Soul Train 30th Anniversary Television Stills
Singer Aretha Franklin with show host and producer Don Cornelius. Franklin was one of many entertainers who performed on 'Soul Train' in the 1970''s, part of the Soul Train 30th Anniversary 'Divas and Kings 2000 & Beyond.'
2001 Tribune Entertainment

Music Sermon: 'Soul Train' and the Audacity of Blackness

In advance of the premiere of BET's series American Soul, VIBE revisits how Soul Train became a symbol of black flair, style, entertainment, and culture in the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

In 1971, a funky, little-animated train got rolling for “sixty nonstop minutes through the tracks of your mind into a world of soul,” and black America lined up to get on board. More than just a music entertainment show, Soul Train was the first national television show conceived and created completely for us, by us, and it struck such a chord that it became the longest-running nationally syndicated program in TV history. Cornelius welcomed viewers to the first episode promising, “If the sight and sound of soul is your pleasure and what you treasure, you can bet your bottom, we got ‘em.” Soul Train delivered on that promise for 35 years, until 2006. Now, Jesse Collins Entertainment and BET are highlighting Don Cornelius’ challenges, successes, and failures as the visionary creator, owner, producer, and host of the culture-shifting show with the series American Soul, premiering Tuesday night.

In the immediate years following the civil rights movement, there was little to no representation of black youth culture in media. White teens, on the other hand, were drivers for music, fashion, print, and TV. Cornelius had “a burning desire to see black people presented on TV in a positive light,” and conceived of Soul Train as a black spin on Dick Clark’s teenage-centric music and dance show, American Bandstand. An activist himself, Cornelius knew the platform needed to serve a greater end than just entertainment – it needed to uplift, and to combat mainstream media’s narrative of black existence, which in the late '60s painted black youth especially junkies, criminals, and degenerates. Cornelius made Soul Train remarkable with details that elevated it from a showcase for black music to a showcase of black culture and excellence: the black staff and crew; the dancers sporting naturals and bell bottoms or dashikis and braids; the black advertising sponsors; the Scramble Board game which highlighted notable and historical black figures. It was the first black-owned and controlled entertainment on national television, the first time advertisers looked at black consumers as a target demo worth spending to reach.

In short, Soul Train was intentionally black AF. It gained a wider audience with its success, but that was never the goal; it was black for the glory of blackness. “We’re not trying to do a gerrymandered black show that appeals to white people or competes with the so-called general market efforts,” Cornelius explained to the LA Times a decade into the show’s run. “We’ve had to make a decision about what we want to be in character, in style. And we want to be a show about black music.”

Soul Train is now symbolic of black flair, style, entertainment, and culture, especially for the ‘70s and ‘80s. Over the years, Cornelius’ passion spawned a record label, the first black entertainment awards show, several acting, and singing careers, and black America’s favorite family dance tradition. Let’s take a look at the show’s wide-reaching legacy.

THE THEME SONG

For the first couple of years, Soul Train used blues and soul artist King Curtis’ “Hot Potato” as the intro, mainly serving as a bed for Cornelius’ mellifluous voiceover. Then, Cornelius reached out to the soul producers - Lenny Gamble and Leon Huff, architects of the Philadelphia soul sound - to create something original. Gamble, Huff and the band MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother) came up with Soul Train's theme groove during a jam session, and Cornelius loved it. The group Three Degrees added vocals, putting out the call for “people all over the world” to get down. In the version used on Soul Train, the ladies also sing the title, but Don was adamant the show not be referenced in the commercial single. Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International had a distribution deal with Columbia Records, and Cornelius worried that a single titled “Soul Train” jeopardized his ownership of the name. He later called the decision the “dumbest move (he) ever made.” The single was released as “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” 1974 and hit the top of the R&B, Adult Contemporary, and Hot 100 charts. It was the first TV theme song – and arguably the first disco song – to do so. The theme was adapted and changed a couple of times as the sonic landscape evolved, but the show returned to the original version in its final years. “TSOP” also stands on its own as a trademark for the early disco sound and the Philly Soul sound.

Before the show had the pull to land big-name acts, the young, fly, sometimes outrageous dancers - eventually known as the Soul Train Gang - carried the program. They were the true stars of the show, and in time, breakout talent was identified and featured prominently, like Soul Train legends Damita Jo Freeman, Shabba Doo (later of Breakin’ fame), Tyrone Proctor and Cheryl Song (known to viewers for 14 years as “the Asian girl with the long hair”). The Soul Train Gang also launched careers beyond dance, including the hardest dancer in the entire world, Rosie Perez; pop star Jody Watley; and pop-locker extraordinaire Fred Berry, better known as Rerun (who Cornelius once called “the best big man in the business”).
Kids and teens watched on Saturday morning to study the moves (and the fashions), then broke them out on the block or at house parties on Saturday night. Dance is Soul Train’s most enduring trademark; give someone direction today to get it in like a Soul Train dancer, and they’ll either serve you all kinds of pops, locks, pumps, and kicks with energy and precision, or give you dramatic dance interpretation to an R&B groove. We all know that Soul Train = dance performance. Ain’t no two steps. The show introduced and spread dance crazes like popping and waacking into living rooms across the country, and the foundations are still evident today in regional dances like juking.

THE COMMERCIALS

Soul Train’s move to national television came around the same time as the founding of two of foremost black advertising agencies in the country, Burrell McCain (now Burrell Communications) and UniWorld (now Uniworld Group). Before Soul Train, print media was the only medium to directly target black consumers; the show presented an opportunity to get real reach through television. For the first time, companies were developing creative campaigns just for the black demographic. Sears and black-owned hair care company Johnson Products were the two primary sponsors when the show launched, and Johnson’s spectacular Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen ads, created by Burrell, remain as iconic representations of the black pride and black is beautiful movements of the 70s. Just think; if not for Soul Train, we’d never have seen Frederick Douglas tell somebody to tighten their fro up before class. #BlackHistory

THE RECORD LABEL

In 1975, Cornelius and Soul Train talent coordinator Dick Griffey founded Soul Train Records as an offshoot of the show. The label’s initial roster included talent from the show, including Shalamar, a group made up of dancers Jody Watley, Jeffrey Daniels and Gerald Brown (replaced by Howard Hewett in 1979). Splitting focus between the label and the show was too much for Cornelius, who was still involved in every detail of Soul Train including hosting, and he left the label in 1977. Griffey changed the name to SOLAR (Sound of Los Angeles Records). The dominant black-owned record labels were going through a tough transition as majors started opening black music divisions. Stax closed in 1977, Motown had lost a significant number of marquee acts and was figuring out the next direction, and Philadelphia International’s peak was waning with the end of the disco era. This left SOLAR room to thrive. In addition to Shalamar, the label was home to The Whispers, Klymaxx, The Deele, Midnight Star, and Lakeside. With noted producer Leon Sylvers (of the Jacksons-esque Sylvers family) and a gang of talent in their roster of musicians, SOLAR became the home of the post-disco boogie music sound.

Shalamar, "A Night To Remember"

The Whispers, "Rock Steady"

Klymaxx, "Meeting In The Ladies Room"

Griffey and Cornelius shared the mission of expanding black empowerment on the business side of the music industry, and Griffey encouraged artists and producers towards ownership of their product. SOLAR’s offices included in-house studios and rehearsal space, and Griffey shared the resources openly, providing studio space to LA Reid and Babyface (who bought the building for LaFace records when Solar folded), Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and Dr. Dre and Suge Knight as they were getting Death Row off the ground. In fact, The Chronic was recorded in SOLAR’s studios, and the Deep Cover soundtrack, which introduced the world to Snoop Dogg, was released through the label.

THE AWARDS SHOW

Cornelius’ vision continued to grow, and he launched The Soul Train Music Awards in 1987 as the first awards show devoted specifically to black entertainment. As with Soul Train, Cornelius wanted to create something that didn’t exist; a platform to celebrate black creative excellence. “We (black people) tend to get ignored as a group of creative people,” he told the Chicago Tribune before the inaugural awards broadcast. “Black music is too big and too powerful to not have its own awards show. It’s overdue.” Black music was indeed fighting for proper recognition at the major awards shows, even in black music categories (George Michael scandalously won best R&B/Soul Male at the 1989 American Music Awards) and hip-hop wouldn’t be a Grammy category for two more years. Before the BET Awards existed – before BET was even a national network – The Soul Train Music Awards provided a place for our artists to shine.

Radio executives, music producers, and recording artists voted for awards in 12 categories, and winners were presented with a trophy modeled after a traditional African mask.

Dionne Warwick and Luther Vandross shared hosting duties for the first awards, and for years the event drew the biggest names in black music, entertainment, and even sports to the celebration. Frequent attendees included Janet Jackson, Anita Baker, Magic Johnson, Mike Tyson, Eddie Murphy, even Michael Jackson just months after pulling a no-show at the 1990 Grammys.

Hell, Whitney met Bobby at the Soul Train Music Awards!

The growth of the MTV Video Music Awards and BET Awards created challenges and a bit of an identity crisis for the Soul Train Music Awards (and the spin-off awards show, Lady of Soul, which aired the same weekend as the VMAs), but they’ve found their lane again. The Soul Train Music Awards are now branded for the old heads – or at least the old souls. They provide a destination for folks who don’t know who any of the “Lil’s” are, want to dance and sing along to songs they know, and only watch the BET Awards for the legend tributes and twitter commentary (like me).

THE SOUL TRAIN LINE

People who have never seen a single episode of Soul Train know the Soul Train line; it’s become bigger than its origin. There’s an unwritten rule that when a large collective of black people is gathered for celebration, some type of group line dance formation must happen. Sometimes it’s a slide or a hustle, sometimes it’s the Soul Train line - and when those two rows of people form, you know you gotta have your best moves together to come down the center. It has become a cultural institution, referenced in countless TV shows, movies, and videos.

Cornelius created the line to highlight the dancers, and as the dancers were the true stars of Soul Train, the line was the centerpiece of the show. The Soul Train Gang continuously upped the ante over the years with props, costumes, and tricks to maximize their moment.

Cornelius came down the Soul Train line only once in the history of the show, with former Supremes member Mary Wilson, shocking dancers and viewers alike because he was always so controlled and cool. Don dancing and laughing was the rarest treat.

THE PERFORMANCES

Of course, the heart of Soul Train was the performances. In the first season, Cornelius hustled to book established talent, but by season two the show was a must-visit for any black artist, and eventually also for white artists with black audiences.

It was especially essential for those acts who didn’t have a mainstream draw and couldn’t easily get booked on shows like American Bandstand. Conversely, at a point in the ‘80s, large pop-leaning black artists like Prince, Michael Jackson (although he’d come to the awards) and solo Lionel Richie were discouraged from appearing on Soul Train because it was too black. The obsession with crossover appeal was a thorn for Cornelius. He vented his frustration in an interview around the show’s 20th anniversary. “Why is there the phenomenon of a black person doing something so well enough to be accepted by a mass audience having to belong to another culture?” In the show’s golden years, however, before booking wars between music programs and when there was no Arsenio or Apollo, the biggest stars of R&B, soul, and funk would regularly grace Soul Train’s stage.

Auntie Gladys and the Pips set the tone for the show with “The Friendship Train:”
This train stands for justice,
This train stands for freedom
This train stands for harmony and peace
This train stands for love
Come on get on the friendship train

Michael Jackson debuted his first signature move on the Soul Train.

Al Green was one of a handful of artists who Cornelius let perform live instead of to track, and he always had his run of the show. Even with one arm in a sling.

Berry Gordy and Rick James strategically decided not to use Teena Marie’s image on her single and album covers – they didn’t want the fact that she was white to distract from her voice. Her Soul Train performance was her big reveal.

Over the years, Cornelius was increasingly and visibly uncomfortable with hip hop acts on the show. No doubt the dominance of hip hop in popular music led to him finally stepping down as host in 1993. But in the earliest days, rap still felt like dance music. I can’t believe they let the whole seven-minute edit rock.

For almost 20 years, Soul Train was black culture, packaged into one hour, once a week. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, as larger TV platforms for black music emerged and more mainstream platforms embraced black music, Soul Train became less influential. But the show’s Golden Era and largest period of impact – from 1974 to 1987 – lives on in “Best of Soul Train” reruns, packaged by Cornelius in the ‘90s, and still airing occasionally on TV One, Centric and Aspire. The shows are a vibrant, colorful time capsule. A love letter to blackness. Rumors floated for several years that Nick Cannon, who hosted Soul Train for a stint and in many ways is Cornelius’ heir apparent, was reviving the show. But it may serve us best as the cultural archive it is. “When the aliens come in about 2000 years and they want to see what was going down in black life, they can watch all the episodes of Soul Train,” Cannon told VH1 for their documentary, Hippest Trip in America. “That’s how we got down.”

--

#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.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Stacy-Ann Ellis

Meet Koffee, The Rising Jamaican Star Who Is Hot Like A Thermos

Back in 1962, a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Robert Marley recorded a song called “One Cup of Coffee” and went on to take reggae music around the world. Fast forward 55 years to 2017, when a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Koffee dropped her first record, “Burning,” setting her on a path to become the most talked-about new artist in dancehall reggae right now.

Koffee got her big break when veteran singer Cocoa Tea invited her onstage at the January 2018 edition of Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s biggest roots reggae festival. “She name Koffee and me name Tea,” he quipped, calling her the “next female sensation out of Jamaica.” The artist born Mikayla Simpson doesn’t actually like coffee though—she prefers hot chocolate.

After graduating from Ardenne High, the same school dancehall star Alkaline attended, Koffee turned her focus to music. She shot a live video with new roots superstar Chronixx at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios, then dropped her breakout single “Toast,” produced by Walshy Fire of Major Lazer fame. That video has racked up 10 million+ views and made the artist, who stands just over five feet tall, a very big name on the island. Now signed to Columbia UK, Koffee will release her debut EP Rapture next month.

“Mi only spit lyrics, don't really talk a lot,” she states on the track “Raggamuffin.” But when Koffee turned up to VIBE’s Times Square headquarters, bundled up against NYC’s February chill in a hoodie, thermals, and Nike x Off-White sneakers, she opened up about her musical journey, the power of gratitude, her surprising inspirations, and how she plans to spend her birthday.

--

VIBE: I haven’t seen you since your EP listening in Kingston. Congratulations on an impressive body of work. Koffee: Thank you. I feel humble and proud at the same time. I really put a lot of thought into the EP, the way I structured it, and the content, the lyrics. It really means a lot to me, so I appreciate you saying that.

It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished since Cocoa Tea brought you out on Rebel Salute. Yeah, and that was only a year and a month ago!

So how did the link with Cocoa happen? Actually, it happened through Walshy Fire. After my very first single “Burning,” Walshy reached out and sent me some riddims, in hopes of us working together, which we ended up doing. We were supposed to meet up at a studio in Florida and when we went there Cocoa Tea was already in the building. We were like, “Wow, Cocoa Tea!” Because Cocoa Tea is a reggae legend for us in Jamaica. Walshy actually introduced Cocoa to some of my music, and Cocoa was like, “Wha? Mi gonna bring her out on Rebel Salute next month!” This was in December, and Rebel Salute was in January.

Timing is everything. Rebel Salute made a huge difference. It opened me up to a lot of opportunities. Even today a lot of places that I go, people remember me from there. I was doing music before. I’d done a few shows here and there, but the audience at Rebel Salute is very important. It’s an epic stage to present yourself.

Were you nervous? Just before going out on the stage I was backstage pacing back and forth. I was trying to keep warm as well because it was chilly that night. But I was really nervous because it was my first time being in such a light.

Do you think being so young has helped you? Like, you may not overthink everything. I think you have a point. Because I’m young, my mind is a bit more pure, or uncorrupted. Experiences do have a way of taking away your mental space and the things you’re willing to try. Staying in “the comfort zone” is the most comfortable thing, but sometimes pushing yourself to step outside of that will help you overcome your fears. That, and just the drive and motivation. I definitely try to keep challenging myself.

Reggae has always been a male-dominated industry, but female artists are definitely on the rise. How do feel getting catapulted into that category? I feel like it’s a big responsibility, and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So I don't look at it as, “Oh, I’ve made it.” But I acknowledge that I’m in a position where I have a responsibility now to fulfill and to pull through. It just pushes me to work harder, make more things happen, and just keep it going.

I love the line in your song “Raggamuffin” where you say, “Mi give them heart attack inna mi halter back.” Was that inspired by Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Rankin’” from the ‘70s? Yeah, I love that song. That’s the thing, I would say that every artist is an influence to me. Growing up, I would hear these songs being played by people next door, down the road, all around. Just in the Jamaican environment on a whole. So those songs definitely do have an influence on me, the messages from those times. Once you hear it, it’s in your head. You know it now and it really makes a difference in how you think, how you speak, and everything.

When people think of a female dancehall artist they usually think of colorful hair, long nails… But you seem to have your own swag. How would you describe your style? I would definitely say unique, but at the same time, it is natural to me and not calculated. I don't put a name to it and say, “I’m gonna be this way.” I just kind of flow and whatever you see is me doing what I feel. Like, I’m not sure what these pants are, but I bought them in Berlin. I got this hoodie in the UK—I’m not sure what brand this is either. I was just trying to keep warm. My friend Ayesha from the UK styled me with this top recently for a shoot.

There’s a line on “Burning” where you talk about “Koffee pon di street, tank top inna di heat / Jeans pants an’ Crocs / No socks pon mi feet / Knapsack mi a beat / Well pack up an’ it neat.” Was that your real-life dress code in 2017? Yeah, I remember at that time that’s how I used to roll. You know in Jamaica it’s hot, so I probably had my tank top and my jeans on, or my shorts. And I had this one pair of grey Crocs that I just wore everywhere. And I always have my knapsack. So yeah, that was my reality at that moment.

How far away does that feel, now that you have a stylist and travel the world? That’s amazing. It’s a transition that’s really beautiful and something I really appreciate.

I have a feeling you’re going to re-introduce words like “appreciate” and “give thanks” into pop culture. I hope to start a wave of gratitude. Even by writing that song “Toast,” when I say “We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to,” it reminds me to be grateful. I aspire to be humble and I pray and ask God to help me be grateful. I try to maintain it and I hope that will inspire other people to do the same.

Let’s talk about “Toast.” On the chorus, you say “We nah rise and boast.” But then again, a lot of reggae and dancehall artists are very “boasy.” That’s part of the culture. When I say “Wi nah rise and boast” it means that no matter what happens along the journey, we’re still gonna remain the same. We gonna big up we friend and hold a vibes. I’m just making it clear that we never come fe hype.

You can spit pretty fast, but I feel like some people may be missing some of the things you say. But if you listen carefully you’re talking about real things. Thank you for noticing that. When I wrote “Raggamuffin,” a lot of my musical influence came from artists like Protoje and Chronixx. Chronixx has basically been an advocate for the youths, so his message had an impact on me. When I was vibing to the beat, I wanted to cover myself, cover my country where I come from, good things and bad things, and the music, reggae itself.

Growing up, did you see inner city kids not being looked after by their own government and their own people? Most definitely. I wouldn't say that the government is responsible for the lives of everybody as citizens. But there are some general things that need the government’s attention and they don't pay the attention that they should. They'd rather focus on things that can garner income. There are roads that need to be fixed in places that tourists don't necessarily visit. And nobody cares about those roads. Minor injustices, major injustices—just things that really need to be spoken about so that people can think about it and look into it.

BDP used the term Edutainment—education and entertainment. Is that something you present in your music? Yes, it’s definitely something I aim for. I think that it’s important to keep people interested enough to want to absorb what you are saying. And then it’s equally important to present something that is worth absorbing. Something productive, something inspiring, motivating. Just mixing both so that you have their attention and you’re also delivering something that’s worth their attention.

You were still in school when you did your song “Burning.” As a new artist did you have to convince the producers to work with you? Gratefully, no I didn't have to convince them. Because I did a tribute to Usain Bolt before that. I wrote a song with my guitar titled “Legend” and posted a video of me performing it with my guitar on Instagram.

Usain came across it and reposted it, so that garnered a lot of attention. People from the music industry reached out to me, and in that group of people was Upsetta records with their Ouji Riddim. They sent it to my first manager like, “Let’s see what she can do” and so forth.

There’s this thing in Jamaica called Sixth Form. It’s like you graduate high school and there’s an extra two years that you can do as like a pre-college. I applied for it and didn’t get through. Right after that, I did the tribute to Usain Bolt and then Upsetta sent me the Ouji Riddim. I was in a state of mind where I felt disappointed. I felt the need to motivate myself, so I was like “Come with the fire the city burning!”

How does your mom feel about all of this? I started writing lyrics at 14 years old, but she didn't find out until I was 16, when she saw me perform at a competition in school. I invited her there and she was taken aback, like, “Wow! So this what you've been doing?” (Laughs) She wanted me to do academics like every parent wants. And she was little disappointed when I didn't get through to Sixth Form. But over time, as I wrote more and performed more, she began to trust my talent and just trust the process. So she started appreciating the music and now she's fully on board.

What did your mother think of “dancehall pon the street,” like you sing about in your song “Raggamuffin”? As you know I’ve been living with mommy since I was a baby up until I was 17, so being under her roof I didn't go out much. I was always in the house just chilling and stuff. I know that there’s a dance on like every corner. lf you are driving, you always hear music playing. You have the oldies dancehall, you have the new dancehall—everybody just hold a vibe. That’s basically where that line comes from.

Do you go to dances now? I’ve been going to a few parties and getting out, but I haven't been to like a dance dance. I’ve been to Dub Club, you get some really good music there. But Dub Club is like a relaxed kinda vibe.

You recently performed at Bob Marley’s 74th birthday celebration in Kingston. Do you still listen to his music? Most definitely! Bob has set such a great and amazing foundation for the music, the industry, the genre itself, the country, the youth... He’s set such a great example that you haffi really learn from it and take a lot from it so that you know where you’re coming from. You haffi understand how to execute in honor of such people.

What are some of your favorite Bob songs? Well, I performed “Who the Cap Fit” that night, so that’s one of my favorites. And I like “Is This Love” and “Natural Mystic.” That’s just a few.

I know that’s a hard question. What about a dancehall legend like Super Cat? Hmm… “Mud Up” woulda be my favorite Super Cat.

Really?! Yeah, because of the flow he has on it, not necessarily the content. See, I’m from Spanish Town. Jamaicans on a whole, we like vibes. We like lyrics that, as we would say, “it slap!” It touches you, and really hits that spot. So I listen to a lot of different things, and the lyrics that I listen to aren't always conscious. But what I derive from music is not necessarily the message. Sometimes the flow that you’re hearing, that’s the wave for the moment. It may not be the best for the youth, but that’s what people like to vibe to. So you take that vibe, put a positive message to it, and that’s the spin. So I listen very widely.

One of my favorite songs on your new EP is the “Rapture” remix. It was dope that you got together with Govana on that. When I first wrote “Rapture,” Govana had recently done a song called “Bake Bean” that took off in Jamaica. When him drop that, it’s like the flow really resonate with me. I was like, “This is dope.” So when I did “Rapture” I was listening back to it and thought I should probably try to get Govana on this track. And it turned out so sick!

That’s cool to have the credibility where other artists respond to you like that. Because I'm sure it’s not always that easy. No, it’s not always easy. Me haffi give thanks for the way people have been responding.

So no one has kissed their teeth and said, “Nah man”? (Laughs) No, not yet. (Laughs) But what I have to appreciate is just when another artist really listens and pays attention. Sometimes an artist can be good and they don't get the response or the attention that they deserve. Some people don't want to listen, so I give a lot of respect to who is willing to listen.

Well Govana has given you that “crown” in his verse, which reminds me—how did the song “Throne” come about? I remember Walshy sent me that riddim in the first batch of riddims that he sent me. The riddim for “Toast” was also in that batch, but I started with “Throne.” It was basically like a challenge for me. I was like “How am I gonna spit on this?” Because the riddim sounded so dynamic. I was like “mi haffi mash this up!” Hence the fast spit-fire kind of vibe.

What music are you currently listening to on your phone? I don’t listen to my own songs that much. I’m vibing to Mr Eazi. I’ve been going in on the Afrobeats. Burna Boy. Smino the rapper. And I’ve been going in even more on Bob Marley.

Well, it’s reggae month right now. So there’s lots of legendary birthdays—Bob Marley, Dennis Brown. That makes the month even more significant! By the way, I’m born in February also. (Laughs) February 16th.

Happy Earthstrong! Were you keeping that quiet? I just remembered. I’ll be 19!

Wow—you’re gonna be out of the teens soon. What you gonna do on your 19th birthday? Wowwwww—I dunno. I’m gonna see when I get to Jamaica which party. I’ll probably just try and go to a dance or something. That ah go be mad!

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Solitary Alignment: 5 Self-Affirming Reads For Single Ladies On Valentine’s Day

Ahh, the Feast of Saint Valentine—the Hallmark holiday that strikes us with its arrow each year, for better or for worse, depending on your bae status. While the romantic holiday is adored and celebrated by many, if you’re still reeling over, say, your ex’s refusal to commit, chances are Feb. 14 is more of a heartache for you than anything.

But as a wise woman once said, “If they liked it then they should’ve put a ring on it.” So whether V-Day has you scared of lonely or sulking over a lost love, as another wise woman once said, they “would be SUPER lucky to even set eyes on you this Valentine’s Day. That’s it. That’s the gift.” Shout out to The Slumflower.

Sure, having a bae on Valentine’s Day is cool, but so is reminding yourself why you’re just fine without one (cue Webbie’s “Independent”). In fact, single folks have better relationships overall, according to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. You know how the old adage goes: love yourself before loving someone else.

For this Valentine’s Day, VIBE Vixen rounds up a nourishing list of books for our sisters doin’ it for themselves. Consider this your reminder of how badass you are—because you are! Oh, oh, oh. *Beyoncé voice*

Continue Reading
Johnny Nunez

'So Far Gone': Re-Reviewing Drake's Iconic Mixtape 10 Years Later

“Draaaake?! Draaaake?! Aubrey Graham in a wheelchair... Draaaake?!”

Soulja Boy’s viral rant, while hilarious to 15 million viewers who watched The Breakfast Club interview, seems almost silly to contemplate now in a musical climate so easily dominated by the OVO frontrunner. But in 2009, at the release of Drake’s breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, Soulja’s questions of Drake’s influence and placement on the hip-hop spectrum actually mimicked the inquiries fans may have been asking at the time. Even Drizzy seemed to share those same contemplations on the project as he reflected his newfound stardom and the future that would unfold as a result.

So Far Gone, however, diminished those ounces of doubt. Ten years later, the 18-track project still comes together as one of the most cohesive mixtapes of this decade and has become the building block to one of the sturdiest foundations of a hip-hop artist to date. Revisiting So Far Gone and taking its temperature anew, we get a glimpse of how the personas of the emotional rapper came to be such inescapable and successful forces within the music industry at that time.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages [email protected] a decade ago you were scared to share your [email protected] a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s [email protected] a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity [email protected] a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club [email protected] a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly C[email protected] a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday [email protected] a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that [email protected] a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my [email protected] a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a [email protected] a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from [email protected] a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life [email protected] a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence [email protected] a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas [email protected] a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to [email protected] a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:27am PST

With his follow-up to Comeback Season (2007), Drake interrupted the hip-hop landscape with introspective songs that played up relationships instead of violence and street life through a healthy mix of confident raps and charming vocals. The idea of “emotional rapping” was so novice that it seemed uncool or too feminine in a male-dominated genre (Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings, Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and J. Cole’s The Warm Up also created noise at the time), but Drake’s ability to reach his female audience while still resonating with the masses was irrefutable. The somber tone of “Sooner Than Later,” sung in his lower register, perfectly conveys his efforts to reach an estranged lover before she’s gone for good. “The girl or the world? / They say someone gotta lose / I thought that I can have it all, do I really got to choose,” Drake ponders on the record.

In addition to lyrical content, Drake’s audacity to sing on heavily R&B-inspired tracks is unmatched. We saw that on “Houstatlantavegas”—possibly the genesis of his infatuation with strippers (“Hey there, pretty girl/You know, exactly what you got/And I don't blame you at all/You can't resist it/Especially when the lights so bright/And the money so right/And it's comin in every single night,” he crooned)—a seductive song that listens as an open love letter to a mysterious working girl. The romanticization of this woman is reminiscent of T-Pain’s 2005 single “In Luv With a Stripper,” but it seesawed back and forth between velvety refrains and confident bars that captured the allure in a way that felt both sexy and humanizing. The girl was no longer just a stripper, but one who dreamed of making it out of her hometown.

His singing may have seemed comparable to Kanye West, who had just released his predominantly auto-tuned album 808s & Heartbreak just a year before (Drizzy actually sampled Kanye’s “Say You Will” from the same album, flipping it to be a rap track). Even so, Drake dared to pair his vocals alongside talented voices within the R&B space, proving that he could sing just as much as he could rap. “A Night Off” was an incredibly bold and ambitious move. Drake had cojones to pair his sensuous crooning with the high notes of a certified songbird like Lloyd, but somehow it worked. This was the vulnerability that would give him his “Heartbreak Drake” persona, and he won for it.

While his vulnerability would be his gateway into the industry, Drake wanted to remind fans that he was still very much a rapper and a force to be reckoned with. In comparison to “A Night Off,” Drizzy flexed his flows on “Successful,” while Trey Songz held down the chorus. The materialism that was an undeniable 2009 rap music theme stood on the forefront as the eerie harmony led into Songz’s hook, fully encapsulating the desperation of a rookie attempting to overcome struggles and bolster from nothing to everything.

A seasoned Drake would surely not equate his success to simply h*es and cars, but its message, while simple, was honest and provided insight into a naïve conversation on what fame meant to a newcomer. Drake went harder on “Uptown,” though. The rapper had no choice to flex cocky bars over the Boi-1da-produced beat in order to keep up with its A-list features, Lil Wayne and Bun B.

This reminder of Drake The Rapper was also prevalent in his sampling. He demonstrated his understanding of hip-hop’s rich history on songs like “November 18th,” where DJ Screw provided the perfect assist with a chopped and screwed sample of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right” (which also borrowed from Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 single, “Warning”). Although the track held a lot of weight in its instrumentals, Drizzy forged his own story by illustrating the day Lil Wayne called him, which in turn changed the course of his fate. Likewise, a purely-rapping-no-hook Drake over Jay-Z's original “Ignorant Sh*t” on his version, “Ignant Sh*t,” is quite nice. Yes, breaking away from the usual blueprint of breaks and harmonious choruses makes it teeter on the exhausting side, but the song’s lyrical content was a time capsule of the last decade (“Rest in peace to Heath Ledger, but I’m no Joker”).

The entirety of So Far Gone set the pace for Drake’s career in the years to come, but the tape’s final track, “The Calm,” foreshadowed his position in the landscape of hip-hop the most. “Leader of the new school, it’s proven and it’s known / I’m sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne,” he prophesied. The electronic and muffled beat leads in to Drake’s reflection about a sense of alienation in the industry and his personal life that surely has continued well into the 2010s. While he is now one of the most commercially sought after talents in pop culture, his artistry has often been questioned by his musical peers. But even then, like the song said, Drake has always known that things were going to work out in his favor: “Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long.”

Continue Reading

Top Stories