Busta Rhymes
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Music Sermon: The Underrated Genius Of Busta Rhymes

The word “underrated” is overused. Even though I regularly write about underrated artists, I try to stay away from the term whenever possible–but it’s appropriate for Busta Rhymes. While his cohorts from the Native Tongues collective are highly lauded and celebrated, especially A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, Bus–who enjoyed a longer and more commercially successful hit-making run than the others–has become the old uncle to hip-hop fans. Maybe it’s a case of familiarity breeding contempt, because he has continued to record, instead of falling into a DJ and production role with occasional features like Q-Tip, or releasing indie joints like De La, or pursuing his acting career and branching into other arms of entertainment like Queen Latifah, or just hitting the old school circuit with the classics like Dres of Black Sheep. But Busta was a pivotal artist in hip-hop. Because of his flow. Because of his live performance. Because of his features. Because of his videos. He raised the bar and helped broaden the scope of hip-hop at crucial moments in the genre’s evolution.

Busta’s been referred to as hip-hop’s “jester” several times over the years (primarily by mainstream outlets, but I think we know better). This is a severe misnomer; an indication of how Bus’s high energy, colorful presence, raspy growl and dominating smile were misunderstood. “That energy? It all comes from the appreciation I have for what I’m doing,” he explained in an interview for his debut solo album. “I love the music creating something from nothing, adding the beats, the instruments. When I put the song together and it's banging, that’s my best reward. And when I’m feeling that? Oh my God, I’m trying to make sure you feel the way I’m feeling.” The ability to convey that joy and excitement through every medium, to get you hype ‘cause he hype, is the uniqueness of Busta.

When telling Bus’s story, most start at “Scenario;” the game-changing posse track from A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory (Tribe’s defining album; I will die on that hill.) which heralded Busta’s forthcoming solo career, even if we didn’t realize it at the time. But if you’re walking into the story when Q Tip asks Mr. Busta Rhymes to tell us what he did in “Scenario,” hit stop. Then rewind until you see a Long Island high school cafeteria with a slim, short-haired Trevor Jackson, Jr hitting the East Coast Stomp, highlighted with red animated graphics. Now press play. This is where the story begins.

Busta Rhymes the Mighty Infamous

We’ll get to Busta literally roaring into hip-hop infamy on “Scenario” in a bit. Before he was the breakout rapper on that track, he was the breakout star of The Leaders of the New School…which is ultimately why the Long Island group broke up. But LONS was itself was a standout group, that became part of a standout collective, so Bus sticking out amongst all that excellence was no small feat.

Hip-hop was always youth culture, but it was also a heavy dose of the realism of life and actuality (shout out to AZ). LONS and the Native Tongues were part of a new subculture of rap groups accessible to young hip-hop fans who didn’t grow up in the streets, couldn’t relate to hood tales, and didn’t identify with braggadocio rap, but still wanted to see themselves reflected in the culture. Fans who didn’t rock gold chains and adidas, but sported backpacks (because they were still in school), did regular stuff like homework and hanging out at the mall, and maybe even had both parents at home. This was the early alternative rap movement – hip-hop with lighter fare. “That Long Island environment was some fresh air type sh*t, that spacy sh*t that gives you room to be who you are and want to be without all those urban hangups,” he told the New York Daily News in 1996. “We thought hip-hop was so damn raunchy all the time oppressive. We needed some party, universal, happy sh*t…. We were comfortable, cozy. We were able to focus on hip-hop on a fun level.”

And the fun was infectious. Some hip-hop historians credit LONS for the rise of backpack rappers – young artists who emerged through the underground scene by way of college and mixshow radio. “PTA” got heavy video play on every urban platform, and soon there were black kids with backpacks doing the East Coast Stomp with fervor everywhere. Busta told Ed Lover years later during a radio promo visit, “I wish I could get a publishing check from every ni**a that does that dance.”

All wasn’t good inside the group, though. Even before the Leaders recorded their first album, the group was having issues and had split up, with Bus going off to pursue a solo career. When former Tommy Boy A&R Dante Ross summoned Charlie Brown for a meeting at his new label, Elektra, the guys initially went without Bus – but Dante wouldn’t sign them without him. Busta came back for the sake of everyone’s dream, but he and Charlie were continuously in a fight for control and prominence in the group. Literally. “Me and Brown used to fist fight and be bleeding at the mouth before we (would) get on stage,” Busta revealed to Vlad TV while discussing his tumultuous relationship with Leaders, “and then get on stage and be suckin’ and swallowin’ the blood in (our) busted lip while performing so the audience wouldn’t see the blood leakin’ from (our) mouth. And smile in front like everything’s good, and get back offstage and finish the fight.” Ew, Bus. Ew.

Publicly, however, the group was solid. They even scored a No. 1 with their final single from A Future Without a Past.

Busta spent time and put in work with established acts of the era, including his mentor Chuck D who, along with The Bomb Squad, gave Bus and Charlie both their emcee names and the group’s name (they had to battle another up-and-coming group for use of the name; the losing group took the title Young Black Teenagers), but was especially tight with Tribe. ATCQ was his creative refuge when he was feeling constrained within his own group.

When Tip came up with the concept for “Scenario,” his idea wasn’t just to give LONS a look; it was a platform for Busta. Tip wanted to position him as next. “’Scenario’ for Busta was like his step-out [moment],” he later explained. “That was my purpose… because I thought he was ill.”
Tip wrote Bus’s early lines in the track, an introduction that keyed him up for his big finale. That moment changed Busta’s career, and I believe changed the weight and status of the posse cut’s anchor position.

Busta recounted the moment from his point of view to XXL around the track’s 20th anniversary. “(Q-Tip) handed me the ball. He was setting me up with an alley-oop. I could just dunk the shit on niggas. That was his idea. Once it got to the, 'As I combine all the juice from the mind,' that was me all day. He heard that 16 bars of the verse I said, he said, ‘Nigga, I’m gonna set you up to come in so crazy. That verse is so retarded! Nigga, I got to set that bitch up right.’ I was like, ‘Alright, big homie what you got in mind for me?’ He said, ‘I want you to say this line in my verse.’ I said, ‘Alright, cool.’ Did it and went into my shit. My life changed dynamically after that.”

The Leaders went on to do a second album, but internal tension continued. After “Scenario,” Busta was tapped for more collaborations. His energy immediately elevated everything, even just talking trash on an interlude.

His rapidly ascending star was a problem within the group, namely with him and Charlie, in part because Charlie considered himself the leader. The cracks became publicly visible, right up to the point of the group famously breaking up on air in front of Yo! MTV Rap’s cameras, mid-interview with Fab Five Freddy. Good news, Bus and Charlie finally reconciled in 2012.

Bus the Magic Dragon

Leaders split in 1993, but it took a few years for Busta to finally release his solo debut. For artists with heat and anticipation, that kind of delay can prove dangerous, however in that span of time Bus didn’t lose any energy or clout. Between LONS’ last album and his debut in ‘96, he had a look on another legendary posse cut, once again holding down the close.

From the first single of The Coming, it was clear that Bus was no longer an underground backpack rapper. He had graduated from repping the MTA-taking, still living at the parents’ crib, fresh out of school set; to pushing Lex’s through Times Square with Hype Williams budgets and major radio play. The years of 1993 to 1996 were a damn near time-warp sized leap in hip-hop, but Busta made the transition with no hiccups.

“Woo Ha” is the essence of Busta Rhymes in one record. It’s loud and disorienting and distracting - the track sounds like of like a distorted carnival calliope. It’s also fun, and almost annoyingly catchy. But it’s not silly. It’s a mistake to ever confuse Busta’s playful energy as silly (which is why I take umbrage with the “jester” descriptors). It takes skill to spit whimsical rhymes without just stringing a bunch of hat, cat, bat rhymes together. Busta and Missy Elliott both did that well, and they both translated it to visuals with great success. (Honestly, why more people don’t talk about the two of them as hip-hop’s creative twins is beyond me, but that’s another sermon). Hype’s fisheye lens was tailor-made for the two artists, and with his help, Busta’s first solo outing revealed that he wasn’t simply talented and animated, but a creative visionary. His delay was perhaps beneficial because he landed right at the beginning of the golden era of music videos.

Once Busta’s solo career was moving, it was full speed. Elektra had given him the Flipmode Squad imprint, and he was working not only on his own moves but building his camp. Between solo projects and Flipmode, he cranked out six albums in as many years before slowing down with his last two studio releases.

The Coming was a solid debut, but it wasn’t a classic. Really more of a follow-up from all his features; proof that his Busta-ness could sustain more than sixteen hot bars and some adlibs.

When Disaster Strikes announced his versatility and staying power. The first time I heard “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” on Hot 97, I was in my little cubicle at my first full-time job, and before the song was even all the way over, my friend and coworker called me from her cube down the hall, “That beat is so sick, I’m nauseous. I might throw up right now.” The beat was sick. More surprisingly, though, Bus had toned his flow down so we could appreciate his wordplay, and rode the Seals and Croft sample perfectly. This was a flow we hadn’t heard from him before – but he’d done it as a joke, after Puff and Q-Tip told him to chill with all the screaming on tracks because “b*tches don’t wanna do that sh*t all the time.”
This is such a great big homie/little homie story.

Then, the video dropped. Listen (motions you to come closer), I’m not supposed to curse, but that shit was. a. f***ing. moment.

No blogs. No social media. But everybody was talking about this amazing ass video. The theme, the dancers, the women, the costumes, the damn elephant! The combination of Busta, Hype, Fatima Robinson, and production designer Ron Norsworthy (who also designed the sets for “Woo Haa,” “Supa Dupa Fly,” “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” and “If I Ruled the World”) came together for a stunning, surrealist take on Coming to America. And while Bus hadn’t toned down his extra-large performance style, it was obvious this was grown man Bus. Established artist, comfortable in his space Bus. The outlandish fits were a little less outlandish - and tailored. They looked expensive. Plus he’d been in the gym, and his locks were intricately and immaculately styled. This was a platinum artist – even if he hadn’t hit the sales yet at the time.

Bus’s glow up didn’t change the playfulness and incredible imagination driving his art. His follow up single, “Dangerous,” came from an old Long Island Regional Poison Control PSA warning kids not to play with prescription meds. I know we have plenty of nursey rhymes-turned rap songs in the annals of hip-hop, but I’m still baffled at the mind that said “Yo, remember that commercial about drugs? We should flip that.” Oh, but that's why it's Flip Mode! (Imagine Weebay gif here.)

Bus and Hype delved into movie territory again for the video, borrowing from Lethal Weapon and The Last Dragon (Bus is such an obvious Sho Nuff). Part of the reason Spliff Star is the greatest hype man in hip-hop history (except for maybe Flavor Flav), is his ability to so perfectly play Arsenio Hall to Busta’s Eddie Murphy.

If you don’t care to give Bus credit for being one of the most agile and adaptable MCs of his time, you have to acknowledge the inspired originality in his videos. Again, the only person even touching him in ideas and innovation was Missy.

It’s not an accident that Busta is featured in two of the 11 most expensive videos of all time (two of the top three most expensive if you limit it to hip-hop). “What’s it Gonna Be” remains Hype Williams’ biggest budget. This is the kind of budget you get once you’re not just a rap star, but a crossover hit, a benchmark Busta had reached by his third album E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event).

Busta’s complete albums haven’t been super consistent - a reason he’s overlooked as one of the greats of the era – but his singles and videos rarely failed, until the early aughts.

Also, the Harlem Nights scene in this video is also incredibly underrated. Mo’nique was perfect.

The People’s Choice

Busta is a cameo MVP, for obvious reasons. From the time he shouted, “Oh my God” over a Tribe track, Busta has been a go-to choice when folks want to turn the joint up a little.

I mentioned two of the most expensive videos of all time. “Victory” was the second, more expensive one. What other rapper can you perch on a statue at the top of a towering building in some dystopian, Running Man-esque scenario, covered in feathers, and it seem perfectly normal? Like “Oh, hey Bus.”

Even when Busta is opening a posse cut instead of closing it out, he adds a little extra something. “Ante Up” didn’t exactly need any additional cranking up, but why not?

I’m guessing that Busta would consider his most significant career features – aside from “Scenario” – to be the four tracks he was part of for ATCQ’s comeback album, We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service. Also Tribe’s final album due to the passing of Phife Dawg, We Got It from Here…  reunited not only core group members – including original member Jarobi White – but also brought together “unofficial” folks, like Consequence and Busta.

Bus stepped in for Phife at the 2017 Grammys for the incredible performance of the timely and topical “We the People.”

The Showman and the Hypeman

As I said before, it’s a mistake to believe Busta is any less serious of an artist because of his humor and high energy style. He’s remained active in the game for the last 30 years because his love for the art is real. He once referenced a concept instilled by Chuck D: CLAMP. “That’s this thing he would say when we was trying to get on,” he told The Daily Beast. “(He said) ‘If you muthafuckas don’t got your concept, your lyrics, your attitude and appearance, your music and performance right, you don’t have a CLAMP on this shit.’ I took that, applied it to everything: Concept. Lyrics. Attitude/Appearance. Music. Performance.”

People who know Busta personally or have seen him live often rank him amongst the best live performers in hip-hop. Bus will give the same performance in front of 24 people as he will in front of 24,000. He boasted during promo for The Coming, “If I have to bark louder, I will. If I get on stage before the other man, I’m taking all that energy, just to make sure he don’t catch wreck.” And right next to him, keeping the energy going, is Spliff Star.

Spliff has known Bus most of his life, and worked with him his entire solo career. As the hype man becomes a relic of the old school and members of artist’s camps eschew the name, Spliff is proud of being both one of the last hype men standing, and one of the best to ever hold the title.

“If I was going to be the hype man, I was going to be the best hype man,” Star told VIBE in a recent interview. “I wanted them to remember my name. Spliff Star never dropped a solo album, and I’m still a household [brand]. When the books close on hip-hop, I hope I’m on one of the pages, even if it’s on the last page.”

It helps that Bus and Spliff are of the same mind about the importance of a tight performance, something that even the Leaders agreed on. Early hip-hop performances could be boring unless the MC had dancers and/or danced himself (like Big Daddy Kane and Heavy D), or was high energy (like L.L.), or just magnetic (like Eric B. and Rakim). The acts you knew would deliver an excellent show had added elements to keep the energy up. We joke about Flavor Flav now, but his energy paired with Chuck D’s commanding voice and the S1W’s military maneuvers added up to a hell of a show.

“When you get on stage, you’re supposed to give the people a performance. I’m passionate about mine,” Spliff added. “I want you to be like, ‘Yo, that light skinned n***a was whyling.’ I want to bring you that energy, so when you see me, you know what it is. And if you see Busta performing by himself, you know it can’t be the same if I ain’t there.”

The Big Homie

A major point of distinction between Busta and some of his contemporaries is his desire to bridge the gap between his generation and the new. While he doesn’t love everything he hears, he doesn’t dismiss current music as out of hand, either. Because of his own experience coming up under more seasoned artists, he believes in mentoring and helping new artists find their way. “Leaders of the New School, we had a bunch of artists in a clique called New School Society,” he has explained. “Then we broke up, I start my own shit: Flipmode… There was always a lineage. I’m always an advocate for putting out artists, breaking artists, creating legacies and careers – and being able to pass on the information, giving them some guidance. Something that we can be proud of.”

Past what most would consider his peak years, Busta collaborated with artists including Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, DJ Khaled, ASAP Ferg, O.T. Genasis and more, plus projects with his contemporaries, like The Abstract and the Dragon mixtape with Q-Tip. Some may argue he needs to sit down and chill, especially after he fell off stage a few years ago during a performance. Bus claims he’s not trying to keep up with the young cats, just stay connected. He’s not stopping yet, either. Producer 9th Wonder tweeted a couple of years ago that new Busta music is coming, and I personally have confirmation that he is, indeed, in the studio. He still loves this, and still wants us to feel how he feels.

In 1998, Tourè asked Busta what kept him motivated in his career. Busta’s response was that there was no other option. “I attribute that to having no Plan B. No other plan of survival. A sense of determination that’s so extreme, I can’t accept failure as an option. I dropped out of school in the tenth grade; I don’t know any trades; I don’t know any particular field of business. If I don’t win at this rap shit, then I’ma really be fucked up.”

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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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Music Sermon: The One Minute Hit - When TV Theme Songs Were Lit

The idea of sitting around the TV for appointment television is an archaic concept. Multiple devices with screens for everyone in your home plus the control of streaming has changed how we consume nearly everything except sports, award shows, and Game of Thrones (until tonight). But the children of the 80s very much remember when TV watching was still an event, cable was basic, and the networks reigned supreme. Back in that era of genuine primetime programming, our favorite TV shows came paired with 30-second to one-minute themes. But not just a random little ditty to open the show; these were genuine mini-songs. Verses, chorus, hook, and maybe even a reprise for the end credits.

Now, a drive for more advertising inventory coupled with shorter attention spans has rendered the true theme song a rarity; but in the cases where they do still exist, the songs continue to be a key part of experiencing the show (again, like Thrones). The theme song draws you into the world of the show, it sets the tone, and it stays with you after. And the theme song game wasn’t a space like the commercial jingle game where only folks in the game know who the players are. The theme show business has its own OGs, but there are also names we know well - acclaimed producers, artists and musicians who helped create TV music magic. As such, there’s also a lot of hidden music history and connections behind some of these joints. I have watched an inordinate amount of television consistently throughout my life - you will pry my cable cord out of my cold, dead hands - and I consider myself an expert on the TV theme song. I offer you my list of some of the most soulful, slappin’ and impactful examples of the majesty of TV theme songs from yesteryear.

Sanford & Son

There is literally no music space Quincy Jones hasn’t conquered, including television. Q was in movie scoring land when Norman Lear’s partner Bud Yorkin came to him about composing a theme for their new show, Sanford and Son. “He said, 'I'd like you to write the theme for it.' I said, 'Who's in it?' And he said Redd Foxx,” Quincy told Billboard. “I said, 'Man, you can't put Redd Foxx on national TV!” I had worked with Redd Foxx 30 years before that at the Apollo. We used to do the Chitlin Circuit. I used to write this music for him to come out with.”

Q composed “The Street Beater” without even watching the Sanford and Son pilot. “I wrote that in about 20 minutes,” he said in an interview about his work in television. “I just wrote what he looked like. It sounds just like him, doesn’t it?” The funky, rag tag, backwoods bluesy song was the perfect musical accompaniment for Fred’s surveying his junkyard as Lamont’s truck rolled up, “It was raggedy, just like Foxx.”

Good Times

Norman Lear was the goat of working-class American storytelling on screen, but his shows also had some of the most iconic theme songs – “Those Were the Days” for Archie Bunker, “One Day at a Time” has great lyrics if you pay attention, he even had Donny Hathaway singing about pre-Golden Girls Bea Arthor for Maude. TV producers often used the same writing and production teams for their shows' themes, and Lear often tapped the husband and wife team of Alan and Marylin Bergman, who got their break co-writing with Quincy on “In the Heat of the Night.”

But as I said before, don’t let the TV theme song credits fool you, the Bergmans are two-time Academy Awards winners and in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. That’s the kind of talent behind Good Times.

The Good Times theme is a negro spiritual (there’s a Hammond B3 organ in it; issa spiritual), and singers Jim Gilstrap, from Stevie Wonder’s backing group, Wonderlove; and Somara “Blinky” Williams, a former original member of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) Singers along with Andrae Crouch and famed session player Billy Preston, put some extra oil on it.

You don’t believe me when I say this is worship music? Watch this.

I really wanna know what the Bergmans knew about hanging in a chow line, though. I’m not even sure I knew that was the lyric before Dave Chappelle told us.

The Jeffersons

Before we move on from Lear sitcoms we have to pay respect to the best black TV theme song of all time. And before you argue with me, let’s please look at the stats: a 35-person choir, stomping and clapping - even double clapping! - mention of fish fry, and a reprise over the end credits with hummin’ like your big mama used to do while she was cookin’ on Sundays. Winner.

Even though it’s one of the best-known sitcom theme songs ever, what’s lesser known is that another Lear alum was behind it – Ja’net Dubois, aka Good Times’ Wilona Woods, co-wrote and sang the theme. Also, the male voice that joins her in the bridge isn’t Sherman Hemsley (although it really sounds like it could be him) but career backup singer Oren Waters.

Ja’net, who was a singer as well as actress, ran into Lear on the CBS lot one day and shared that she wanted to display her talent beyond acting. Lear partnered her with Jeff Barry to work on the aspirational Jefferson’s theme. Jeff had pop hits under his belt as part of producer Phil Spector’s stable; he wrote “River Deep - Mountain High.” He also wrote “One Day at a Time,” and later “Without Us,” Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis’ yacht-rocky theme for Family Ties.

Dubois later told Jet magazine she pulled from her own experience once she’d “made it” with Good Times. “I moved my whole family. I bought (my mother) a house, bought her a mink coat. I did everything, retired her. I did everything I ever promised her.” And you can feel Ja’net’s testimony coming through as that moving van makes its way across the Queensboro bridge and up the East Side.

Amen

Sherman Hemsley had the good fortune of being associated with two entries in the Praise Songs of TV (I just made that up) category. Amen’s “Shine on Me” is not only a rousing bop, it’s a forreal and actual gospel song. The theme was written, produced and played by the father of modern gospel, Andraé Crouch, and sung by gospel legend Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Sister Vanessa was backed in the TV version by the choir from Crouch’s First Memorial COGIC church. She later did her own version, but it didn’t have quite the same oomph when slowed down a little and without the full voices of a choir behind her.

Sigh… Imagine a time when a sitcom about a deacon in the black church with a whole gospel theme song was a primetime network hit. Also shout out to “There’s No Place Like Home” from 227, which preceded Amen on Saturday nights.

The Cosby Show

We’re going to set everything about Bill Cosby the man aside for a minute to talk about the show and its music. Agreed? Amen.

The Cosby Show has to be in this conversation, because over the course of the show’s history, the theme song and opening sequence became a hallmark of the series’ greatness, and it’s a prime example of theme songs being deeper than just something to play over opening credits. Every season, a new adaptation of “Kiss Me,” the theme written by Cosby and Stu Gardner (who also co-wrote the themes for A Different World and Living Single), opened the show. The opening sequence featured a Huxtable family dance showcase, changing as the kids grew and the cast core cast added, and sometimes subtracted. We were as anxious for the Cosby season premiere to see the new intro as we were to see the show itself.

Season 3 is when it started getting crunk, with a little Latin action. Auntie Phylicia was gettin’ it.

In Season 4 (my least favorite), “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” mania had made its way to the Huxtable family with Bobby McPheren’s rendition and a bit of a roaring ‘20s (and for the sake of the show location, we’ll say Harlem Renaissance) feel. Elvin’s first year in the sequence, Denise’s first year out.

Season 5 was a production. Literally, it was staged like a Broadway production. By now, the show was known for exposing diasporic art and culture and the people behind it to the world whenever possible, and that was the intention here as well, on the low.

The set design was a little South Pacific-esque, and costumes had a Caribbean flair reminiscent of some Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater pieces - appropriate since the movement was choreographed by Ailey great (and Boomerang’s off the chain creative director) Geoffrey Holder. Cosby’s high school classmate James DePriest, one of the first internationally recognized African American orchestral conductors, arranged the music, played by the Oregon Symphony orchestra. It was sweeping and gorgeous and I remember it being kind of a big deal. Second season with no Denise in the credits. I think she had left Hillman and gone Africa by this point. Or something.

Season 6 is my favorite. It was a party. The entire family was getting it in to a jam session take on the theme remixed with Junior Walker and the All Stars’ “Shotgun.” Even though the opening was set in front of the Apollo marquee, this was the Motown sequence. “Shotgun,” was a massive crossover hit, produced by Berry Gordy, and featured Motown’s famed session players, the Funk Brothers on instrumentals.

Welcome back, Denise. And hi, Martin and Olivia. Theo and Vanessa were hitting. that. heaux.

Ok, actually, Season 8 is my least favorite. Least favorite season, theme song, opening sequence, all of it. Here, I think, it’s clear that the show was past its prime. This jazzmatazz intro didn’t feel super fresh or creative, and Theo was trying to hit b-boy moves, and cousin Pam clearly wasn’t comfortable, and Vanessa looked like she just got engaged to a 40-year old ninja named Dabnis, and Clair still had her coat on because she couldn’t be bothered.

But on the cultural side, it was still in theme. The mural was created by kids at Harlem’s Creative Arts Workshop, although a legal dispute over art clearances kept this visual from being used as originally intended in Season 7. On the horn is Lester Bowie, a trumpeter known for his free jazz style.

A Different World

Obviously, we were paying a visit to Hillman next. “A Different World” is one of the best theme songs of all time – for Seasons 2 through 5 (also one of the best shows of all time – for Seasons 2 through 5).

Dawn Lewis, aka Jaleesa, co-wrote the song with Stu Gardner. She was originally supposed to sing it, as well, until whoever hired her to write the song realized she was also in the cast, and whoever cast her as Jaleesa realized she also wrote the song. The collective powers that be thought Dawn singing the theme would center her too much when the show was about Lisa Bonet, so they went to Al Green. Yes, the Reverend Al Green. A version of the “Different World” theme song sung by Al Green exists out there in the world somewhere, and I now have a life mission to hear it. Producers didn’t like it, though. They decided to go with a female voice, and pegged folk and blues singer Phoebe Snow.

As the show went into its second season, producers decided to take a similar approach as The Cosby Show and flip the theme every season with different artists and styles. Then Aretha Franklin recorded her version, and that idea was dead, because why would you ever ask someone else to sing behind Aretha. Debbie Allen, who had just stepped in as the show’s executive producer (Aunt Debbie brought A Different World out of the middling fare of its first season to the strong, black and relevant show we remember it as, but that’s a different Sermon) called Auntie Re personally, and then brought her whole team from Detroit to LA on a bus (because Auntie Re wasn’t gonna fly, chile). Then, TV history was made.

“I just know that she came in and hit it,” Allen told Vulture. “It wasn’t like she had to do ten takes, that’s what I know. She just hit it. That’s what I remember and then we all kind of hung out and had food together, you know — she loved our show which is why she did it.”

I’m low key surprised Aretha agreed to do the song since her ex-husband, Glynn Turman, joined the cast in Season 2 and she’s petty like that, but she also watched a lot of television and was a fan. When most think of A Different World, they’re thinking of seasons two and beyond. That iconic montage we’ve see recreated in tribute again and again, from SportsCenter to Grown’ish Season 2 promos. Nobody references car washes and hanging out outside of….a barn, I think? Where they at a farm for the Season 1 opening sequence? (You can tell some white people put that together – no shots).

Finally, the last season of A Different World was sort of “Different World: The Next Generation,” so they went in a new direction for the theme with a very non-Boyz II Men sounding Boyz II Men (I thought it was Take 6 for the longest), but Seasons 2 through 5 still reign supreme.

Different Strokes

On to a different show about different worlds. Remember I mentioned OGs in the theme song game? One of them was Alan Thicke. Yes, Robin Thicke’s daddy was not only lovable TV dad Jason Seaver, but also a professional theme writer. Thicke penned the tracks for a couple of sitcoms, including Facts of Life (with Robin’s mama Gloria Loring on vocals), but his thing was game shows. Your grandma has Alan to thank for the “Wheel of Fortune” theme. He not only wrote but sang “Diff’rent Strokes” (sounding a little like his son), and I mean, the song is perfect. The opening, the harmony build in the second verse, the bridge, the breakdown “…and together we’ll be fine, ‘cause it takes…,” the hum at the end of the closing credits version. You can tell from this one-minute jamalam that Robin got his blue-eyed soul honestly.

Speaking of the Chappelle Show again (there’s a Chappelle reference for everything in life), Dave closes out his famous White People Can’t Dance episode (Season 2, Episode 3) with a spirited performance of “Diff’rent Strokes,” going into a “Facts of Life” vamp, backed by Questlove and John Mayer.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Living Single

I’m putting these two together because they’re two of the last examples of the explanatory theme song for black prime time television.

The Quincy Jones-produced Fresh Prince theme tells us Will’s entire back story and the premise of the show – a ‘90s hip-hop answer to the Gilligan’s Island theme.

Living Single’s theme conveyed the high energy city life the four upwardly mobile friends were navigating, with emphasis from Queen Latifah’s sing-rapping about her homegirls standing on her left and her right, and the legendary dancing silhouette that is Big Lez.

Both shows, songs, and visuals have become representative of the hip hop generation’s takeover of ‘90s black television and ‘90s black culture, and both continue to hold up amazing well 25 years later.

We haven’t even touched on the soulful ‘70s themes that became hit singles, like “Welcome Back Kotter” (my joint) or “Angela” from Taxi, or sketch show theme songs like Heavy D for In Living Color (or TLC for “All That,” for y’all younger folks), or the cartoon smashes. There are gems galore to be mined, all containing shining bits of nostalgia and callbacks to a simpler time. These songs often resonate with us even more strongly than our favorite singles from the era because they were a constant for years instead of months. And thanks to networks later devoting blocks of time to classic TV reruns like Nick at Night and TV Land, many of these shows – and theme songs – have been introduced to a new generation.

We’ve focused mostly on black TV shows, but there are a few theme songs that cross cultural, generational and international boundaries. When the Golden Girls premiered in 1985, the series featured a remake of the 1978 song “Thank You for Being a Friend,” and it has lived in all our hearts ever since. So much so, that a member of the black church delegation gave the song a proper remix a couple of years ago. Let this be a reminder that great TV theme songs were not only catchy songs that stuck in our heads for decades, but also impetrated universal lessons about life, love, and friendship.

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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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8 Best Samples From Megan Thee Stallion, Tyler The Creator And DJ Khaled's Projects

Megan Thee Stallion, DJ Khaled and Tyler, The Creator have more in common than just a release date. The artists also know a thing or two about thoughtful sampling.

Their projects, which all happen to be some of their best efforts, find inspiration from 70s soul and deep 90s underground jams. Jackson 5, Jay-Z and Sizzla were sampled on DJ Khaled's previous release Grateful, but with Father of Asahd, the producer and proud dad jumps back into the crates. This time around, modern hits are used like Ms. Lauryn Hill's "To Zion" and Outkast's "Ms. Jackson."

Megan Thee Stallion's samples also prove her rhymes aren't the only thing fans should pay close attention to.

Check out some of our favorite samples from this week's releases below.

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Megan Thee Stallion- Fever 

1. "Hood Rat S**t"

Sample: Latarian Milton's Viral Video (2013)

Plucked from the wonderful world of viral videos, Megan uses the then 7-year-old's mischevious joy ride to accurately describe how she rolls with her crew.

2. "Pimpin"

Sample: DJ Zirk & Tha 2 Thick Family featuring 8Ball & MJG and Kilo-g  "Azz Out" (1996) 

There's something to be said about Megan's very clever samples. The chorus to the late 90s underground gem stems from southern legends like Tennesee's 8Ball and MJG along with NOLA's own Kilo-g. Megan grabs a few bars from the track and puts her own twist on them for the chorus: "Stick 'em up, stick 'em up, raise 'em up, raise 'em up Drop it off in his fucking face just to saw it off/Gotta get my a** ate, gotta make that a** shake/Gotta swipe this ni**a card so much they had to call the bank"

3. "Simon Says" featuring Juicy J 

Samples: Billy Paul, "Me And Mrs. Jones" (1972), "Looking For Tha Chewin,'" DJ Paul (Ft. 8Ball, DJ Zirk, Kilo-G, Kingpin Skinny Pimp & MJG) (1992)

Another variation of the aforementioned track is also heard on her collaboration with southern legend Juicy J. The soft intro by way of Bill Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" also offers a soulful touch to the track.

DJ Khaled- Father of Asahd

4. "Holy Mountian" featuring Buju Banton, Sizzla, Mavado and 070 Shake) 

Sample: "One Spliff a Day," Billy Boyo (1981) 

Boyo's legendary riddim has been used by a bevy of artists including SiR and Wiz Khalifa but Khaled's curation of the track with some of the biggest names in reggae takes it to another level. It also doesn't hurt that his longtime friend and icon Banton opens the album.

5. "Just Us" featuring SZA 

Sample: "Ms. Jackson," Outkast (2001) 

This sample definitely raises the eyebrows, but the careful loop paired with SZA's sing-rap flow makes it worth a listen.

6. "Holy Ground" featuring Buju Banton 

Samples: "To Zion," Ms. Lauryn Hill and Carlos Santana (1999) 

Grand opening, grand closing. Banton closes out the album with soul-baring lyrics and a thoughtful sample to match. Carlos Santana's chords from the original track give the song a sentimental feel along with Banton's lyrics about mass incarceration, cultural warfare and spiritual freedom.

Tyler, The Creator- IGOR

7. "A BOY IS A GUN" 

Samples: "Bound," Ponderosa Twins Plus One (1971) 

Tyler might have gotten inspiration to sample this song from Kanye West (Bound 2), but his take is smooth and subtle as he navigates through love and heartbreak.

8. "ARE WE STILL FRIENDS" featuring Pharell Williams 

Samples: "Dream," Al Green (1977) 

Underneath IGOR's tough exterior lies a gentle soul. The placement of Al Green's "Dream," on the latter end of the album takes the listener on a starry love high. Pharrell and Tyler allow the sample to act as a skeleton for the song as they point out how to keep love alive.

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Megan Thee Stallion Helps DTLR Celebrate Fashion's Past, Present and Future

Fashion retailer DTLR has always curated the best of streetwear, with their latest fashion show proving the evolution is real and influential.

The fourth annual show took place in Atlanta this spring under a theme titled, "Genesis."  The event took place in Atlanta, GA, with hosts Yung Joc and DTLR's Radio's Tiara LaNiece. DTLR's Apprelle Norton, David Storey and KeJuan McGee curated the event to take their guests "on a journey through the past, present and future of fashion, featuring the latest from top leading brands such as Nike, Puma, Adidas, Levis, Champion, Reebok, Fila, Black Pyramid, New Balance, Tommy Hilfiger, Staple, Hustle Gang, Akoo, Ethika, Odd Sox, and many more."

In addition to presenting some of the hottest looks out, the event also welcomed performances from VIBE NEXT Alumna Megan Thee Stallion. Appearances from the the "Big Ol Freak" rapper was an added effort on DTLR's Vice President of Marketing, Shawn Caesar's part to make the fashion show more of an "experience."

"We wanted to add more of an 'experience' feel to the show this year," Caesar said in a press release. "[We wanted]  to encourage more engagement and interaction from our attendees, and to aid in creating more memories and reasons to stay connected to the DTLR brand long-term."

DTLR is quickly becoming a part of a class of successful upcoming brands. The brand has more than 240 stores in 19 states and Washington D.C. and it manages to combine fashion, sports, entertainment, sports, and community empowerment into one; all while providing their customers with elite footwear, apparel and accessories to match.

See photos from the event below.

 

 

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