Arsenio Hall Talking During Interview
Comedian Arsenio Hall gets serious and makes a point during an interview at his office at Paramount Studios. Hall will be the host and producer of The Arsenio Hall Show,' yet another late night talk show which will premiere January 3, 1989.
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Music Sermon: How 'The Arsenio Hall Show' Brought Black Music To Late Night

'The Arsenio Hall Show' gifted the culture with unforgettable, iconic moments, new catchphrases for the lexicon, and…a president?

#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.

In 1989, the late-night landscape was ruled by old white men who mimed golf swings when they landed jokes, and the only mainstream outlet to see your favorite hip-hop acts - or young urban acts period – was the one-year-old Yo! MTV Raps (or It’s Showtime at the Apollo, which required willing yourself to stay up until after Saturday Night Live).

And then came Arsenio Hall. We’ll put his recent out-of-touch and curmudgeonly remarks (you can delete tweets, but screen caps are forever) aside to remember that The Arsenio Hall Show was the first late night platform to bring black cool into America’s living rooms. Hall changed the late-night game, gave young black entertainers much-needed legitimacy, and warmed the TV world up for the slate of hip-hop influenced programming that was on the way, like In Living Color, Martin, Living Single and New York Undercover. The show hit massive heights before a relatively quick burnout, but through its five-year run, Hall gifted the culture with unforgettable, iconic moments, new catchphrases for the lexicon, and…a president?

Let’s look at why Arsenio was the place to be for Gen Xers to “get busy” every night for five years.

In 1988, Hall filled in when Joan Rivers (who’d given him his first stand-up slot on The Tonight Show) abruptly walked off of her Fox talk show.
Very quickly, it was evident he was not following the traditional late-night formula, but had something special going. Guests were disarmed and at ease; it felt like watching friends chillin’ and chatting, instead of a formal interview. Viewers were eating it up, and the ratings reflected it.

LL COOL J – 1988
Little Baby L talks image, plays coy about his personal life, and licks his lips a lot.

Unfortunately for Fox execs, by the time they thought to offer Hall the show permanently, best friend Eddie Murphy had already tapped him for Coming to America, and the movie’s studio, Paramount, had locked him into a deal. A deal that included three movies and a syndicated late night show, which he’d executive produce.

The Arsenio Hall Show premiered on January 3, 1989. It was designed to feel like a party, and was widely described as the “hippest” thing on TV. “Hall’s invitation might read: Give me your hip MTV fans, your urban viewers, college students, the crowd that gravitates toward cable or the huddled masses that don’t watch TV at all,” remarked The Washington Post shortly after the show debuted. More important than that, however, was that Arsenio was looking to fill a hole for black entertainment specifically––and he knew there was a growing need because black culture was permeating pop culture, period. Explaining his vision in 1989, Hall highlighted the void. “Where does the urban contemporary audience see Bobby Brown, the number one pop – not R&B, but pop, that means white people bought it – crossover artist in America, who could not get on a talk show?”

Everything about The Arsenio Hall Show format reflected a 30 year-old (or 34 year-old, depending on who you believe) black man at the helm. Instead of a band, Arsenio had “The Posse.” Instead of a quiet, polite studio audience, there was “The Dog Pound” (named for Hall’s hometown Cleveland Brown’s “dogs”) who pumped their fists and barked - loudly - in lieu of clapping. Instead of a desk, Hall would be stretched out in an armchair with his Reebok-clad feet up on an ottoman. Or maybe even sitting on the ottoman. Instead of “We’ve got a great show for you tonight,” the program officially kicked off with “Let's. Get. Busy!” It really was like going to an exclusive lounge every night to hang out.

Also, the show was black. As hell. Early critics and even other comedians criticized Hall’s unabashed blackness in the show; his use of slang, his style, his relaxed format, his ease with the guests. He was undeterred. “The critics say Arsenio is maybe too urban to succeed; a studio head may say it,” Hall told the New York Times during his first season. “But the biggest mistake a black man can make creatively is not to be himself.” That’s what quickly set him apart from the other shows. Where everyone else was competing for the same older viewers, Hall immediately locked in the 18-34 demographic. Aside from the show’s energy, the biggest difference was that he booked acts other shows wouldn’t touch. Aside from Yo! MTV Raps, no other show was putting hip-hop on the air – even some existing prominent black-owned media platforms. “Hip Hop gave me a career,” Hall told Vlad TV in 2014. “...I was bringing this (whole new culture) into the living rooms of people who could safely watch it and get to understand it, and that’s really why it worked. Don Cornelius is an idol. Oprah, an idol. But they didn’t like hip-hop. And that was the best thing that ever happened to me…because I got all of that.”

And indeed, Hall always had all of the hip-hop acts.


NWA - 1990
Before performing, Hall talked to the group about their infamous drama with the FBI.

This was the only live TV performance of the supergroup‘s “All in the Same Gang.”

Providing a performance platform wasn’t the only aspect that made Hall’s show unique. He was also giving acts couch time, so we saw a conversational side of these artists beyond the standard promo spiel that we couldn’t really see anywhere else.

ICE-T - 1990
Ice-T talked to Arsenio about gang violence in Los Angeles, including speaking in front of the Congressional Black Caucus, who he felt hadn’t been paying attention. “The gang situation in Los Angeles has been here twenty years. And then a lady got killed in Westwood – you know, a non-black. Somebody out of the neighborhood. Then all of a sudden, there were 387 murders that year and 70,000 gang members; they didn’t join that night!”

2Pac – 1993
A clearly…lit Pac came on Arsenio to talk Poetic Justice, including his oft-repeated and later debunked story that Janet Jackson demanded he be tested for HIV before she’d participate in any love scenes. “I was like ‘No, I’m not taking the test. If I’ma get to really lay with her, we can take four tests…she really wanna be sure.’ But other than that, it’s disrespectful to me.”

The show’s fresh perspective and authenticity were so successful, six months into the first season Arsenio was #2 behind Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, beating David Letterman’s Late Night. White critics and TV execs weren’t warm to Arsenio or his show, and didn’t understand its success (they were equally confused a couple of years later with the success of Fox’s urban line up). They even protested that the show was too black, and it was unfair because they didn’t get the references and felt left out (funny how that’s still happening when black folks see a need and create something dope). Hall’s response was, to paraphrase, “They’ll be aight.” After all, black people have been adjusting to all white entertainment for…ever, “…like I did when I watched my first Bob Hope special, my first Three Stooges…My whole culturalization requires that I understand everything that America is,” Hall told the Washington Post, and he truly did present black culture as part of America in a real way for five years.

As the show hit its stride, it was the destination for all our favorite acts because they knew they were at home. That comfort level showed up in their performance.

BBD -1991
The best performance of “Poison” ever. Shout out to the Str8 Ahead dancers; the reason BBD was so live.

HEAVY D – 1989
You’re at home chanting “Go, Heavy” with the Dog Pound, aren’t you?

Busta Rhymes' first TV performance. The star power shining all up and through.

And it wasn’t just the hip-hop acts; Arsenio was key in breaking R&B acts as well.

Mariah Carey’s first official TV performance? Arsenio.


En Vogue’s first TV performance? Arsenio.

EN VOGUE - 1990

TLC’s first TV performance? Most likely Arsenio. But Babyface definitely called Hall directly to book them.

TLC – 1991

Beyond the young and hip moments, Arsenio also made sure our legends had a home and space to be heard.

Davis was in poor health and his voice barely audible, but Hall gave him ample couch time after his performance, keeping the convo going as though he could hear Miles loud and clear.

Arsenio would give dedicated time to entertainers instead of rushing them through segments. Sammy Davis Jr. had already been on the couch for about 15 minutes when he decided, impromptu, that he wanted to perform a number (he’d initially said he didn’t want to sing during his appearance). He then returned to the couch telling Hall, “I say this to you on a one to one basis: you ever need me, you got me, for the rest of my life.”

The Godfather was on Arsenio’s show multiple times.

PRINCE - 1991
Hall turned the entire program over to Prince twice during the show’s original run.

And on a non-music note, where else would you get Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson on the same couch? Greatness. (1990)

Arsenio proved that the landscape could be broader than the very formulaic, mildly edgy space that had been late-night. The biggest moment that drove this point home was presidential candidate William Jefferson Clinton, who was having some trouble in the polls, jamming on the sax.


The performance is noted in the annals of TV and political history as not only a turning point in Clinton’s campaign, but in how candidates campaigned moving forward. At the time, Clinton was criticized for letting his proverbial hair down that way; detractors said it wasn’t “presidential.” But it helped him win the young, urban vote (and possibly kicked off the whole “First Black President” mess that we should all forget). It must have been some kind of presidential, because he became the president.

Hall also permeated pop culture at large. His monologue segment “Things That Make You Go Hmmmm’’ was flipped into a No. 1 dance hit by C+C Music Factory…

...and the Dog Pound’s infectious barking (which morphed, over time, from a full “Woof Woof” to something like a “Woo Woo” or a “Whoot Whoot”) apparently inspired Tag Team’s tootsie-roll-inducing classic “Whoomp! There It Is.” Group members Cecil “DC” Glen and Steve “Roll’n” Gibson have credited The Arsenio Hall Show for the idea, “People had been saying ‘There it is’ forever. Everybody in Arsenio Hall’s television audience used to do the “Woof” chant. We put that together with the ‘There it is’ dance-floor chant we were hearing at the club.

In 1992, Carson stepped down from the late-night throne and threw the space into a warring frenzy for audience and ratings. Jay Leno ascended to Carson’s spot at The Tonight Show, and Dave Letterman, angry he didn’t get the coveted gig, jumped ship from NBC to CBS. Hall, who was syndicated and not locked in to a specific network or time, was left vulnerable. NBC and CBS started pressuring markets that carried The Arsenio Hall Show to drop him or change his time slot. The Tonight Show was going for a young demo with Leno, and started booking guests that were usually in Arsenio’s domain. Leno, who had also moved up to an earlier time slot, created an irreverent, who-knows-what-might-happen vibe for his new The Late Show – an older (and whiter) version of Hall’s energy.

In ‘93 Hall’s ratings started taking a hit, and in 1994 he wrapped the show. For the final episode, Queen Latifah asked Hall to let her produce a segment, but he couldn’t be involved. She put together one of the greatest rap cyphers ever seen on television – Yo-Yo, MC Lyte, Naughty By Nature, A Tribe Called Quest, Fu-Schnickens, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Gang Starr, Das EFX, Wu-Tang Clan, KRS One and Mad Lion - to surprise Hall and get busy one last time.

And LMAO at Ghostface shouting “The black man is God” over and over again at the end. This is what happens when you put Wu Tang on live TV.

In 2014, Hall made a short-lived return to the late-night scene, but it wasn’t hittin’ the same way this time. First, he’s much older. And while hip-hop has gotten older, too, what made The Arsenio Hall show fresh and different was its young energy. Second, he wasn’t offering something special and exclusive anymore. In the same VLAD TV interview mentioned earlier, he noted the difference in the landscape. “The hard part now is, you can turn on Fallon, or Kimmel, or any Jimmy… They’ve all got rappers. And they might sit and talk to the big ones, so I don’t do anything unique now.”

Still, his original run is more than enough to forgive later shortfalls. We appreciate all that you gave to and did for the culture, Arsenio. Just stay off twitter, please, so we can continue to enjoy it.

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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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