Anuel AA & Karol G In Concert - New York, NY
Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

After A Breakthrough Year, What's Next For Música Urbana?

Anuel AA, Natti Natasha, and Ozuna brought some of the biggest hits in music in 2018. But which latinx artists will continue the genre's reign in this year?

By the listening standards of the streaming age, hip-hop has measurably usurped pop in recent years. However, when you factor in música urbana, the broad genre catch-all that includes reggaeton and the still relatively burgeoning sound known as Latin trap, that only strengthens the quantifiable evidence in its favor.

According to a report by music technology company BuzzAngle, consumption of music broadly categorized as Latin surpassed country music stateside in 2018, suggesting at minimum a designation of updated tastes if not a demographic shift. Over those 12 months, the undeniability of Latinx hitmakers like Anuel AA, Natti Natasha, and Ozuna manifested across the Billboard charts, not least of which being the all-genre Hot 100. By year-end, DJ Snake’s “Taki Taki” and Bad Bunny’s Drake collaboration “MIA” were major chart contenders, both fueled by airplay and digital performance.

The phenomenon extends well beyond the U.S. market. Eight of last year’s top 10 most viewed music videos on YouTube were for Spanish-language singles, with the global top slot going to Nio García and Casper Mágico’s “Te Boté (Remix),” handily beating out third place entry Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” with Cardi B. And speaking of the immensely popular Bronx rapper, her Spanglish smash “I Like It” with Bad Bunny and J Balvin may very well be the most ubiquitous single since Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito.” That latter track, once considered by some skeptics as a fluke or otherwise a fleeting trend, remains one of biggest songs in America, by Billboard’s multi-metric standards, as well as worldwide.

For Jerry Pullés, Apple Music’s programmer behind key playlists like La Fórmula and Trap Kingz, the rise of música urbana has been a long time coming. “I’ve been working in Latin urban music since the initial reggaeton boom back in 2005,” he says. “I live it.” That experience keeps him well plugged into the genre’s present and, given his remit, an integral part of its future. “I look for songs that I like and think other people will like. I also spend a lot of time talking to artists and producers to get a sense of which songs or artists they are excited about.”

As the public profiles of certain reggaetoneros and traperos alike soared in 2018, Pullés had a front row seat to the data proving that success. In the case of Bad Bunny’s “MIA,” having Drake not merely feature but feature in Spanish amounted to more than just clout for El Conejo Malo. “We saw it set records on Apple Music and surge in popularity as the largest first week U.S. debut for a Spanish-language song with over 16 million streams after we premiered it on our ¡Dale Play! playlist,” he says. “It shows fans that it’s cool to listen to music in Spanish even if you don’t understand every word.”

With terrestrial radio still largely rooted in limiting formats, playlisting has arguably surpassed its role in modern-day tastemaking. Actively updated by in-the-know curators, platform-specific groupings at Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and elsewhere stack the latest singles alongside proven hits. Given the volume and subscriptions, the built-in and targeted audiences are of obvious appeal to record label representatives like Nima Etminan, vice president at EMPIRE. “Playlisting inclusion is important for everyone, regardless of genre or language,” he says. “It is still crucial for artists to grow a nucleus and expand it, using tools such as playlists or social media accounts.” Still, he insists in his experience that sustainable success isn’t defined solely by getting a song onto one or even a few.

Operating both as a record label as well as a distribution and marketing partner for smaller imprints and independent artists, EMPIRE competes alongside the majors across genre categories, and música urbana is no exception. “EMPIRE Latino was launched years before the mainstream explosion of Latin trap/reggaeton in the U.S.,” Etminan says, citing successes with Tego Calderon and Luis Enrique going as far back as 2012. “The mainstream explosion of the genres has definitely helped bring more eyes to the market and it's beneficial for everyone involved.”

Coastcity, a Puerto Rican duo known in part for their work with Beyonce on her contribution to J Balvin’s “Mi Gente” remix, found their eponymous full-length debut with EMPIRE Latino nominated for a 2019 Grammy, in the Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album category. Citing their bilingual Luis Fonsi-assisted “Pa’ La Calle,” currently on Apple Music’s De Antro playlist, Etminan expects more from the pair throughout the year. “They're a very exciting group with lots of eyes on them so definitely look out for them,” he says, while also shouting out labelmates Yung Beef, a rapper from Spain, and pop R&B singer Cierra Ramirez, familiar to fans of the TV show The Fosters.

Presently appearing prominently in a number of the Apple Music playlists programmed by Pullés is Farruko, whose presence in música urbana spans over a decade. Despite his role as lead artist on the “Krippy Kush” remix with Bad Bunny and Nicki Minaj (which proved the first Latin trap song to cross over to the Hot 100), he’s since largely pivoted away from that sound on the bulk of his subsequent solo singles. Instead, cuts like “Coolant” and his latest one-off “Nadie” share more in common with dancehall reggae and the poppier side of reggaeton.

While Bad Bunny’s month-old X100PRE album wasn’t strictly a trap outing, Farruko’s current approach reminds less of his “Krippy Kush” cohort and more like scene veteran Daddy Yankee, who followed 2017’s colossal “Despacito” with the reggae hit “Dura.” Both artists appear together on “Inolvidable,” a defiantly accessible single that also employs vocals by Akon and Sean Paul. Though the year remains wide open for the standing Sony Music Latin signee to drop a major hit, the most likely contender of his current crop appears to be “Calma,” a remix of a single of the same name by Latin Grammy-winning singer Pedro Capó. In recent weeks, their joint track has made steady if considerable gains on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs, inching closer and closer to its oft-elusive top ten.

Also hotly tipped for a memorable 2019, Colombian singer Karol G entered the new year with a highly anticipated single on deck. The second collaboration with her real-life partner Anuel AA after last fall’s hit “Culpables,” her dembow-driven “Secreto” builds on the momentum of their prior track. Their apparent romance — as displayed throughout the song’s rather candid music video, coupled with the trapero’s string of Hot 100 appearances alongside bachata king Romeo Santos and controversial rapper 6ix9ine — only seems to have fortified her already recognizable presence as a música urbana power player.

While Karol’s sole Hot 100 showing to date has been on a remix of El Chombo’s viral novelty single “Dame Tu Cosita,” she has ten Hot Latin Songs singles as a lead or featured artist to her credit, four of which cracked the chart’s top 10. Just the other week, “Culpables” became the latest from her to do so, and early signs from the just-released “Secreto” suggest that it too will contend. Both songs presently feature on La Fórmula, and Pullés cites developing female stars and fresh faces as paramount to the overall genre’s success in the coming year. “If the Latin urban genre doesn’t develop new stars every couple of years, listeners will get bored,” he says. “We did a great job over the last few years with Ozuna, Bad Bunny and now Anuel but I’m already thinking about who the next three or four are.”

Two of the acts on Pullés’ radar for 2019 are Rauw Alejandro and Lunay. He cites the latter singer/rapper’s “A Solas,” a breezy reggaeton pop hybrid, as indicative of things to come out of the scene this year. As for Alejandro, his recent offerings like “Que Bien Te Ves” and “Road Trip” recall the broad R&B and tropical house of Chris Brown and Justin Bieber bolstered by a Latin trap foundation. Together, Alejandro and Lunay guested on Ozuna’s “Luz Apaga,” their bright tones complementing that of the established Latin pop superstar.

Putting favorites aside, the sheer volume of songs dropping week after week keeps música urbana in a constant state of activity. With fans streaming videos by the millions each day and new high-quality clips emerging at a rapid pace, supply and demand appear harmonious. As more and more Americans turn on to the voices of Bad Bunny and Ozuna, whetting their appetites for the contemporary sounds of Latin America, the chances for comparatively less heralded acts to make major chart moves in the U.S. seems extremely likely. And with J Balvin, Tomasa del Real, and more Spanish-language artists playing this year’s Coachella, there’s no telling just how big música urbana could get.

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Then & Now: Common Details How He And J Dilla Collaborated On The "Thelonious" Track With Slum Village

J Dilla and Common had a really tight creative bond and, at one point, lived together in L.A. So you know that Common got dibs on all of his hot beats first. They were hip-hop brethren just trying to work together and of all of their collaborations, living and posthumous, the track “Thelonius,” is the sharpest intersection of the two legendary artists' careers.

A singular song fit for two albums, the cut was placed on Common’s fourth studio album Like Water for Chocolate and Fantastic Vol. II, Slum Village's classic sophomore album. “Thelonius” as we know it was in a way an accident...a soulful snafu that we get to enjoy forever. In this excerpt of VIBE's Then & Now video franchise, Common shares how the song manifested unplanned, willed into existence by Dilla’s uncompromising creative compass.

The story is brought to life with artwork by visual artist supreme, Dan Lish (@DanLish1), the man behind Raekwon’s The Wild album artwork. The illustrations you see in this video are a small fraction of what you can find in his upcoming book: Egostrip Vol 1 – The Essential Hip Hop Art Book, a psychedelic visual history of hip-hop to be enjoyed by the genre’s oldest and youngest fans alike. 

Today is the last day to support Lish's Kickstarter for the incredible project. Click the following link for a copy of your own: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dan-lish/egostrip-book-1 

“I picked up on what inspired me about the artists, whether it be a certain lyric from a classic song or my perception of what may be going through their mind at the moment of creation,” says Lish.

There is much more to be said about all of these artists. For more stories on Common’s catalog, including several more Dilla cuts, stay tuned for the upcoming episode of Then & Now, where we dig deeper into notable tracks in the career of one Lonnie Rashid "Common" Lynn, Jr.

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Courtesy of Biz 3 / FCF

Quavo Is Introducing 'Fan Controlled Football' To The Culture

From their penchant for popping tags and name-dropping designer brands in their rhymes to the obsession with diamond-encrusted neckwear, the Migos are the modern-day poster-children for decadence and opulence. But when it comes to balling, group member Quavo is a seasoned veteran, literally and figuratively. Notorious for his appearances in NBA all-star celebrity games, where he routinely dominates the competition, Huncho has built a rep as one of the athletically gifted hit-makers in music today.

Although he's known for his skills on the hardwood, football is definitely among his passions. His newest endeavor, an ownership stake in Fan Controlled Football (FCF), the first professional sports league to put the viewer in the coach's seat and the general manager's office, in live time, finds him putting his focus back on the gridiron. Having inked an exclusive, multi-year streaming broadcast partnership with Twitch, the FCF will be the first professional sports league to be fully integrated with the streaming platform with the potential to explode in the digital age, where user interest and participation is the main recipe for success.

Having tossed the pigskin around as a Georgia high school football star, to Quavo, it was a no-brainer to get involved with the innovative league on the ground level. “We are building a brand and something different in our league – with the fans. They are in control and get to pick the team names, colors, logos, and more,” said Quavo said in a press release. “I’m really excited because FCF is fast-paced, high-scoring 7v7 football and you are in control. You go from sitting on the couch watching TV and pressing buttons on the remote to actually pressing the buttons on the plays.”

Played on "a 35-yard x 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones,” the Fan Controlled Football league will kick off in February 2021, with a four-week regular season, one week of playoffs, and a Championship week. The league will consist of former elite D-1 athletes, the CFL, XFL, and the Indoor Football League. Broadcasted live from the FCF’s state-of-the-art facility in Atlanta, each game will be 60 minutes in length and will allow the viewers to play a hand in the final outcome on Twitch.

Aside from sports, Quavo has been relatively lowkey on the musical tip as of late, with two years having passed since a solo release or a Migos album. However, according to him, this delay can be considered the calm before the storm, as he assures him and his brethren are primed for one of their biggest years yet. VIBE hopped on the line with Quavo to talk Fan Controlled Football, what he's got cooking in the studio, and his foray into TV and film.

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You're the newest team owner at Fan Controlled Football (FCF). What about the league piqued your interest and made you wanna get involved?

It's just showing my interest in the game of football and just trying to put a twist to where it's fan-controlled, fan-involved. A lot of times we watch the game, you watch the game, you just have some concerns. Sometimes you feel you can make the plays or call the play, [with FCF], you can sit on the couch and make the play. I just think we came together to make something crazy like that. I feel like it's something hard, it's something new, it's something fresh. It's a new beginning to something, like giving ni**as a chance. Giving D-1 players who couldn't make it to the league a chance, giving ex-NFL ni**as a chance if they still got it, [and] to go with the fans. When we saw the Falcons lose the Superbowl LI, we [fans] just knew what plays to call, we knew to run the ball. We were up 28-3. All we had to do was hold the ball, but we wanted to air it out and we made a mistake and lost to Tom Brady. Just like when Marshawn could've won a Superbowl. If they'd have given him the ball on the two-yard line. We knew that Marshawn Lynch was supposed to get the ball, [but] they wanted Russell Wilson to win it and the New England Patriots caught an interception. So that's how we're trying to shape it, we're trying to make something new.

The FCF will be live-streamed exclusively on Twitch, which has become one of the leading platforms for eSports live-streaming and will kick off in February 2021. Do you feel the FCF has the opportunity to fill that NFL void during the spring, particularly given the fan engagement that FCF enables?

Most definitely, cause after the Super Bowl, it just feels like you just want another game. You feel like you want one more game. and coming from something [where it's] eleven on eleven players to seven on seven, I feel [there’s] still a difference. After coming from watching the game and the regular politics, the regular structure of the game, now you're getting to be involved in a game that you can control. You can pick the jersey, you can pick the helmets, you can pick the jerseys, you can pick the coaches, you can pick the plays. I just feel there are two different dynamics [between the NFL and FCF). You come from sitting on the couch and pressing the remote to actually pressing the button on the plays."

Speaking of fan engagement, the FCF is the only professional sports league that enables fans to call the plays in real-time and puts the viewer in control of a game’s outcome like never before. Have you ever had that experience, as far as fantasy football?

Nah, but I'm into Madden. You can sit at home and pick your plays [with FCF], it's just like the lifestyle of Madden. It's like a reality of Madden. You're playing with people at home, with these unique athletes, and it's seven-on-seven.

As an Atlanta native, how significant was the FCF’s state-of-the-art facility being in your hometown in your decision to come on board as an owner?

It's very important. We got top-tier talent here, so it's opening up opportunities for a lot of guys. We're just glad it's in the south, it's like a hub. Everybody loves Atlanta and everybody wanna be here. Everybody wanna play and the weather is good.

NFL Super Bowl Champions Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, boxing legend Mike Tyson, and YouTuber and podcaster empire Greg Miller are among the FCF's team owners. How does it feel to be competing against some of the most accomplished athletes and entertainers in the world? Have you had the opportunity to meet with any of them?

Most definitely. I have a good relationship with Mike Tyson. I've met Marshawn Lynch, it's a blessing. I feel like we're not competing right now, I feel like we're building a brand. I feel like we're building a league. I feel like we're trying to make the world understand what we're bringing to the table and what type of game we bring to the table, you feel me? I feel we're trying to create something different. Once we get the ball rolling, it's all together and moving into a real FCF league, then we'll get to compete. Of course, we all wanna win, but right now, we're just trying to get the foundation and the basics going and letting the strength of the owners and the relationships show on the field.

Being that you'll all be working with your respective fan bases in shaping your team’s personality and identity, any thoughts about what the team’s name will be? 

Man, I wish I did, but it's so straight strictly fans that you never know. Just like with music, can have an idea that is a smash, and then the fans don't think it is. You gotta strictly listen to the fans on this one. You gotta listen strictly to how they want it because it's the point of the game, that's the point of the league. We gotta let them control this game and then we the players and we the people that's listening to the people, the culture. FCF stands for culture, too, you feel what I'm saying? We listen to the culture, we're letting the culture run the field.

How involved will you be in the drafting and scouting process for your squad?

The fans make the draft, fans get to see everything. Open books, everything. It's an open thing, it ain't nothing to hide over here. The fans control it all.

In addition to sports, you've also been delving into acting, with cameos in shows like Atlanta, Star, Black-ish, and Ballers. Earlier this year, you appeared as yourself in Narcos: Mexico. How did that opportunity come about? 

Narcos reached out. We [Migos] had this song called “Narcos” on the [Culture II] album and we went and shot [the video] in Miami and everybody thought it was a Narcos movie scene and it ended up being Madonna's house. So we just shot that there and then they reached out to us. I think Offset had a performance somewhere and Takeoff had to do something and I just ended up being free that day and I went and shot it in New Mexico. I had fun, I loved it.

Do you have plans to pursue any supporting or leading roles in film or television?

Hell yeah, most definitely. I've been sitting down and having real great meetings with directors and people that got some movies in the works for 2021. I feel like I’ve got some good spots. I don't wanna tell it cause they’re gonna make some announcements. It's coming soon.

It's been two years since you've released a solo project or one with the Migos. Can fans expect any new music from you anytime soon and what are your next plans on that front?

Most definitely, hell yeah, we're shooting videos right now. We’re vaulting up a whole lot of videos so we can give you music and visuals at the same time. “Need It," the song came first and then the video. Right now, we wanna get a lot of videos and a lot records in the vault and smash [them] all at once 'cause it's been two years.

Pop Smoke's passing was one of the more tragic events in rap in recent memory, but his debut album, which you appeared on throughout, has been one of the most successful and acclaimed projects of 2020. How has it been seeing how the album’s been received, especially after you and him developed such a bond in a short time?

I'm happy. I'm proud of him, that was my partner. We did a lot of records, we spent a lot of time together and I feel like the album would've did even more with him being alive. A lot of people's album just go crazy when they die, I feel like his sh*t would've still went crazy. He had the momentum, he had the buzz. He was having fun. He was hot, he was fresh, he had everything ready.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Toots Hibbert performing at Hammersmith Palais, London in 1983.
Photo by David Corio/Redferns

Remembering Toots Hibbert

The best singers don’t need too many words to make their point. Otis Redding could let loose with a sad sad song like “Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa” and get you all in your feelings. Bob Marley got pulses pounding with his “Whoi-yoooo” rebel yell. Gregory Isaacs melted hearts with nothing more than a gentle sigh. Toots Hibbert, who died last Friday at the age of 77, could sing just about anything and make it sound good. One of the world's greatest vocalists in any genre, Toots paired his powerful voice with the understated harmonies of Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathias to form The Maytals, a vocal trinity that never followed fashion and remained relevant throughout the evolution of Jamaican music—from the ska era to rock steady straight through to reggae, a genre named after The Maytals' 1968 classic “Do The Reggay.”

Whether they were singing a sufferer’s selection (“Time Tough”), a churchical chant (“Hallelujah”), or the tender tale of a country wedding (“Sweet and Dandy”), The Maytals blew like a tropical storm raining sweat and tears. The lyrics to Six and Seven Books,” one of The Maytals' earliest hits, are pretty much just Toots listing the books of the Bible. “You have Genesis and Exodus,” he declares over a Studio One ska beat, “Leviticus and Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, Judges and Ruth...” Having grown up singing in his parents' Seventh Day Adventist Church in the rural Jamaican town of May Pen, Toots knew the Good Book well.

The Maytals broke out worldwide in 1966 thanks to the song “Bam Bam,” which won Jamaica's first-ever Independence Festival Song Competition, held during the first week of August as the island nation celebrated both independence from Great Britain in 1862 and emancipation in 1834. They would go on to win the coveted title two more times, but “Bam Bam” was a singular song with a message every bit as powerful as Toots' voice. “I want you to know that I am the man," Toots sang. He was young and strong, ready to "fight for the right, not for the wrong." The trajectory of "Bam Bam" would not only transform Toots' life but make waves throughout popular music worldwide.

"Festival in Jamaica is very important to all Jamaicans," the veteran singer stated in a video interview this past summer while promoting his latest entry into the annual competition. "I must tell you that I won three festivals in Jamaica already, which is “Bam Bam,” “Sweet & Dandy” and “Pomp & Pride.” Toots described that first festival competition as a joyous occasion. "Everybody just want to hear a good song that their children can sing," he recalled. "Is like every artist could be a star."

In 2016, on the 50th anniversary of "Bam Bam" winning first place, Toots looked back over the legacy of the tune that made him a star. "I didn’t know what it means but it was a big deal," he told Boomshots. "You in the music business and you want to be on top and you write a good song and you go on this competition and if they like it then it becomes #1." After The Maytals won, the group was in demand not just all over the island, but all over the world. "We start fly out like a bird," he says with a laugh. "Fly over to London."

"Bam Bam" went on to inspire numerous cover versions, starting with Sister Nancy, Yellowman, and Pliers. It would also be sampled in numerous hip hop classics, and interpolated into Lauryn Hill's "Lost Ones." But according to Toots, he did not benefit financially from these endless cover versions. "People keep on singing it over and over and over, and they don’t even pay me a compliment," he told Boomshots. "I haven’t been collecting no money from that song all now."

 

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“This man don’t trouble no one... but if you trouble this man it will bring a Bam Bam” Original Maytals Classic @tootsmaytalsofficial 🎶 All them a talk, them nuh bad like Niya Fiya Ball ☄️🔥💥 via @tonyspreadlove . 💥💣🔫#Boomshots

A post shared by Word Sound & Power (@boomshots) on Sep 12, 2020 at 8:19am PDT

When Toots began singing in his parents' church, music was not seen as a career prospect, and the profits were slim for Jamaican recording artists in the 1960s. "Those days we get 14 cents for the record to play on the radio," Toots said. "I get three shillings and five shillings for a number one record, which I had 31 number one record in Jamaica... It’s not about money for me. It’s about the quality that Jamaicans need to go back in the festival jamboree... You gotta talk to the children."

On the poignant “54-46 (Was My Number),” Toots recalls the dehumanization of his arrest and 18-month imprisonment at Jamaica's Richmond Farm Correctional Center for what he always insisted was a trumped-up ganja charge just as his music career was taking off. The song's crescendo comes two minutes in when Toots breaks into a scat solo that cannot be translated into any language known to man, delivered with palpable passion that made his message universal. During Toots' ecstatic stage performances he would follow this riff by commanding his band to “Give it to me... one time!” Then the 'd make 'em say Uh!  (Way before Master P!) “Give it to me... two times!” Uh! Uh! And so on and so forth until Toots worked the place into a frenzy.

The Maytals' live show was so explosive that Toots began touring all over the world, opening for rock megastars like The Rolling Stones and The Who. While Bob Marley richly deserved the title King of Reggae, his friend Toots was performing internationally before The Wailers, and remained a force to be reckoned with throughout his life, blazing a trail for generations of reggae artists to follow in his footsteps.

On his Grammy-winning 2004 album True Love, Toots recorded some of his greatest hits with a host of legendary artists, many of whom were also good friends, including Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, and Eric Clapton. His 2006 cover of Radiohead's "Let Down" was a favorite of the band's, who used to play it on their tour bus. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood called Toots’ version “truly astounding,” according to Easy Star Records Michael Goldwasser.

Toots supported himself and his family by touring all over the world. During a 2013 show in Richmond, Virginia he was singing John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" when a teenager in the crowd threw a vodka bottle at the stage and hit him on the head. He suffered a concussion and had to stop touring for several years. As his first album in a decade, Got To Be Tough was highly anticipated when it was released on Trojan Jamaica label August 28. On the cover the former boxer and lifelong fighter can be seen throwing a punch. Just a day after the album dropped, Toots came down with symptoms similar to COVID 19. Within a few days he was hospitalized where doctors placed him into a medically induced coma from which he never recovered. As his Tidal obituary pointed out, he passed away exactly 33 years after his old friend Peter Tosh died by gunfire.

Songs like "Just Brutal" from the hit different now, with Toots pleading for more love in a world gone wrong. "We were brought here," Toots sings. "Sold out. Victimized brutally. Every time I keep remembering what my grandfather said before he died."

“I’m feeling alright,” Toots said the last time we spoke, while he was still sidelined with stress issues due to the bottle-throwing incident. "I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling just cool because is Jah works. You seet?" I asked him if the song "Bam Bam," was about him—a peaceful man who should not be provoked—or else. "Nooo don't trouble him," Toots said with a laugh. "It’s gonna be double trouble, triple trouble. A lot of trouble."

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