Interview: 'A Different World' Star Speaks On Show's Legacy 30 Years Later

Dawnn Lewis discusses how she grew being apart of the beloved sitcom, and continued to do so afterwards.

To the naked eye, it seems like there are so many occurrences in 2017 that have never happened before. However, the U.S. in 1987 has a few glaring comparisons to today. The President was also a former celebrity, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Maine, and there was a march on Washington D.C. calling for equal rights of a marginalized group.

Another similarity was the onslaught of self-love in the black community. While social media has helped coin terms such as #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy, it was television and movies made for us/by us during the 1980s that started it all.

Take A Different World for example. The show highlighted college students attending the fictional Hillman, where they not only attempted to navigate growing up to be affluent, black adults, but they also tackled situations that anyone- regardless of skin color- could encounter in life, such as sexual assault, discrimination and more.

Thirty years ago Sunday (Sept. 24), the show premiered on NBC, and was slated to be a spinoff of the beloved The Cosby Show. As we know, it took on a life of its own, and has become paramount to the movement of black self-love, acceptance, and just trying to figure it out. Additionally, the show set the stage for HBCU’s, which didn’t have the platform to showcase their importance previously.

Dawnn Lewis, who played no-nonsense (but still cool AF) Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor, believes that A Different World’s legacy lies in the lessons it taught its viewers. In the show, Jaleesa went from being the roommate of Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) and Maggie Lauten (Marisa Tomei) to the wife of Colonel Bradford Taylor who held her own as a boss in her own right throughout. We watched her grow and learn about herself, as well as offer sage-like advice to her younger friends who were also trying to figure it out.

Much like A Different World conveys the importance of personal growth, the real Ms. Lewis has continued to do just that. After hanging up her cap and gown as a Hillman student, Lewis has been seen in shows such as the CW’s iZombie, and is in her fourth season on TNT’s Major Crime. Her voice can also be heard on animated series like Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego and Doc McStuffins. She also eagerly awaits the release of her latest film, The Revival, written and produced by The Blacklist star Harry Lennix.

The Grammy Award-winning singer is also the founder and president of the non-profit “A New Day Foundation,” which provides financial and programmatic support to underprivileged and underserved youth and grassroots community based non profit organizations. She also finds time to teach master classes and give motivational lectures around the country, mentoring hundreds of young people along the way.

“Yes, I did A Different World, but this is who I've grown to be,” she tells VIBE about life after the show. “There's no limit if you're willing to do the work, live and participate on a level of excellence. Go ahead and do that thing.”

We chopped it up with Lewis over-the-phone about the 30th anniversary of the show, the impactful episodes throughout its six-season run, and its incredible legacy on television.

VIBE: How did you get involved with ‘A Different World’?
Dawnn Lewis: Just like any young actor, you audition. You hear about auditions and you do your best to get into the audition. You want to be a part of a project because, one, you hear it's going to be a good project, and two, because you want to work! All we knew at the time was that it was going to be a spinoff of The Cosby Show, which, at the time, was the most successful television show on the air. It was something we definitely wanted to be a part of.

I was in a Broadway show at the time, The Tap Dance Kid, and the same casting director that cast The Cosby Show, cast the Broadway show I was currently doing. I was actually out on the road doing the national tour, and I heard that they were doing a new series, and I asked the casting director for three months about getting to audition. They kept telling me 'no.'

After three months, they finally called me back. I was down to my last unemployment check, the Broadway show had closed, and they finally called me back. Not even an hour after they called me, the gentleman who was the music director for The Cosby Show called me and said he was interested in seeing if I wanted to work with him on the theme song of "this new spinoff of The Cosby Show." I thought it was my friends playing a joke on me, because to get both those calls within the same hour, when I was told 'no' for three months? He sent me over a rough copy [of the music], told me the concept of the show. I called the casting director back and confirmed I would be there, and I fell on my knees, started praying and thanking God.

I listened to the track; it was this funky, R&B type song. Originally, the name of the show was gonna be "Stepping Up To Step Out," so I wrote the song with that concept in mind. The short of the long story is that in a week-and-a-half, I had auditioned for and booked a co-star spot on the new Cosby spinoff, I had co-written and recorded the theme song for it, and it wasn't discovered by the production company until the next week, at my final meeting with Mr. Cosby- they realized I was the same person. They hired the same person to do both jobs! At that point, I was no longer gonna be singing the theme song, because they figured that was too much attention on me, and it wasn't my show. It went through the round of "'who do we get to sing the song?'" They had Al Green come in first to record it, so I'm in the recording studio teaching Al Green my song. "'No, no, no Al, it goes like this!'" [laughs].

What were some of the lessons that you think 'A Different World' taught the black community, more specifically, black youth?
As human beings, we find ourselves wearing this brave face, but we can be our own worst enemies with insecurities and doubt. When I went in for that audition, I was the only person in the room I didn't recognize. I'd seen [the girls at the audition] on TV and commercials, and I thought, "'What I am doing here? I'm not what you see on TV.'" But by the grace of God, I did what I had to do, and I did it.

If you tie that into the premise of the show, that's what the show is about. It's about stepping up, taking a chance on you, being true to yourself. You can't quit on you, because if you do, you can't expect anybody else to pick you up and do it for you. Whether it's that you don't read as well, you don't speak that well, you don't feel as pretty as someone else, you're not as thin, you're too thin...whatever that negative spin it is you have on yourself. You've got to dig deep and recognize that you are who you are.

This is why I believe that the show is relevant and resonates with young people today. Those questions for humanity really just don't change, especially for our teens today. There's so many distractions out there stimulating us constantly. It's easy to say that you've got all this knowledge at your disposal, but you may not know how to put it together. A Different World allowed you to see that you can make it to college and still not have it all figured out. "How do I have a more realistic perspective on relationships? On society? Where do I fit? What works, what doesn't work?"

Even though it was 30 years ago, it seems like the show also does a really good job at conveying these newer concepts of "Black Girl Magic" and "Black Boy Joy" that have been playing out on social media.
I agree with you. I don't necessarily agree that they're newer concepts, though. I think those are newer tags for this generation of millennials that are going through this process now. But as people in this country, generation after generation, we've been trying to encourage ourselves as adults to see the beauty and the value of who we are in the mix of this country who historically denies who we are, and our contributions to the arts, to society, to history, to architecture, to science. Every generation has had that voice, that spiritual thing that says "black girl, you are beautiful, you matter. Black boy, you are powerful, you are a leader." I think that the hashtags are new, but the sentiment is foundational. I think that's why it still resonates 30 years later, because I don't think those messages will ever become obsolete. However you want to title it, so be it. Make it work for you, because it does fit you. It is yours, it is ours. 

The show also tackles some pretty important social topics, such as discrimination, sexual assault, the AIDS epidemic. What do you think is the episode that has really stood the test of time?
Wow. There's a few actually. The "Mammy" episode, where on the one hand, we want to embrace our blackness, but there are things about our blackness that caused shame. Some people look at it as shame, and others look at it as empowerment. Now, we have to deal with the N-word, and we see images of sagging pants and all those kinds of things where, depending on what perspective you take of it, you look at it as 'this is embarrassing.' Some people say that they say it [the N-word] as taking back the power of the word, but if someone else were to say that word to you of a different race, or made a comment on the way you look or dress, it brings offense. It's a double-edged sword, so I think that episode really rings true, particularly with our young people today.

How do you think the public would have reacted today to a more intense episode of 'A Different World' if it aired in 2017, such as the AIDS episode?
Well, some of the storylines that we covered back then were more delicate than they are today. I think we've become a bit desensitized to certain things. We are still very strongly impacted by these topics, but it's not as shocking, not as much of a mystery now as it was then. [In the 80s and 90s] we were still trying to figure out 'How do you catch AIDS? Who gets or doesn't get AIDS? Is it your fault?'

Then, the things that were allowed to be shown on television were very different. In the AIDS episode that you are speaking of, we couldn't even show a condom on the show. It was against standards and practices to hold up a condom. We had to refer to it in our pocket or in our purse. Now, you see full nudity on primetime TV, you hear cursing and folks saying all kinds of things on primetime TV. That just was not the way back then. I think the mystery of some of the things that we were speaking about then is not the same as it is now. I don't know if it would be received the same way. I would hope it would be, but I wouldn't be surprised if people were like 'whatever, it's that, whatever, it's this.' Becoming desensitized to certain things is really not a good thing.

What issues do you think 'A Different World' would tackle today if the show was still on?
Oh goodness! We tackled politics back then, we tackle politics now. Politics has become our news now, not about what's happening in communities, in society, it's politics. Politics affects absolutely everything in today's discussion, which is kind of frightening, because you lose the humanity of who we are as people, and the power that we have will affect our reality. Now you feel like you're at the hands and mercy of people you will never meet. You're sorry that they are where they are, but they are there, and you have to deal with them, you know?

Do you ever think there's going to be a show like 'A Different World' on television ever again?
I know that there are shows now that are dealing with the young adult experience in the arena of education, shows like The Yard, Dear White People, those shows that are in the environment of education and young people trying to figure it out. I think there is an's not always a revealing attempt, I don't know that it's always inspirational.

A lot of the activities that are shown in those programs are very real about what's happening on campuses with our young people today. Again, I think that comes with just being desensitized. It's very real, and it's very, very different. The work I do with young people through my foundation is to create an opportunity and support for those who are hoping to have a different result today than they did yesterday, and to me, A Different World was able to instill that kind of message, heart and sense of "love thy neighbor."

When you look back on the show in terms of what it did for the black community, how do you feel about being a part of something so impactful?
It's really humbling in all honesty. I don't take it for granted. It's been really, really humbling, it's been empowering. You asked me how I got into it in the first place; for me, I was just trying to get my next job. I was trying to do what I do as a performer and professional. You're looking for your next job, and when it started, it was just a job.

When we started going through the process, we started to realize the effect that it had on those watching the show. That's not just black, young adults- it was Latinos, Asians, Caucasians, Europeans, older people, little kids. It was amazing and remarkable, the response that we got from that show.

It was something for everybody. There were so many different characters on the show that people watched for different reasons. Some people watched just to see Mr. Gaines in the pit, because they saw themselves. They saw themselves as the person in the kitchen, the person in the library, the person who worked security who was part of the fabric of these young people. They worked and did what they could to support, to inspire, to enlighten, to protect. There were people who watched for my character, who didn't want to quit on themselves and went back to school, tried a new career. 'If Jaleesa can do it, I can do it.'

The show had so many facets that are inspiring to so many people, and the fact that it is still doing that all this time later is bananas. I do master classes and motivational speaking around the world, and I go and see these people who show up at my seminars and master classes dressed as someone on the show. They've shown me different videos that their schools have made as recruitment tools, reenacting our opening credits! Using the backdrops of some of the classes on their campus to show why it's important for them to brace themselves for "a different world" by coming to their university. It's mind-blowing to me. There's Hillman websites where you can get paraphernalia. They have more stuff than we've ever had on the show. I don't have a Hillman sweatshirt, notebook cover, pens or pencils! [laughs] It's incredible. And then ESPN recreated the opening credits, it was like, are you kidding me?! That was off the chain! It was so much fun, we had such a good time, and it's such an honor.

As a child growing up, it was my habit to return to my Elementary and High School to visit my favorite teachers and to share stories of my journey to the students that were there. After A Different World aired, I would continue to visit my high school, the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music and the Performing Arts, the difference now being, while I'm in the hallway with a teacher...all of a sudden, I start hearing people cheering "Oh my God, it's Jaleesa!" All of these kids flooded the hallways to try to speak to me, and the principal had to get on the loudspeaker to tell the students to go back to their classes, and that Ms. Lewis would get to every classroom. I kept my promise, and mind you it's a performing arts high school, so they were asking me about the business, too. That's when I had a "wow" moment, and I made a paradigm shift in my thinking. Before, I was doing my school visits to see my old stomping ground and visit my teachers. But now, I had a completely new perspective on it.

'This matters to other people, what I'm doing, what I have to share. I have something to offer.'" I never thought of it that way before. I never thought that what I was doing would be of value to someone else on that kind of level. It was a personal shift and it became part of my personal mission. I've been doing it ever since. I think that's what this show does, it gives us the opportunity to pay it forward. It may not have been the intention, or maybe that was Mr. Cosby's intention all along when he created this show, that this would be something entertaining and beneficial to anyone who cared to watch it. 30 years later, I guess he was right.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Lennox McLendon

Music Sermon: The One Minute Hit - When TV Theme Songs Were Lit

The idea of sitting around the TV for appointment television is an archaic concept. Multiple devices with screens for everyone in your home plus the control of streaming has changed how we consume nearly everything except sports, award shows, and Game of Thrones (until tonight). But the children of the 80s very much remember when TV watching was still an event, cable was basic, and the networks reigned supreme. Back in that era of genuine primetime programming, our favorite TV shows came paired with 30-second to one-minute themes. But not just a random little ditty to open the show; these were genuine mini-songs. Verses, chorus, hook, and maybe even a reprise for the end credits.

Now, a drive for more advertising inventory coupled with shorter attention spans has rendered the true theme song a rarity; but in the cases where they do still exist, the songs continue to be a key part of experiencing the show (again, like Thrones). The theme song draws you into the world of the show, it sets the tone, and it stays with you after. And the theme song game wasn’t a space like the commercial jingle game where only folks in the game know who the players are. The theme show business has its own OGs, but there are also names we know well - acclaimed producers, artists and musicians who helped create TV music magic. As such, there’s also a lot of hidden music history and connections behind some of these joints. I have watched an inordinate amount of television consistently throughout my life - you will pry my cable cord out of my cold, dead hands - and I consider myself an expert on the TV theme song. I offer you my list of some of the most soulful, slappin’ and impactful examples of the majesty of TV theme songs from yesteryear.

Sanford & Son

There is literally no music space Quincy Jones hasn’t conquered, including television. Q was in movie scoring land when Norman Lear’s partner Bud Yorkin came to him about composing a theme for their new show, Sanford and Son. “He said, 'I'd like you to write the theme for it.' I said, 'Who's in it?' And he said Redd Foxx,” Quincy told Billboard. “I said, 'Man, you can't put Redd Foxx on national TV!” I had worked with Redd Foxx 30 years before that at the Apollo. We used to do the Chitlin Circuit. I used to write this music for him to come out with.”

Q composed “The Street Beater” without even watching the Sanford and Son pilot. “I wrote that in about 20 minutes,” he said in an interview about his work in television. “I just wrote what he looked like. It sounds just like him, doesn’t it?” The funky, rag tag, backwoods bluesy song was the perfect musical accompaniment for Fred’s surveying his junkyard as Lamont’s truck rolled up, “It was raggedy, just like Foxx.”

Good Times

Norman Lear was the goat of working-class American storytelling on screen, but his shows also had some of the most iconic theme songs – “Those Were the Days” for Archie Bunker, “One Day at a Time” has great lyrics if you pay attention, he even had Donny Hathaway singing about pre-Golden Girls Bea Arthor for Maude. TV producers often used the same writing and production teams for their shows' themes, and Lear often tapped the husband and wife team of Alan and Marylin Bergman, who got their break co-writing with Quincy on “In the Heat of the Night.”

But as I said before, don’t let the TV theme song credits fool you, the Bergmans are two-time Academy Awards winners and in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. That’s the kind of talent behind Good Times.

The Good Times theme is a negro spiritual (there’s a Hammond B3 organ in it; issa spiritual), and singers Jim Gilstrap, from Stevie Wonder’s backing group, Wonderlove; and Somara “Blinky” Williams, a former original member of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) Singers along with Andrae Crouch and famed session player Billy Preston, put some extra oil on it.

You don’t believe me when I say this is worship music? Watch this.

I really wanna know what the Bergmans knew about hanging in a chow line, though. I’m not even sure I knew that was the lyric before Dave Chappelle told us.

The Jeffersons

Before we move on from Lear sitcoms we have to pay respect to the best black TV theme song of all time. And before you argue with me, let’s please look at the stats: a 35-person choir, stomping and clapping - even double clapping! - mention of fish fry, and a reprise over the end credits with hummin’ like your big mama used to do while she was cookin’ on Sundays. Winner.

Even though it’s one of the best-known sitcom theme songs ever, what’s lesser known is that another Lear alum was behind it – Ja’net Dubois, aka Good Times’ Wilona Woods, co-wrote and sang the theme. Also, the male voice that joins her in the bridge isn’t Sherman Hemsley (although it really sounds like it could be him) but career backup singer Oren Waters.

Ja’net, who was a singer as well as actress, ran into Lear on the CBS lot one day and shared that she wanted to display her talent beyond acting. Lear partnered her with Jeff Barry to work on the aspirational Jefferson’s theme. Jeff had pop hits under his belt as part of producer Phil Spector’s stable; he wrote “River Deep - Mountain High.” He also wrote “One Day at a Time,” and later “Without Us,” Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis’ yacht-rocky theme for Family Ties.

Dubois later told Jet magazine she pulled from her own experience once she’d “made it” with Good Times. “I moved my whole family. I bought (my mother) a house, bought her a mink coat. I did everything, retired her. I did everything I ever promised her.” And you can feel Ja’net’s testimony coming through as that moving van makes its way across the Queensboro bridge and up the East Side.


Sherman Hemsley had the good fortune of being associated with two entries in the Praise Songs of TV (I just made that up) category. Amen’s “Shine on Me” is not only a rousing bop, it’s a forreal and actual gospel song. The theme was written, produced and played by the father of modern gospel, Andraé Crouch, and sung by gospel legend Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Sister Vanessa was backed in the TV version by the choir from Crouch’s First Memorial COGIC church. She later did her own version, but it didn’t have quite the same oomph when slowed down a little and without the full voices of a choir behind her.

Sigh… Imagine a time when a sitcom about a deacon in the black church with a whole gospel theme song was a primetime network hit. Also shout out to “There’s No Place Like Home” from 227, which preceded Amen on Saturday nights.

The Cosby Show

We’re going to set everything about Bill Cosby the man aside for a minute to talk about the show and its music. Agreed? Amen.

The Cosby Show has to be in this conversation, because over the course of the show’s history, the theme song and opening sequence became a hallmark of the series’ greatness, and it’s a prime example of theme songs being deeper than just something to play over opening credits. Every season, a new adaptation of “Kiss Me,” the theme written by Cosby and Stu Gardner (who also co-wrote the themes for A Different World and Living Single), opened the show. The opening sequence featured a Huxtable family dance showcase, changing as the kids grew and the cast core cast added, and sometimes subtracted. We were as anxious for the Cosby season premiere to see the new intro as we were to see the show itself.

Season 3 is when it started getting crunk, with a little Latin action. Auntie Phylicia was gettin’ it.

In Season 4 (my least favorite), “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” mania had made its way to the Huxtable family with Bobby McPheren’s rendition and a bit of a roaring ‘20s (and for the sake of the show location, we’ll say Harlem Renaissance) feel. Elvin’s first year in the sequence, Denise’s first year out.

Season 5 was a production. Literally, it was staged like a Broadway production. By now, the show was known for exposing diasporic art and culture and the people behind it to the world whenever possible, and that was the intention here as well, on the low.

The set design was a little South Pacific-esque, and costumes had a Caribbean flair reminiscent of some Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater pieces - appropriate since the movement was choreographed by Ailey great (and Boomerang’s off the chain creative director) Geoffrey Holder. Cosby’s high school classmate James DePriest, one of the first internationally recognized African American orchestral conductors, arranged the music, played by the Oregon Symphony orchestra. It was sweeping and gorgeous and I remember it being kind of a big deal. Second season with no Denise in the credits. I think she had left Hillman and gone Africa by this point. Or something.

Season 6 is my favorite. It was a party. The entire family was getting it in to a jam session take on the theme remixed with Junior Walker and the All Stars’ “Shotgun.” Even though the opening was set in front of the Apollo marquee, this was the Motown sequence. “Shotgun,” was a massive crossover hit, produced by Berry Gordy, and featured Motown’s famed session players, the Funk Brothers on instrumentals.

Welcome back, Denise. And hi, Martin and Olivia. Theo and Vanessa were hitting. that. heaux.

Ok, actually, Season 8 is my least favorite. Least favorite season, theme song, opening sequence, all of it. Here, I think, it’s clear that the show was past its prime. This jazzmatazz intro didn’t feel super fresh or creative, and Theo was trying to hit b-boy moves, and cousin Pam clearly wasn’t comfortable, and Vanessa looked like she just got engaged to a 40-year old ninja named Dabnis, and Clair still had her coat on because she couldn’t be bothered.

But on the cultural side, it was still in theme. The mural was created by kids at Harlem’s Creative Arts Workshop, although a legal dispute over art clearances kept this visual from being used as originally intended in Season 7. On the horn is Lester Bowie, a trumpeter known for his free jazz style.

A Different World

Obviously, we were paying a visit to Hillman next. “A Different World” is one of the best theme songs of all time – for Seasons 2 through 5 (also one of the best shows of all time – for Seasons 2 through 5).

Dawn Lewis, aka Jaleesa, co-wrote the song with Stu Gardner. She was originally supposed to sing it, as well, until whoever hired her to write the song realized she was also in the cast, and whoever cast her as Jaleesa realized she also wrote the song. The collective powers that be thought Dawn singing the theme would center her too much when the show was about Lisa Bonet, so they went to Al Green. Yes, the Reverend Al Green. A version of the “Different World” theme song sung by Al Green exists out there in the world somewhere, and I now have a life mission to hear it. Producers didn’t like it, though. They decided to go with a female voice, and pegged folk and blues singer Phoebe Snow.

As the show went into its second season, producers decided to take a similar approach as The Cosby Show and flip the theme every season with different artists and styles. Then Aretha Franklin recorded her version, and that idea was dead, because why would you ever ask someone else to sing behind Aretha. Debbie Allen, who had just stepped in as the show’s executive producer (Aunt Debbie brought A Different World out of the middling fare of its first season to the strong, black and relevant show we remember it as, but that’s a different Sermon) called Auntie Re personally, and then brought her whole team from Detroit to LA on a bus (because Auntie Re wasn’t gonna fly, chile). Then, TV history was made.

“I just know that she came in and hit it,” Allen told Vulture. “It wasn’t like she had to do ten takes, that’s what I know. She just hit it. That’s what I remember and then we all kind of hung out and had food together, you know — she loved our show which is why she did it.”

I’m low key surprised Aretha agreed to do the song since her ex-husband, Glynn Turman, joined the cast in Season 2 and she’s petty like that, but she also watched a lot of television and was a fan. When most think of A Different World, they’re thinking of seasons two and beyond. That iconic montage we’ve see recreated in tribute again and again, from SportsCenter to Grown’ish Season 2 promos. Nobody references car washes and hanging out outside of….a barn, I think? Where they at a farm for the Season 1 opening sequence? (You can tell some white people put that together – no shots).

Finally, the last season of A Different World was sort of “Different World: The Next Generation,” so they went in a new direction for the theme with a very non-Boyz II Men sounding Boyz II Men (I thought it was Take 6 for the longest), but Seasons 2 through 5 still reign supreme.

Different Strokes

On to a different show about different worlds. Remember I mentioned OGs in the theme song game? One of them was Alan Thicke. Yes, Robin Thicke’s daddy was not only lovable TV dad Jason Seaver, but also a professional theme writer. Thicke penned the tracks for a couple of sitcoms, including Facts of Life (with Robin’s mama Gloria Loring on vocals), but his thing was game shows. Your grandma has Alan to thank for the “Wheel of Fortune” theme. He not only wrote but sang “Diff’rent Strokes” (sounding a little like his son), and I mean, the song is perfect. The opening, the harmony build in the second verse, the bridge, the breakdown “…and together we’ll be fine, ‘cause it takes…,” the hum at the end of the closing credits version. You can tell from this one-minute jamalam that Robin got his blue-eyed soul honestly.

Speaking of the Chappelle Show again (there’s a Chappelle reference for everything in life), Dave closes out his famous White People Can’t Dance episode (Season 2, Episode 3) with a spirited performance of “Diff’rent Strokes,” going into a “Facts of Life” vamp, backed by Questlove and John Mayer.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Living Single

I’m putting these two together because they’re two of the last examples of the explanatory theme song for black prime time television.

The Quincy Jones-produced Fresh Prince theme tells us Will’s entire back story and the premise of the show – a ‘90s hip-hop answer to the Gilligan’s Island theme.

Living Single’s theme conveyed the high energy city life the four upwardly mobile friends were navigating, with emphasis from Queen Latifah’s sing-rapping about her homegirls standing on her left and her right, and the legendary dancing silhouette that is Big Lez.

Both shows, songs, and visuals have become representative of the hip hop generation’s takeover of ‘90s black television and ‘90s black culture, and both continue to hold up amazing well 25 years later.

We haven’t even touched on the soulful ‘70s themes that became hit singles, like “Welcome Back Kotter” (my joint) or “Angela” from Taxi, or sketch show theme songs like Heavy D for In Living Color (or TLC for “All That,” for y’all younger folks), or the cartoon smashes. There are gems galore to be mined, all containing shining bits of nostalgia and callbacks to a simpler time. These songs often resonate with us even more strongly than our favorite singles from the era because they were a constant for years instead of months. And thanks to networks later devoting blocks of time to classic TV reruns like Nick at Night and TV Land, many of these shows – and theme songs – have been introduced to a new generation.

We’ve focused mostly on black TV shows, but there are a few theme songs that cross cultural, generational and international boundaries. When the Golden Girls premiered in 1985, the series featured a remake of the 1978 song “Thank You for Being a Friend,” and it has lived in all our hearts ever since. So much so, that a member of the black church delegation gave the song a proper remix a couple of years ago. Let this be a reminder that great TV theme songs were not only catchy songs that stuck in our heads for decades, but also impetrated universal lessons about life, love, and friendship.


#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.

Continue Reading
Getty Images

8 Best Samples From Megan Thee Stallion, Tyler The Creator And DJ Khaled's Projects

Megan Thee Stallion, DJ Khaled and Tyler, The Creator have more in common than just a release date. The artists also know a thing or two about thoughtful sampling.

Their projects, which all happen to be some of their best efforts, find inspiration from 70s soul and deep 90s underground jams. Jackson 5, Jay-Z and Sizzla were sampled on DJ Khaled's previous release Grateful, but with Father of Asahd, the producer and proud dad jumps back into the crates. This time around, modern hits are used like Ms. Lauryn Hill's "To Zion" and Outkast's "Ms. Jackson."

Megan Thee Stallion's samples also prove her rhymes aren't the only thing fans should pay close attention to.

Check out some of our favorite samples from this week's releases below.


Megan Thee Stallion- Fever 

1. "Hood Rat S**t"

Sample: Latarian Milton's Viral Video (2013)

Plucked from the wonderful world of viral videos, Megan uses the then 7-year-old's mischevious joy ride to accurately describe how she rolls with her crew.

2. "Pimpin"

Sample: DJ Zirk & Tha 2 Thick Family featuring 8Ball & MJG and Kilo-g  "Azz Out" (1996) 

There's something to be said about Megan's very clever samples. The chorus to the late 90s underground gem stems from southern legends like Tennesee's 8Ball and MJG along with NOLA's own Kilo-g. Megan grabs a few bars from the track and puts her own twist on them for the chorus: "Stick 'em up, stick 'em up, raise 'em up, raise 'em up Drop it off in his fucking face just to saw it off/Gotta get my a** ate, gotta make that a** shake/Gotta swipe this ni**a card so much they had to call the bank"

3. "Simon Says" featuring Juicy J 

Samples: Billy Paul, "Me And Mrs. Jones" (1972), "Looking For Tha Chewin,'" DJ Paul (Ft. 8Ball, DJ Zirk, Kilo-G, Kingpin Skinny Pimp & MJG) (1992)

Another variation of the aforementioned track is also heard on her collaboration with southern legend Juicy J. The soft intro by way of Bill Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" also offers a soulful touch to the track.

DJ Khaled- Father of Asahd

4. "Holy Mountian" featuring Buju Banton, Sizzla, Mavado and 070 Shake) 

Sample: "One Spliff a Day," Billy Boyo (1981) 

Boyo's legendary riddim has been used by a bevy of artists including SiR and Wiz Khalifa but Khaled's curation of the track with some of the biggest names in reggae takes it to another level. It also doesn't hurt that his longtime friend and icon Banton opens the album.

5. "Just Us" featuring SZA 

Sample: "Ms. Jackson," Outkast (2001) 

This sample definitely raises the eyebrows, but the careful loop paired with SZA's sing-rap flow makes it worth a listen.

6. "Holy Ground" featuring Buju Banton 

Samples: "To Zion," Ms. Lauryn Hill and Carlos Santana (1999) 

Grand opening, grand closing. Banton closes out the album with soul-baring lyrics and a thoughtful sample to match. Carlos Santana's chords from the original track give the song a sentimental feel along with Banton's lyrics about mass incarceration, cultural warfare and spiritual freedom.

Tyler, The Creator- IGOR

7. "A BOY IS A GUN" 

Samples: "Bound," Ponderosa Twins Plus One (1971) 

Tyler might have gotten inspiration to sample this song from Kanye West (Bound 2), but his take is smooth and subtle as he navigates through love and heartbreak.

8. "ARE WE STILL FRIENDS" featuring Pharell Williams 

Samples: "Dream," Al Green (1977) 

Underneath IGOR's tough exterior lies a gentle soul. The placement of Al Green's "Dream," on the latter end of the album takes the listener on a starry love high. Pharrell and Tyler allow the sample to act as a skeleton for the song as they point out how to keep love alive.

Continue Reading
John Johnson III

Megan Thee Stallion Helps DTLR Celebrate Fashion's Past, Present and Future

Fashion retailer DTLR has always curated the best of streetwear, with their latest fashion show proving the evolution is real and influential.

The fourth annual show took place in Atlanta this spring under a theme titled, "Genesis."  The event took place in Atlanta, GA, with hosts Yung Joc and DTLR's Radio's Tiara LaNiece. DTLR's Apprelle Norton, David Storey and KeJuan McGee curated the event to take their guests "on a journey through the past, present and future of fashion, featuring the latest from top leading brands such as Nike, Puma, Adidas, Levis, Champion, Reebok, Fila, Black Pyramid, New Balance, Tommy Hilfiger, Staple, Hustle Gang, Akoo, Ethika, Odd Sox, and many more."

In addition to presenting some of the hottest looks out, the event also welcomed performances from VIBE NEXT Alumna Megan Thee Stallion. Appearances from the the "Big Ol Freak" rapper was an added effort on DTLR's Vice President of Marketing, Shawn Caesar's part to make the fashion show more of an "experience."

"We wanted to add more of an 'experience' feel to the show this year," Caesar said in a press release. "[We wanted]  to encourage more engagement and interaction from our attendees, and to aid in creating more memories and reasons to stay connected to the DTLR brand long-term."

DTLR is quickly becoming a part of a class of successful upcoming brands. The brand has more than 240 stores in 19 states and Washington D.C. and it manages to combine fashion, sports, entertainment, sports, and community empowerment into one; all while providing their customers with elite footwear, apparel and accessories to match.

See photos from the event below.



Continue Reading

Top Stories