the same.

Lastly, you mentioned you're getting into DJing. If you were to throw a Quarantine Party, what are the Top 5 records you have to play no matter what?

At my Quarantine Party, it's going to be the real playing. I've done a few mixes for the last ten days. I would say the go-to records are 90s R&B. It's just therapeutic feel-good music.

Hearing people singing really calms you down. Jodeci, Babyface, all of it. Guy, Keith Sweat. If you want to turn up and take it what's good now, Travis Scott is perfect to get lit to.

For those who want the real throwback rap, you might want to hear some Tupac. There's something for everybody, whatever you like, there's a playlist that will put you in a great mood and I think everyone should tap into that for real, it's real therapy.

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The History Of The Scottsboro Boys

Decades before the Exonerated Five became one of the biggest-known examples of Black and brown youth being targeted and falsely convicted, there were the Scottsboro Boys. The group of nine black teenagers, ranging from ages 13 to 19, were wrongly convicted of raping two white women on a freight train in 1931.

Haywood Patterson, Clarence Norris, Charlie Weems, brothers Andrew and Leroy "Roy" Wright, Olin Montgomery (who was nearly blind), Eugene Williams, Ozie Powell, and Willie Roberson (who suffered from severe syphilis and could barely walk) were arrested on rape charges, which began a years-long battle for freedom. Four of the nine teens knew each other prior to being falsely accused and convicted.

On March 25, 1931, the teens boarded the Southern Railway freight train in hopes of finding jobs, along with other Black and white passengers. As the train made its way through Alabama, a fight broke out after a group of white passengers attempted to attack a group of Black passengers. Patterson was one of the passengers targeted which triggered a melee, that led to the white passengers getting kicked off the train in Skottsboro, Ala.

The angry posse headed to a nearby sheriff where they claimed that they had been attacked by Black passengers. Police intern arrested every Black passenger on the train for assault. Meanwhile, two white women on the train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, told police that they had been raped by the Black teens. It’s suspected that the women lied out of fear of being arrested for prostitution. A doctor later examined the women and determined that they were not raped.

Nonetheless, police arrested the teen, who were dubbed the Scottsboro Boys. Price and Bates went to the Scottsboro Jail and identified the teens as their attackers. In the age of Jim Crow and overt racism permeating through the South, the Scottsoboro Boys never stood a chance. White lynch mobs marched to the jail where they were being held and demanded that the boys be released into their custody so that they could kill them. As a result, the National Guard was called in to escort the Scottsboro Boys from jail to court. The boys were not allowed to consult with an attorney and were instead appointed two lawyers, one of whom was 69-year-old Milo Moody, who hadn’t tried a murder case in years. A second lawyer assigned to the case was a real estate attorney.

The first round of trials took place over the course of one day in a standing-room only court room with all-white, all-male jurors. Black jurors had been systematically blocked from the jury pools through disenfranchisement that also stripped many Blacks of the right to vote.

Patterson was tried separately, followed by Norris and Weems. The defense offered no closing arguments, but prosecutors closed by urging jurors to sentence the boys to death. Within two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Norris and Weems, amid cheers and applause in the court room. Patterson’s trial began as jurors were deliberating the case against Norris and Weems. Despite having no evidence and conflicting stories from Price and Bates, Patterson was convicted and sentenced to the electric chair. Powell, Roberson, Williams, Montgomery and Andy Wright’s trial began minutes after Patterson’s trial ended. The jury quickly convicted them and sentenced them to death.

Prosecutors decided that 13-year-old Roy Wright was too young for the death penalty. Within hours, the case was declared a mistrial as jurors were deadlocked on sentencing for Roy Wright, although they all agreed that he was guilty, despite him being innocent.

The other eight Scottsboro Boys were sentenced to death, but the Alabama Supreme Court issued a last-minute indefinite stay of execution. The case caught the attention of the International Labor Defense, and the NAACP.

On March 24, 1932, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the convictions against seven of the Scottsboro Boys, and granted Williams a new trial. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court later that year. In a landmark decision, the high court ruled that the boys had been denied the right to a fair trial under the 14th Amendment, and sent the cases back to the lower court.

The Scottsboro Boys were tried again, this time in Decatur, Ala., which was roughly 50 miles from Scottsboro, but still in Ku Klux Klan territory. The ILD appealed the case and hired defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz. Bates recanted her rape story and agreed to testify on behalf of the defense. Despite Bates’ cooperation, and no evidence proving their guilt, the Scottsboro Boys were convicted again, though Patterson’s death sentence was suspended.

In a unanimous decision, the Alabama Supreme Court denied the defense’s motions for a new trial, and in January 1935, the case returned to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time. The guilty verdict against Norris was overturned and new trials were ordered for him and Patterson. Norris’ third trial ended in another conviction and death sentence along with Weems and Andy Wright. Roy Wright spent six years in prison while the case was tried several times.

Prosecutors eventually agreed to drop the rape charges against Powell, who was later convicted of assaulting a deputy sheriff and sentenced to 20 years. The remaining rape charges were also dropped against Montgomery, Roberson, Williams and Roy Wright, and they were released from custody.

Enduring back-to-back trials took a tole on the group that likely had a ripple effect on their lives. One of the accused was left disabled after being shot while being escorted to prison. Others returned to custody on various convictions over the years. Norris, the eldest and the last surviving among the bunch, evaded parole in 1946 and went into hiding for 30 years. He was found in 1976, and pardoned by Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Norris died in 1989.

After more than 80 years, the Scottsboro Boys were posthumously pardoned in 2013. See more on the story in the video below.

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