The DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Bryson Tiller pop smash “Wild Thoughts” may have just debuted in the Hot 100 top five, but it’s not the first time that particular beat has climbed the summer charts. Back in April 2000, the same sultry, Latin-tinged sound splashed onto the airwaves in the form of “Maria Maria,” a collaboration between legendary classic rock outfit Santana and the Wyclef Jean-formed hip-hop duo The Product G&B.
Some might call Khaled’s choice to sample the Santana track so prominently deja vu. But to Product G&B members Marvin “Money Harm” Moore and David “Sincere” McRae?
“It’s a blessing,” Moore tells Billboard, speaking just over 17 years since “Maria Maria” topped charts. “Because now when you hear [‘Wild Thoughts’] on the radio, you hear ‘Maria.’ It’s bringing awareness all around.”
Not that the original track really needs the reminder. With its steamy Latin vibes, soulful verses from Moore and McRae and seductive electric guitar riffs courtesy of Santana himself, “Maria Maria” was an instant hit when it dropped as the second single off the Mexican-American guitarist’s Supernatural in 1999, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for a whopping 10 weeks the following year. To date, the track’s music video — in which a young Moore and McRae perform for a raging summer party — has logged more than 95 million views on YouTube, and counting.
Moore and McRae, now in their late 30s, still vividly remember the moment they realized they had a smash hit on their hands. The day “Maria Maria” hit No. 1, the group were on the road as part of Wyclef’s U.S. college tour, and heard the news just before hitting the stage to perform that very song.
“The manager handed us the microphones, and he said, ‘watch this.’ We’re like, ‘watch what?'” McRae recalls, beginning to hum the now instantly-recognizable “Maria” intro. “We came out, and the place was like a riot. People were trying to rush the stage; we had to sing it twice. That’s when I knew, jackpot.”
McRae and Moore had spent years working toward that moment. Back in the mid-1990s, the twenty-somethings were a burgeoning “ghetto and blues” act from Hempstead, Long Island, whose ability to both spit verses and sing lead vocals had just caught the attention of Pras, then a member of popular hip-hop group The Fugees with Wyclef and Lauryn Hill. But things really got moving once Moore and McRae met Wyclef — who had just kicked off an explosive solo career with his multi-platinum album The Carnival, and who the duo would come to view “like a big brother.”
After guest-spotting on the Wyclef, Khadejia and Funkmaster Flex track “Here We Go Yo” in ’98, the duo signed to Wyclef’s J Records imprint, Yclef, where they got to working with music industry giant Clive Davis. One thing led to another, and soon, Davis introduced Moore and McRae to Carlos Santana. “That was the next big thing, to come do something with Carlos,” says Moore. “It was a blessing waiting to happen. And then [Santana] brought us along to make history.”
The only problem? Moore and McRae didn’t actually know who the Latin rock band leader was. Though the duo claim they pored over everything from gospel music (Moore while in church choir as a teenager) to The Temptations to Whitney Houston, they admit they’d never heard of Santana. “We were like, ‘Who the hell is that?'” Moore says. Consequently, they failed to recognize the legendary artist when he walked into the studio.
“He came in with magic marker drawn on his sneakers, and we were thinking, he’s a guy who brings in the guitars or something, and he’s actually Santana,” Moore explains, laughing. “You would have thought he was somebody’s grandfather coming from the bus stop, real talk.”
Still, he can only describe what happened next as “magical.” “[Recording ‘Maria’] was a genuine mesh, a synergy, and it just worked,” continues Moore, who co-wrote the song along with McRae, Santana and Wyclef. “That’s why they’ve got ‘Wild Thoughts’ now.”
The duo wasted no time releasing a second Santana collab, “Dirty Dancin,'” in 2001, meant to be the first single off their debut album, Ghetto Blues. A second single, “Cluck Cluck,” doubled as the lead single for the Dr. Doolittle 2 soundtrack. But ultimately, Ghetto Blues fell through — “things happened, the business happened,” Moore says — and the duo still hasn’t dropped a studio record.
That is, not yet. Moore and McRae say they’re now working on their debut studio album, Party, to arrive later this year as a “carnival, festive, feel-good” record. In the meantime, the two have worked on several tracks with Kingston producers The Heatmakerz, before dropping European hit “V.I.P.” with Kay One in 2013, and in 2015, the dance track “Summer Nights in Brazil” with Mr. Da-Nos and Maury.
Moore and McRae have grown in other ways, too — both are now fathers, and McRae splits his time between studio sessions and studying to be a registered nurse. But in many ways, they’re both still processing just how “Maria Maria” catapulted Product G&B to fame, and how to craft a comeback.
“When you’re moving so fast, and you’re going all over the place, it’s like, ‘Woah,'” Moore says, indulging a habit of half-singing the end of his sentence. “Sometimes you miss out, you skip things. Where we are now, now we can try to resonate the right way and tell our story and brand us again, the way we wanted to be.”
McRae says the Product G&B “story” is simple: “Music with messages. I think today, music is, it’s good, but there’s no message. There’s no substance to it,” he explains. “I think it’s important for the youth to hold on to something, and believe in something.”
Santana has also given his blessing to the Khaled redo, saying that it brings the original track to a “new dimension.” But Moore and McRae say that while they’re grateful for the musical shoutout, they can’t help but lament that “Wild Thoughts” strips the original of its association with West Side Story, where the musical’s character “Maria” stood to represent both the grim reality of gang violence and poverty and the hope for a better life. “It was more about hope, bringing people together,” McRae says. “Black, white, Latin, all in one room, dancing.”
Still, both say they’re grateful in the end for the homage.
“It now is bringing other kids, who had never even heard ‘Maria,’ to be like, ‘what’s that?'” Moore says, laughing. “They think that ‘Maria’ is the remix now!”
This article originally appeared on Billboard.