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20 Years Later: The Best Beats On Ghostface Killah's Classic Debut 'Ironman'

Ghostface's debut album turns 20. 

In the world of hip-hop, becoming a recognizable figure to the general public is an achievement most artists aspire to achieve. Rather than play the back, rappers often seek fame along with the money. But then there is the rare breed that shuns the limelight, and sometimes create alternate identities, don masks and costumes to protect their anonymity.

Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah, who turned in one of the more celebrated performances on the crew's debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), falls into the latter category. The Staten Island rep, who wore a stocking mask in early Wu-Tang Clan videos to conceal his identity due to issues with the law, would eventually reveal himself to the world after clearing his name and changed the rap game alongside fellow Wu member Raekwon on The Chef's debut album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Released in 1995, and LP was almost instantly hailed as a classic, OB4CL raised Ghostface's profile -- with the streets clamoring for him to drop his own debut.

Wu-Tang and Ghostface Killah would oblige, unleashing his debut album, Ironman, in fall of 1996. Featuring production exclusively from RZA, sans the True Master produced "Fish," Ironman features appearances from various Wu-Tang members -- most notably Raekwon and newcomer Cappadonna -- who served as co-stars of sorts, even appearing alongside Ghostface on the album cover.

Led by the Mary J. Blige assisted single, "All That I Got Is You," as well as fan favorites like "Camay" and "Daytona 500," despite a lack of commercial singles, Ironman went on to become classic album. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and ultimately achieving platinum status.

Originally unheralded in comparison to some of his fellow Wu-Tang members, Ghostface Killah would become the most consistent member of the supergroup following up Ironman with classics like Supreme Clientele and Fishscale -- in addition to noteworthy releases like Bulletproof Wallets, The Pretty Toney Album, and Big Doe Rehab. But the foundation for his improbable run was built on Ironman, and remains as one of his signature albums -- and among the best debuts of the mid-'90s.

In addition to the actual lyrics, another highlight of Ironman is the masterful production, courtesy of RZA, who was in his prime and seasoned as a producer by the time he she started on the album. Samples of vintage Kung-Fu flicks were a staple of Wu-Tang Clan releases like 36 Chambers and Liquid Swords. RZA would instead build the beats on Ironman around excerpts from the '70s cult-classic film The Education of Sonny Carson. The decision would be a clever one and helped give Ironman an aura and theme of its own -- separate to that of his Wu brethren. The album also saw RZA mining the catalogs of soul legends like Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Jimmy Ruffin, and The Jackson 5 to create the backdrops for Ghostface Killah's vivid storytelling and random musings.

Although you'd be hard pressed to find a wack beat on Ironman, there are a few particular tracks that stand a cut above the rest and have aged into some of the greatest RZA productions of all-time. In celebration of Ironman's 20th anniversary, and RZA's uncanny production prowess, we ranked the most memorable beats on GFK's cherished debut.

Where does your favorite beat stack up?

16. Marvel
After the original close-out cut on Ironman, The Soul Controller," was extricated from the tracklist due to sample clearance issues, "Marvel," would take its place. With no samples included, it is the rare RZA or Wu-Tang cut that doesn't contain the remnants of dust gleaned from flipping a record from yesteryear, and is also one of the least sonically enticing cuts on Ironman, hence its ranking at the bottom of the barrel of the album's instrumentals.

15. 260
"260," which makes use of the dialogue excerpts from the film The Education of Sonny Carson that was leftover after the making of the Ironman intro cut, "Iron Maiden, is one of the more pedestrian production efforts on the part of RZA from Ghostface's debut. Doing his bidding with a sample of Al Green's "You Ought to Be with Me," RZA tosses out a beat that is effective -- albeit a bit underwhelming in the grand scope.

14. After The Smoke Clears
"After the Smoke Is Clear" one of the last tracks on Ironman. It contains a sample of "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" by Jimmy Ruffin, and is among the haziest salvos on the album. Featuring the signature vocal samples of wails implemented throughout, "After The Smoke Clears" is perfect for lighting one up in the midst of kicking and retaining knowledge of the Wu..

13. Wildflower
"Wildflower" is among Ghostface's most entertaining soliloquy's, but the actual beat in itself is a serviceable offering in its own right. Aside from the opening interlude, excerpts lifted from the film J.D.'s Revenge, "Wildflower" is pretty much a bland affair when compared to RZA's more focused work.

12. Assassination Day
"Assassination Day," which makes good use of the "there's no coke!" scene from the 1995 film The Usual Suspects, as well as an excerpt from "Crying Freeman," eschews any bells and whistles, with RZA hooking up a simple loop for his Wu-Tang brethren to sharpen their respective techniques over.

11. All That I Got Is You
The lead-single from Ironman, "All That I Got Is You," contains a sample of "Maybe Tomorrow" by The Jackson 5, which RZA simply loops up and matches with poignant excerpts from The Education of Sonny Carson, giving Ghostface the first of his many emotionally endearing records. While there's not much to marvel at concerning the sums of its parts, they say that perfection is often found in simplicity, and the beat to "All That I Got Is You" may not have all of the fixings, but is without flaw and is instantly associated with Ghostface Killah, ubiquity of The Jackson 5 loop aside.

10. Faster Blades
"When you on the corner and shit, you just gotta be on some hands down shit, you know what I mean?" asks Raekwon before opening his verse on "The Faster Blade," his lone solo turn on Ironman. Produced by RZA, the track contains a sample "Can't Go No Further and Do No Better" by The Persuaders -- over which The Chef gets surgical -- serving up vibes reminiscent of those found on his own debut, 1995's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.

9. Poisonous Darts
"Poisonous Darts" contains dialogue excerpts from the 1975 Joseph Kuo film Mystery of Chessboxing, particularly elements from the Training scene that takes place 1:16:53 mark of the flick. Dropping different sound effects, including punches, kicks, grunts, and the like throughout the track, RZA once again takes his love for Kung Fu, infuses it into his production, and comes away with another classic to add to his extensive catalog of bangers.

8. Camay
"Love was never born to say goodbye," croons the Teddy Pendergrass sample lifted from his 1980 song, "Can't We Try" for the Ironman tune "Camay." Elements of Southside Movement's "Iv'e Been Watching You" also gets thrown into the mix, and when matched with jazzy piano keys and bass, makes for a refined number perfect for Raekwon, Cappadonna, and Ghostface to spit sweet nothings into the ears of desirable women.

7. Motherless Child
"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child," starts as a haunting part on the Ironman cut, "Motherless Child," a gloomy salvo that is pretty much straightforward in approach. Powered by drum kicks and snares, samples of O.V. Wright's "Motherless Child" and "A Fool Can't See The Light," as well as the solemn humming from the singer's 1977 release, "Into Something (I Can't Shake Loose)," the RZA's take reworking of the original "Motherless Child" makes for one of the superior offerings on Ironman -- from a production standpoint..

6. Iron Maiden
As the opening selection on Ironman, "Iron Maiden" sets the tone for the whole album, starting with its beat, which conflates Al Green with The Education of Sonny Carson, the end product being an unforgettable intro cut that's among the finest from the first round of Wu-Tang solo releases.
Samples of "Gotta Find a New World" and "Strong as Death (Sweet as Love)" by Al Green, as well as dialogue from the classic gang-fight scene in The Education of Sonny Carson are employed by the RZA, who concocts a frantic, yet indelible soundbed for GFK and The Chef to cook over.

5. Box In Hand
"Box In Hand" is track from Ironman that is deceptively infectious and is sure to become a favorite after numerous spins of the album. While RZA concocted the bulk of this number without the usage of any samples (that we're aware of), The Force M.D.'s interpolation of the Jackson Five's "Never Can Say Goodbye," as well as remnants of Blue Raspberry's vocals from Method Man's 1994 single, "Release Yo Delf" scattered throughout, contribute to "Box In Hand" add to the ambiance.

4. Winter Warz
Ironman is dominated by tracks tailor-made for the glum of the colder months of the year, but the actual song designated for that period is one of his more lively affairs. "Winter Warz," produced by RZA, contains a sample of "I Think I'd Do It" by Z.Z. Hill, as well as sped up drums lifted from Mazel's 1979 cut, "Midnight Theme." Cappadonna's enthralling guest verse may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of "Winter Warz," and while that may be justified, the song's actual beat is not far down the list.

3. Fish
"Change Is Gonna Come" by Otis Redding, and dialogue from the film Crying Freeman make up the template for "Fish," arguably the most musically rich beats on the entire Ironman album. Drums lifted from the Amazing Rhythmic Aces's "A Jackass Gets His Oates," are surrounded with layers of instrumentation and other wrinkles, resulting in one of the more recognizable tracks in Ghostface's catalog.

2. Black Jesus
"Black Jesus" is preceded by a short sermon from Papa Wu kicking knowledge on the origins of man, and while his words are certainly sure to stick with you and are some of the most powerful dialogue on Ironman, the true magic comes when you're hit by the sample of The Blackbyrds' 1975 track "Riot," lifted from the Cornbread, Earl and Me soundtrack. Also containing elements of Tom Jones' "Looking Out My Window," "Black Jesus," with its tambourines and thumping kicks and snares, is an enthralling soundbed from Ironman that stands a cut above much of the material on the album.

1. Daytona 500
After being pleasantly surprised by the vocal stylistics of the Force M.D.'s, listeners are suddenly bombarded with a chopped up sample of Bob James' "Nautilus," which serves as the backbone of the beat on the Ironman standout, "Daytona 500." Produced by RZA, the track's rollicking guitar licks, impromptu DJ scratches, and penchant for the beat falling from underneath the lyrics mid-flow, "Daytona 500" takes poll position in the race for the best instrumental on Ghostface's debut.

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Rapper Flavor Flav, director Spike Lee and Chuck D of the rap group 'Public Enemy' film a video for their song 'Fight The Power' directed by Spike Lee in 1989 in New York, New York.
Michael Ochs

Music Sermon: How 'Fight The Power' Saved Public Enemy

It was “1989, the number, another summer,” and in New York City, the racial tension was thick as the season’s heat. For New York, it wasn’t just “another summer” - 1989 was a defining year for the city, and for its black and brown youth. The swift persecution of five black and brown boys for the Central Park Jogger attack, with little evidence, is in the national conversation today, but divided the city along racial and class lines that spring. The August murder of 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins by a group of teens in Brooklyn’s Italian-American Bensonhurst neighborhood sparked protests across the city. In the middle of these two events, both of which are tightly woven into the fabric of New York, Spike Lee released one of his most provocative films: the prophetic Do the Right Thing.

At the time, Lee intentionally chose Public Enemy, the most radical group in rap, to set the movie’s tone. Their seminal anthem “Fight the Power” was not only one of hip-hop’s most monumental songs, but also Gen X’s first taste of movement music. The group’s 1987 debut It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was unlike anything anyone had ever heard in music, let alone the still very new rap genre. Public Enemy’s sophomore album combined the tight flow of battle rappers, the spirit and energy of the Black Power movement, and the aesthetic presentation of the Black Panthers with their paramilitary backing group, Security of the First World (S1W), all packaged up with a logo featuring a black man in a sniper’s crosshairs (can you imagine all of that today? The “If a white group did that…” comments would be insufferable). PE didn’t just start the conscious rap movement, they sparked the gangsta rap movement – NWA’s Straight Outta Compton was directly influenced by Nation of Millions (Chuck sent an early copy of the album to the group, and you feel the inspiration in “F*ck the Police” especially. Along with the defiant social commentary in the lyrics, Dre channeled The Bomb Squad’s sonic chaos in the track. Cube went on to work with The Bomb Squad for his solo debut).

“When I wrote the script for Do the Right Thing, every time when the Radio Raheem character showed up, he had music blasting,” Lee told Rolling Stone. “I wanted Public Enemy.”

But at the time of the movie’s release, PE had technically broken up; sidelined by controversy impacting their reputation not just domestically, but abroad. On June 29, one day before Do the Right Thing hit theaters, Russell Simmons announced: ''Public Enemy is disbanding for an indefinite period.”

THE STORM

Public Enemy was made up of distinctively different personalities: Chuck D, the leader, the voice, and the “adult” of the group; Flava Flav, the blueprint for hip-hop hype men and comedic levity to Chuck’s booming gravity; and Professor Griff, the “Minister of Information,” a black Muslim who didn’t actually observe any of the tenants of Islam but subscribed to the most incendiary rhetoric The Nation of Islam offered. As the Minister of Information, Griff sometimes spoke publicly on the group’s behalf and had been known to stir up controversy with comments that were just over the line, but not far enough to cause a mainstream firestorm. Then, on May 22, 1989, he sat down with reporter (and later writer for The Wire and Treme) David Mills for an interview with The Washington Times. Because he was talking to another black man, Griff got way into his bag, and sh*t went left, quickly.

“Griff opined that ‘the majority of them [i.e., Jews]’ are responsible for ‘the majority of the wickedness that goes on across the globe,” recounted LA Times rock critic Robert Cristgau in his summation of the controversy, properly titled “The Sh*t Storm.” “He… raved about how ‘the Jews finance these experiments on AIDS with black people in South Africa,’ observed that ‘the Jews have their hands right around Bush's throat,’ and concluded that he must be speaking the truth because if he wasn't the Jew who owned CBS would long since have forced him, Griff, out of the group.” It was a mess, but it still flew largely under the radar until the story was picked up by The Village Voice (pours out liquor). You know how the timeline gets when there’s controversy? Imagine that in real life amongst the music community and media.

Even the most esteemed music critics had praised Nation of Millions, many even included the LP on their 1987 Album of the Year lists. Now they were being called on to defend or condemn the group they’d once praised.

Nelson George was one of the lone hip hop writers at the time aside from Harry Allen (which is why you will always find Nelson George references in my work), and as a black man in a space where we were still fighting for voice and position, he was careful to distinguish Griff’s comments from what the group stood for. "There's no question they say Farrakhan's a prophet," George told the LA Times at the time, "but Chuck D was very specific about what they like about Farrakhan. That Prof. Griff is a (jerk) doesn't invalidate the record. And Public Enemy was signed by Rick Rubin, who is Jewish, and one of their first managers is Jewish, as is the photographer that shot most of their album cover pictures, and (so is) their publicist Bill Adler."

Chuck was torn. He first backed Griff, then seperated the group’s stance from Griff’s personal stance, then banned Griff from speaking on behald of PE, before finally condemning Griff and apologizing for his comments, stating: “We’re not anti-Jewish or anti-anyone at all. We're pro-black. To use the same mechanism that you're fighting against definitely is wrong. We don't stand for hatred. We're not here to make enemies. We're apologizing to anyone who might be offended by Griff's remarks.” Griff was expelled from the group on June 21, 1989.

The continued pressure from the Jewish Defense Organization – including calls to boycott Do the Right Thing, Def Jam and Columbia/CBS, who distributed the group’s albums, and Rick Rubin even though he wasn’t involved with the group anymore – finally wore Chuck out. He told Kurt Loder during an MTV interview that the group was done. ''He (Griff) transferred misinformation, and it was just wrong. You can`t back it,” he explained. “But we got sandbagged, and being as I got sandbagged, the group is over as of today. We`re outta here. We`re stepping out of the music business as a boycott . . . against the music industry, management, record companies (and) the industry retailers.”

In Robert Cristgau’s earlier-referenced article, written shortly after that MTV interview, he opined of PE’s future: “…it's reasonable to hope that three or six or nine months down the road, after Spike Lee returns to the set and Chuck's label flops and Flavor Flav staggers under the weight of his own album, PE will regroup.”

Instead, it only took about a month. “Fight the Power” became a hit; The song and movie combined birthed one of the biggest cultural statements of the decade.

THE ANTHEM

Spike told Hank Shocklee (of The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy’s famed production unit) and Chuck he wanted an anthem, but already had an idea in mind. “Spike originally proposed a rap version of a negro spiritual, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” to be produced by someone else and with just Chuck D rapping,” Shocklee told the Guardian. “I was like: ‘No way.’” Hank found an example right out of Do the Right Thing’s world to make his point. “We were in Spike’s office on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn, by a busy intersection. I pulled down his window, stuck his head out, and was like: ‘Yo man, you’ve got to think about this record as being something played out of these cars going by.’” Spike knew he wanted the power of Chuck’s voice, but Chuck and Shocklee knew that the moment called for something bigger, sonically. Gen X is now considered a generation without a social movement. Boomers were engaged in the Civil Rights Movement, Millennials led Black Lives Matter, Gen X’ers were chillin’ - except we weren’t. Police brutality, the overcriminalization of black and brown people (hi, stop-and-frisk), the rise of the crack epidemic… these were our issues, and hip-hop was our movement: our way to give voice to the systemic injustices and bleak realities black people faced daily.

With “Fight the Power,” Chuck, Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad captured the energy of black resistance in a rare, perfect way – sonically and lyrically. It sounded aggressive, it sounded urgent, it sounded defiant, it sounded confident. It was the protest music of black Gen X’ers. “The song could have gone a lot softer, a lot neater, a lot tighter – but it would have lost the chaos,” Shocklee went on to explain. “When something is organized and aligned, it represents passivity. But any resistance, any struggle to overcome, is going to be chaotic. So the hardest part was making sure the track wasn’t monotonous. Lots of the samples appear only once, and a lot of stuff isn’t perfectly in time. I didn’t just want white noise and black noise – I wanted pink noise and brown noise!”

The title and thematic direction came from Ron Isley and his brothers’ 1975 song of the same name. The song struck a chord with 15-year-old Chuck D. Last year, Chuck and Ernie Isley (who, by the way, is the most criminally underrated guitar player in music history) compared notes on the two "Fight the Power's" for NPR: “I was 15 years old, so it was ingrained in me, but it was a record that I thought represented us. ‘I tried to play my music, they say my music's too loud’: That spoke loud to me,” Chuck shared with Ernie. “And I didn't even curse at the time, but that was the first time I ever heard a curse on a record.”

I can't play my music They say my music's too loud I kept talkin about it I got the big run around When I rolled with the punches I got knocked on the ground By all this bullsh*t goin’ down

Like the 1989 version, The Isleys’ joint catches you up in the undeniable bop of the track even while delivering power through the lyrics.

PE’s “Fight the Power” was also a big f*ck you to “American” pop culture, disparaging white icons Elvis and John Wayne, who in the late ‘80s were both damn near deified. It was a declaration that we black folks have our own history and culture.

'Cause I'm Black and I'm proud I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps Sample a look back you look and find Nothing but rednecks for four hundred years if you check

A song that feels and sounds like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” will never happen again, because the Bomb Squad’s trademark sampling methods would be a legal headache and financially crippling today thanks to changes in copyright laws spurred by the growing rap industry in 1991. “It was a totally different process from today, when cats listen to a finished track then put rhymes on top – that separates emotion and content,” Shocklee shared when discussing how the song came to be. “All the samples have to work with Chuck’s emotion. We’d have to find something from all our hundreds of records to fill a second, and it all had to be done by ear, without computers or visual aids.”

THE MOVIE

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a song used as many times as “Fight the Power” is in Do the Right Thing. I can’t even tell you what other song is on the soundtrack without looking it up. Honestly, the entire soundtrack should have just been a “Fight the Power” maxi-single. Also, shout out to one of the most iconic opening title sequences ever. It’s like James Bond level. Better.

The song and the movie are inextricably linked. As mentioned earlier, Spike wanted “Fight the Power” playing whenever we saw Radio Raheem. Since Raheem is the movie’s pivotal character, PE underscored some of the movie’s most powerful moments.

Shocklee explained to Rolling Stone why using Radio Raheem as the vehicle for the song worked so well. “The track intensified the story. When Radio Raheem was with the boombox playing that song, that’s what was happening at that time, exactly. You could have walked out the theater and into a pizza shop, and that would have happened at that moment.”

Even before they retreated into self-imposed career exile, Public Enemy weren’t radio artists. The film was their only real promotional vehicle for the single – but what a vehicle. “When I heard Spike Lee put it 20 times in the movie, I was like, pssh,” he shared with Rolling Stone. “We realized early that film was probably going to be our outlet to deliver sh*t. We couldn’t rely on radio.” While the group laid low, “Fight the Power” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Rap chart and cracked the Top 20 on the Hip-Hop and R&B chart (Hammer would break down the barrier for rap on the Hot 100 and Pop charts about a year later). In August, PE came out of “retirement” to announce their renowned third album, Fear of a Black Planet.

THE VIDEO

The music video for “Fight the Power” goes down as one of the most satisfying visuals for a song, ever. In the history of music videos. It is the perfect accompaniment to the track’s energy and power. For the video, Spike created a modern-day version of the March on Washington in Brooklyn, which he called "The Young People's March on Brooklyn to End Racial Violence,” featuring Public Enemy. The march was Chuck’s idea, and Spike did the video as a favor, on the strength of them letting him use “Fight the Power” for free. If Chuck D wasn’t already firmly positioned as hip-hop’s political leader, watching him leading throngs of young people through Bed-Stuy did the trick. “It was like a rose really sprouted in Brooklyn,” he later shared about the day. “It was seriously a black movement of just being able to stand up and demand that the systems and the powers that be don’t roll you over. And this was a threat to America and it was a threat to the record companies at the time. That video was really powerful.”

Flav added, “That was one of the most craziest days of my life. But it was so amazing. It was my first time ever really doing a video shoot… (W)e had Jesse Jackson there, Al Sharpton was there, Tawana Brawley was in the video, too, as well. And the whole of Bedford-Stuyvesant…I would give anything to live that day one more time.”

Like the movie and the song, the video is on multiple “best of all time” lists.

While echoes of the controversy of 1989 followed PE through the early ‘90s, the sheer power of Fear of a Black Planet prevented it from slowing them down in any way. Nation of Millions blew the music community away, but Fear of a Black Planet surpassed it.

This has nothing to do with anything, really, except that I want y’all to peep how completely off the chain Flav is in this interview. Chuck and Fab 5 Freddie just gave up.

THE LEGACY

The legacy and impact of Do the Right Thing are perhaps immeasurable. The movie garnered two Oscar nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, was deemed one of the most important movies of the year, then later one of the most important of the decade, and is still largely considered to be Spike’s greatest and most complete work. It inspired a new generation of filmmakers, including John Singleton, who went home and wrote Boyz N The Hood after seeing the film. Radio Raheem’s boombox is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). “Fight the Power” is still one of the most important songs in hip-hop, has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and is ranked by multiple lists as one of the greatest songs in music, period. Public Enemy went on to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But as I said before, the power is in the two - movie and song - together. It’s hamburger and bun. Peanut butter and jelly. Milk and cereal. Neither are as strong if they’d been presented to the world without the other.

In any other year, the movie and song just wouldn’t have hit the same. Do the Right Thing was one of the first “day-in-the-life” black movies that showcased the routine and connectivity of community - how we rely on each other, how we interact with each other, and the line between business owners integrating with the community and just making money from the community. “Fight the Power” came just as conscious rap was gaining a commercial foothold. Despite the group’s assumptions, the song did get radio play - lots of it. A year earlier, radio wouldn’t have been ready. A year later, the song wouldn’t have felt as special. Thirty years later, the movie and track aren’t just a snapshot of 1989, but they both still feel incredibly relevant and accurate. But without this partnership, the self-proclaimed Rolling Stones of hip-hop may have had an entirely different musical legacy - one smashed to bits the way Sal smashed Raheem’s boombox. Instead, they proved the galvanizing power hip-hop could have. 1989 was not just another summer; it sparked a hip-hop revolution.

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#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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Tobe Nwigwe wowed the crowd with a live musical performance at the McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden experience at BETX.
BET Expereience

Tobe Nwigwe's Southern Raps At The BET Experience Are Marinaded With Purpose

Thanks to Tobe Nwigwe, Houston’s presence could not be denied at this year’s batch of BET Experience events in Los Angeles. Sporting his signature sock/slippers combo and a mic in his hand, the Nigerian-American storyteller took the stage Friday (June 21) to perform some of his most revolutionary and captivating tracks.

There’s the lyrical strike that is “Ten Toes” and “Against the Grain” made popular from his #GetTwistedSundays series, a keen exploration of Houston. With a new batch of ears and hearts open to his music, the Nigerian-American rapper is at ease with his new purpose.

“I understand my purpose now. I understand that to do what I’m doing now is all of my life,” Nwigwe tells VIBE before taking the stage for McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden event which showcases music’s ability to continue the cultural narratives of the Black experience in America.

Before he was shining on BET Cyphers, performing at the Roots Picnic or delivering projects like Three Originals, Nwigwe had dreams of entering the NFL. Those plans were redirected after a physical injury during his senior year at the University of North Texas. The incident served as a catalyst for the rapper to transform his energy into purposeful rap for his hometown, Houston.

“That’s why I’m due diligent, persistent, and focused on what I’m doing because I understand the call of my life,” he added while speaking about his partnership with McDonald’s platform. “I just really like what the Black and Positively Golden theme is. Being bold, being brilliant, being resilient. I like the black community, I love it. I feel like black people are the most influential people in the world.”

 

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HISTORY WAS MADE AT THE @ROOTSPICNIC 🙏🏿 YASIIN BEY - - 📸: @tynie626

A post shared by Tobe Nwigwe (@tobenwigwe) on Jun 2, 2019 at 8:12am PDT

Houston’s re-emergence into mainstream hip hop culture, from a cultural enclave to an emergent regional capital in Southern rap lineage is evident acts like Megan Thee Stallion and Tobe Nwigwe. Draped in diasporic apparel and perched on a horse in the Texas countryside, Nwigwe is representative of the city’s rich ethnic demographic, and fusion of two Black sub-cultures into one told through the oral traditions of hip hop.

Nwigwe is currently dressed in all black, but it wouldn’t be without purpose. In small but noticeable text, his shirt says, “Mental Health is Crucial.” The fit speaks highly of intentions as an advocate for black youth. Nwigwe’s love for his community extends beyond the reaches of rap into the worlds of non-profit advocacy and mentorship. He’s the co-founder of TeamGINI, “Gini Bu Nkpa Gi?,” an Igbo saying meaning, “What’s Your Purpose?”

“I understand what people where I come from need,” he explains. “I feel that. I understand the void, so I do my best to play a role in being a part of the solution.”

His spiritual beliefs were highlighted in The Rap Map: Meet 5 Talented Artists From Houston featured on DJBooth. An ideology rooted in community-based upliftment drew motivational speaker Eric Thomas to sign Nwigwe for ETA Records, and establish a partnership focused on the implementation of solutions-focused rap for youth in neighborhoods across the United States, impacted by the terrors of community disinvestment, and high rates of violence.

Nwigwe recalled the outpouring of love experienced at one of his recent hometown shows. “I had the biggest crowd ever on my court at home," he proudly boasted in a Houston drawl. "I had over 3,000 people at a show with no openers, none of that. The mayor came out and gave me a dap, so it’s just a lot of love at home. There's like nothing better than being received well in your hometown, where you grew up and got all your influence from. It’s, wherever I go I wear Alief, I wear SWAT, I wear Houston on me like a badge of honor.”

His authenticity is felt throughout his setlist, a musical arrangement with a live band, background vocals from Beaumont-raised LHITNEY, and surprise guest performance from NELL, a frequent collaborator and producer on his music projects.

Nwigwe's purpose for the weekend was complete–he brought Houston to Los Angeles. “Make purpose popular,” Nwigwe’s mantra for his musicality sounds like a tagline from your local conscious rapper, but the intention in how the Houston rapper uses music as a space for community messaging is rooted in genuine Houston hospitality.

Stream Nwigwe’s latest release, “Searching” below.

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Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul And Hits: 15 Of Mary J. Blige's Best Songs

Since bursting onto the scene in 1992 asking us What’s the 411?, Mary J. Blige has kept her foot on our necks and provided the soundtrack for most of our lives. Although she’s faced her fair share of heartaches, heartbreaks, and hardships, Mary never let her personal life or the pressures of the music industry keep her from becoming a master of her craft. Who knew the little girl from Yonkers would go on to be not just music but entertainment royalty? She has secured numerous endorsement deals with M.A.C., Pepsi, Target and more while also conquering both the small and big screen, even being nominated for two Academy Awards for her role in the critically-acclaimed film, Mudbound. After countless nominations over the years for categories like Best R&B Artist and Best song, an unprecedented number of Billboard and Grammy Awards, over 75 million records sold worldwide and so much more, she shows no signs of stopping.

This Sunday (June 23), she will add to her repertoire when she’s honored at the 19th annual BET Awards ceremony with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her exceptional body of work across genres and industries. And the undisputed ESSENCE Festival favorite will also hit New Orleans to commemorate the festival’s 25th anniversary while also celebrating 25 years of her iconic 1994 album, My Life.

To honor the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul and her indelible catalogue of hits, let’s take a look at 15 of our favorite MJB songs through the years.

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