Raphael-Saadiq-by-Derrel-Todd-VIBE-Interview-1538175037
Derrel Todd

Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

Raphael Saadiq gets deep interview about his upcoming album, his family's struggles with addiction, and why fans won't get a Tony! Toni! Toné! reunion.

Raphael Saadiq is virtually immortal, and we’re not only talking about his youthful features either.

At 52, the producer/singer/songwriter graces stages and delivers God-tier musicianship to fans all over the world. His 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival set was a performance full of finesse, poise, and soul, as he treated fans to many of his solo songs from his last few albums. In addition to also performing new music, he brought out longtime friend and collaborator Ali Shaheed Muhammad to perform some J. Dilla remixes. Saadiq had the crowd at their heels with classic duet staples in his catalog like “You Should Be Here” and Lucy Pearl’s “Dance Tonight,” and even a few songs he wrote like Solange’s “Crane’s In The Sky,” Erykah Badu’s “Love Of My Life," and D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel.”

Saadiq has been a staple in R&B music and black soundtracks since the late '80s as a lead vocalist/bassist for the groundbreaking '90s R&B band Tony! Toni! Tone!. After leaving the band in 1997, he launched what would become an accomplished solo career with four albums and 15 Grammy nominations, including a victory for writing on Erykah Badu and Common's “Love Of My Life.” He also appeared on other soundtracks like Boyz In The Hood, Luke Cage, and Mudbound, earning an Academy Award nomination for the latter with his collaboration as a songwriter with Mary J. Blige and Taura Stinson, “Mighty River.”

After just wrapping up his first headlining tour since 2012 in North America, Saadiq is putting the finishing touches on his forthcoming fifth solo album, Jimmy Lee, dedicated to his late brother who passed away from a drug addiction. The official release date has yet to be set in stone, despite him recently performing new, unreleased songs such as the album’s title track. And if he’s not busy enough, he’s still handling the vibrant, eclectic sounds for the third season of Issa Rae’s Insecure on HBO.

VIBE got a chance to catch up with Mr. Instant Vintage prior to his performance in Chicago to talk about his experiences performing for over 30 years, the revival of R&B, Tony!, Toni!, Tone!, classic hip-hop stories and the Bay Area’s influence, and much more.

VIBE: What’s the difference between performing as a solo artist and performing as a band member?
Raphael Saadiq: I love being in a band, bands are my first love. The solo thing was a little harder for me to do. It’s more responsibility, which I was willing to take on. The fun thing about being a solo act is that everything is yours and you don’t have to argue with your brothers and everybody like, ‘what’s yours and what’s mine,’ all that kind of stuff. You kind of make the last decision in [your own] band. Sometimes when you’re in a band, there’s too many decision makers and it’s okay to have two or three different decision makers and everybody can make great decisions. But if someone makes bad decisions, then it’s not cool. I’m a team player, as everybody can see. I must have really great decision makers.

So, what’s an example of how decision-making played a role in the quality of your performances as a band member?
After I left Tony! Toni! Tone in ’97 and the band arrangements they have now, they’re still the ones I made probably in the [early] '90s and they never changed them. That means they were good, so I knew my decisions were good. When I went to go do Lucy Pearl, I knew that was a great decision to grab Ali Shaheed and Dawn Robinson, and it showed me that I could put together a good team of people. And then it was my solo project, Instant Vintage, and then I jumped to a ‘60s thing—'60s suits and ties before anybody [of my era and afterwards] was wearing that. And then later, I saw R. Kelly wearing the glasses and my suit and everything. So, I think I’m a great decision maker. The visions that I have sometimes, they’re not all mine, some are things from the past I’ve seen from people like The Temptations and Motown. Making it work shows you I have vision. And I like it when other people do it. To me, it’s flattering because you want people to be able to try to do what you’re doing. I thought it was a great time in music during the '60s–the Harlem Renaissance and jazz, everybody dressed like that. I sort of miss that era, so sometimes you want to create something that everybody can get into.

What better genre than hip-hop to create hip-hop for everybody. You can still have your own style within yourself, but everybody can jump in like it’s one basketball, but everybody can play. I think that’s what vision is about, and a lot of people are scared to take those risks. I’ve always been a risk taker.

One thing that comes to mind for me when I think about the '60s is how many of our legends took creative risks in their music. What’s something from that era you wish was in today’s R&B?
Today’s R&B, we’re kind of getting back to making some cool [music]. I like Daniel Caesar, PJ Morton, SZA…people are really trying to do it. I think from here on out going forward, there’s going to be a massive wave of R&B artists coming out. We don’t know who they are, but I can just feel the vibration happening all over Europe and back this way. But before now, I felt like R&B shouldn’t have even used the title R&B, because it’s Rhythm & Blues, and it was no rhythm and blues in R&B. But there’s other styles of music that’s just as cool. We’re very creative people because urban artists… it’s hard for us to just stick to one thing [and] it’s hard for me to stick to one style of music. So I understand the creative forces that make the culture move so fast.

A lot of musicians struggle now because they want to walk around and look like their friends and you just can’t walk around and look like your friends if you want to stand out. You got to be a little bit different and it’s hard to do that because you want to do what everybody’s doing, what your next-door neighbor... That’s not really what R&B is. Hip-hop is that and you see artists like Tribe Called Quest was different when they came off their first album. Sometimes you gotta stand out a little bit and the Migos, they stand out a little bit in hip-hop, they’re a little different. Whatever type of music you’re doing, you gotta stand out a little bit.

How has the Bay Area influenced your writing?
The Bay has been everything to me and I kind of write about some of the same things sometimes. The Bay has influenced me because that’s all I know, it’s where I walk around. I go back there, and you hear people say different things about the Bay, but the Bay is a real special place. If the Bay loves you, then they love you. They love you and you can’t do nothing wrong by them, but you have to make sure you’re taking care of the Bay. When you write, you’re always thinking about them.

Historically, the Bay has always been one of the most influential regions in black music. Do you think they get the respect they deserve in music?
We don’t truly get it, but you look at E-40 who’s a pioneer of hip-hop on the West Coast, he’s one of the best out. And you go from there to MC Hammer, En Vogue, Too $hort. You wanna talk about Too $hort, he’s one of the longest lasting rap artists who tours more than anybody I know. He stays gone. My nephew Trey is $hort’s DJ.

Since you all were coming up around that same time during the late '80s, early '90s, what’s one of your favorite memories with Too $hort?
I played at Chris Webber’s Baba Bling party in Las Vegas one time and Too $hort and Nas were in the audience. I played this song “Brothers ‘Gon Work It Out” and I kinda wanted to make them feel like they were at the real Player’s Ball, and that’s exactly what Nas told me he felt when I played that record. But $hort was in the house so I brought $hort on stage to do a song and he was like, “What you wanna play?” and I said, “Freaky Tales.” Now we looked at all of these women, hundreds of women all dressed up and he said, “Are you out your fucking mind?” I was playing bass on it, I took the bass from by bass player. Then I started thinking about the lyrics and was like oh, that’s why he ain’t want to sing it, and we both started laughing. Then, we sang “The Ghetto." I was ready for “Freaky Tales,” I was all in. I wasn’t even gonna ask him, I was just gonna start with the bass line, but with the lyrics, he just didn’t want to do it. That was one of my favorite memories with him.

And around that same time when the two of you were coming up together, Tony! Toni! Tone! also collaborated with DJ Quik on “Let’s Get Down.” What is the story behind that song?
We were supposed to do three songs with Quik but the rest of the band didn’t feel like they wanted to give Quik that much money. I kept telling Quik that it was okay, but every time we got back with our lawyers they kept telling Quik that the band said no. Nobody was telling me they said no, they were going behind my back and telling the lawyer no. So I finally called the band and asked, what’s up? We only ended up doing one song, which the price wasn’t bad for three songs. We would have had two follow ups to “Let’s Get Down” if we would have done that. After the studio, it was just me and Quik. None of the rest of the members were there so it was just me, Quik, and my cousin Elijah who sings the fanfare “I gotta get my groove on,” and a bunch of [people from] Compton. A lot of stuff was happening that day, but it was good energy, good vibes. I love Quik, and actually the whole band, we really love Quik, we’re all huge fans of him. It made sense at the time, but I wish we had more records with Quik, we’d have a double follow up.

Would you and the active and former band members of Tony! Toni! Tone! ever play a reunion tour sometime in the future?
We honestly talked about it, but I think my brother Amar [Khalil], who’s been in the group longer than me now, he left the group. After I left the group, [Antron] Haile left the group and now it’s just two new guys that nobody doesn’t know. I think that ship has sailed. I love my brother to death, his kids are like my kids, our family is tight. I think that ship has sailed a little, but I think I am going to do something with most of the guys who were in that band.

Those guys I went to school with, [and] my brother was sort of the add-on, but the members I went to school with are the nucleus of the group. We don’t want to do all of that “two different groups” and all of that, but me and the guys we grew up playing together, we’re going to call it something else and we’re going to play new music and do some really cool pop-ups in different cities. Play some stuff, have the fans ask some questions, and do some really cool things where people will get to know us and talk about the friendship and respect we all have for one another. We haven’t had a chance to get together as friends, before we got with my brother Dwyane [Wiggins]—those are all my friends. My brother [Dwyane] had a band that was older than us, so he was a part of that band. My brother joined our band. So, when we came up with the name—my brother owns the name Tony! Toni! Tone!. We don’t own it, so we can’t do anything with that. So, we’re gonna start our own little thing and he’s more than welcome to come and sing some songs with us, too. We all own studios, we all do music, and we all just want to be around each other.

I really wish we could give that [reunion] to people but I really think that ship has sailed. We’re just going to use the internet and talk to people to give people a good experience, so we could have a good experience.

"I really wish we could give that Tony! Toni! Toné! reunion to people, but I think that ship has sailed."

How much of your life is in your music?
All my life is in my music. I used to use a lot of experiences from different people but this time I’m really talking about me on my new record. All my life experiences and sometimes I thought I was talking about other people but then when I really listen to it, I’m really talking about myself. This record is more about an addiction. It’s still early, but I just feel like with the internet you gotta talk about it as much as you can.

I lost my brother to a heroin overdose and I lost another brother to drugs, too. I lost a sister to crack and had two sisters who were strung out, but they’re okay now. As I got older, I really started paying attention to sweets and drinking and other different addictions that people have, and I started laughing at myself. Sometimes when I get up in the morning I want a chocolate chip cookie and some coffee. I don’t think it’s a chemical, it’s just something that your brain tells you that you want. And I started really thinking about my brother who was stuck on this chemical and how we would tell him, you should stop, don’t be gated, don’t be stealing mom’s TV. He couldn’t control himself but now that he’s been gone for over 12 years, I thought about his addiction and I dedicated my album to him called Jimmy Lee.

With drugs having such a big impact on your family, how did you avoid addiction yourself, especially being in the music industry?
I never wanted my mother to get that phone call. Growing up, I would always hear these indirect questions like, if you see somebody shooting at rapid fire, you see one person go down, the next person go down, you see the next person go down, and the next person go down, here you come, what are you going to do next? And then at that time, I didn’t know what “rapid” meant so I looked at my dad and said, I’m gonna walk the other way. He said, “that’s what I’m talking about.” So it was the indirect things people would say to me that would tell me not to be like this person. I would be in the streets playing football and he would say, “Which one of these guys you look up to?” I would point to a guy and he would said, “Alright, keep playing.” My dad watched the whole game and later on he was telling me, "the guy you look up to, he’s not gon be nothing, he’s not gon be nothing, trust me.” And I got a chance to watch this dude nine years later and he becomes his own worst nightmare. So, I was a great listener. My choice of drug was music and being around musicians. I just jumped into music trying to do the right thing and I think that’s how I just looked at it. Sometimes I would experiment with little things like marijuana, but that’s as far as it ever went. I’m scared of anything that looks like powder or needles or pills. Terrified!

Black women have played a huge role in your legendary career in more ways than one. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned about them while working with them?
Don’t mess with them, basically. Solange, Issa Rae—I learned more from watching Insecure more than anything because you hear the beeline conversations that you don’t hear when you talk to a girl one-on-one. When you’re working on a show like that, it gets really uncut. Everybody hears it when it goes on the show but it’s the first show you actually get it just as raw on TV.

I have seven sisters, so I’ve heard it all before I met any of these women. I’ve seen dudes wreck their cars into buildings over my sisters. I’ve seen some of the craziest stuff when I was 9 and 10, straight up fights in the streets, swinging. My sister’s boyfriend killed my brother when I was 7 or 8. Shot him twice in the chest and one went into his heart, over $12,000. That’s my sister’s boyfriend so at an early age I didn’t see black or white, I just started wondering where the hell am I at, what’s going on?

As far as black women in music, I’m a huge Minnie Riperton fan and that’s probably my favorite all time artist, Ms. Minnie Riperton and Diana Ross. Ross, because she’s from the projects and I can hear it in her music, but it’s mixed with the most beautiful orchestral strings and some of the best, prolific songwriting that crossed oceans. They don’t have to fight for publicity, their music speaks for themselves. Same as Minnie Riperton, she left with a short career and she left a lot on the table.

Lastly, what’s the key to longevity and eternal youth?
It’s just all about the genes and the dedication you put towards it. If you really love it and you want to be part of it for a long time you just look towards those other areas that won’t burn you out. You just can’t burn yourself on an industry that will just chew you up and never spit you out because there’s always going to be someone after you that’s better. If you want to be around—my thing is to be a helper and a person that also can work with a lot of different sounds and can help a lot of different people. I think it’s about bouncing around different rooms and different areas and being useful to everybody’s area and that’s the key to longevity.

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Melyssa Ford

Melyssa Ford: 'My Mother Died During This Pandemic And I Have Nowhere To Put My Grief'

Editor's Note: In a heartwarming tribute, former model now TV/radio host, Melyssa Ford details the final days she shared with her beloved mother, Oksana Barbara Raisa Ford (10/12/1950 - 5/19/2020). Understanding that we have all been connected to COVID-19's tragic reach, this essay explains the plight of one person's experience that represents the pain so many are dealing with in these times around the world.

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COVID-effing-19. This pandemic has been a moment of reckoning for a great many of us. How many of you have been confronted with the hard truth that we took EVERYTHING about our lives and freedoms for granted? The freedom to call up a few friends and go for Happy Hour drinks after a long day at work? The freedom to start our day by going to the gym; the freedom to temporarily vacate our lives by getting on a plane and heading off to some tropical destination? Or the freedom to gather at a burial or memorial service to pay love and respect to a loved one who has passed, as a means of helping to process our own grief? 

My mother died last week. Not from COVID-19, but from colon cancer. But COVID-19 and its endless complications directly affected my family’s lives and, ultimately, my mother's death. 

It was less than a year from diagnosis to her last days. She lived in Toronto (my hometown) and I currently live in Los Angeles. Traveling during this pandemic presented some incredible challenges. Quarantine and shelter in place rules. Closed international borders. Fear and uncertainty. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get to her side in time, since Canada mandates that anyone getting off a plane has to self-quarantine for 14 days (threats of fines and jail time were there to incentivize you to adhere to the new rules). And I knew my mother had very little precious time. 

Months before, when there was still some hope that surgery and chemo would prolong her life, she decided to sell the house I grew up in. I was furious. I looked at this as her giving up; resigning herself to the control of this insidious disease called cancer. But my mother, the truest form of a pragmatist, was preparing for the inevitable and getting her affairs in order. She wanted to leave me with nothing to do except mourn her without the burden of packing up a home with all of her belongings in it after her death. She knows me so well, she knew I’d NEVER pack it up, that I’d have left everything the way it was as a shrine to her and, therefore, never really moving through my grief in a purposeful and healthy manner. 

Cancer ravaged my mother's body but left her brain fully intact. And it was with full cognition, pragmatism and a whole lot of gumption, that she decided to end things on her terms by scheduling her passing with a doctor's assistance via MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) — a legal policy in Canada that allows a terminally ill patient in palliative care to choose the days or weeks remaining in their lives. 

She didn’t want to spend her last months laying confined to a bed, immobile, unable to even take herself to the bathroom. The most basic form of human dignity had been stolen from her and replaced with a catheter and a colostomy bag that my aunt had to drain several times a day. I watched as her skin turned yellow from jaundice, signaling her liver was failing. I watched as her urine went from a dark yellow to crimson, a signal that her kidneys were no longer functional. My mother, the strongest person I had ever known, both physically and mentally, was now frail and seemingly melting into the bed, her skin sagging from her skeletal arms and legs. Her face was gaunt, her head bald, her breastplate visible and bony...in her last days, she was an empty shell of the 5’10” beautiful Viking she had been. With her long blond hair, green eyes, and imposing physical stature, I used to joke that if you gave her a hat with horns, a shield, and a sword, you could send her out to battle. 

The day I arrived in Toronto from L.A., I approached my mother’s bedside after going through a rigorous disinfectant routine. My mother had been discharged from the hospital as there was nothing left to do for her medically except keep her as comfortable as possible. She was sent home to my aunt’s house for the remainder of her days. My aunt’s home was a place of comfort and joy for me, as I’ve spent a great many holidays and family occasions here; this was the best place for my mother to be. With a mask and gloves on, I sat down next to her bedside and tried with all my might not to cry. My Mom had passed on that British “stiff upper lip” mentality to me; it’s rare you will see me expose my emotions. But as of late, I’ve been pretty transparent about it, in an attempt to sort through my competing feelings of grief and guilt. Guilt of not having been the perfect daughter. Grief of being her only child with no one to share the burden of immeasurable sadness with. Guilt of not working on our relationship or attempting to understand her as a person until it was close to the end. Guilt and grief kept coming in waves, threatening to drown me. 

On that first evening, I sat with her for a few hours and we talked more frankly than we ever had about things I had always been scared to ask. Topics such as her tumultuous marriage to my father and why she stayed in such misery. What was HER mother like, who died when my mother was only 15 years old? Was she proud of me and the choices I had made in my life, one of them being never having children?

Eventually, I had to let her sleep. I went upstairs to her bedroom (she was now in a bedroom on the main floor of my aunt’s house since she could no longer walk). Once in her room, I found a journal titled 2019 and began to read. What I read, in between all of the activities she enjoyed such as Aquafit and her book club, was her documenting her disease before she even knew she had it, describing the symptoms that began as uncomfortable that would soon become excruciatingly painful. 

It broke my heart to read this, being on the other side of understanding where this story would end. I found myself wanting to move through the dimension of time and yell, “Go to the hospital!” Reading this only made me wonder if she had caught it during the early days of symptoms, would the outcome be different? Excuse me as I add more guilt and more grief to the already unbearable weight upon my shoulders. 

Our final day was spent much like the last six days I had with my mother, laying beside each other in bed, massaging her, and either watching movies or talking. We would go from walking down memory lane as I showed her old pictures to discussing last-minute details about the Business of Death: the transfer of everything into my name, where certain sentimental pieces of jewelry could be found, who she wanted to receive small tokens of remembrance of her. As sad as I was for myself, my heart broke for my mother. She’s losing EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE. She expressed to me that she was shocked at how quickly her cancer spread throughout her body. It didn’t give her a chance. No amount of holistic remedies or prayers would have changed this (thanks to all my friends who suggested a plant-based diet with sea moss, soursop, and bladderwrack but her colon, GI tract, and bowels had been decimated). 

The few days leading up to her doctor-assisted euthanasia, I found my heart racing in a panic as the end was creeping closer and closer. I don’t know what’s worse, a loved one's death being a surprise or knowing when it’s going to happen with the hours counting down. I know both intimately. My father went the first way, my mother the second. I still can’t tell you the answer.

With plans in place for the funeral home to come and take my mother's body in order to cremate her, I’m left with a feeling of such remorse and sadness. Because of COVID-19, my mother’s friends and I are being robbed of the opportunity to congregate at a memorial service to properly mourn and pay homage and respect to the woman we all loved and admired. My mother deserved that.

I’m so angry. I’m angry at cancer. I’m angry at, as a society, our collective circumstances. I’m angry at the thought that this pandemic could have been controlled if our government officials had reacted swiftly. I’m angry that there are so many people who are experiencing the same thing I am—the death of loved ones, and the inability to gather together for a ceremony that celebrates their lives and sends them off properly.

Trauma changes you. Less than two years ago, I almost died when a truck hit my jeep on a California highway. I spent almost a year recovering. I’m a different person than I was moments before the impact of that crash. And now I’ve got to sort out who I am without my mother on this earth. People report a feeling of disconnectedness after the death of their parent(s); like what kept you tethered to the earth is gone and you are now hurtling through time and space, searching for something to grab onto.

I lost my father many years ago and now my mom is gone. I’m praying that I find something soon to ground me; but for the time being, the search to make sense and meaning of my mother's life and, ultimately her death, shall continue for me, like a room with endless doors or a road that disappears into the horizon. 

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A native of Toronto, Canada and now residing in Beverly Hills, California, Melyssa Ford is a syndicated radio show host on Hollywood Unlocked via iHeart Media's stations nationwide and also hosts her own podcast, I'm Here For The Food (available on all streaming platforms).

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Beenie Man (L) and Bounty Killer (R) in 1995.
David Corio/Redferns

A Look At Beenie Man And Bounty Killer's 'Verzuz' Battle Scorecard

Why was this night different from all other Verzuz battles? Streamed live from Kingston, Jamaica, the Memorial Day “Soundclash Edition” of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s flagship IG Live series was easily the most exciting and entertaining yet, as well as the first to delve into dancehall reggae.

Considering the fact that Jamaican sound systems pioneered the sort of “beat battles” have made Verzuz a social media sensation well over half a century ago, the creative decision was more than fitting. By pitting two icons of the genre, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, in head-to-head competition, this Verzuz battle did not just showcase two of its most respected lyricists ever to hold a microphone, it also tapped into an epic rivalry that stretches back more than a quarter of a century.

At that time the youth born Moses Davis in the Waterhouse section of downtown Kingston was already on the second leg of his career -- having released his first album a decade earlier at the age of ten. Young Rodney Price, formerly known as Bounty Hunter, had just started to make noise under his new artist name Bounty Killer, recording hardcore hits for the legendary Waterhouse-based producer Lloyd “King Jammy” James.

Like all young aspiring artists, Killer had looked up to Beenie as an inspirational figure -- until he felt that the artist had borrowed his style. Beenie and Bounty’s face-to-face clashes, especially their Boxing Day battles at the storied Jamaican stage show Sting in 1993 and 1995, are the stuff of dancehall legend. Despite whatever differences may have existed between them, both artists channeled all that energy into great records -- many of which were played in the heat of the Verzuz battle.

Arguably the most exciting and spontaneous edition of Verzuz yet, the Beenie and Bounty battle was not a “clash” in the traditional Jamaican sense, but it was hardly a conventional beat battle either. Predictions that the island’s WiFi might not be able to handle the strain were soon dismissed -- in keeping with Jamaica’s long tradition of raising the bar when it comes to using technology to create next-level musical entertainment, this was the best-produced beat battle of them all. On the other hand, this was also the first time a Verzuz competitor has had to take a break in the action to negotiate with police officers.

This was surely also the first Verzuz battle to be live-tweeted by a prime minister: PM Andrew Holness took to his official Twitter to declare “Jamaica’s culture is global” and share a screenshot of the action. In keeping with the national pride, the battle opened with a rousing rendition of the Jamaican National Anthem.

When Beenie and Bounty came through VIBE’s IG Live one day before performance, they both declared that they would not be preparing for the battle as the art of war should be spontaneous. This has had people on tender hooks as no one really knows what would happen on the night. But of course all celebrities were out in full force for this highly anticipated battle, as everyone from Diddy to Swizz to Rihanna came through to catch the vibes. It was the only place to be if you were on IG, with more than 400K people checking in at the event's peak.

Here’s Billboard's tune-for-tune breakdown from the top to the very last drop.

ROUND 1: Beenie Man's “Matie” vs. Special Ed feat. Bounty Killer's “Just a Killa”

Beenie kicked things off with his first No. 1 hit (on the Jamaican charts) in honor of the late great Bobby Digital, the legendary producer of this song and countless more, who passed away May 21. Bounty opted to open on an international note, leading with his first hip hop collaboration, a 1995 single by Brooklyn rapper Special Ed featuring a guest verse from young Bounty.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 2: Beenie Man's “Memories” vs. Bounty Killer's “Suspense”

Sticking with the hardcore dancehall, Beenie reached for one of his fan favorites, a mid-’90s banger on the “Hot Wax” riddim that was recorded during the height of his great lyrical war with Bounty Killer (and sampled by Drake on the album version of “Controlla”). Killer responded in kind with a track on the same hard-hitting riddim, making this round feel like a flashback mid-'90s dancehall session.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 3: Beenie Man's “Slam” vs. Bounty Killer's “Living Dangerously”

Shifting into another gear, Beenie drew for his first Billboard hit, a tribute to the sexual prowess of “ghetto girls” recorded on Dave Kelly’s irresistible “Arab Attack” riddim. Bounty responded with one of his most popular songs for the ladies, a collaboration with reggae vocalist par excellence Barrington Levy. Counteracting a classic with another classic, this round was too close to call.

WINNER: Tie

ROUND 4: Beenie Man feat. Chevelle Franklin's “Dancehall Queen” vs. Diana King feat. Bounty Killer's “Summer Breezin’”

Keeping the energy high, Beenie unleashed this soundtrack cut from the movie Dancehall Queen (in which he also appeared). Bounty responded with a relatively obscure guest verse on a record by Jamaican pop hitmaker Diana King.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 5: Beenie Man feat. Lil Kim's “Fresh From Yard” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Jeru the Damaja's “Suicide or Murder”

For his first international selection, Beenie chose a DJ Clue production featuring the Queen Bee in her best Brooklyn Jamaican patois mode. Killer kept it BK with a grimy Jeru collab produced by New York’s own Massive B productions.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 6: T.I. feat. Beenie Man's “I’m Serious” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Mobb Deep's “Deadly Zone”

Sticking with the hip hop collabs, Beenie dropped T.I.’s first major-label single featuring a hard-as-nails Neptunes beat and a street-certified Beenie Man hook. But he should have known that badman business is the Killer’s wheelhouse. Bounty clapped back with a grimy Mobb Deep collab off his My Xperience album and took the round.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 7: Guerilla Black feat. Beenie Man's “Compton” vs. Bounty Killer feat. The Fugees' "Hip-Hopera”

Beenie dropped his third straight hip hop crossover track, this one a guest verse for Biggie soundalike Guerilla Black over a bouncy Stalag Riddim. Bounty brought out the big guns, returning fire with a Fugees collab. As the Warlord would say, “People dead!”

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 8: Beenie Man's “Romie” vs. Bounty Killer's “Worthless Bwoy”

Returning to straight-up dancehall, Beenie served up one of his worldwide club classics, a song about a girl named “Romie” set to Shocking Vibes’s hard-driving version of the Punany Riddim. Killer replied with a Dave Kelly banger burning out the guys who lack the stamina to satisfy their significant others.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 9: Beenie Man “Old Dog” vs. Bounty Killer “Stucky”

Beenie Man has plenty of classic dancehall joints, and this Dave Kelly sure shot is one of the most ubiquitous. “Old Dog” recounts his exploits with the opposite sex, shouting out female dancehall stars Patra and Lady Saw along the way. Bounty replied in kind with his own kind of “gyal tune,” more rough than sweet, just the way Killer likes it.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 10: Beenie Man feat. Mya “Girls Them Sugar” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Nona Hendryx & Cocoa Brovaz “It’s a Party”

Beenie closed out the first half of the battle on a strong note with one of his most beautiful records, a Neptunes remake of one of his immortal dancehall classics adorned with a sweet hook sung by Mya. Bounty’s response was strong, but the Wyclef-produced party joint (with a hook by the former member of Labelle and bars from Boot Camp MCs) fell just short of Beenie’s selection.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 11: Beenie Man feat. Wyclef Jean's “Love Me Now” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Swizz Beatz' “Guilty”

Flipping catchy lyrics over Naughty By Nature's classic “O.P.P.” beat, Beenie sounded strong on this Wyclef collab, but Bounty countered with a hard-hitting Swizz Beatz track featuring a blazing guest verse from the Killer.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 12: Beenie Man feat. Barrington Levy's “Murderation” vs. Bounty Killer's “Look”

The vibes were sweet right up until the moment when officers of the Jamaican Constabulary Force interrupted the action. Beenie took care of the situation, informing the police that there were hundreds of thousands of people watching internationally. He then asked his DJ to run one of the hardest tracks in his catalog, a song about the abuse of authority in the ghetto streets. It was such a perfect segue the whole thing almost seemed planned. Killer had no choice but to counter with one of the most powerful songs in his catalogue, another Dave Kelly masterpiece, just barely winning what was arguably the strongest round of the entire battle.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 13: Beenie Man's [Showtime Juggling] vs. Bounty Killer's “Fed Up”

Still charged up by the unexpected visit from the police, Beenie felt a vibe and decided to perform his next song live. Starting out with “Hypocrite,” a blistering broadside against haters on Dave Kelly’s “Showtime” riddim, Beenie’s performance inspired Bounty to join in for what became a multi-song medley that included snippets of Killer’s “Eagle & The Hawk” and “Bullet Proof Skin” as well as Beenie Man’s “Done Have We Things,” “Badman Medley,” “Bury Yuh Dead,” and “Fire Burn.”

After they wrapped up their explosive tag-team performance, Beenie calmly stated “My song dat,” indicating that he wanted the whole extended set to count as one song. Bounty retaliated with “Fed Up,” one of his signature reality tunes that cemented his reputation as Jamaica’s “Poor People Governor.” Another close round, and highly unorthodox. Advantage Killa.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 14: Beenie Man's “World Dance” vs. Bounty Killer's “Gal” 

Beenie Man took it back with one of his biggest early hits, a “buss the dance” selection on Shocking Vibes’ Cordy Roy Riddim. Killer’s response was another hardcore tune for the girls, explosively energetic and lyrically intricate.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 15: Beenie Man's “Modeling” vs. Bounty Killer's “Model”

Taking it back to the early days of his career, Beenie served up a song designed to inspire all the “bashment girls” in the dance to show off their freshest outfits and dance moves. Killer responded in kind with a similar type of song, every bit as lyrically precise as Beenie’s was melodic, making this round a dead heat.

WINNER: Tie

ROUND 16: Beenie Man's “Oyster & Conch” vs. Bounty Killer's “Benz & Bimma”

Sticking with the “gyal” segment, dancehall’s “Doctor” prescribed a musical aphrodisiac, stressing the importance of seafood in your diet. Killer responded with a dancehall smash likening his appreciation of the female physique to his fondness for expensive European automobiles.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 17: Beenie Man's “Dude” vs. Bounty Killer's “Greatest”

Beenie delivered yet another Dave Kelly sureshot, this time on the festive Fiesta Riddim. Killer responded with a little-known 2003 track on the “Hydro” radio, basically conceding this round.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 18: Beenie Man's “Mm-Hmm” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Cham's “Another Level”

As the battle neared its final rounds, Beenie played this hard-hitting Tony Kelly production and grabbed the mic to chat his lyrics live and direct, showing that dancehall artists of a certain age are still in top form lyrically. Bounty replied with a musical killshot on Dave Kelly’s Clone Riddim, joining forces with Cham to take things to “Another Level.” Feeling the spirit, Beenie grabbed the mic and spit a verse over Bounty’s record.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 19: Beenie Man “Nuff Gal” vs. Bounty Killer “Cry For Die For”

Beenie changed up the pace with a jazzy tune for the ladies featuring a swinging horn section. This 1996 Jamaican single could have been a bigger hit for Beenie if it had the right promotion, and still sounds great all these years later. Bounty Killer responded in similarly eclectic mode with a jaunty track on a Riddim based on The Champs' 1950s rock chart-topper “Tequila.”

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 20: Beenie Man's “I’m Drinkin’ (Rum and Red Bull)” vs. Bounty Killer's “Smoke the Herb”

Beenie closed out his regulation 20 rounds with one of his biggest crossover hits, a collaboration with Fambo that somebody at Red Bull should probably sign up for an endorsement deal. Bounty Killer responded with perhaps his greatest ganja anthems. This one was too close to call. Pick your poison.

WINNER: Tie

EXTRA TUNES

After running a couple of exclusive dubplate specials -- “War Uno Want” by Bounty Killer and a Buju Banton and Beenie Man collab on the M.P.L.A Riddim -- Beenie and Bounty served one final tune. ”Why Beenie saved one of his signature songs, 2004's "King of the Dancehall," for the 21st round is anybody’s guess. Bounty’s response ("Nuh Fren Fish") was something for the hardcore fans only.

Winner: Beenie

BONUS ROUNDS

Wider Catalogue: Beenie Man

While both artists did a good job displaying the breadth of their respective repertoires, blending hardcore dancehall hits with international collaborations, Beenie Man showed off his versatility with a mixture of old and new dancehall hits as well as mixing moods and tempos.

Biggest Snub: Beenie Man (Point to Bounty Killer)

Beenie Man opted not to play “Who Am I” (aka “Sim Simma,”) perhaps his best known international hit. Not to be outdone, Bounty Killer also neglected to play “Hey Baby,” his high-profile collaboration with No Doubt from their Grammy-winning 2001 album Rock Steady. Still Beenie’s oversight was the more inexplicable of the two.

Best Banter: Beenie Man

When police stopped by in the middle of the session and Beenie Man somehow kept his cool telling them “Officer, the whole world is watching… do we have to do this right now? Do you really wanna be that guy?”

Biggest KO: Bounty Killer

Not long after the police stopped by, Beenie and Bounty joined in on an eight song freestyle, venting their frustration at the police. But Bounty’s response, “Poor People Fed Up,” trumped an extended live performance, demonstrating just how much of a punch that song still packs.

People's Champ: Bounty Killer

While Beenie proved the more strategic selector, Bounty Killer’s off-the-cuff adlibs an manic energy -- especially when he noticed Rihanna in the IG audience -- kept the mood up. Even when he played unexpected selections, the Warlord’s respect levels were on 11.

FINAL SCORE: 13-10-3, Beenie Man

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This article originally appeared on Billboard.

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Jonathan Mannion

Iconic Photographer, Jonathan Mannion, Details Shooting Eminem's 'Marshall Mathers LP' 20 Years Later

This story, in its entirety, is posted on Billboard.com and is written by Carl Lamarre.

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Saturday (May 23) marks the 20th anniversary of Eminem's third album, The Marshall Mathers LP. His magnum opus not only shattered records on the Billboard 200 (debuted at No. 1 with a whopping 1.78 million copies its opening week) but highlighted his abilities as a raw and gifted storyteller. With Em looking to shed light on his real-life persona of Marshall Mathers, he hired famed photographer Jonathan Mannion to help capture his vision.

Mannion, who previously shot legendary album covers such as Jay-Z's 1996 Reasonable Doubt and DMX's 1998 Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, relished the task of teaming up with one of rap's polarizing acts because of their commonalities. Like Eminem, Mannion was a young, hungry creative from the Midwest, whose affinity for hip-hop ran deep, dating back to DJ Quik's debut single, "Born and Raised in Compton." 

Em and Mannion's tag-team expanded to over two continents. Not only did they shoot photos for MMLP in Amsterdam but also Detroit. From the pizza shop that Eminem used to work at to even his old childhood home where he sat on the steps for the album's classic cover art, nothing was off-limits.

READ MORE 20 Years of 'The Marshall Mathers LP': Ranking Every Song From Eminem's Third Album"

It was great," recalls Mannion of the shoot in from of Em's old house. "It was him in his element and delivering his journey. You know, the humble nature of him and his process of getting to be this megastar, which is rooted so clearly in talent. His talent and his relentless drive was it.

"Mannion spoke to Billboard about the 20th anniversary of The Marshall Mathers LP, where the album cover ranks in his collection and Em's dedication to delivering the best shots. 

What does the number 20 mean for you having been involved in the Marshall Mathers LP?

It's really hard to put into words how important this album is for the world, for Eminem (and) for me. There's an endless amount of stories. We shot in Amsterdam and Detroit. Originally, this album was meant to be called Amsterdam. I was like, "We have to go to Amsterdam. We have to all get on a plane and go there. That's the only way we're doing this album." He happened to be performing out there and said, "This is going to sync up perfectly.

"We did a phenomenal session out there -- really poured out hearts into it. Then, I think there was a realization that he wanted to present this trifecta of who he was: Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers and Eminem. This is how genius this guy is. He's thinking farther down the road to be able to craft these versions of himself. Slim Shady was the gimmick to get everyone's attention, which was still rooted in something phenomenal.

Then, he was like, "Let me tell you about my journey. Let me allow myself to be vulnerable within the space and deliver 'me' and how I really got here [with] my struggles, my pain," and I think that's when everybody really connected with him on a different level. It wasn't just this pop phenomenon that he was rooted in reverence for the culture. He obviously felt like he had to prove himself probably more than the next MC just because he was from Detroit and a white boy. He had something to prove and he was clinical on the album, delivering masterpiece after masterpiece.

READ MORE20 Years of 'Stan': How Eminem’s Epic 2000 Hit Relates to the Fan Culture It Inspired

When it was time to dig into who Marshall Mathers was, we had to do another session in Detroit. So we flew to Detroit to kind of continue [the shoot]. It kind of became this nice balance of Amsterdam and all of these lax drugs laws and all of these experimental moments that he was pursuing at that time to kind of ground himself. We shot outside the pizza shop that he used to work at with people that he still knew from there.

I remember you said in a past interview that you shot him in his boxers and trench coat in the freezing cold towards the end of the shoot.

It's dedication. I was with him entirely, pushing and wanting more, but he one-upped me in this session. We did that and I was like, "OK. He's going to be tired." He's in boxer shorts, combat boots and a trench coat being the fullness of the character that he was presenting as this Amsterdam version of Em. He pushed it and I was like, "Man, this is incredible. What we achieved out here was beyond comprehension. I can't wait for when we get back to see the session and go through it."He was like, "Man, I was thinking I want to do one more shot. Can we go back to the hotel? I want to be in my hotel room writing to my daughter." Usually, I'm the one begging rappers to go a little bit farther because I want to give them the world, but it flipped on me. It wasn't begrudgingly that I went there to that place. I was like, "I'm with this. Thank you." It made another really phenomenal image that we got to share with the world because of that effort.

Continue reading the original article by Carl Lamarre at Billboard here.

 

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THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP. Congratulations to @eminem on an absolutely brilliant project that celebrates 20 YEARS today. There were 2 sessions that yielded the campaign around this album, one in Detroit and the other in Amsterdam. It is one of my top 3 covers of all time. Art direction & Photography, @jonathanmannion. Designed with the masterful @morningbreathinc’s own Jason Noto.

A post shared by Jonathan Mannion (@jonathanmannion) on May 23, 2020 at 11:20am PDT

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To get a feel of Mannion's deep love of hip-hop, check out his Spotify playlist of the many legendary artists and their music from the album covers he's shot. "I did a playlist on Spotify based on a random sampling of 65 of my favorite album covers. Pulled 90 tunes that were bonafide bangers and complied a little vibe," Mannion details. Enjoy the vibes!

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