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'Colors' Impact Stands The Test Of Time 30 Years Later

On April 15, 1988, America would be introduced to the gang culture running rampant in Los Angeles, California through rap acts like Ice-T and NWA, who chronicled the lifestyle in song and in music videos. Many may credit gangsta rap with ushering Bloods and Crips into the mainstream and movies for playing a part, particularly the film Colors.

Classics like New Jack City, Boyz N The Hood, and Menace II Society may be the first to come to mind when listing the pivotal films that spoke to the gangster aesthetic, but Colors played a pivotal role in shedding light on the ills of the inner-city and the strained relationship between law enforcement and urban communities. Directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall, Colors became a box-office success, with a cast that included Don Cheadle, Damon Wayans, Leon Robinson and Mario Lopez, all of whom would go on to become future stars and major players in Hollywood.

VIBE spoke to five West Coast rappers about the impact Colors had on taking gang culture worldwide and why the film still stands the test of time thirty years later.

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Problem
What were your impressions of the movie Colors?
I knew it just looked real familiar to me, just from the look of it. I always thought though, for some reason, it definitely was told from a cop's point of view - it was a cop's vision of what gangs looked like. But then movies like Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society come out and it's more in the form of the eye of the street's point of view. It was the first to ever really show gang culture.

Favorite character from the film?
My favorite character probably had to be the one that Damon Wayans played, the sherm head that was dancing with the fu**ing teddy bear in the mall saying "I'm fu**ing your girl, Roccet, I'm fu**ing your girl." He had that little strange voice [laughs]. But when you look at that film, it had a lot of soon-to-be A-list actors in it. Don Cheadle fu**ing played Rocket for Christ sake. You had Damon Wayans, Leon, he was in it. You had a lot of people [in it] who became larger than life.

Favorite scene from the film?
The first drive-by scene where Rocket pulls up slow motion on the Blood with the door open and he says, "What up Blood?" and then it shoots straight then shows his mama crying the next day. I always thought that shit was crazy. The other scene when Rocket and the black dude from the Mexican gang, when they end up shooting each other at the end. I think he had a jheri curl, the black Mexican dude. That shit was crazy, too, when the Crips and the Spanish had their shootout.

How accurate do you feel Colors was in depicting gang-culture in Los Angeles and California as a whole?
Again, for it being the first of its kind and then me being very young for me to analyze it, I wasn't outside to give you the play-by-play if they did it, but just from the guys I know, they had it real authentic. The crazy shit was the opening scene, like when they in the jail with the Bloods and the Crips, that shit was crazy. I was like how in the fu** did they shoot this? Right now, there's a lot of intermingling with the gangs in the hood, which is cool, you know what I'm saying? I'm not here to promote separation, but if that was really accurate, I wanna know how did they get these two [gangs] to get together like this for this? Like I said, it’s the first time, so you can't - you're not gonna get it [completely] right. I would like to see what Colors would look like today in the modern form. That movie was crazy.

What are your memories of hearing the Colors theme song by Ice-T?
I was like, "Damn, this shit is hard as hell." Ice-T was crazy. I remember the video and at the end him saying, "I don't want you to die...peace." He goes crazy and all hard the whole song and all this tough shit for five minutes and then he goes "please stop, I wan't y'all to live," that was so funny to me for some reason [laughs]. It was hard and had some menacing a** sample. I don't know what the fu** that sound is. I just know when I heard that beat, I used to be scared cause I was little, you know what I'm saying? This song means gangs, I'm scared of this shit, you know what I'm saying? This song means murder. It feels like this song was played all over the city. The funny thing is we were just watching this video the day before yesterday and tripping out like, "Damn, this video was damn near six minutes long and this ni**a was just bussin'." It damn near show the whole movie if you watch the video.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film and if so, why?
I mean, it's a classic cause it’s the first time to put gangs on the big screen. It's a classic for that reason and that's the only reason you need. That's the first movie about Bloods and Crips and gangs in Los Angeles. Thirty years later, to see it started off as that and see what it is now, that's crazy to see. 'Cause now, on some deeper sh**, that was the first time somebody monetized off of this type of situation. Now it's used as a marketing tool to explode today's big artists and a few sports people and different things. Like it's damn near cool, which is crazy, but at that time, that was damn near like a horror film. That was scary, like "what the fu** is going on."

Mistah Fab
When was the first time you saw the film Colors and how were you introduced to it?
I was a kid, I can't even remember at what age I was when I saw Colors, but the West Coast is kinda split - California is three states almost. You've got Northern California, Central California and Southern California. Colors was very relevant in the culture of southern California, so outside of the world, everybody thought that California was all Bloods and Crips and where I'm from, Oakland, Bloods and Crips never existed. There's never been Bloods and Crips in the city of Oakland, so for us, it just painted L.A. as "wow bro, I ain't ever going to L.A., you can't wear anything. They be tripping over colors." Where we from, we say Blood and Cuz in the same sentence so it kinda gave us this whole stigma as kids, like "Man L.A., boy, that gang culture, they tripping. It's maini' out there, it's too crazy." The reflection of what L.A. was, we just thought it was all just gangs, kill you if you wear red, kill you if you wear blue, so that's what my perception of L.A. was as a kid growing up. Just being a young kid, not knowing until I went down there and saw the culture for itself.

Favorite character from the film?
Don Cheadle, man, Rocket. Rocket was a boss. Rocket don't smoke, Rocket don't drink, Rocket was a boss to me, man. Of course, T-Bone was hella funny, but I just think I liked Rocket. He was just the laid back lucid gangster. He was serious about his business.

Favorite scene from the film?
The high-speed, man, the high-speed was crazy. When High-Top was on the high-speed riding through the projects, but when he told, that kinda discouraged me. [The other scene from] Colors was the language and the conversation that Pac-Man had with the other cop and he told him, "Man, one day it was two bulls on the top of the hill, it was the old bull and the young bull" and he said, "dad, let's run down there and fu** one of those bulls up" and he responded to him and he said, "Let's walk down and fu** em all" and that stood out to me as I got older because it taught you a sign of patience. It taught you a sign of learning how to be mindful and be strategic in your attack. The element of surprise and how you're able to get more people when you're just slowly approaching. That always stood out to me, the commentary in that. The script was dope. It was worded very elegantly if you're able to depict those things in between and the decoding of that conversation. I always remember that part. That stood out a lot.

What are your memories of hearing the Colors theme song by Ice-T?
That was hard, I thought Ice-T was the hardest dude on earth. Like he was just hard! Like if you just listen to that, that was hard. That beat was aggressive, bro. You could hear the struggle, it was serious. It was serious man, just listening to it and listening to how dope it was.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film and if so, why?
You gotta think, at the time, I was a kid. I was only five years old when that came out so when I was able to watch it and know what it was, I was at an age where I could watch it with reasonable understanding of it. Where I was able to decipher what it was and what it really meant and then coming back to it and watching it as an adult, you even see more things to it. That was a hell of a movie, man, and I think the exploitation of the gang culture at that time, for one, the depiction of Southern L.A. gang culture, but [it showed] what it did to people. It made people wanna be involved with that culture so it was a good thing and it was a bad thing. It turned a lot of people out as well. Hollywood was used as a mechanism to get the gang culture to a higher level. If you look at a political view of it, the growth of what it did, it put it on a whole 'nother level and it traveled. It made the gang culture travel from just being a L.A. thing to all around the country and all around the world. I been in other countries where there was gang members and I was like, "Whoa, that's crazy" and Colors was the spawning of that. So Hollywood was able to use that tool as a traveling device to spread that cultural perspective to the rest of the world. And to anybody that's ever lost family and friends to the horrific details of gang-banging, it's different, man, it's crazy. It's always a good and it's always a bad, you always gotta take the perception of how you look at things.

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Murs
When was the first time you saw the film Colors and how were you introduced to it?
My mother wouldn’t let me see it. I was living in Lynwood, CA. At the time and was already “cuzzing” her and idolizing the older Crips in our neighborhood. She said she wasn’t going allow us to see anything glorifying the violence we were witnessing daily.

How accurate do you feel Colors was in depicting gang-culture in Los Angeles and California as a whole?
I didn’t get to see it 'til 2000. And to me it was unremarkable, I didn’t finish it.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film and if so, why?
Colors, at best, was another classic ploy by the American government to further the chaos, violence and division in the black community. At worst, it’s a “well-intentioned” dagger jabbed in the back of the black community by yet another clueless white male fascinated with our plight and culture.

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KXNG Crooked
When was the first time you saw the film Colors and how were you introduced to it?
I was a kid. I reluctantly went with my older brother who used to get into fights everywhere. He went because he was a very active gang member. Just like I thought, we got into a brawl after the movie. All I remember is pepper spraying two huge dudes. Yes, I fought dirty. I was a hundred pound scared young kid. I lost one of my shell toe Adidas during the scrap. [shakes his head]

Favorite character from the film and why?
My favorite character was Rocket who was portrayed by Don Cheadle. He reminded me of my male influences at the time. A super Crip. I grew up in the “hood” where people who make it out through means of an education rarely come back and provide the youth with positive role models so most of us looked up to the older guys on the block. Rocket was just like my older brother and all of his friends. He was very relatable.

Favorite scene from the film?
I have a few favorite scenes. I like the scene where Robert Duvall’s character tells Sean Penn’s character Pac-Man the story about the bull walking down the hill instead of running to hook up with all the cows. It’s a great lesson in wisdom and patience. I also like the scene where Damon Wayans' character T-Bone is describing the state police found the character Killer-Bee in. His description was hilarious.

How authentic do you feel Colors was in depicting gang culture in L.A. and California as a whole?
I think they did a pretty good job. I imagine they had a few real police officers and street guys consulting the directors and writers. They also shot in real gang infested neighborhoods so it felt authentic.

What are your memories of first hearing the theme song by Ice-T?
Gangster. Pure gangster. The beat is sinister. The storyline is a perfect depiction of gang life. From drug addiction to friends being shot, he covered all angles. The good, the bad and the ugly. That’s so necessary especially since some rappers glorify street life and never offer the negative side of being in gangs.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film?
The fact that we’re discussing the film thirty years later tells us it should be considered a classic. The cast is stellar. In my opinion, the relationship between African-Americans and Mexican-Americans on a street gang level still hasn’t been put on film in a better way than Colors did it.

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Del Tha Funky Homosapien
When was the first time you saw the film Colors and how were you introduced to it?
Wow, the answer for [that] may be lost forever...had to be in like junior or early high school around then. Yeah, 'cause I believe NWA and all that really hadn’t dropped yet and unless you been in L.A. South Central, you didn’t have any idea that sh** was that bad out there. My whole family damn near is out in South Central L.A. I think I actually lightweight avoided seeing the movie at first. I was against that type of sh** back then, although I grew to understand it much more later and I don’t feel the same way about it now. But Ice-T, that’s the G.O.A.T., so on the strength of him being involved, that spiked my interest.

Favorite character from the film?
I don’t remember much from the movie. It’s been so long, but I do remember homeboy trying to do it to the stuffed bunny off of sherm/PCP. Disturbing, those types of things I seem to remember.

Favorite scene from the film?
Same answer really. That’s the main thing that stuck in my mind after all these years. Don’t smoke wet, hahahaha...

How authentic do you feel Colors was in depicting gang culture in L.A. and California as a whole?
It was the first wave, you know what I mean? Kinda was still Hollywood, but you know, it’s gonna be that, or you not coming out with no movie. I remember feeling like it was kinda lighter than it really was popping, didn’t seem as menacing as say, Menace II Society. By the time that came out, ok now I can barely watch that movie cause it’s too real. Sh** really be like that though. To think you could get used to that sh** is disturbing. Guess that’s where the fry comes in.

What are your memories of first hearing the theme song by Ice-T?
“Aw sh**, Ice done did it again!” That song got so popular. It actually had kids around me attempting to emulate that kinda sh**. Same with NWA. But see, them cats were more responsible than a lot of people may realize. When you really around the sh**, you tend to not glorify it. Ice-T definitely didn’t, he gave you the raw footage always in his raps, pure game. I always could appreciate that from Ice, 'cause not only was he dope as a rapper, but he also gave you something you could use out here that you won’t get in say a classroom.

Do you feel Colors is a classic film?
Of course, and you know why: it began to expose the craziness that had been hidden in South Central from the rest of the world. I remember New York cats used to clown us, like we all blonde chicks and surfers out here. Colors came out and it started to show you. You don’t even know half of what really be going on out here, the sh** is straight up war zone. How it could be hidden for as long as it was, or not believed to be really happening...is crazy.

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The Ying and Yang of ‘Yardie’ Star Aml Ameen

There’s a scar above Aml Ameen’s right eyebrow that he got when he was three years old. Thirty years later, the British actor can laugh at running face first so ferociously he split his head open. The victim he was charging at, his cousin, walked away without a scratch.

Cracking himself open is what Ameen did in order to embody the role of D, the lead in Idris Elba’s directorial debut Yardie. Adapted into a screenplay from the 1992 Victor Headley novel of the same name, viewers see Ameen take on a character who’s more morally ambidextrous than he is ethically ambiguous. The film spans two decades and locations—Jamaica and London—as D grapples with his brother’s murder and enacting revenge while diving deeper into a treacherous drug world.

To become a true yardie, Ameen who’s British-Jamaican and Vincentian, went full method acting. After living in Bob Marley’s homeland for three months, when Ameen returned to London, friends, family or whoever met him anew.

“People met me as D, they met me as the part. The mindset, I was only speaking patois. All the cast and crew met me as D. And so, by the time I came back I had gotten out of my own way to a large degree in terms of any trepidation I might have,” he says. “When you immerse yourself fully into a world and you give over to a part often you start by feeling like you’re faking it. But after a while, your body doesn’t know you’re telling it something. It just starts to believe it. So let’s just say you’re telling yourself every morning ‘I’m ugly! I’m ugly! I’m ugly!’ Your body will start feeling that. It can be a bit traumatic, but you don’t have to do as much work. So that foundation of playing D gave me a lot of confidence.”

Ameen isn’t unattractive. In fact, he’s handsome. Standing a hair above 5’6” his tall personality supersedes his actual height. His toasted almond skin is clear. His lips full. He smiles often but there’s a resting smirk that gives way to slight mischief or an undetected superpower. It could be his ability to transform to a spliff smoking badmon, or maybe it’s the courage he mustered the night before this interview to perform at New York’s famed Nuyorican Poetry Cafe. Either way, something’s there.

D and Ameen however, couldn’t be any more different. Ameen is measured, deliberate with his words and tidy. His Ray-Ban sunglasses accent his blue striped button-down and his tan wool coat. D is unpredictable, shaggy; his locs an orchestra of controlled chaos. D also isn’t opposed to shooting first and to channel his character’s demeanor, Ameen channeled his Uncle Kirk.

“My Uncle Kirk is one of them stoic, handsome, men from his time in the 80s. There are loads of pictures I have of him and he’s just one of them men who didn’t really smile but when he smiled it was like is he smiling because he’s happy with what you’re saying or not?” he says. “I’ve got a lot of British in me and we tend to be polite by default. You see Jamaicans, they’ll look you in your eye and talk to you like this [with a straight face] for all of the interview and it’s fine with them. There’s an intensity.”

As a first-generation Jamaican, I can attest to the seriousness that runs through the island. Despite the sun, the rum and the savory oxtail gravy, Jamaicans don’t joke around, or as we say: we nuh romp.

Serendipity was at play when Ameen and Elba first met in an elevator both heading to the same Los Angeles-bound flight. They discussed the book and Elba’s script. Ameen’s verbiage of choice is “sanitized” when describing the difference in the brutality of D on screen compared to the novel. Over time, the young rebel develops a coke habit and to bait Clancy, his brother’s killer, D rapes the mother of his children. In the movie, however, after breaking into their home and points a gun at Clancy’s girlfriend, D grants privacy when she pretends to breastfeed her child.

And while D doesn’t explicitly say it, he has a death wish. If you watch the film properly as Ameen suggests, you can see moments in which D is chasing after his own demise. Ameen’s only desire is to live his life fully, a reality he better understands isn’t a luxury afforded to many.

“I’ve experienced people who died who were my age, and not died from like the usual gangs or that sort, but like a heart attack, 33 years old, dead. Another friend pushed off a balcony by his girlfriend. Uncle died three days ago, my dad’s brother,” Ameen says. “When my two bredins died, it was a certain feeling, but with my uncle dying I had more of an understanding of D’s journey, which I had to imagine now, than 18 months two years ago during filming. It’s very hard to fill the void of a family member dying. You never know when your card is going to get pulled, so you want enough time to do stuff, but at the same time once real people die in your life that you love you fear it less.”

D also never worked with The Sexiest Man Alive. Ameen describes Elba’s directorial hand as less controlling and more freeing. Elba would later invite Ameen to his home while filming The Mountain Between Us where the two shaped the character. Once the two-time Golden Globe winner yelled “action!” Ameen said he was granted the autonomy to do what he wanted.

“[Elba] wanted me to method act and we discussed the general mindset of D, the look that he wanted to achieve. He wanted a uniform accent, things like that. And then he just set those parameters and left me to go in and do it,” he says. “He knows the type of actor I am. He wasn’t like, ‘All right, this is how I want you to do it.’ I’ve worked with first-time directors before. I never worked with an actor-director and he gave a lot of space. There were only so many moments when he was like, ‘This is what I want’ and he allowed me to create this world where I lived.”

While going full method was the approach that made for the best performance, it wasn’t always easy for some on set. Ameen rarely broke character and admittedly held others “hostage to his process.” He was so intrinsically D, it took him roughly eight months to let go of him once the film wrapped.

“Not like talking patois all the time, but the state of being. Every morning as D I’m waking up to gunshots as my alarm clock. Every morning I’m sitting in bed for an hour or two imagining the murder of my brother. If you’re a person with a conscious, that’ll run on your mind. It took me a while, definitely.”

I forget my follow up question and the room gets quiet. We’ve been talking for close to 40 minutes. Ameen uses this chance to turn the tables and question me. We discuss zodiac signs and Miles Davis. There’s a younger version of the late jazz legend Ameen believes is equally complex and intriguing. He admits he’d love to portray him. Instead, he’ll have to settle for Netflix’s forthcoming Inside Man 2, a departure from the Spike Lee-directed crime-drama which starred Clive Owen and Denzel Washington.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” I tell him.

“I ain’t tryna fill em. That’s the goat,” Ameen says of Washington as he chuckles. “I could be the ram if they want. I can be the little lamb.”

He opens his Spotify app and plays “Blue In Green.”

“What’s your star sign?” he questions.

Every man I’ve ever loved (whether reciprocal or not) is a Leo, so when I learned of his July 30th birthday, I was...annoyed.

VIBE: We don’t get along.

Ameen: Who don’t?

VIBE: We don’t.

Ameen: Why do you say that?

VIBE: I looked it up. We don’t get along.

Ameen: Is that the attitude you came to the interview with? That’s terrible. What’s your sign?

VIBE: I’m a Gemini. I find Leo men are, it’s almost astonishing, how confident they are, and like unjustifiably so sometimes.

Ameen: And that’s what I remind you of?

He takes a sip of water and leans back. He crosses his legs and continues to listen to Miles while scrolling through social media on his phone. A smile emerges on his face. Like his Uncle Kirk, I’m not sure if he’s smiling because he finds our banter fun and playful, or if his unknown superpower is bubbling at the surface.

“Interesting,” Ameen says.

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American musician Millie Jackson performs onstage at the Park West Auditorium, Chicago, Illinois, May 30, 1980.
Photo by Paul Natkin

Music Sermon: Millie Jackson - The Original Bad Girl

You know that auntie who you were nervous to bring your young male friends around back in the day because she might proposition them in the kitchen when nobody was looking? Or the auntie liable to cuss out a family member or two after dinner for something that happened 12 years ago? The one that women in your family whispered about, warning not to leave men around alone? Who your mama didn’t want you to spend too much time with, but you were always excited to see because she was entertaining and was gonna slip you a little pocket change?

That auntie listens to Millie Jackson.

Millie Jackson is not just an R&B singer. She’s a Rhythm & Blues singer. She’s card party music. Your parents having people over and you’re not allowed to come downstairs music. Working class black folks hanging out down at the VFW after a long week with some well liquor music.

She’s been called “the queen of raunchy soul” and “the Godmother of rap,” because of her signature, no-holds-barred lyrical content and her long “raps” – profanity-laced, sexually explicit stories and jokes – interwoven through her songs and live sets. Auntie Millie is part singer and part outrageous comedienne – but don’t take her as a joke. She’s a deceptively serious artist, with career highlights that went largely unnoticed because of the raunch.

In our continued celebration of bad-ass women in music for the month of March, we present 11 essential Auntie Millie facts.

1. Her Singing Career Was an Accident

One Thursday night, Millie Jackson was hanging with friends at the Psalms Café on 125th Street in Harlem. The restaurant hosted an open mic on Thursdays, and Millie was clowning a young woman for her terrible singing. Her friends bet her $5 to get up herself and sing, and she did it – even though she had no training as a singer. A club promoter in the audience offered her a gig the following week, someone saw her there and offered her more gigs, and that continued. She sung around New York and New Jersey for a couple of years while still working full time, and eventually landed a spot touring with Sam Cooke’s brother, LC. After one short-lived recording contract, she signed with funk and soul label Spring Records (co-founded by the father and uncle of Loud Records founder Steve Rifkind). She was so unsure her career would stick, she asked for a leave of absence from her job instead of quitting. It became an extremely extended leave.

Her trademark “rapping,” the long intros, interludes and dialogue breaks Millie masterfully blends into her songs and live sets, was also an accident. Millie had no formal vocal training, so she wasn’t a strong singer at the beginning of her career. When people in supper clubs and lounges would start talking to each other and turning their attention away from the performance, she started talking to them to keep them engaged. It became a key part of her artistry. Millie doesn’t just sing you a song, she tells you a story.

2. She Developed Her Raw and Raunchy Style Because of Gladys Knight

Millie and Gladys sound alike. It’s hard to hear in Jackson’s grittier songs; in those, she sounds more like Teddy Pendergrass’s voice and Tina Turner’s voice had a vocal baby. In her ballads, though, you can close your eyes and imagine Gladys. Or at least Gladys after some brown liquor. Comparisons started almost immediately in Millie’s career. It was potentially a problem– the label held back a single because they thought people would hear it and ask for a new Gladys album – so she began to separate herself from Knight with her raw sound and lyrical content.

Over time, that separation also included cursing. “Gladys started rappin’ on (“Help Me Make It Through the Night”) and I’m like ‘Ok, now she’s gonna rap? I guess I’ll just cuss,’” Millie once explained. “She’s too much of a lady to curse.”

Jackson leaned all the way into the explicit language and topics - the Washington Post called her “a veteran virtuoso of vulgarity” in 1986 - until those two factors nearly overshadowed not only her raw talent, but the fact that her songs were also technically fantastic, complete with incredible arrangements and expert live instrumentation provided by the Muscle Shoals Swampers, one of the best rhythm sections in music history.

3. She Flipped the Concept of the Concept Album

Caught Up is the concept album "Trapped in the Closet" wanted to be when it grew up.

While Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye were creating cohesive bodies of work that reflected community, racial and environmental turmoil, Millie focused on what was happening in the home. Spring Records paired the singer with producer Brad Shapiro, whose credits include Wilson Pickett and James Brown, and he took her to the famed Muscle Shoals to record with the studio’s legendary session musicians, the Swampers.

Millie knew she wanted to make an album where “one song keeps going into the next song,” like a long story. Caught Up is a narrative about an affair, but from two perspectives: the first half of the album is from the mistresses point of view, the second half is the wife’s.

“We knew we were onto something (after “If Loving You Is Wrong”),” Jackson explained in an interview. “Then somebody in the studio asked ‘what now?’ And I said, ‘we finish the story. We’ve heard from the girlfriend, but what about the wife?'”

Concept albums were still new, and Spring Records didn’t know what to do with a project featuring nine-minute songs and no clear radio tracks. They brought in one of the most influential black radio DJs in New York, WBLS’s Frankie Crocker, and played it for him. He left the label with the only pressed copy of the LP so he could play “If Loving You Is Wrong I Don’t Want to be Right” immediately.

Jackson has admitted to being the other woman multiple times in her own life, but wanted the representation on the album to be “fair,” and include the wife’s experience. Her interpretation of the betrayed wife wasn’t a broken-down woman crying into a pillow, either. The songs cycled through a full range of emotions, from shock and anger to sadness, defeat, defiance and pettiness.

The label’s skepticism was unfounded; Caught Up reached No. 4 on the Billboard R&B album chart and No. 21 on the Pop chart. The success prompted a follow-up album, Still Caught Up, but the original is considered Jackson’s definitive work.

4. She Helped Turn Cheating Into an R&B Genre

Torrid affairs and adultery weren’t new topics in music, but they were relatively new to R&B. In the early ‘70s, songs about cheating – not about the aftermath, but basically celebrating cheating - were mostly found in juke joint blues and country western music, and were rarely from the woman’s perspective. “These were conversations that women had with each other on the laundromat. You didn’t hear them on records,” Millie explained in a recent interview about Caught Up. “You especially didn’t hear them on the radio.” Billy Paul, Luke Ingram, Johnny Taylor, and Millie – all singers who straddled the line between blues and soul - helped change that. By the mid-70s, adultery R&B was a full-blown subgenre, with songs like “Woman to Woman” and “From His Woman to You” (because “Woman to Woman” apparently required a reply), then later came “As We Lay,” “Secret Lovers,” and a long list of others. Songs about the wife calling the side, the side responding to the wife (the temerity!), the husband talking to the side, the wife proclaiming love to her side. It was a mess. But the songs were hits, so you might need to ask your parents and grandparents some honest questions about exactly what the hell was going on in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Millie’s unfiltered and uncensored take on cheating was the centerpiece of her career. “(Infidelity is) my whole repertoire,” she explained once when asked about crafting the stories for her songs. “Do you decide whether or not you want to talk about a certain part of an infidelity? Is it a man? Is it a woman? Is it both of them? Or do you want to go and start talking about what infidelity calls to life, or how it ruins a relationship, and not pertaining to anybody in particular. But, see, just like that you can write 25 songs on infidelity.”

5. Millie Was a Women’s Advocate

The primary topic of Millie’s music, after infidelity, was sex. Not making love. Sex. As in, “you got to handle this.” Like infidelity, sexual demands from the woman’s point of view was topical fare for dirty blues, not R&B.

Don’t start something you can’t finish Frustration ain’t no fun Half way lovin’ just don’t get it Stay there ‘til the job is done.

I would be remiss to not point out the breakdown in “All the Way Lover,” wherein Auntie Millie plants seeds that bore fruit for future generations, advocating for enthusiastic participation in oral sex, or what she called “parteè.”

We thank you for your service and advocacy, Millie.

With the songs hitting close to home about husbands cheating, wives kicking those husbands out, side chicks getting fed up, and calling men out to get focused in the bedroom, Millie believed she turned the male demographic off. “Men did not want my records in their house,” she claimed in an interview. “They wouldn’t come to see me live. Because I spoke truth to women, I got a reputation for being rough on men.”

But Miss Jackson would get at women sometimes, too. She took time, often, in her live show to address “saditty b**ches” who were being too lazy or too uptight to take care of business at home. This was also a form of advocacy, though, in the form of “Sis, stop bullsh*ttin.’”

Millie was a new kind of voice for women’s independence and agency. “Women loved it. I was speaking to them,” Jackson explained to her hometown Atlanta Magazine. But she was talking to women in a way some didn’t consider proper or respectable. She didn’t care. “I didn’t sell record to bougies. It was the poor people who bought my music. The women who bought Diana Ross did not buy Millie Jackson. The people in the projects understood me. I was down and dirty. I told you like it was.”

She once compared men to bad credit, which I’m laughing about even as I type this because it’s so genius and perfect that I can’t even. It’s an analogy all women understand too well – and we also understand the plot twist on the end when she gives it up anyway (Kanye shrug). She kept it real.

6. Low Key, She’s a Hip-Hop OG

Millie had already established a reputation for her “rapping,” which in the ‘70s meant long dialogue during song breaks, a style made popular in soul music with Isaac Hayes. Millie expanded the technique, telling full narratives that connected her songs. After “Rapper’s Delight” became a hit, her label wanted her to give the new style of rap a shot. In 1980, she recorded a track called “I Had to Say It” that she meant as a spoof of “Rapper’s Delight,” but she was spitting bars on the low. The subject: black men who start dating white women once they’re successful. It would set the timeline on fire today.

She told Song Facts in a frank 2010 interview that the song’s inspiration came unexpectedly. “I was thinking of what the next album (was) gonna be, and I had run out of things to talk about,” she shared, “So we’re on the tour bus and I’m going through Jet Magazine, and I’m saying ‘Okay. There’s Arthur Ashe – with a white woman. There’s the guy that plays Shaft on TV with a white woman. Damn, there’s O.J. Simpson – with a white woman… Somebody needs to say this. Why don’t I say this? I have to say this.” And she said it with her signature IDGAF delivery and candor.

Now I got your attention again I wanna speak to you about white girls On the arms of our black men

Millie was just playing around, but Coca Cola explained to her, when they reached out for Sprite's 1999 Obey Your Thirst campaign, that she technically held the distinction of being the first woman to cut a rap song. The campaign, “5 Deadly Women,” featured rappers Eve, Amil, Angie Martinez (remember when Angie was a rapper?), Mia X and Roxanne Shante.

Jackson makes a surprise appearance at the end of the series as The Master, and I applaud Sprite for doing their homework and including her. She was kind of an easter egg, because not many people in the spot’s target audience knew who she was on sight.

Her hipping and hopping on “I Had To Say It” aside, Millie’s been credited as the foremother of Salt-n-Pepa, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, and all female rappers who didn’t take no sh*t from the boys and unabashedly harnessed the power of sexuality in their music. She’s also been heavily sampled in hip-hop for decades: J. Cole, Prodigy, EPMD, Too Short, Poor Righteous Teachers, 50 Cent, Memphis Bleek, Lil’ B, Boogie Down Productions, Young Jeezy, Trick Daddy, Blacksheep, Cam’ron, Geto Boys, Yo Gotti, and Fat Joe have all cut Millie a publishing check.

At least three rap acts have sampled/covered her “Phuck You Symphony” alone, which I understand because it’s perfect for hip-hop – just like she is.

7. Her Live Show is Off the Chain

Millie doesn’t just give you a stage with a spotlight and some crooning (and I say “doesn’t” because Auntie still performs). No ma’am, no sir. There’s a full band, including a tight ass horn section, background singers, the whole nine. Also, she doesn’t just sing, it’s part comedy act. She’s a cross between Richard Pryor and popular ‘90s comedian Adele Givens (I truly believe Adele studied Millie).

Millie Jackson’s Live and Outrageous album is essential listening. The show’s energy is palpable even through audio. At her peak, Jackson’s concerts were regularly sold-out. She served costumes, flair, choreography, dramatics, and powerful vocals. Even as her stage show scaled down in later years, Millie Jackson live was no less of an experience. She’s also known for audience participation - if you’re sitting in her line of sight you might become part of the show. Be ready.

8. She’s a Boss

Millie Jackson is absolutely not a contrived artist. Her image is all hers, her musical choices are hers, her career path is hers. There are no Svengali stories, no tales of the label pushing her in a direction she didn’t feel comfortable with. None of that. Millie did what she wanted. Her label did try, in the beginning, to change her sound. They sped her vocals up on records so her voice would be in a higher pitch than her deep, earthy alto. But after “Hurts So Good,” they let her fly.

Millie has been self-managed her entire career. Her one marriage, at the beginning of her success, lasted only eight months because her husband tried to control Jackson and her business. “He thought we were gonna be the next Ike and Tina Turner. He thought that he was gonna tell me what to do with my life, and I decided that was not gonna happen. Case closed.”

Millie has also always maintained a large degree of creative control. She co-wrote most her songs from the beginning, and starting with Caught Up, she also co-produced her albums. And she fought when her record label tried to minimize her contribution. “I went down to Muscle Shoals to show (Brad Shapiro) how I do what I do, and co-produced the album. And when the album came out, it said ‘Album concept by Millie Jackson,’ and I hit the ceiling,” she shared in an interview. “I stood up in the middle of the floor and cussed like a banshee. And finally (Spring Records co-head) Roy Rifkind said, ‘Can we please go to lunch? You gonna be the death of me yet.’ And (Spring Records co-head) Bill Spitowski said, ‘We’ll put it on your tombstone: Produced by Millie Jackson.’”

Self-management is a choice Millie realizes probably held her back from big deals and moves that would elevate her to a higher level of stardom, but it as one that allowed her to follow her career on her own terms. In the same interview just mentioned, she explained her unconventional decision. “I write a lot of songs, and I publish them, and I go to work when I feel like it. That’s why I never had a manager; I don’t need anyone to tell me when to go to work. I know if I want to work or not.” She’s also enjoyed a normalcy that her peers who reached higher heights of fame had to sacrifice. “I like being able to go shopping for myself. I go to the supermarket and nobody bothers me. I don’t have a bodyguard. I like that. I think I live a very decent life. I’m a long way from starving, and I’m still me.”

9. She Can Sing Anything

Jackson has half-joked often in her later interviews that people don’t pay attention to the more diverse aspects of her catalog.

“If you listen to Millie Jackson on the radio, you ain’t gonna hear nothing but ‘Back in Love By Monday,’ ‘Hurts So Good,’ and ‘If Loving You is Wrong.’ Like I haven’t made any more songs,” she once complained. “I’ve got thirtysomething albums, only got three songs to be played!” Well, a lot of her songs aren’t exactly radio-friendly, but she’s right. With the expansive discography she has (Millie kept recording until 2001), the cheating songs and the raunchy songs are most popular and well-known. Ironically, while critics bemoaned her resistance to growth over the years, she quietly released two country-inspired albums and a rock-inspired album, in addition to more weighted material. “I write a lot of meaningful songs, but nobody ever heard them,” she’s said. “Because in my case most people would rather only listen to infidelity.”

Her very first single, in fact, leaned more towards the social commentary that ‘important’ soul artists were embracing at the time.

Millie has always said she didn’t want to be a crossover artist, but she didn’t want to stay in an R&B lane sonically, either. Millie always wanted to explore rock and country. “Rock and roll is my spirit, really, but nobody cares,” she shared in a conversation about her lesser-known music. “Tina Turner came through and (everyone) forgot about that.” We’ll get to Millie and Tina in a minute.

Because of her willingness to explore a wide range of music, Jackson’s cover song game rivals that of Luther Vandross. Starting with Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right,” Millie has put her stamp on hits from Prince, Toto, The Stylistics, even country artist Merle Haggerd. Jackson released her version of his hit “If We’re Not Back in Love on Monday” less than a year after its release, changing the title to “If You’re Not Back in Love by Monday,” and switching up the song from a story about a husband wanting to work it out with his wife, to a mistress encouraging a husband and his wife to try and reconcile.

10. She Intentionally Didn’t Seek Crossover Success

One of the reasons Millie is damn near an obscure artist given her long career and tremendous output is her is because she stayed in a blues and R&B pocket – on purpose. “I was never looking to become that crossover pop star,” she once explained. “Let white folks cross over to me.”

Critics searched for explanations over the years why such a talented singer with Muscle Shoals production wasn’t reaching the pop stardom soul singers like Gladys, Aretha and Tina had achieved, and they usually blamed her language and lyrical content. In 1977, the New York Times opined “…with just a bit more attention to hooks, she could have consistent hits. That wouldn’t constitute selling out, if she’s worried about that, and it would help convey the underlying seriousness of her art to a broader public.”

But Millie was happy to fly under the radar. It gave her more freedom. “When you had all the problems with profanity in the music, nobody mentioned me. The senator’s wife never knew I existed. So I didn’t have to go to Congress.” Jackson was talking about the 1985 congressional hearings spurred by the Parental Music Resource Center, an organization founded by Tipper Gore after she purchased Purple Rain for her daughter, and “Darling Nikki” made her clutch her pearls. Most remember the hearings for the eventual result of Parental Advisory warnings on albums just as rap was emerging, but pop artists were the initial target. Prince, Madonna, Frank Zappa, even the Mary Jane Girls were in the roundup. But not Jackson. “Nobody mentioned my name. Nobody knew I was doing it. I didn’t have to deal with any of that.”

She did enjoy some pop success with Caught Up, but her biggest potential moment for a breakthrough was a 1985 duet with Elton John. Pop/soul duets were in fashion, but though the single was a moderate success in the UK, it never broke in the US.

11. She Has (Possibly One-Sided) Beef with Tina Turner

The two contemporaries Jackson has most been compared to vocally are Gladys and Tina – for example, Elton John approached Jackson for “Act of War” after Tina declined. Millie adores Gladys and counts the fellow Georgian among her favorite vocalists, but there’s something about Tina that just doesn't sit right with her. It’s unclear what the source of her dislike is, but I suspect it’s centered around Tina entering and dominating the rock/soul space as a solo artist just as Millie was plotting a move in that direction.

Jackson did finally record her rock-inspired album, titled Rock n’ Soul, in 1994. She told her audience at a Howard Theater show in 2012 she made the LP because “I wanted Tina Turner to know she wasn't the only black bitch to sing rock’n’roll.”

But then, according to Millie, Tina jacked her single. “I recorded (John Waithe’s) ‘Missing You,’ and I was all excited about it, it was gonna be my next single. And the guys at Muscle Shoals said, ‘Boy you got the song out quick! I heard it at a truck stop.” And I’m trying to figure out how in the world did they hear my song when it won’t be out for two week. And of course, it was Tina Turner, and we had to pull the single and come back with a different one.”

That was in the ‘90s, but Millie was throwing subs at Tina in the ‘80s. Jackson’s 1988 album The Tide is Turning included a song called “You Knocked the Love (Right Outta My Heart).” Listeners will easily hear the Ike and Tina influence in the song, but the track, a song about a passionate love turning into domestic violence, was a shot. “I did that one messin’ with Tina,” Jackson admitted in 2010. “It was about Ike and Tina, and the proceeds for that are supposed to go to battered women. But I didn’t call any names.”

After Millie stopped recording in 2001, she didn’t retire. She spent 13 years hosting a drive time radio show, continued to tour (when she felt like it), and wrote and produced a stage play based on her album Young Man, Older Woman which toured successfully for four years.

Now she’s posted up at home in Atlanta, and a few years ago she was working on a reality show concept for her family (please, contents gods, let this happen while she still has the capacity to do it).

But Millie should be out here at these awards shows and tributes with her contemporaries. She should still be mixing it up with younger artists who emulate her energy without even realizing it (she loves Rihanna, by the way). Auntie Millie is deserving of far more recognition and praise than she’s received. Not just for her outrageous and explicit music and performances, but as a complete artist: as a writer, a producer, a businesswoman, a creative, a pioneer. Alladat. Just because she didn’t go the route of No. 1 hits and stadium tours doesn’t make her any less accomplished. Respect Millie Jackson’s gangster.

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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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Opinion: The College Cheating Scandal Proves Mediocrity Is The Dominant White Gene

There are two ways one can look at the recent college cheating scandal: You can choose to view it with a water is wet kind of amazement. The cutthroat world of Ivy League acceptance has been fraught with bribery and legacy admissions for years, so actresses Felicity Huffman, Full House’s Lori Loughlin, and 48 other business leaders cutting checks so their child can cut in line isn’t surprising. It’s the American way. (Depending on the complexion of the American, of course.)

Or you can view it for what it is: well-to-do white parents knowing their child isn’t good or smart enough to gain admission into the country’s top schools on their own, so they foot the bill. That’s correct, your mediocrity can’t cut it in the real world unless you sandwich it with your parent's money and your unearned whiteness.

Tuesday morning (March 12), breaking news revealed Huffman, Loughlin, and others paid up to $6.5 million in bribes to secure placement at Yale, University of Southern California (USC), Stanford and other top schools.

Orchestrated by William Rick Singer, the former head of college admission prep company The Key, parents would make handsome donations and Singer would ensure their child’s academic future in one of two ways: After payment was made to a secret account, Singer would either phone a Division 1 coach to secure an athletic credential despite the child not playing the sport.

Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli allegedly agreed to pay $500,000 for their two daughters to be recruits for USC’s crew team. To bolster the “admission” photos of the couple’s children on a rowing machine were sent.

Haters will say it’s photoshop...well, because, it was.

Or parents would pay between $15,000 to $75,000 for Singer to arrange certain exam proctors look the other way while 36-year-old Harvard Alum Mark Riddle aced the test. Riddle, who’s described by law enforcement as “just a really smart guy” faces several charges including conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Several coaches at elite schools, two SAT/ACT and college administrators, and an exam proctor all face federal fraud charges.

But yes, let’s talk about how Affirmative Action is the real culprit.

Education has long been a battleground in this country with white people (remember the Abigal Fisher case?) yielding the best the world has to offer, while slaves had to teach themselves to read by candlelight. Then activists and parents lose life and limb just so their child can be in the classroom with white peers during the civil rights movement.

Fast forward a few decades, minority students met with microaggressions by their white counterparts have long had to deny the belief they only merited a spot at a top tier academic institution via an athletic scholarship. Meanwhile, one student’s parents reportedly made a $1.2 million payment to get into Yale, and magically their child is a soccer star despite never kicking a ball.

America is in love with poverty, struggle, and strife. It appropriates our rhythm and fetishizes our blues. The land of the free and home of the brave has built dilapidated communities for its black and brown citizens and loves to tout success stories as proof “hard work” and “dedication” means you too can achieve the American dream. That all it really takes to gain acceptance into an Ivy League school is a “can-do” attitude and a little elbow grease.

Actually, it has nothing to do with elbow grease or a tenacious attitude. It has everything to do with students not being good enough and mommy and daddy making it all better with their money, fame, access, and influence.

Aunt Becky’s kid can’t compete with 17-year-old Mekhi Johnson from Baltimore who earned acceptance into all eight Ivy League schools. Felicity Huffman’s offspring can’t go bar for bar with Michael Brown from Houston’s Third Ward who worked tirelessly to get into Stanford and not only got into the university but 19 others, including Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt, and Johns Hopkins.

Yes, boys and girls, unlike Brown’s namesake our children are deserving of the best and not just being shot down in the middle of a Ferguson street.

The brilliance is in the black and browness and your kids just don’t have it, but what you do have is power and you wield it sans grace. In 2011, Kelley Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years probation for sending her children to a better school district in Ohio.

And if we’re not jailed for wanting better, we’re scrutinized for doing better. So while it’s ordinary for a white student to score high on a standardized test, Florida high school student Kamillah Campbell gets flagged for her 330 points SAT increase despite hiring a tutor and studying the Princeton Review Prep book seven months after initially taking the test.

Your privilege is putrid. Your hypocrisy makes my stomach turn. Your inability, as scripture notes, to see the plank in your own eye, has left you blind to your vile ways. How dare your child be so mediocre and you still deem it fit they deserve excellence?

The investigation is still open and law enforcement officials haven’t found evidence that support’s the idea one parent’s bribe may have bumped another student out of admissions. It’s also unclear if the students will have any legal actions taken against them.

I suspect the money that got the parents into this mess will be the money that will get them out of it. The rich stay rich the poor continue to struggle and the world goes round, right?

Right.

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