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Alberto E. Rodriguez

Music Sermon: Groove Me - The Women Behind The Early ‘90s Dance Legacy

In the early ‘90s, music videos were all about high power choreography, and women were the creative talents responsible.

If the category is “women in ‘90s music videos,” the first response that probably comes to mind is, “video vixen.” Hip-hop rose to mainstream prominence in the late ‘90s, and along with it came big budgets, high gloss videos, with stunning sirens at the forefront.

But in the early ‘90s, music videos were all about performance. Visuals were high energy with power choreography, and women were the creative talents responsible for the most crucial element of the culture. We danced hard as hell.

As hip-hop was finally gaining legitimacy at the beginning of the decade, hip-hop dance was still a new specialty. These women all brought new style and technique that had us clearing furniture and burning calories trying to learn routines watching Yo! MTV Jams after school. There’s a lot of crossover with these ladies, too. They were often in the same videos and on the same tours – an example of how small and elite the in-demand talent was.

In our continued celebration of Women’s History Month, we honor some of the key dancers and choreographers of ‘90s R&B and hip-hop.

Str8 Ahead

Bell Biv DeVoe are damn near the mascots for the hard-dancing ‘90s. But their dancers, Str8 Ahead, gave the group a significant amount of their sauce.

Mike Bivens spotted Tee, Nikita, Pluke, and Debra when he judged an L.A. club’s dance competition (they lost to the Pharcyde, who were then a dance crew called GTI). Mike told them he, Ronnie and Ricky were putting their own group together, gave them a new song, and asked them to make up a dance routine. The song was “Poison,” and their routine is the same one we all be ‘bout to f**k our knees up and run out of breath for on the dancefloor today. “That song was over four minutes, and people think that four minutes is a short time to dance at the level that we danced,” Debra shared in an interview. Famed New Edition choreographer Brooke Payne pushed the girls to get their stamina up, making them do the routine back to back, multiple times. ”No disrespect to today’s dancers, but the level of energy we had to give those songs…it was like dancing ten minutes in today’s time.”
Even Mike exhales an “I’m tired, sh*t” at the 2:50 mark.

The ladies were also partially responsible for BBD’s “mental” look. They styled themselves, and the guys started picking up on their bold and colorful mix of street style. The hiking boots BBD became known for? Str8 Ahead wore them first, and then copped them for the guys on request.

Sidenote: I am neither lying nor exaggerating when I tell you that my number one career aspiration at 13 years of age was to become a “BBD Girl.”

Leslie “Big Lez” Sager

Big Lez is the choreographer a lot of people don’t even realize they know. Her choreography days were done before the golden era, when top hip-hop and R&B choreographers became as well-known as their clients.

For those of us old enough to remember, her new jack moves are instantly recognizable. Younger folks know her best as the dancing silhouette in the Living Single intro.
I still don’t understand how in the world some of y’all spent years thinking this was Erika Alexander. She’s Big Lez for a reason. Erika is… Nevermind.

A college gymnast, Lez brought high-level athleticism to urban dance. If you were watching a video and someone randomly did a back walk-over or busted a handstand split, it was probably her. She was the queen of kneepad choreography, ‘cause you were gonna be all over the floor. Arms pumpin’, legs kickin’, ponytails swingin’.

Mary J. Blige was not a natural dancer, but thanks to Lez, early Mary is synonymous with getting it in. “The “You Remind Me” video? Lez. I’ve never had anyone to work me that hard before,” Blige has said of Sager, “but it was all for the good because… I mean, I was a dancer in that video.”

Lez was an Uptown Records favorite. Mary J, Heavy D, Jeff Redd, Aaron Hall…she was all up and through the label.

If you were paying attention, she was easy to spot in other joints, too.

In the back half of the decade, Lez stepped up from the background to the forefront as a host for BET’s Rap City and then became an on-air radio and TV personality/producer.

Rosie Perez and The Fly Girls

In Living Color was one of only three shows I can think of – along with Soul Train and Solid Gold - that made the dancers the center of the brand. It was unique to the other two because In Living Color wasn’t even a music-centered show.

Keenan Ivory Wayans brought former Soul Train dancer Rosie Perez on board off the heels of her appearance in Do the Right Thing to be the choreographer and ad-hoc music supervisor, a role she filled for four of the show’s five seasons. She choreographed eight routines a week, picked the music, and booked the musical acts.

A "fly girl” was once the ultimate compliment you could pay a New York chick. It meant she was gorgeous, hair was poppin’, accessories were poppin’, moves were poppin’, and she seemed completely unattainable. The Fly Girls embodied all of that. They captured an era in style and dance.

The dance troupe also served as a launch-pad for multiple careers – as did the show itself. Original Fly Girl Carrie Anne Inaba is now best-known as a judge on Dancing With the Stars. Eventually known as “BoomKack,” Laurieanne Gibson joined the troupe for the final season of the show. Jennifer Lopez joined in season three and is the biggest success story of the crew. She allegedly proclaimed her star power from day one, insisting on special attention from Rosie and others. “All of the girls were coming into my office complaining how she was manipulating wardrobe, makeup, and me, all to her advantage,” Perez wrote in her 2014 autobiography, Tales for an Unpredictable Life.

J. Lo and fellow Fly Girl Jossie Harris (who was also in the earlier Mary J. Blige videos) left the show and joined Janet Jackson for her phenomenal janet. album cycle and tour – but then Jennifer quit after the “That’s the Way Love Goes” video to pursue her own career.

Another side note: It’s always been interesting to me that Janet and Jennifer basically don’t talk about each other.

janet. was the first album where Jackson highlighted her dancers. Make note of one of Janet’s other dancers, Tish. She’s going to come up again in a bit.

Fatima Robinson

Fatima Robinson was planning to follow in her mother’s footsteps and open a hair salon in Carson, California when she started getting recruited from the club scene to dance in and eventually choreograph music videos. She wasn’t calling herself a choreographer, she was just making up routines. Then she bumped into Rosie Perez one night in a club bathroom, and Rosie encouraged her to secure the bag. “(She) said, ‘Fatima, you have to charge money, and you have to call yourself a choreographer.’”

Her first major shot as an official “choreographer” was a gig even seasoned pros would have killed for: John Singleton was directing Michael Jackson’s short film/video for “Remember the Time,” and tapped her for choreography. A then 20-year-old Fatima didn’t think she was up to it. Singleton told her, “Michael Jackson needs to learn some new moves, and you’re gonna be the one to teach him. So you gotta man up and do it.”

The result was one of the most legendary dance breaks in new jack swing. The clip also prominently featured the other sought-after dancers of the moment, like Lez, Jossie and Tish Oliver, who sometimes worked as Fatima’s choreography partner.

“Remember the Time” put Fatima in demand as a choreographer. She and Tish were on board for Bobby Brown’s follow-up album to Don’t Be Cruel, and choreographed “Get Away” and “Humpin’ Around,” plus the Bobby Tour. (Peep Lez and Jossie in the videos as well.) When BET brought Bobby’s story to screen last year, Fatima was on deck to make sure the moves were right.

Even though Fatima’s not classically trained, her moves always have a technical element. Precise hits and points.

The video for Brandy’s “Baby” earned Fatima her first MTV VMA nomination for Best Choreography. She was then nominated in 1997 for the tango scene at the end of Dr. Dre’s “Been There, Done That.” And then again in 1998 for Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.” With the exception of two years, Fatima was nominated for the VMA category every year between 1995 and 2004.

I really, really, really cannot explain to you how everything stopped – in a pre-digital era – when Fatima, Hype Williams, and Busta took Coming to America and made it hip-hop. It’s still brilliant, 20 years later.

She continued to show more creativity and innovation with each new project and was sought after when artists wanted something fresh and different. Besides “Remember the Time,” Fatima’s probably best known for helping Aaliyah craft her iconic dance style...

And choreographing Baby Girl’s last video.

Fatima began directing videos herself, working on movies starting with The Players Club, and even showed up in a Gap campaign. In time, Fatima was bigger than just a choreographer – she became a personality.

Years after the first encounter with Rosie Perez, Fatima met her in yet another bathroom. "She said, 'Hey, come here,'” Rosie told Elle magazine in 2014, “And I'm thinking, 'Oh god, is this going to be a ghetto fight?' And she said, 'Girl, I get paid.' God bless America two times!' I said. We hugged each other and became friends."

There wasn’t no hateration or holleration in the dancerie.

There are more names that deserve recognition, especially the second wave of dancers/choreographers that emerged in the late ‘90s and the ‘00s, like Laurieanne Gibson, frequent Missy Elliott collaborator Hi-Hat (Nadine Ruffin), and Ciara’s early go-to Jamaica Craft. Even now, after cinematic videos and fetching vixens have become part of the tales old heads spin about — the days of bottles and label budgets and the years of mandatory backup dancers are long gone —some of these women are still on the scene.

The next time you’re reliving the days of your free and easy youth, busting choreography from your favorite ‘90s music video, say a little thank you to the young women (most of them started in their late teens and early 20s) who made those moments happen. Make sure you stretch first, though.

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#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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The music group The Commodores and actress Donna Summer on the set of the Columbia Pictures movie " Thank God It's Friday" in 1978.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Music Sermon: Disco's Revenge - How Disco Demolition Night Sparked Evolution In Black Music

For years, disco was the black sheep of music genres. Characterized as schmaltzy and over the top, the sound of polyester suits, platform shoes and strobe lights. With this iteration of the dance genre in our minds, it was easy to understand how and why the genre met a swift end 40 years ago.

On July 12, 1969, the Chicago White Sox hosted “Disco Demolition Night,” now often referred to as the night disco died. Disco was the victim of a smear campaign, the effectiveness of which has only been seen again in music when 50 Cent destroyed Ja Rule’s career and Jay-Z’s “Death of Autotune” killed T-Pain’s. But those were artists. This was an entire genre - a culture, ended by 50,000-plus mostly young, straight white men who were tired (and afraid) of something that wasn’t for or about them.

Music fans and historians have had a collective realization over the last couple of decades that the anti-disco sentiment was all spin. Not really about the music, but who the music represented: Black, Hispanic, Latinx and LGBTQ+ people and women – basically everybody except the bros holding onto classic rock for dear life. By the late ‘70s disco had, in fact, become overly formulaic and cheesy, but in the early days the sounds were lush and rich, the “four on the floor” 120 bpm tempo was infectious and irresistible. Disco created new lanes for DJs and producers, pioneered the modern nightclub/lounge scene (for better or worse), and gave fans license to just dance and be free on the floor. Most importantly, disco provided a sonic backdrop for a changing America, and that’s why Chicago DJ Steve Dahl and his fans were determined to kill it.

In the early ‘70s, marginalized communities were gaining voice and visibility. The “end” of the civil rights movement with the 1968 sigining of the Civil Rights Act, the Stonewall Rebellion and subsequent repeal of a NY law forbidding men to dance with each other, and the rise of the women’s liberation movement changed the social conscience first in major cities, and soon the country. The rock and roll and protest music of ‘60s counterculture gave way to something new, especially in major urban metros: dance music.

On Valentine’s Day 1970, DJ David Mancuso threw an invite-only party at his downtown loft which turned into a weekly event, and eventually one of NYC’s hottest nightspots, The Loft. Mancuso’s parties were primarily meant as a safe space gay men, but attendance grew to anyone else who wanted to commune through dance. The Loft was the beginning of NYC disco club culture, and of the guest list-only nightspot. Studio 54 cranked that exclusivity up to create the velvet rope and table service scene we know today. Underground dance clubs like the Paradise Garage followed, niche community havens that served as an escape from the political and fiscal turmoil of the decade. Gay, Black, Hispanic, Latinx and some straight folks partied together all night, literally. The drugs and free love of hippy culture carried over to the scene, but there was usually no alcohol, until 54 opened. These first parties also broke some of the earliest disco hits, before they were called “disco.”

What we overlooked for years in disparaging convos about disco is that it was our music. Disco evolved from black and latin sounds; funk and soul with driving rhythm and layered instrumentation and production. James Brown’s band leader Fred Wesley once called disco “funk with a bow-tie.” It was smoother and more polished than funk, but more complex than straight soul. The proto-disco sounds that bridged the gap from soul to disco are largely attributed to two sources. The OG Barry White’s "Love's Theme" (which Barry composed and arranged; please put some respect on his name), is considered one of the first “disco” hits. That big sweeping sound he created with the 40-piece Love Unlimited Orchestra was a trademark of early disco songs. By the time “Love’s Theme” hit radio, it had already been in the clubs for about six months.

Philly Soul architects Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff are also credited as laying the foundation for the early disco sound. Philly soul was soul with a kick - a little extra percussion. A few more layers on the instrumentation. A little uptick on the rhythm. A bit more bass. It was danceable. You had to move!

MFSB’s “Love is the Message” (on Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International) became a favorite of the early disco set. It was the unofficial theme song of The Loft, a favorite of The Paradise Garage’s famous DJ Larry Levan, and fans of FX’s POSE will remember Pray Tell insisting the song be played nonstop at the balls for weeks, because it reminded him of the simpler, carefree years before the AIDS epidemic hit the community.

In 1972, Manusco found a super obscure import in a Brooklyn record store and started playing it at his parties, then other DJs started bootlegging it to play at their parties. Frankie Crocker, one of the most influential black radio DJs of the 70s, heard Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” and put it on rotation on NY’s WBLS. Atlantic Records - the one label that never missed a black music moment - licensed the song from Dibango’s original label and released a reissue. In the Summer of ’73, the song became the first official disco song to crack the Billboard Hot 100.

Disco wasn’t just Saturday Night Fever moves, especially pre-commercial peak. It was also pop-locking, the bump, roller skating jams - a lot of music we never stopped listening to, but just consider dance music, soul classics, cookout music, Soul Train line joints… We always just called it something else.

Disco also brought back hand-dancing (or couple’s dancing), which had disappeared in popular music after “The Twist” took over dancefloors in 1960. We’ve all seen old heads (or, if you’re my age, tried to get in with the old heads) getting their dance on and just watched in awe of how graceful, effortless and fun it looks. This ain’t nothin’ but the hustle.

Now that we’ve established that disco started as soul and funk with a little extra on it, let’s talk about how disco’s impact endures. Disco is short for “discotheque” - literally translated to "music library." Named as such because records were the focus at discotheques instead of live music. DJs controlled the room, and quickly became crucial to breaking a record. Songs started in the club, not at radio. DJ pools - which later became essential to hip-hop - were created during the disco era to get new songs and mixes out to the clubs as soon as possible.

In NY, DJs started remixing for the first time, extending the best parts (break beats, etc) of the hottest songs to keep the crowd in the moment (I still think NY DJs put together the most cohesive music sets because it’s in their DNA, but that’s another sermon), and eventually the 12” version was born. Or in the case of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You,” the 16:50 opus.

Disco also elevated the music producer. Rather than pairing one or two people/teams with an artist for the majority of a project, or automatically using label-affiliated producers, producers became sought after talent for their sounds. They were tapped for a song or two, or some had songs ready and just and needed to find the right vocalist. Producers were beginning to break artists, and the vocal stars were overwhelmingly black women. Church-bred black vocalists, to be exact.

Sounds were about agency, freedom, sexuality, belonging, surviving on their own terms, and they became anthems for the gay rights movement.

Disco allowed for a freedom of identity not seen before in popular culture. Androgyny, fluid and open sexuality, excess and camp. The more outrageous, the better, if that was your thing. Only in disco could an openly gay, COGIC-raised black man like Sylvester transcend from drag shows to superstardom.

As big as disco was growing in cities like NY, Philly and Chicago, it was still a somewhat niche culture. With disco came a level of glamour and opulence that the average American joe wasn’t ready to lean into yet… plus many still saw it exclusively as gay culture. Then, in 1977, “Staying Alive” and Saturday Night Fever changed everything.

Saturday Night Fever marked that tipping point all good things hit once the masses come on board. The movie framed disco around a straight, white (Italian) blue collar worker and white artists (the Bee Gees). Now it was palatable. The movie and soundtrack were both massively successful, and by 1979 disco had evolved from a cosmopolitan culture to a national scene. Discos started opening in small town USA, and labels rushed to have any artists who hadn’t dipped their toes into disco yet to record a dance track. Even hard core rock and pop stars - likeDolly Parton, Sinatra, the Rolling Stones - some with less success than others - all tried their hand. Rod Stewart hates disco hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” but it’s one of his biggest songs, so no matter how often he’s tried to take it out of his tours in latter years, fans want it.

Disney and The Muppets even got in on the disco craze, probably encouraged by Rick Dees’ 1978 utterly ridiculous, completely novelty No. 1 hit “Disco Duck.”

If we’re keeping it a buck, though, I had the Sesame Street Fever album, and it was a jam. Larry Levan ain’t just hop on any ol’ thing.

Ironically, the Bee Gees never set out specifically to create a disco sound, but they became synonymous with the genre. All of their songs for Saturday Fever had been recorded before the movie was made. But the affiliation defined them for the rest of their careers, and they hated it. "The media made it as if people were afflicted with {disco}," Maurice Gibb told The Washington Post when the group finally reunited to tour a decade later. "And then there were the Village People, 'Disco Duck' and 'Kung Fu Fighting,' all these stupid, silly records that were based on what we were doing but nowhere near it...Unfortunately, it cheapened what we did."

The phase of “stupid, silly records” is what comes to mind when most think of disco, but this was also when disco was at its peak. It was supplanting rock n’ roll as the sound of America, and straight white men started developing that anxiety that straight white men get whenever something isn’t centered around straight white men (see: everything happening in US politics right this moment). The anti-disco movement found an unlikely leader in a Chicago DJ named Steve Dahl. Dahl was a chubby, awkward guy with a baby on the way, when his station manager called him into his office on Christmas Eve 1978 to tell him the station was converting to an all disco format at the top of the year. It was like the moment in comic books when the otherwise normal person becomes a villain.

Dahl got another gig at Chicago classic rock station The Loop, but fed his animosity towards disco with daily segments where he’d “blow up” a disco record on air. He built a following, the Coho Lips: a group of young white men who, according to Dahl, “want(ed) to wear our t-shirts and our jeans. And we (didn’t) want to have to wear white three-piece suits to get laid.” (It’s like “economic anxiety”, but with clothes.)

He started hosting anti-disco events, first clad in Hawaiian shirts and then in full military uniform and helmet, where he’d lead enthusiastic chants of “Disco sucks!” as he broke albums over his head. The Chicago White Sox’s owner’s son was a fan, and suggested a co-promotion for a game: fans would bring a disco record to destroy in between double headers, for a discounted admission price of $0.98 cents. The event at first seemed a huge success - over 50,000 fans showed up with reports of 10,000 more outside trying to get in. But after Dahl appeared in an army jeep to set off the dumpster full of vinyl, things went left.

The firepower was stronger than anticipated and destroyed the field, pieces of vinyl started flying all over the place like missiles. The crowd descended from the stands, first in revelry, but then it became more like a riot. People set seats on fire, lit a bonfire in the middle of the field, threw bottles and albums. Players were barricaded in the locker rooms, staff was ordered to evacuate, and the police came to shut it all down.

People were rightfully horrified at the scene, recalling book-burning and dystopian warnings from Bradbury. But Dahl has consistently maintained that Disco Demolition Night wasn’t homophobic or racial, instead calling it a “joyous heat-and-beer-infused celebration” and “one of the greatest radio promotions in history.”

Chicago house pioneer Vincent Lawrence was a 15-year old usher at Comenski field that night, and remembers it differently. He first noticed that people weren’t just bringing disco records to destroy, but black music period. “There’s Marvin Gaye records. And Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life. Records that were black records,” he recounted on Gimlet Media’s Undone podcast. He tried to enforce a strict disco rule for the discount, but his boss overrode him. Later, as the melee grew on the field, Lawrence found himself confronted by anti-disco folks. “There were just angry people running up to me, getting in my face saying disco ducks, disco sucks,” he shared. “A kid came up to me and took a 12-inch disk and broke it right in my face. It was like a Marvin Gaye 12-inch or something like that. And I didn’t understand it, until much later, that that was just hate, and that they were directing it at me because I was black and the record was black.”

Disco Demolition Night became a national news story, and by 1980, disco was passe. The anti-disco militia had accomplished their goal; the genre practically disappeared from the airwaves, and punk, new wave and pop took over radio. But disco didn’t really die. It morphed. The underground house music scene immediately started bubbling in Chicago with a sound that was basically strippped down disco. In fact, house pioneer Frankie Knuckles called it “disco’s revenge,” but also thought, as he told music writer Jon Savage, a rebirth was necessary. “Those guys declaring disco being dead actually was kind of like a blessing in disguise, because (the culture) had to turn itself, because it‘d just gotten too much.”

Vince Lawrence, who was working at Disco Demolition Night to save money for a synthesizer, co-wrote and produced what’s considered the first house record, “On and On,” with DJ Jesse Saunders.

Some acts made the seamless transition to boogie music; the mellow, groovier side of disco.

Disco and house are the roots for so much of hip-hop, latin freestyle, techno and electronica, and now EDM. The name may have been tarnished, but the culture simply evolved, even as straight white men continue to fight the advance of anything “other” with all their might. At the core, great disco songs are just great songs. They inspire, they encourage, they speak to you, and they make you dance with abandon. How can anybody hate on that? Disco legend Gloria Gaynor summarized disco’s legacy for Vanity Fair: “Disco music is alive and well and living in the hearts of music-lovers around the world. It simply changed its name to protect the innocent: Dance music.”

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#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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Courtesy of Lion King

Chiwetel Ejiofor Proves The Real Star Of The 'Lion King’ Is Actually The Villain

The bad guy makes the movie what it is. He tests the parameters of your empathy, understanding, and grace, forcing you to see what you’re made of.

This particular bad guy lets resentment fester and rumble in his belly, as his mighty and righteous brother merits admiration and reverence from faithful servants. When it comes to brains, he knows he has the lion's share, but it’s the permanent mark in the shape of a dagger slicing above his left eye that reminds him his brother is the sole proprietor of brute strength.

It's this same villain who deputizes himself among the others also tired of begging for whatever's left to orchestrate a felony so sorrowful, it plucks at your Adam’s Apple, pushing your screams and cries back into your throat because what’s done cannot be undone.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s embodiment of the deceitful Scar is just that: a wondrous amalgamation of pain, defeat, rejection and will bursting onto the big screen in Disney’s live-action remake of the Lion King. Jeremy Irons’ 1994 version of the antagonist, while still deceptive, encapsulated a bit of theatrics and bounce. The only telltale sign of Scar’s venom was his flowing jet-black mane. Ejiofor’s 2019 portrayal is bloated with greed, anger and the need to control. The use of the word “bloated” is hyperbole, of course, as on-screen Scar is thin, almost emaciated and physically hungry for the dominance he feels he’s owed.

There’s no need to rehash the 25-year-old film. Moviegoers can be reassured to know director Jon Favreau stayed true to the movie’s heart. He often replicated important scenes detail for detail, including the quintessential opening sequence with the sun rising over the Pride Lands as zebras, antelope, rhinos and other wildlife assembled to meet and bow to the future king.

And while we know Mufasa dies, his live-action death stings even more.

As Hans Zimmer’s “To Die For” thunders, the wildebeest come running down into the gorge and your 10-year-old self tells Simba to run. Hope is still a possibility after Mufasa saves his cub and leaps from the stampede onto the rocks and climbs to the top. Then your 34-year-old self soothes your inner child, because what happens next—the grave offense Scar commits—is irreversible.

But what most miss about Scar, even after 25 years, is under all of his deplorable ways lies his one admirable quality: ambition.

Scar saw himself among the greats and envisioned a kingdom under his rule. He let nothing get in the way of his chosen destiny, including his weak older brother. Scar couldn’t and wouldn’t settle for being a knight, or a duke or a lord. Scar wanted to be king, so much so betrayal and murder were mere casualties in the race to rule Pride Rock.

Who among us has ever gone after our future with more reckless abandon?

Ejiofor understood this insatiable need to ascend to the greatness Scar believed he possessed, and he channeled that with his voice. The east-London native’s lilt took on whatever emotions needed to give way to Scar's true intentions.

Whether it be the flat, emotionless way he dismissed Simba into the den. (“I don’t babysit,” he sneers) or the way he let his words dangle in the air as he covertly described life as Mufasa's brother ("Others spend their lives in the dark...begging for scraps"), Ejiofor’s reinvention of Scar is more than just a voice over. It’s the inflated and arguably updated blueprint Irons left behind.

Ejiofor showed that to embody Scar meant more than reciting lines from a page. It meant whatever couldn’t be expressed through physical emotion seen on screen had to be demonstrated in the inflections, whispers, and passion of his voice. Scar’s lustful desire to outshine his brother and his brother’s memory was on full display whenever Scar was on screen and Ejiofor zeroed in on that, even from behind a microphone.

With fervor, and indignation Ejiofor’s portrayal of Scar proved why, without him, Simba would be nothing. Without Scar, Simba wouldn’t have to face his biggest foe or know how to. While Mufasa taught him compassion, loyalty, and love, Scar taught him to fight. Scar is a liar and a cheat and will stop at nothing to get what he feels rightfully belongs to him. And yet, as vile as Scar is, he's also the unintended teacher.

Ejiofor knew that deeper than his fury and his jealousy, Scar was more than just a bad guy. Scar was an instructor who made Simba and audiences examine themselves and Ejiofor’s performance underscores that. Does it feel good to give Scar his flowers? Of course not. I wouldn't spit on Scar even if he were on fire. But let’s face it, there would be no Lion King if Simba didn’t have to fight for his throne.

So to Scar and to all the bad guys who help us roar a little bit louder, thank you for the unintended lesson.

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Jonathan Exley

Michael Jackson's June/July 1995 Cover Story: 'ACTION JACKSON'

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June/July 1995 issue of VIBE Magazine.

Michael & Me

Reporting By: Omoronke Idowu, Shani Saxon, Joseph V. Tirella, Josh Tyrangiel, and Mimi Valdés

JIMMY JAM, producer/songwriter (worked on HIStory album) Michael's the most intense person I've worked with. For him, everything is about the music and how to make it better. He also makes work a lot of fun. He's a kid at heart—his office is not like a normal office. He has all the kids' toys. A lot of times we'd be in session, in the middle of playing a video game, and he'd be, like, "Well, we got to do this. But go ahead and finish your game, though—I don't want to mess your game up."

The thing about Michael is his talent. If you put Michael onstage without the explosions and the other dancers, he'll still command the stage.

There's a song called "Childhood" on the new album, and I think for the first time, Michael has put a lot of his feelings on record. That song, for right now, defines where's he's at—the way he feels about himself and the way people feel about him.

HEAVY D, MC/label executive (rapped on "Jam," 1991) I was in California the first time I heard Michael Jackson wanted to record with me. I was, like, Nah, no way, he's too big, it can't be true. Then I got a call from Michael's people at my hotel telling me he was interested. But I still wasn't believing it—I thought they were setting me up for a TV practical jokes show.

So me and my partner go to the place, and while we were waiting we were talking and cursing up a storm—I was thinking that if it was a blooper show, they wouldn't be able to use it. Then Michael called and said he was on his way. When he got there he was just, like, 'Hey, how ya doin?'"

Michael's just as regular as everyone else. We talked about all the normal stuff guys talk about. He's real smart. People forget that he's the most incredible entertainer we've seen in our lifetime. His name is Michael Jackson, not Super Michael Jackson. He makes mistakes just like all of us.

My favorite Michael Jackson song is "Music and Me." It's an old one, about him and his music, his love for music, and the time they've had together. It's like a song that would be sung to a girl, but it's all about music.

R. KELLY, singer/songwriter/producer (worked on HIStory album) I thought it was funny when I told Michael Jackson I didn't want to fly, and he was giving me reasons why I should. I kept looking him in the eye, and I kept saying "uh-huh, uh-huh" and "oh, I see," knowing all the time that I would not be getting on a plane.

Working with Michael was definitely not just another day at the office.

KENNY GAMBLE AND LEON HUFF, producers (the Jacksons' Destiny album, 1978) Gamble: When we took Michael in the studio to overdub his voice, he had so many different ideas about songs, writing, and producing, I told him he could really record himself. He was very curious about a lot of things. He's a creative, spiritual, caring person.

Nineteen eighty-one's "Rock With You" is the most what Michael's about. I really believe he and Quincy have a magic together. Michael is a miracle.

Huff: When Michael and his brothers first came to Philadelphia, Gamble decided to walk them from the hotel to the studio. As they were walking, they were rushed by a group of girls. The brothers escaped by going into a movie theater. Once they made it to the studio, these girls camped outside the studio—and this was for a six-month period. To see 100 girls laying outside a studio at 3 and 4 in the morning for Michael and his brothers was something else.

My favorite Michael song? Nineteen eighty-seven's "Show You the Way to Go."

NAOMI CAMPBELL, supermodel/actress/singer (appeared in "In the Closet" video, 1992) Michael is very involved and on top of everything he puts his name on. He's shy and sweet, considering all he's accomplished, but he's a prankster. When I was doing the video, we had water pistol fights. He's a perfectionist.

TEDDY RILEY, producer (worked on Dangerous and HIStory albums) He's the greatest. Innovative. Black.

SLASH, Guns N' Roses guitarist (played on Dangerous and HIStory albums) He's a fucking brilliant entertainer, a complete natural. He's the only guy I've ever met that's real—for that kind of music. I grew up listening to the Jackson 5. I used to love "Dancing Machine."

We've been friends for a while, so he just lets me do what I want to do. I get a basic framework, and I just make up my part and they edit it. I wonder sometimes what it's gonna sound like, [Laughs] but every time, they do a great job. He's very shrewd. He's got a great, sarcastic sense of humor. People always ask me, "Is he weird?" Well, he's different. But I know what it's like to be weird, growing up in the music business.

I have to admit working with Michael Jackson is different than working with your basic, gritty rock 'n' roll band. One time when I went to play for Michael, he walked in with Brooke Shields, and there I am with a cigarette in one hand, a bottle of Jack Daniel's in the other, and my guitar hanging low around my neck. And he doesn't care. That's not the way he is, but I don't have to change for him. He accepts me for what I am.

TATUM O'NEAL, actress/friend I never worked with Michael, but he and I had a really wonderful friendship when I was 12 and he was 17. He used to dance with me, we'd talk on the phone all the time, and he'd say how funny it was that I was 12 and I could drive and he was older and couldn't. Michael used to come to my house when I was living with my dad, and I remember him being so shy. Once he came into my bedroom, and he wouldn't even sit on my bed. But another time when he was over, he played the drums, my brother played guitar, and someone else played another instrument, and we had a jam session. I had the tape of it, but I lost it somewhere.

When I was 12, he asked me to go to the premiere of The Wiz with him, and my agent at the time said it wasn't a good idea, maybe because they felt he wasn't a big enough star yet. He never talked to me after that. I think he thought I just canceled, but it wasn't me at all. I was a child doing what I was told. I want you to print that, because I don't think he ever knew that. I lost touch with him because of it, so I don't really know him anymore. But I love him; he's one of the nicest, most innocent people I've ever met. I love "She's out of My Life" because I think it describes our friendship at that time.

DALLAS AUSTIN, songwriter/producer (worked on HIStory album) Working with Michael is a different type of work. You're pressured timewise, but not by creativity or money. So you're left with mad freedom. You'd think he'd be very controlling, but if he likes you enough to work with you, he wants your expertise, not just another Michael Jackson record.

"Heal the World" and "Stranger in Moscow" from the HIStory record are, like, the makeup of Michael. I think he's taken on the responsibility to make changes in the world. He's the only real superhero. Think about it.

LISA MARIE PRESLEY-JACKSON, former wife Michael is a true artist in every facet of its nature—extremely aesthetic and very, very romantic. This is who he truly is despite degrading comments made in the past by certain larva.

Michael, as well as myself, have been severely underestimated and misunderstood as human beings. I can't wait for the day when all the snakes who have tried to take him out get to eat their own lunch and crawl back in the holes from which they came.

We know who they are and their bluff is about to be called.

QUINCY JONES, longtime collaborator/legendary producer Michael can go out and perform before 90,000 people, but if I ask him to sing a song for me, I have to sit on the couch with my hands over my eyes and he goes behind the couch. He is amazingly shy.

What people forget about him is that for the first time, probably in the history of music, a black artist is embraced on a global level by everyone from eight to 80 years old. People all over the world, especially young people, have a black man as an idol.

Reporting by Omoronke Idowu, Shani Saxon, Joseph V. Tirella, Josh Tyrangiel, and Mimi Valdés

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