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John Johnson III

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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Lennox McLendon

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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Matthew Salacuse

The Long Road: The Triumph And Truth Of B2K

Every girl remembers her first crush. Perhaps it was the little boy in kindergarten she played “House” with, or maybe it was her best friend-turned-valentine in middle school. For hundreds of thousands of millennial girls, however, their first love was probably one of the four members of hip-hop’s defiant boy band B2K. Like with all romances, feelings either evolve or dissolve; add 15 years and a reunion tour to the equation and that brooding love story becomes rejuvenated once again.

The women at Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center are in heat. After years of waiting, they’re finally going to meet face to face with the men of B2K, and those crushes aren’t so innocent now. Twenty-somethings flock to the pillared arena drenched in early-2000s drip, except their garb drapes a little differently than it did nearly two decades ago. Their jersey dresses hug their silhouettes a little tighter. The ink on their spray-painted tees donning either the portrait of their favorite B2K member or a stylized script of their own name looks a tad faded. Even their once sprightly screams have transformed into hormonal cat-calls as Omarion, J-Boog, Raz-B and Lil Fizz shoot up one-by-one from hidden trap doors below the stage. The sold-out venue (est. 19,500) swells with pheromones as the quartet strikes a statuesque pose reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s iconic Super Bowl XXVII halftime moment.

The pause is breathtakingly long. One could easily get sucked into the vortex of the group’s gaze, conveniently concealed by tinted shades, but the blank space is fully occupied by shrieks to solidify this reality.

It’s been 15 years since B2K hit the stage together. Fifteen. That’s more than a decade and enough time to graduate from high school, start a “real-life” job, experience the genesis of social media and witness the end of 106 & Park. Yet, here we here.

“Girl you messed up when you let me in,” Omarion sings along to their club single, “Uh-Huh,” as the boys move in a ripple effect to the staircases on stage left and right.

The crowd joins: “Told your best friend that you wanted me / Then she called me up and hipped me to your steez / Told me that you were lookin' for a guy like me…”

The boys erupt into a choreographed number, executing a series of sharp two-steps and pop-n-locks. Their flawless synchronization hasn’t tired. Not a step is missed as the group bobs and weaves through one another to their next mark, their all-white ensembles projecting the stage light back into the audience. The crowd doesn’t take a breath in between verses as they belt out every word to the group’s hypnotizing discography.

One of the most important things learned from shadowing B2K during the apex of their comeback is that timing is everything. While simultaneously entertaining, unpredictable and aggravating, these fleeting moments with the talk of 2019’s tour circuit—for better or for worse—will ultimately provide some type of explanation for more than a decade’s worth of unanswered questions.

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Haziness aside, the band is back together and claiming their place against a cream seamless in Midtown Manhattan. It’s our first introduction to the boys one month ahead of the Jersey concert, and as seasoned artists in the game, they exhibit a strong sense of awareness of their angles and spacing. Raz-B opens his shoulders at a 45-degree angle so Fizz’s best side can absorb the light. Omarion insists on performing a portion of their stage routine in a diamond-formation of chairs so each acute motion opens a window for members in the back to catch the camera lens.

“Why have one when you can have four Chris Browns?” Lil Fizz will later quip, nodding to their iconic choreography.

Their professionalism and attention to detail keep the room full of production staff on their toes, but B2K’s boyish, around-the-way humor makes them a joy to be around. Like friends who’ve spent the greater part of their childhoods together, they are constantly in game-mode, making inappropriate wisecracks and delivering criticism with a playful burn (Raz’s second ensemble – a captain’s hat and velvet blazer – had to be changed after three-fourths of the group insisted it was too ostentatious for the vibe). That’s probably why shooting with B2K feels like a game of Wack-O-Mole.

During the course of the evening, each member alternates in and out of the Times Square studio at least four times. Omarion, the first one on set, maneuvers between snacking on a fun-size bag of chips and calculating the physics of a new spin-and-toe-kick he put together in mere seconds. In less than an eight count, O moonwalks out and Raz-B emerges in his place. Raz mixes and mingles with folks along the periphery of the set, quizzing them on the best workday, entertainment spots. Then just like that, he disappears.

A flash of anticipation boils until J-Boog arrives. He hovers over the set with business-like acumen, observing the backdrop to coordinate with his wardrobe. He nods in great thought before retreating to the dressing room for a quick shape-up. Lastly, Fizz pops up with no fair warning. It’s tough to see where his attention is as he stands in perfect silence. By the time Fizz gets acclimated, he’s already slipped away until the last hurrah.

Now, there are theories about what fragrant extracurricular activities may be transpiring as each of them waltzes back into the studio with a noticeably tranquil demeanor, but to state anything as a fact would be a variation of the truth.

There are several mutations of B2K’s story – some rumors, others exaggerations. It all depends on who tells it, but the one constant is how quickly their conception and ascension happened.

As their tale goes, the group met in 1998. At the time, Jarell Damonté “J-Boog” Houston Sr., De'Mario Monte “Raz-B” Thornton and Dreux Pierre “Lil Fizz” Frédéric were a part of a different group called Melodic. It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve ‘99 that they invited Omari Ishmael “Omarion” Grandberry to join the band. (False reports claim they met at Marques Houston’s 18th birthday party, but the quartet debunked that rumor in an interview with AOL’s BUILD series.) The new quartet would call themselves B2K, an acronym for “Boys of the New Millennium,” of the “Y2K” (the year 2000) era. B2K, the final four, or as Raz will later kid, the Avengers – whatever you want to call them, it would turn out that their star power, in fact, was somewhat supernatural.

They were all inner city kids by way of Los Angeles, California. Fizz notes they “probably would have never hung out with each other” as they were from different parts of the city. Yet, some unearthly force saw the vision before them.

“Los Angeles is a melting pot for all different cultures and creativity. It's really a ground to cultivate artists,” Omarion explains. “Life has shaped it where the fellas [the pioneering three] were already linked up together and certain family members know certain family members... This is meant to be.” (Jhene Aiko, who was marketed as Fizz’s cousin, was also their labelmate on the now-defunct TUG; Fizz and Omarion’s ex-partner, Apryl Jones, knew each other since they were teens.)

The group breached mainstream success in 2001 with their Tricky Stewart-produced debut single, “Uh Huh,” a punchy dance record with repetition too irresistible to disregard. The boys’ debut album B2K was next, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. The certified-Gold project included the follow-up releases, “Gots Ta Be” and “Why I Love You.”

By the end of the year, B2K — or rather the life-size poster versions of them, courtesy of Word Up! Magazine — were plastered on the walls and ceilings of just about every pre-teen and teen girl’s bedroom. You could even own a supplemental portrait of your favorite member: Omarion, the Scorpio; J-Boog, the Leo; Raz-B, the Gemini; and Lil Fizz, the Sag.

After embarking on Scream Tour II with Lil Bow Wow, the group returned in 2002 with their fourth single, “Bump, Bump, Bump,” an R. Kelly-penned banger featuring Diddy (the group would later announce their decision to retire songs written by Kelly after the tour due to his ongoing sexual abuse accusations). The song served as an appetizer for their 2002 sophomore project, Pandemonium!. The album debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200. “Bump, Bump, Bump” peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the group’s first number one hit and the last time a boy band would sit atop the chart for nearly 16 years — a record that was broken in March 2019 by the Jonas Brothers.

The new millennium wasn’t an uncommon timezone for boy bands. *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees were mainstays, but everything about B2K felt different. For starters, they were an all-black, hip-hop group that oozed a flava that couldn’t be taught. “We contributed to a type of freedom. Our style, the colors that we chose to wear, it was very unique,” Omarion explains.

The video for “Girlfriend,” directed by producer and B2K’s then-manager Chris Stokes, is a perfect illustration of what they brought to the table. It assembled an elite cast of black actors and musicians including Will Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and Ronald Isley. The visual storytelling was indicative of a black teenage saga minus the Godfather-esque kidnapping scenes, but there were several other defining factors. Their vocals possessed more attitude; their lyrics illustrated a sexual maturity; their choreography flowed with ease; their oversized velour jackets with sports bands to match appeared “rougher” than their more pop counterparts. For music executives and future pop stars, B2K’s natural vibe would be something to aspire to or even steal, but for them, it was just what being a ghetto superstar was all about.

The term “ghetto supastar” originates from Pras’ 1998 collaboration with Ol Dirty Bastard and Mya, but was reintroduced around 2002 with B2K’s hit, “Girlfriend (Remix).” The phrase carries a lot of different meanings, much like how the “F” in Weezy F. Baby stands for an array of adjectives, but Boog’s definition seems the most fitting. “I'm all for the deprived legends,” he says candidly. “I'm from Compton. Some of the greatest artists in music history come from there. So when I say ghetto superstar, it's ‘cause there's a million superstars there for me – football to baseball – that just never get the chance. A ghetto superstar is somebody that comes from there and was always a star.”

The height of their success, although fleeting, captured the zeitgeist of early 2000s pop culture – the retro fashion, the dynamic dance moves, and overnight stardom. The Millennium Tour is just a capsule to solidify that notion. The demand for the reunion was merciless, as they tell it. “Dang y’all still ain’t forgot about this,” Fizz remembers asking himself. They hadn’t. The three-month, spring tour has grossed $5 million and sold more than 56,542 tickets in just two months, making it the second-highest grossing tour of 2019.

In many aspects, it really was about timing, Omarion discloses. Fizz and O finished filming for the Love & Hip Hop franchise, Boog inked multiple undisclosed business deals, and Raz-B just returned from a seven-year adventure in China. Their synched schedules heavily impacted their decision to say yes to the tour promoter’s pleas, but Raz concedes his handiwork ultimately thrust the wheels in motion. “I’ve been trying to put the group together for 16 years,” he admits, noting his efforts to secure the B2K trademark for the group. “Just like Fizz said, I never left the group. They like to say the universe; I like to say the price.”

The announcement of the tour’s lineup, comprised of Chingy, Bobby Valentino, Ying Yang Twins, Lloyd, Pretty Ricky, and Mario, triggered some artists. Fellow singer and child star, Sammie, criticized the tour organizers for excluding him. “Can we go on record and finally say that the promoter reached out to B2K to go on tour,” Boog clarifies, dismissing the question playfully. “We didn't have nothing to do with none of that other stuff – the lineup, nothing.”

Drama aside (or at least for the moment), the boys assert the tour has been, “straight pandemonium.” A girl at the Newark meet-and-greet was so frantic to see Fizz that she leaked a little on his lap in the midst of getting her picture taken. “It's funny to see them hold back 'cause they're adults,” Omarion muses, although, in Fizz’s case, that girl let go. “But then they come to the experience and they wanna grab you and stuff again.” Soiled trousers and a couple of wolfish hands reaching for their packages in the front row would turn out to be the least of their worries.

 

B2K has been up all night. Nearly 30 minutes before our scheduled sit-down at Jersey City’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, they cancel the interview. Less than 12 hours prior, Raz-B shares an Instagram video, announcing his resignation from the Millennium Tour, less than 10 shows in.

“Raz-B is officially off the tour,” he declared in the now-deleted PSA. “I don’t feel safe because I feel like Chris Stokes is around.”

Hours after his initial announcement, Raz rescinds his retirement, stating he will persevere due in part to his fans. None of the members respond to his statement on social media. A rep confirms the tour is happening, but the guys’ aura is too heavy to commit to an in-person interview today. Frankly, this snag in the schedule feels all too familiar.

In 2004, Stokes shocked fans by announcing the group’s disbandment. The news landed just as shockingly as Raz’s recent video and hit B2K’s day-one fanbase like a punch in the gut. The breakup ultimately activated a butterfly effect of bad news.

The first headline reported that the members were unsatisfied with Stokes’ management and demanded to be compensated fairly. That blurb was eclipsed by Raz-B’s home video accusing Stokes, his cousin, of molesting him as well as others in the group. (Stokes has adamantly denied the abuse accusations. In 2018, he tweeted: “I never hurt any of B2K.”) While Omarion, Fizz, and Boog denied the allegations, still citing the mishandling of finances as the reason, Raz’s claim left a dark cloud over the group. The real-life nightmare arrived on the heels of their 2014 dance cult classic You Got Served, and smack-dab in the middle of the blogging era. Our understanding of PTSD and sexual assault, pre-Me Too movement, was in the grey area, which opened the door to insensitive jokes on the Internet and in pop culture (Yung Joc’s 2008 single “Lookin’ Boy” makes a thoughtless remark about Raz’s allegations). It also didn’t help that Fizz recorded a YouTube video dissing Omarion’s solo success and dismissing Raz-B’s truth.

Not everyone took the break-up lightly. Girls around the nation drained their eyes. Literal tears. “I attribute it to watching [Michael] Jordan retire after his third ring. You're like, ‘No way, that's not what I want to see. You're still great. Come back, please,’” Boog realizes. “I think back, when we were younger, we really didn't understand how intense the situation was. But meeting [the fans] now, 15 years later and hearing them talk about it and how devastated they were, I kind of get it more as an adult. Like ‘damn, that was kind of messed up.’” Fizz echoes the thought. “We weren't there. It's different when you're in the game. You're not able to see it,” he echoes. “The fish looking out the bowl can't see how big it is.”

B2K’s end marked another loss for pop culture. The industry already sustained two hits with the Spice Girls disbanding in 2000, followed by 98 Degrees’ dispersion in 2002. But to lose B2K, a staple of black representation within the millennial market, felt like a devastatingly low blow. Even so, Raz-B’s recent triggering remarks unveil the haunting effects of childhood trauma and the pressure on black men to suffer in silence.

Fans rallied behind Raz after his Instagram announcement, but reports of unrest within the group were also met with huff-and-puff attitudes as if folks believed the singer intended to sabotage the tour. The relentless spotlight of social media coupled with the lasting impression of built-up anguish is a lethal cocktail and has only spilled over as time has progressed. The gravity of Raz-B’s plight hit again when he was arrested in May 2019 for domestic abuse against his current girlfriend, with less than 10 shows left on the tour.

“Raz-B takes full responsibility for his actions,” the singer’s team said in a statement following his arrest. “This incident represents a turning point after years of isolation, surpassed emotions, and unhealthy coping mechanisms in response to childhood trauma… Being on tour has forced deep-seated issues to resurface that must be addressed.”

I ask Raz-B during our solo phone conversation, nearly 15 shows after his video statement and ahead of his arrest if he feels comfortable with the tour’s current atmosphere. He snickers knowingly. “I’m very grateful and happy that B2K is back together. That’s my comment,” he says with political correctness. It’s a predictable, yet contradictory sound bite. Weeks prior to our phoner, Raz welcomed dialogue, encouraging me to come to the interview with “good questions.” Even as the group and individual interviews commenced, he frequently complimented the line of questioning, but only spoke openly when he was alone, and even then, he offered neutral answers. “I just want to stay in a real positive space if you know what I’m doing. I know you want to get your story,” he utters, hesitant to stir any more controversy.

Perhaps, this turbulence needed to develop in order for it to be addressed, but his final answer – vague in one regard – indicates that his perspective on that portion of B2K’s history will only come when he is ready.

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Past and present trauma and the constant cycle of loved ones dying to gun violence isn’t a part of every pop star’s “True Hollywood Story.” Unfortunately, when you’re black and connected to the hip-hop landscape, this sort of pain is omnipresent. Nonetheless, the show is still expected to go on.

One hour before their Newark, New Jersey stage debut and 30 minutes ahead of their rapid-fire VIP meet-and-greet, Lil Fizz’s chirpy ringtone interrupts our group sit-down backstage. West coast rapper Nipsey Hussle has been shot six times outside of his South Central, Los Angeles clothing store.

The room feels as though it’s been pressurized. Arm hairs stand at attention and the silence feels eerily like thunder. The conversation pivots into a quest for information. As J-Boog and Fizz touch base with their people via cell, it becomes apparent how small the L.A. community is. J-Boog is close to Hussle’s wife, Lauren London; Fizz refers to the L.A. artist as his “brother”; Omarion went to Hamilton High School with him; Raz says they were in talks of creating new music. Their immediate reactions to the news are the most sobering. Fizz masks his watering eyes behind a pair of shades before burying his head in his lap. Boog, anguished and stricken with distress, disappears on the phone between a crack in the wall. It feels invasive to stare.

Nipsey Hussle is confirmed dead seconds after the hour-long meet-and-greet ends. By then, they’ve already retreated to their dressing rooms for showtime. With mobs of people crying at the loss of someone they’ve never met, it makes you wonder: how will they go on?

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Before the Millennium Tour started, the group anticipated hurdles. With a history as turbulent as theirs, expecting bumps should be mandatory. “We always knew what it would take if we decided to do it again. It’s like a formula that we’ve always stuck to,” Omarion confesses. “I think you have to [expect] unforeseen occurrences, but we definitely didn't focus on that.”

Nip’s death was obviously never something they could account for, but they were aware of the questions that would be asked about them. Where have you been? Why did you break up? Are you guys friends again? Perhaps that’s why they included the summary video in the opening act of their show. Produced by Artistar Entertainment’s Deji LaRay, the three-minute visual takes fans through a digital View-Master of newsreels from the start of their career to the very end – the good, the bad, and the ugly. A handful of women in the front middle section of the Prudential Center literally screamed, “OMG,” stunned by the group’s transparency.

“We seen it before the tour started,” Fizz says. “We were all in shock like, wow, this is incredible. It gives everybody the story leading up to now. I think it added a lot of shock value to the tour.”

Raz, on the other hand, seems standoffish about the video when asked about it individually. “Hey, it is what it is,” he says matter-of-factly. “We want to touch on one part of the story, and it is what it is… That chapter of life is there.”

Another foreseeable element was the work that needed to be done for the tour to happen. Sure, there were strict dietary restraints and workout schedules, but it’s also worth noting the self-care, therapy, and communication amongst the members. “I think that is the therapy, which is the communication, speaking as enlightened four brothers from four different corners of the universe,” Raz-B says. Communication doesn’t mean they agree on everything, but it seems to have played a part in why the tour continues to go on despite its various missteps.

Lessons have been learned both on and off the stage. For three of the members, fatherhood has taught them self-love and the value of time. For Raz, his hiatus in China taught him culture, “grace, humility, [and] more compassion.” As a group, they learned financial literacy. “There’s always a conversation about business when it comes to the entertainment industry,” Omarion explains. “First of all, most artists that are creative are not administrative. How do you play a show and then go backstage, make sure your numbers [are] right? It's really difficult.”

Boog cosigns Omarion’s sentiment, illustrating a tale that is all too common amongst early-2000s acts who weren’t involved in their financial planning. “It’s so much going on, and then things get moving and you start to not check on everything the way you're supposed to check on everything,” he recalls, seemingly from personal experience. “If you not in it for the business and you in it for the fame and the little trinkets, then you just gonna be like whatever. That's the way the industry eventually gets you out of your business. Then you look back like, ‘damn I should've been on my sh*t.’”

Although the music industry is a tough teacher at times, the group insists the lessons they learned in communication, family, and money are at the forefront of their reunion and their individual endeavors.

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To witness four fine black men who stole a fragment of every girl’s childhood on stage feels electrifying. What’s been a reunion for the boys has also turned into a homecoming and celebration for former middle school and high school friends. It feels like “old times” – girls gushing over autographs on their vintage denim jackets. Sadly, this string of shows and the nostalgic moments that come with them could quite possibly be a one-and-done.

There’s one question that the guys didn’t anticipate being asked: What’s next for B2K? They joke about a 2019 album continuing that “ghetto superstar” pizzaz, but their brazen laughs and round-about ways of answering the question at hand shows the group’s next steps are the furthest thing from their minds. Instead, the focus lies on their individual paths, which potentially includes solo projects from each member after the Millennium Tour’s hype dissolves. The self-care, however, starts now. With less than one-fourth of the tour left, B2K reveals Raz-B made a “brave decision” to not perform during their three-show streak in Florida “as he embarks on this self-care journey.”

“At the end of the day, we’re all grown men and we all live our own separate lives,” Fizz reveals during a short intermission in the tour schedule. “It’s not like we’re brothers and best friends and hang out after the tour. Everybody’s home. I haven’t spoken to any of them. They haven’t spoken to me. And you know, that’s just that. It’s business, but we know what it is. When we come together, the spirit takes over.”

Fizz’s outrightly honest words land as brutally as the realization that the cast of Friends won’t be meeting at Central Perk anymore. It stings, but it’s reality. B2K’s brotherhood is by no means artificial. We’ve seen it up close backstage, at intimate shoots, and on arena stages. “The love is there,” Raz says. “Even when you dislike them for a moment or you guys got into a miscommunication, if we can come back to a cohesive space of love, then you’re cool.” So if by chance fans get to see the group together again—on wax, on screen, on stage— it’ll have to be left in the unpredictable hands of timing.

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Photographer:  Matthew Salacuse Photo Assistant: Carl Chisolm Stylist: Mickey Freeman, Winnie StaCkz Concert Videographer: Jason Chandler BTS Videographer: Kristen White

Additional Style Credits (Header/Cover Image) | Omarion | Coat: Yves Saint Laurent, Pant: Fear of God, Necklace: Talent's own, Boots: Yeezy, Sunglasses: Versace // Lil Fizz | Sunglasses: Tom Ford, Shirt: Hakan Akkaya, Pant: Huf Worldwide, Shoes: Top Owens Collection, Necklace: Cartier // Raz B | Hat: FreeMen By Mickey, Jacket and Pant: Hakan Akkaya, T-shirt: Dissimilis, Boots: Louis Vuitton, Sunglasses: Rayban, Watch: Valdecio Collection // J-Boog | Blazer, Necklace and Sunglasses: Versace, Leather Tie and Pant: Hakan Akkaya, Boots: Angela Mitchell

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