God’s Property and the Rise of Urban Contemporary Gospel

Background, God’s Property:

God’s Property, founded in 1992 in Dallas, Texas, was developed by Linda Ray Hall-Searight, a public-school music teacher, and her son, Robert Sput Searight, who has since gone on to become a world-class drummer and Grammy Award Winner. The original ensemble included more than fifty singers and a band of approximately twenty musicians, recruited mostly from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts High School (where other notable alumni such as Erykah Badu, Willie Hutch, and Roy Anthony Hargrove also attended[1].)

In 1993 the choir collaborated with Kirt Franklin, providing backup vocals for his 1995 album Whatcha Lookin’ 4. In turn, Franklin appeared on and helped produce the group’s debut album, God’s Property from Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation, released May 27, 1997. The album won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Gospel Artist, the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Music Video, the Soul Train Music Award for Best Gospel Album, and the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Choir or Chorus Album in 1998. The album was #1 on the R&B Albums chart for 5 weeks, #3 on Pop Charts, and would go on to be certified triple platinum with over 3 million copies sold across the United States[2]. The lead single “Stomp”, featuring Cheryl “Salt” James (of Salt-N-Pepa), made it onto Hot 100 Airplay, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Recurrent Airplay, Rhythmic Top 40, The Billboard Hot 100, and Top 40 Mainstream[3].

Interview with L. Nyrobi N. Moss:

CECILY: Hello, this is Cecily McMillan of writing for Professor Scott Heath’s course: Archiving the Black 90’s. I am attempting a new way at archiving the black nineties by speaking to a Ms. L. Nyrobi N. Moss, who was a foundational and central member to the musical group, the musical phenomena: God’s property, that pretty much developed the genre of Urban Contemporary Gospel. In which way did you find a path to participate in the arts and the music of the nineties?

NYROBI: So, I went to performing arts high school, I also went to performing arts junior high school as well, but my interest in the entertainment industry came via arts magnet, which was a breeding ground for a lot of major artists, but a lot of creative expression in Dallas and, essentially, spreading to the world. So, in addition to attending arts magnet, I also was one of the original founding members of the choir called God’s Property Ensemble and God’s Property was of course released under Kirk Franklin’s label in 1997. However, before that release, we already had a really huge following in the Dallas, Houston, L.A., and a lot of different markets as far as Gospel groups were concerned, and that also kind of led us to work with other artists and playing with different background vocals and singing on other people’s tracks. But we were also signed by B-Rite, a division of Interscope, so Tupac Shakur was one of my label mates. So that is my introduction to the nineties in music.

CECILY: You said that album popped off, like, the group was signed by the label in ’97?

NYROBI: No, we were assigned before 97. The album got released in 97. So, the first full album was God’s Property with Kirk Franklin’s The Nu Nation. However, I want to note that we were God’s Property before Kirk Franklin was Kirk Franklin, and I know because I sang on his first album. But, either way, you know, it was the terminology of who gets picked up first in the industry versus who releases whom. So, at the time he had the platform and he did a lot of producing on our first album when we worked with him.

CECILY: OK. So, 1997. You’re in high school?

NYROBI: No, I was way out of high school. But God’s Property started when I was [at Booker T. Washington] high school. We first formed God’s property, I want to say in ’93-’94.

CECILY: Booker T. Washington, was it a racially diverse high school?

NYROBI: Booker T. Washington for the Performing and Visual Arts was racially diverse. It was culturally diverse, religiously diverse. Some of my best friends were, you know, satanists and had shaved heads, and we all were just these artists that lacked on things, but we didn’t have a problem just crossing over and figuring out who was what. You know, at Booker T. you could see all these different genres in silos and nobody really was kind of singled out. It was just like, you got your group of those who are visual artists and those are the vocals. And those were the hip-hop kids and, so, the music tied us all together.

CECILY: So, I’m thinking about the form of music that you’re talking about. And obviously there are songs, especially in the nineties, I mean the first one that comes to mind for me obviously as Madonna, Like a Prayer. But the incorporation of Gospel into songs, especially ballads, is a super powerful mechanism. Did that become popular in the ’90s?

NYROBI: I want to be clear: It wasn’t about incorporating Gospel. Gospel is pretty much the root. If you find any artist, especially black artists, they’re going to tell you their group got started in Gospel. The reason why God’s Property was so pivotal was because we were young, and we were fun and we were hip and we used to bring, you know, rap melodies [into the music]. Like when I was in junior high school, I played classical piano and I hated every minute of it, which is why I switched over to theater, musical theater, because it was boring. So, God’s Property was the first time that I knew that music could be fun and that it could be interesting, and it could have a great high energy. And Gospel, in turn, like we used to bring down houses and churches. Our biggest criticism was the fact that, you know, that we were singing devil songs and we were jamming to Gospel music. And we were doing that in church, and we brought such high energy to it, and, you know, we were too radical. So, people couldn’t tell the difference between what our music was and what Gospel was and that was a problem. Now it’s old hat. Now, you can find you all these different Gospel artists and they all hip-hop, and this and that and the third. But that wasn’t done then, you know. We used to get a lot of flack for that.

CECILY: Yeah, I could see that on the church side. But also, thinking about myself as a teenager, it seems totally incomprehensible that I would get together with a group of my friends and want to do something Gospel inspired. So, I’m clearly missing a link here. How did this emerge?

NYROBI: They’re all linked. The interesting thing is that R&B, hip-hop, they all have roots in Gospel. If you ask any artist where they came up, where they got their musical influences, then they’re gonna say in the church. So, the thing about that is that church, especially in the black community, always influences where we are socially, where we are politically, you know, how we build movements, what that looks like. So, I will say that it wasn’t far removed from us because we used to be in a church doing jam sessions. And even jazz, which is one of the greatest art forms ever because it has these different musicians that’s riffing, that’s doing all this other kind of improvisational stuff. All those things were not removed from us. They were all part of who you were. And so, therefore, we were young. We lived, we loved, we lived hip-hop. We lived where hip-hop started, what it was all about, know what I’m saying? In the nineties, we had your 2 Live Crews and different artists… when hip-hop was kind of risqué. But where we were and where we sat was in this place where it was all creation, it was all music for us. We blended all this together and they weren’t separate for us.

Cecily McMillan

Works Cited

[1] Wikipedia – Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts

[2] Enacademic – Kirk Franklin

[3] Billboard Music Charts

Master P and No Limit Records: Percy Miller’s Impact on Hip-Hop Business

In 2015, Interning for one of South Florida’s most influential record labels, I was given opportunities to communicate and interact directly with the label’s founder and CEO on a regular basis. Like a curious child asking their parents millions of questions in an attempt to gain some understanding of this complicated world we live in, I took advantage of every opportunity to ask the CEO questions that I felt could possibly help me gain a deeper understanding of the music industry. One day after drenching the CEO with a rainstorm of questions, he told me that he has always aimed to be like Master P: Master P greatly influenced the way he ran his label and the various ways that he chose to maneuver the music industry. Most notably, Master P influenced him to push for “80/20” distribution deals, and to maintain ownership of all master recordings produced by his label.

“Master P was a real n*gga, that put his arms around me and showed me the business…I knew the creative side, but he showed business… If it wasn’t for No Limit, it wouldn’t be no money in rap… It was NO MONEY in rap until Master P came out!” ­—Snoop Dogg

Essentially Master P (MP) and No Limit Records laid a foundation in the mid to late 1990’s that forever impacted the music/entertainment industry. Far before becoming a household name, or even fully being able to sustain himself financially, Master P was already set on conducting business in the music industry on his own terms. As an unsigned artist struggling early in his career, Master P made a pivotal decision to turn down a million-dollar record deal presented to him by Interscope Record’s Jimmy Iovine. Unlike the average unsigned artist at the time, who would have likely quickly jumped at such an offer without hesitation, Master P realized that he possessed the ability to make that same amount of money, and far greater amounts, without committing to a major label. He declined the offer and went on to build a legacy of independence, innovation, and business savvy execution.

The year of the Jimmy Iovine’s offer hasn’t been specified, though it is estimated that the deal was proposed in late 1994 or 1995. Master P turned DOWN the deal and turned UP his grind with no brakes; By 1996, Master P and his independent record company, No Limit, had established a strong growing fanbase of supporters in multiple cities throughout the southern region and west coast. Gearing up to release his fifth studio album, Ice man, he made the decision to expand on a major level. But unlike other Hip-Hop artists and independent labels at the time (and prior), Master P used his business savvy ways to achieve mainstream success while maintaining artistic and company independence…

Image result for 90s record labels

In 1996, Master P noticed that a bulk of rap artists and small labels were committing to record deals that only allowed them the receive about 10% of all profits from their work.  But Master P refused to submit himself or his company to such economic exploitation. He turned the tables on the industry and set a blueprint for other artists and independent labels to follow for generations to come: He did research and found out that (at the time) Michael Jackson (MJ) had the best deal in the music industry. From there, he reached out to Michael Jackson’s lawyer for assistance. MJ had a record deal with a major label; Master P solely wanted a distribution deal that held similar elements―Most notably an 80/20 profit split, with No Limit records receiving the split’s larger portion. Michael Jackson’s Lawyer charged MP $25,000 to help him obtain an 80/20 distribution deal with Priority Records. [Many sources state that the deal was “80/20”, but in various interviews Master P has mentioned that is was “85/15”.] Whether “80/20” or “85/15”, one thing is for certain: Master P convinced Priority records to commit to a deal where No Limit records would maintain ownership of all recording masters, as well as receive the bulk of any profits. Priority records agreed to handle distribution, while No Limit records was expected to take care of all marketing and promotion costs. At the time of the deal, Priority Records didn’t expect Master P and No Limit to gain many sells. But to their surprise, Master P’s 1996 album “Ice Cream Man” eventually became certified Gold (selling over 500,000 copies).

“Ice Cream Man’s was the tip of the iceberg; the beginning of a No Limit dynasty… one that literally lived up to its name. Throughout the years 1996-2000, Master P and No Limit records produced many successful artists, released multiple platinum and gold albums, put out many independent films, and even had a professional wrestling stable with World Championship Wrestling at one point. MP literally did nearly everything that one can think of; some of Master P’s further business ventures outside of entertainment consisted of clothing lines, jewelry lines, gas stations, fast food franchises, energy drinks, phone sex companies, toy making, and much more. Throughout all of his investments and ventures in the 90’s, Master P maintained an independent status within the music/entertainment industry. He was one of the first figures in Hip-Hop (and potentially music in general) to achieve high levels of mainstream success without succumbing to traditional recording contracts. His success in 90’s showed Hip-Hop moguls and artists that it was/is possible for them to conduct business on their own terms and that they do not have to be exploited by major record companies.

More Than Noise: “Hip-Hop you the love of my life” (An Ode to Black Culture)

In my mind it is the bridge between the unspoken and white picket fences. We’re talking as gutta as Wu-Tang Clang, as authentic as The Roots, as everlasting as Pac and Biggie, and as pivotal as Shawn Carter; there is a reason this black noise was bursting through Jordan Davis’ red dodge Durango. I believe the misinterpretation and seemingly irritable nature of black noise served as a death sentence for Davis; but unfamiliarity is always the archenemies of privilege.

What black noise is, is a lifeline for pain and questionability. These are real voices that convey the everyday lives, perceptions, and inevitable truths of  one of American’s third worlds. Reality defines the state of things in which they exist. To be blinded by such, can be defined as privilege.

Early black “noise” was the inspiration behind a once billion-dollar Black Entertainment Television network. It is more than noise. It is kin to the triangular trade that birthed this discarded third world nation. Though this vibration driven tale dates back to the tumultuous 70’s, it is its 90’s alliances that put these voices on the map. Hip-hop deserves its own Mount Rushmore up on Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx.

It didn’t surprise me in 2018 when I was tackling Tricia Rose’s critical analysis Black Noise, when she revealed an encounter with a colleague after which she had presented some research on this thing we call hip-hop. For the same reason it served as a death sentence for Davis, it served as a simple “nothing” to Roses’ colleague, the same nothing Jordan Davis’ privileged predator left him to descend into. In chapter three of the 1994 publication, Rose recalls hip-hop’s misinterpretator as stating, “Well, you must be writing on rap’s social impact and political lyrics, because there is nothing to the music.” (62)

“They ride down the street at 2:00 am with it blasting from car speakers, and (they) wake up my wife and kids. What’s the point in that?” Rose further recalls. (62)

As a self-proclaimed hip-hop baby I know how it makes me feel to ride with reasonable doubt blasting through the highest volume of my Civic. I am relating. I am feeling. I am understanding. Obliviously, I am dreaming. Can I live, in imagination that life has something more for me than it did my mother? Can I live, feeling in empathy for the black men whose public school systems don’t believe in anything more than their ability to be a drug dealing or dead ridden statistic? Can I live, with the least bit of comfort knowing somebody out there knows my story? And cares too.

Those political lyrics are as acquainted with Keisha down the block as the star spangle banner is to American stadiums.

Hip-hop’s coded language is the underground railroad that for once, refuses to cross its legs in favor of lady-likeness. Hip-hop lets the truth hang, something political correctness has never done. Hip-hop is a gift only received by those rich enough to understand our value.

As real as it gets, hip-hop tells the 1991 story of the 12-year-old Brooklyn girl that threw her baby down a chute and into a trash compactor. That’s “Brenda’s got a baby.” For those who have consistently lived behind white picket fences, the traumatization of third world tendencies are imaginable. I’m talking Margaret Garner and Beloved feels. I’m talking “the damage is irreversible” pull the plug type of feels.

“Can I live” speaks the inevitable consequences of the the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the ways in which something as politically correct as gentrification leaves third world residents to by any means necessary, make things happen for themselves.

This revelation that rap is mere noise is a reflection of the heart and eyes in which our melanin has always been regarded. For my fellow hip-hop babies, welfare recipients, affirmative actions beneficiaries, and driving while black inheritors, this revelation of meaningless noise is as Jim Crow as it gets.

Hip-hop is perfectly imperfect in the sense that it accurately lets the rest of the world know of the unprosperous cards black people have been (and are being) dealt.

For a moment, I will entertain the foulness of NWA’s “Fuck The Police” era that often ends up being the burden of proof that rap is merely a loud, violent, and unnecessary hobby.  If “affluenza” is legit, so is “Fuck The Police.”

Why is it that affluenza [i] can get a wealthy white teenager out of drunk driving and killing four people yet a black man cannot utter a cultural expression to his oppressor?

It is unfair to hold one to a standard of moral and political correctness, while the other through the lens of superiority. Two wrongs don’t make a right but they do enforce a pattern. Expecting black men who have lived their entire lives under racial and social inequality to suddenly take the “high road” when you have yet produced them with some sort of ladder to equity is incomprehensible to say the least.

America’s law enforcement system was founded through the same moral and politically incorrect systems that make black bodies “less than” and a target for unjust treatment. The only time a black body is held in high regards is when it opposes its oppressor. It is then that the 3/5th compromise never existed.

“Fuck The Police” is a black man’s back against the wall (literally) and his only way out is to fight the thing that put him there. Hip-hop is not guilty of creating detrimental social impacts. In order for something to not be innocent it has to be the perpetrator of wrongdoing or crime. Verbal expression over banging beats regarding 1990s crown heights or 1990s Compton is as virtuous as we know.

Yes, hip-hop is noise. Voices are noise. And voices are quintessential to this thing we call life.

Hip-hop is necessarily unapologetic, too, a result of morally incorrect ideology this country stands on. Hip-hop’s critics may never acknowledge the role black coded laws played in putting black expression on the map.

I recently encountered a 23-year-old Chinese woman who has been a U.S resident for just 6 years. She began to speak to me regarding the interesting American things she’s encountered; a colleague had just given her an introduction to rap. Stunned, I immediately asked if hip-hops controversial lyrics interfered with her ability to enjoy it. Her response, and I quote “Not at all. It is part of the culture.”

In 5 years of American culture and 1 brief lesson on hip-hop, this China native who was still grasping English orality understood this black expressiveness. I stand strong when I say, black noise is consistently and inaccurately regarded as “nothing” due to its close resemblance to black life. Hip-hop’s acceptance as legit art is parallel to white Americans acceptance of black Americans, and the removal of the veil in which black Americans have always been hidden under.

-Tysheira Scribner


[i] Affluenza- a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Couch

Work Cited

Rose, Tricia. (1994). Black noise : rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, NH :University Press of New England.

For the Culture, Past and Present: A Look Back at Nick Jr.’s Gullah Gullah Island

For the Culture, Past and Present: A Look Back at Nick Jr.’s Gullah Gullah Island

Welcome to the land of the colored/ All we do is win never suffer/Ain’t no cops undercover/where every kid on the block never had a Glock …. /All the kids wearing hoodies/Coming from the back of the 7/11 / Wit’ a bag full of goodies

The above words are the lyrics to a rap song by rapper SilaS. In the song, SilaS imagines a place populated only by Black people. There is no violence from the police, no drugs, and no poverty. SilaS’s imagined world is where Black children are allowed to be just that: Carefree Black kids “cause we don’t look SUSPICIOUS” (emphasis in the original). SilaS’s inspiration for this world is one some of us growing up in the 90s will remember: Gullah Gullah Island. Gullah Gullah Island was a Nick Jr. children’s sing-along program that premiered in 1994 and featured a nuclear Black family. In an e-mail for Vibe magazine, rapper SilaS explains why he uses Gullah Gullah Island as the place for his rap of the same name: “I remember watching the show as a kid and it was like, all black everywhere, black love, black businesses, and a successful black family. So I wanted to incorporate that into the sample which already came from the show and just make something positive to let people know that it’s possible to be successful as a black person and be positive.”[1]

SilaS samples the theme song to Gullah Gullah Island in his intro and invites Black people to a place where they can be safe from the injustice of reality. While Gullah Gullah Island may be imaginary, the impact of the show is one that still reaches far and still inspires Black people to dream of a better world. But just as much as Nick Jr.’s Gullah Gullah Island helps SilaS imagine a different future, it also encourages us to remember the past.

Nick Jr.’s Gullah Gullah Island was inspired the culture and heritage of the Gullah-Geechee people, the legacy of enslaved West Africans who settled along the coasts and sea islands of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.[2] But long before the show, Ron Daise, who played the father in the show, was already sharing Gullah culture. Daise grew up in the culture on St. Helena Island. Daise, along with his wife, Natalie, who also starred in the show as the mother, toured the country with a multimedia “Sea Island Montage.”[3][4]  Though the show is not about Gullah-Geechee culture, it featured elements of the culture. The show brought Gullah-Geechee culture from the margins and helped preserve the rich culture.

Just as important, Gullah Gullah Island was the first sing-along preschool show to center a Black family and geared towards a pre-school audience. While Black families populated television during the 90s, the Alston family of Gullah Gullah Island gave viewers something different. Though the show was for a very young audience it captured the attention of people beyond its target group, I believe, because of its warmth and inclusion. The Alston family consisted of Ron and Natalie and their children James, Shaina and Simeon and their cousin Vanessa, but their many of their neighbors were also people of color from different cultures. And even though Binyah Binyah Polliwag was a life-sized puppet, he was given full characterization and just as important. The show incorporated smatterings of the Gullah language as well Spanish from its Spanish speaking guest. The show was full of vibrant colors, fun characters, and original songs, not to mention all the food. Of course, there was conflict, but it was always resolved with love, understanding, and grace. Kids, adults, and anthropomorphic puppets were allowed to make mistakes and learn and grow from them. Gullah Gullah Island was a utopia centered around a Black family. Looking back Gullah Gullah Island today, it feels safe. SilaS’s homage to the show emphasizes that. But it is imaginary. SilaS’s video ends with the group of kids still searching for Gullah Gullah Island in the present, but seems to hold out hope that maybe we can find it in the future.

[1]Robertson, Darryl. “Mississippi’s Newcomer SilaS Imagines An All Black City On “Gullah Gullah Island.” Vibe. 17 Feb., 2016.


[3]McCormick, Moira. “Nick Jr.’s Preschool Line Debuts on ‘Gullah Gullah.’” Billboard. 29 April 1995.

[4]Spivack, Elana. “Author, actor shares Gullah songs, stories at Gund.” The Collegian.27 Feb., 2014

–– A. Latson

How the South Got Something to Say: The Origins and Impact of the Dirty South

Image Source: San Antonio Current

In 2004, OutKast became the first hip hop group to win album of the year for their record-shattering and now-classic album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

With such hits as “The Way You Move,” “Hey Ya,” and “Roses,” most mainstream audiences wouldn’t be surprised to find out the album was certified Diamond, selling over 10 million units before it could even turn 10 years old. 

What mainstream audiences might be surprised to find out, is that during the timeframe that album swept the Grammies—the midst of the Crunk era, whose many artists could trace their roots to Southern hip hop, whether it be Houston, Atlanta, or Memphis—OutKast’s accomplishment was perhaps the highest peak reached by a group that could trace its roots to a sound that originated in Dirty South, a sound that started in a basement in Atlanta’s College Park and East Point neighborhoods in the 1990s.

During that same decade, radio and television airwaves were saturated with the sound of the West Coast / East West Coast rivalry that defined a generation. We can hear this sound in some of the most popular songs of Tupac and Biggie, whose heavy beats and hardcore lyrics—especially when taken along with their heavy and hardcore lifestyles—came to define the dynamic between East and West Coast sounds as a competition between socially conscious songs about serious issues being played out in real time on American radio and television.

It is phenomenal, then, that the Dirty South sound could emerge during this decade, much less become immortalized in the proverbial hop hall of fame when OutKast’s André, while up on stage to receive the award for Best New Artist at the 1995 Source Awards (after the group was boo’d by the audience no less),  approached the mic and finally got a word in edgewise:

Source: Rap Genius

André’s words were controversial that year for many reasons, not least of which because they interrupted what the East Coast/West Coast rap scenes thought would be an answer to the question of which region was producing the best new artist. According to the critics, that region was the South.

But it was also a production company called Organized Noize, which produced not only OutKast, but Goodie Mob, the less-known group whose 1995 track “Dirty South” coined the genre term.

Like a lot of East Coast/West Coast songs of the time, “Dirty South” featured some socially conscious lyrics that called attention to some serious issues affecting their local neighborhoods, including a hyperactive police force:

One to da two da three da four
Dem dirty Red Dogs done hit the door
And they got everybody on they hands and knees
And they ain’t gonna leave until they find them keys

Not to mention some of the implications of Bill Clinton’s tough-on-crime policies at the time:

Now if dirty Bill Clinton fronted me some weight
Told me to keep two, bring him back eight
And I only brought him five and stuck his ass for three
Do you think that Clampett will sick his goons on me?

But its biggest contribution was the refrain:

What you niggas know about the Dirty South?

Along with the track’s minimalistic beat, reverb, and call outs to Atlanta neighborhoods and street names like East Point, John Freeman Way, Delowe, and Piedmont Park, the song defined the “Dirty South,” and specifically Atlanta, as a place that was just as socially conscious as Los Angeles and New York City, if not with a slightly lighter sense of humor.



This message and sound would be repeated on the title track “Soul Food” with even more melodic elements, as Goodie Mob members like Cee Lo Green both rapped and sang in a soulful way that would come to define the Dirty South sound as having brought a soulful melody to what had mostly been a back-and-forth between beats.

The southern sounds launched by Organized Noize and Goodie Mob on this critically acclaimed album would later come to define many of the sound qualities that can be said to distinguish the most popular songs of the Dirty South from some of the most popular songs coming out of the East Coast / West Coast rap scenes. These include but are not limited to:

  • More melodic elements that blend singing and rapping for soulful vibe
  • An emphasis on large group, almost family-oriented collaboration
  • Very socially conscious but often lighter sense of humor
  • Slower beats per minute (see: chopped and screwed)
  • Horns and other non-electronic instrumentation

Artists that benefited from the production of Organized Noize include but are not limited to:

  • OutKast on Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik
  • TLC on “Don’t Go Chasin’ Waterfalls”
  • Ludacris on “Saturday (Oooh! Ooooh!) ft. Sleepy Brown”

So while Outkast may be the group to which the Dirty South sound is often attributed because they are the most mainstream group to climb all the way from that basement in South Atlanta to the world stage, it would be more accurate to say the Dirty South sound originated from the production of Organized Noize, its Dungeon Family, and Goodie Mob.

For it is mostly likely these groups’ impact on OutKast in 1995 that drove André to say “The South got somethin’ to say.”

—Joshua Ryan Jackson

Works Cited

Jones, Qunicy. The Art of Organized Noize. Starring Sleepy Brown, Raymond Murray, and Rico Wade. Netflix, 2016.

Westhoff, Ben. Dirty South: Outkast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Re-invented Hip Hop. Chicago Review P, 2011.

“I Got A Love Jones”: Love Jones, 21 Years Later

“One truism in life, my friend…When that jones come down, it be a mothafucka.”- Savon Garrison

This line from the cult classic Love Jones is what best describes how this movie has influenced Black love and Black-romantic comedies twenty-one years since it’s opening on March 14, 1997. Love Jones premiered as a new twist and imagery of Black love and Blackness on cinema. The director, Theodore Witcher, a Chicago native, describes Nina and Darius as being a part of the “creative class”[i]. This class highlights a nuanced representation of Black people in the mid-90s who were college educated and were interested in the arts. Coming up behind classic hood movies such as Poetic Justice (1993), Friday (1995) and Juice (1992), Love Jones paved the way for writers and directors to create movies that highlighted Black people who were academically successful and in love.

In 2017, the cast and crew of the film came together for the LA Time’s oral history conversation to honor the 20th anniversary of the film and to talk about the authenticity of the movie, the beauty of the soundtrack and the impact of Black love being caught on film. Coincidentally, the film was honored last year at the American Black Film Festival Awards and received the award for “Class Cinema Tribute”. The award and oral reflection proves that Love Jones is a classic film that transcends through Black cinematic history. While Love Jones provided its very nostalgic lines and scenes, Love Jones painted Black love and friendship in a way that was artistic and creative in nature. Julia Chasman, the executive producer of the film explained that the script presented the lives of young Black artist in Chicago that was normally seen in white movies [ii].

Because of Witcher’s simplicity in his attempts to create a romantic comedy that explored the relationship between two artists in Chicago, he was able to pair the movie with a phenomenal soundtrack. The Love Jones soundtrack was released four days before the film and peak at number three on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums in 1997 [iii]. This soundtrack contained classics such as “The Sweetest Thing” by Lauryn Hill, “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” by Maxwell and “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. The soundtrack has a mixture of iazz, neo-soul, R&B and poetry that reflects the artistic attraction that the film provides. The soundtrack actually prompted the studio to re-release of Love Jones five months after its debut in theatres because people loved the soundtrack so much [iv].

Although the film didn’t do spectacularly at the box office, Love Jones put two actors together that showed a dynamic depiction of Black love and sexuality that was liberating and visually stunning. Ironically, both Nia Long and Larenz Tate were not Witcher’s first choice, but New Line Studios suggested Tate and one of the executive directors suggested Long [v]. After a few meets and readings, the chemistry between Tate and Long proved that they were best for the part. Nia Long said; “I honestly felt like our chemistry was the best. It felt amazing and it felt right, and we looked good together and it looked believable.” [vi]

Love Jones presented viewers a new image of Black love on screen that showed two Black people who were young intellectuals who had a carefree way of loving each other. I believe that the cast would agree that Love Jones was definitely a movie before it’s time. However, over time, the movie became one to be appreciated due to is jazz undertones, references to Gordon Parks, the bond with poetry and spoken word in urban Chicago. This movie paved the way for more narratives of middle-class Black love in similar movies such as The Best Man, Love & Basketball, and Brown Sugar. So, thank you Love Jones for being a movie that I can laugh to, cry and fall in love with for 21 years and 21 more years to come. And that’s urgent like a muthafucka.  —Adeerya J.




[iii] ibid.

[iv] ibid.

[v] ibid.

[vi] ibid.


Darius Rucker — Reclaimer of Country Music or Uncle Tom Sell-Out?

Maybe we can’t change the world but
I wanna love you the best that…

…the best that I caaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

– “Hold my Hand,” Cracked Rear View, Hootie and the Blowfish.

That’s the perfect blend of optimistic pessimism and cheerful apathy we’ve come to expect from the surprisingly successful “rock” band “Hootie and the Blowfish,” whose name was lit up in khaki-colored lights for some of the mid-90’s. The name of the band seemed enough of a reason to approach their music with caution, lest we caught Loser Cooties by being seen anywhere near the vicinity of their band, even just next to the CD at Sam Goody’s. But a stranger image stamped a large red “What The Hell” on everyone’s faces: why was some black guy wearing tan pants singing with those three white dudes in the back? Did they kidnap him and force him Rep for The Plaid? Was he mocking them for playing the geetar, and we’d soon hear the DJ’s (insert scratch noise here) and this dude would reappear in a Cadillac, sippin’ on ‘gnac? And why was his name “Hootie?” Was he a new addition to the Dungeon Family?

(Hootie Hooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!)

Darius Rucker, frontman of the band, later explained that he thought of the name “Hootie and the Blowfish” in college during a party: he saw one guy who wore glasses (and, thus, projected an owl-like demeanor) and another whose cheeks were puffy. He nicknamed the former “Hootie,” the latter “Blowfish,” and anointed them lead singers of hypothetical band, Hootie and the Blowfish. His dream became a reality when, just one week later, he and his friends started a band by the same name. (He says their exact response to his suggestion was: “Whatever.” Ironically, “Hootie” went on to halfway rename himself when he began a solo career as Darius Rucker, country musician, while his indifferent bandmates seemed destined to always, and only ever, be known simply as “The Blowfish.”)

The exact genre of the band’s music is the subject of much debate –  pop, rock, pop rock, light country, pop country, country pop, pop grunge, happy grunge, dad rock, or toothless cousin folk? – and neither fans nor critics of it knew quite what to make of this “Hootie” or his band.

Rucker grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, in a home with his mother and a few siblings. He loved the radio and listened to all kinds of music. Whenever his older brother apparently teased him about listening to “white boy music,” his mother insisted he be allowed to listen to whatever he liked without grief from anyone else – though she did reportedly supplement his daily diet of musical mayonnaise with some Al Green.

A telling picture shown in a televised interview with Rucker and Dan Rather (of course, one of Rucker’s all-time heroes, representing warm American goodness with extra picked-from-George-Washington’s-own-cherry-tree cherries on top) finds a young Rucker, smiling, surrounded by a group of happy white children. Schools in his area had been integrated just after Rucker finished kindergarten, so though he lived in an all-black neighborhood, he didn’t experience the same culture shock his older siblings and friends did. He felt comfortable around his new white friends. During high school, he realized he loved to sing, joined a singing group, and started listening more closely to a variety of artists, becoming interested in Kenny Rodgers, Randy Foster, and Charley Pride, one of the few black country artists who was widely accepted by white audiences.

“Country Music Hall of Fame – Charley Pride”

“He was doing something he wasn’t supposed to do and proving everyone wrong,” he says to Rather, knowing the connections Rather must be making.

Rucker and his buddies found modest success in Charleston, but every now and then, they’d find themselves performing in a bar or venue that didn’t seem very welcoming of their color-blind inter…musical stylings. Rucker remembers developing extremely thick skin, determined (albeit in his signature sheepish-grin-shrugging-shoulders way) not to let some small-minded people stop him from making the music he liked. Nine years later, a label look a chance on “Hootie and the Blowfish,” and they soon found themselves playing on New York City radio stations and performing on David Letterman’s late night talk show. As they worked their favorite-worn-pair-of-jeans charm on America, they also faced some backlash, mostly in the form of spoofing or sarcastic teasing. But there were harsher critiques from fans of both Biggie and George Jones: no one seemed to know whom Hootie was repping for. Had Hootie lost his black card, or at least some points from it, for daring to put out what might effectively be called, “Nuthin’ but a Coon Thing, Baby?”

Hootie and the Blowfish – Live on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1995

But, surprise! It turns out Darius Rucker only knew what many had forgotten: that slightly country sound, the one that runs through his music, the one he’s constantly mocked for singing, has its roots in black culture, just like pretty much everything else that’s actually good about America.

The music industry was largely responsible for how music was marketed to audiences of different colors and how country music came be identified as “white” music despite sharing much of its genetic makeup with the blues tradition, which is decisively black and also the precursor rhythm ‘n blues, rock ‘n roll, psychedelic rock, heavy metal, and even rap beats. As a result of exploitation and appropriation, country music failed to accurately represent any of the cultural intermixing that occurred in the nascent stage of this genre’s development.

Brief Peek into Country Music’s African-American Roots:

“African-American Influence Part of Country Music’s Legacy”

Black Artists Whose Work Shaped Country (and, really, American) Music:

Mamie Smith – “Crazy Blues”

Bessie Smith – “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”

Little Brother Montgomery – “Riverside Boogie”

T-Bone Walker – “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong”

“Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells – ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ & ‘Mannish Boy'”

Darius Rucker is, and has been, one of the few country musicians of color to have a lengthy career, and though he was originally teased for not being “black enough” and selling out to white country audiences, I posit he’d receive more support if he debuted today. “Hootie and the Blowfish” was not a bona fide country band, but in the intimidatingly talented shadow of new artists who dominated the 90’s music scene with rap, alt rock, and grunge, all languages that seemed to en-trance young people who hungered for words to put to their rage and their pent up energies, Hootie’s light seemed to shine on older, less hip crowds who had settled into routines of adult life that made young rage look not only pointless but tiring.

Additionally, rap music and grunge rock are often committed to portraying a certain authenticity – those artists don’t hide their dark, violent feelings or the grim realities of life. But black audiences, and even certain white ones, have always craved and prized authentic expressions, starting with “Negro” folk music of the early twentieth century, which were rerecorded but unsuccessfully marketed to black listeners because, according to black vaudevillian artist Perry Bradford, they didn’t sound right:

“There’s fourteen million Negroes in our great country and they will buy something if recorded by one of their own because we are the only folks that can sing and interpret hot jazz songs just off the griddle correctly” (Keyes 112).

Rucker’s response to haters echoed that call for authenticity: “I mean, it was better to be honest.”

“Hootie and the Blowfish,” then, was also just trying to keep it real. As a child, Rucker dreamed of leaving Charleston for the big city of New York, NY London, England Paris, France Columbia, SC, but after living there for several years, he couldn’t shake the urge to go back home, physically, emotionally, and apparently culturally. It’s hard to “Hootie and the Blowfish” as anything more than a feel-good memory of pre-Trump America, but after learning that Darius Rucker might actually be the keeper of one of black music’s lesser known traditions, it’s hard not to think of him as the hero some people really needed, one who could interpret country music’s “real” soul and serve it hot and fresh off that metaphorical griddle. Perhaps the 90’s should’ve have allowed poor “Hootie” — sigh, fine, Darius Rucker — to just let him do him. Although, that glint in his non-threatening eye has always said: Let the Haters Cry.

Radhika Nataraj

Works Cited

  • “Darius Rucker.” The Big Interview with Dan Rather. AXS TV, 21 Apr. 2014.
  • Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg. “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.” The Chronic, Death Row, 1992.
  • Hootie and the Blowfish. “Hold My Hand.” Cracked Rear View, Atlantic, 1994.
  • —. “Let Her Cry.” Cracked Rear View, Atlantic, 1994.
  • Keyes, Cheryl L. “The Aesthetic Significance of African-American Sound Culture and Its Impact on American Popular Music Style and Industry.” The World of Music, vol. 45, no. 3, 2003, pp. 105-29.
  • Lewis, George H. “The Color of Country: Black Influence and Experience in American Country Music.” Popular Music and Society, pp. 107-19.
  • “Hootie Hoo.” Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, LaFace, 1994.

Why Bill Clinton Was Called “Our First Black President”: Saxophones, Black Votes, and Toni Morrison

Over fifteen years before Barack Obama was sworn into the Oval Office and became the United States’ first black President, Bill Clinton was called “our first black President.”

So how is it that the nation’s 42nd (white) president got that honorific before the first actual Black president?

The answer is a story that really spans the duration of Clinton’s presidency. Founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, Dewayne Wickham, probably tells it best in his acclaimed book, Bill Clinton and Black America (2004). In his book, Wickham accounts for “the large African-American presence in [Clinton’s] administration, his perceived legal persecutions, his personal style,” and “his lasting yet tumultuous marriage”—not to mention his relocation to NYC’s Harlem after his presidency—which help explain why the former-Arkansas-governor-turned-president appealed so well to the American black community of the 1990s.

While this post can’t pretend to have a more extensive answer than Wickham in that regard, it can seek to provide a more succinct and specific answer to why Bill Clinton was (and indeed in some circles might still be called) “our first black President.” My answer to this question boils down to the following three essential events of the Black 1990s:

  1. The Arsenio Hall Show hosted Bill Clinton playing the saxophone in June of 1992, which helped Clinton win the hearts of Black America in a big way.
  2. Black voters turned out to give Bill Clinton a supermajority of their votes in November of 1992.
  3. Toni Morrison wrote Bill Clinton into Black History when she literally called him “our first black President in 1998”

Although I will touch on some of the complications and contradictions inherent to attributing Clinton this honorific, I will not be able to address those problems in deep detail, particularly as they include his complicit usage of the term “superpredators” to implicitly describe young, urban (codeword: black) criminals who purportedly preyed on America’s youth to partake in gang culture in the early 1990s. Addressing those problems in the detail they deserve would take the length of another post, if not a full-length article, to explain sufficiently.

In channeling the former president’s birthplace in my home state of Arkansas, my hope is that this post will generate interest in crafting a more careful and critical post that can balance the other side of the honor and praise that is so often allotted to Bill Clinton. At the same time, I hope it will recognize that the former president contributed more than most of the presidents that came before him in terms of representing the American black community during his administration.

The Saxophone

Directly after Bill Clinton clinched the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 1992, The Arsenio Hall Show hosted the newly minted presidential candidate.

Out of this hosting opportunity, Clinton not only decided to make an appearance; he deliberately sought to show his soulful side to the American black community by kicking off the show playing Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” on his tenor saxophone. Casually and with sunglasses. Almost like another member of Hall’s band. The rest became history. Hall’s amicable and subsequent interview with Clinton effectively served to endorse the Democratic candidate, on a predominantly black show with a predominantly black audience, for president in 1992.

And so, what would also turn out to be a controversial appearance on Arsenio Hall literally set the stage for Clinton to clinch a supermajority (83%) of the Black Vote in November of that same year.

The Black Vote

On November 8, 1992, Bill Clinton received a greater percentage of the black vote than any president to win a U.S. Presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Data Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research (Cornell University)

After winning the election, Clinton also appointed a number of black American citizens to serve in his administration, including but not limited to:

  • Mike Espy, Secretary of Agriculture (1993)
  • Ron Brown, Secretary of Commerce (1993)
  • Hazel R. O’ Leary, Secretary of Energy (1993)
  • Jesse Brown, Secretary of Veterans Affairs (1993)
  • Alexis Herman, Secretary of Labor (1997)
  • Rodney E. Slater, Secretary of Transportation (1997)
  • Togo D. West, Jr., Secretary of Veterans Affairs (1998)

In fact, Clinton appointed more black Cabinet Secretaries than any U.S. president in the nation’s history, including Barack Obama. Doing so gave the Clinton the appearance not only of better representing black people in the nation’s highest office, but also of rewarding black voters for turning out to vote for him with real change at the highest levels of administration.

And in 1999, towards the end of Clinton’s presidency, the Clinton White House sought to commemorate such real changes with a web page titled “Working on Behalf of African Americans.”

This page mentions over 80 initiatives that the Clinton administration advocated for and took part in during their time in office, including but not limited to (and these are line-items lifted directly from the page):

  • Closing the Book on A Generation of Deficits.
  • Real Wages Are Rising for African Americans. 
  • Addressing HIV/AIDS in Minority Community with an Historic $130 Million Effort. 
  • Extended Health Care to Millions of Children with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • Hosted the First-Ever White House Conference on Africa in July 1994.
  • Launched the President’s Partnership for Economic Opportunity in Africa Initiative. 

But the ultimate event that that made Bill Clinton America’s “first black president, was the stroke of Toni Morrison’s pen in 1998 during the sex scandal that shook Clinton’s presidency to the core.

Toni Morrison Calls Clinton “our First Black President”

Noting the heightened political rhetoric of impeachment coming out of Washington in wake of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Toni Morrison wrote a short, slightly miffed column for The New Yorker that would make history in October of 1998.

In her column, Morrison called attention to the news media’s unrelenting coverage of the sex scandal, as well as its similarity to the all-too-American narrative of covering America black men with unrelenting bias and surveillance.


Over the years, and especially since Barack Obama was rightfully heralded as the United States’ first black president, Morrison has received substantial blowback for calling a white president “our first black President.” Most of this blowback, however, stems from the assumption that she was praising Clinton, when she in fact was

[D]eploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated […] like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race.”

In other words, the reasons why Clinton was called “the first black President” are myriad, but they had less to do with race than they had to do with representation.

— Joshua Ryan Jackson

Works Cited

“Bill Clinton on the Arsenio Hall Show (1992).” YouTube, uploaded by The Arsenio Hall Show, 15 January 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vaj8iCCZFhM.

Morrison, Toni. “Comment.” The New Yorker. October 5 1998, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1998/10/05/comment-6543, Accessed 28 April 2018.

Wickham, Dewayne. Bill Clinton and Black America. One World, 2004.

So Anxious: Black Love & Intimacy in Black R&B Music Videos


What does Black love feel like?

Many of us have grown up listening to sultry sexy artist like D’Angelo, Jodeci, Janet Jackson, Sade, Ginuwine and SWV. These are just a few of many R&B artists that have provided the perfect soundtrack to serenade your lover. If you had the perfect night in with your lover, D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” or Monica’s “Angel of Mine” probably set the mood and help the one you loved most understand and sense what you were feeling. However, one important aspect of these artists and their passionate love songs is how the artist and director were both able to create an intimate imagery of Black love and sexuality that was nostalgic and beautiful.

What does Black love look like?

If I had to decide, to me it looks like Erykah Badu and Andre 3000 in her 1997 song “Otherside of the Game”. Erykah describes the commitment and love she has for her Black man and the things she goes through as the girlfriend of a drug dealer. In the video, you see a pregnant Erykah and a busy Andre 3000 co-existing in their loft starting their day. Importantly, this song provides an iconic soundtrack to what they are experiencing that morning along with showcasing their love as she wakes Andre up, they play fight, he caresses her belly and holds her tight as they embrace. This video provides an everydayness of waking up together and loving each other where others who watch the video can resonate with.

I also think in Joe’s video, “All The Things Your Man Wont Do”, there is sex appeal and curiosity between him and his lover.  In the beginning, you see Joe confessing his love to a woman on a pay phone and telling her that she deserves better.

This inevitably leads him to make an appearance at her job where he continues to serenade her and convince this Black woman that he possesses qualities that her current boyfriend does not. Throughout the video, the director creates a late-night mood and intimacy that is shared between the two. This is seen in the way the young woman flirts with Joe in the restaurant and making the ultimate sacrifice to take a chance with a better man

How far will Black love go?

A classic R&B music video that had a more scandalous storyline, but still had meaningful lyrics was Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time”. Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton, directed his first music video which was set in ancient Egypt and starred Eddie Murphy and supermodel Iman. Although Michael Jackson also serenaded someone else’s wife in the video, this video honored  Black people as rulers of ancient Egypt, the fight for love and an amazing dance sequence with both Black men and women of all shades. This video, in particular, reflects on the past of two lovers while still honoring the beauty of Black love and Blackness through the wardrobe selection and various skin tones of Black characters and dancers.

While many 90s artists brought us sexy and intimate love ballads, their music videos accompanied imagery that made you believe in Black love that was complicated, honest and sincere. While the videos discussed aren’t true to every relationship, these videos did portray a side of Black love and intimacy that wasn’t easily found in the typical raunchy Hip-Hop videos. R&B music videos were able to tastefully showcase all shades of Blackness that wasn’t necessarily misogynistic or overly provocative. However, it did showcase a variation of Black love and intimacy that took place in ordinary locations such as the subway, club or local coffee shop. A brotha would proclaim his love in the rain, or on the phone. A sistah would make a late night trip to her man’s crib or wake him up and sing to him in the early morning. Either way, watching and reminiscing on 90s R&B I’m sure one could find the perfect video that embodies and reflects how they feel about their Black love. — Adeerya J.


“Do the Bankhead Bounce”: Classic Cookout Dances of the 90s

When I think about my summers in Atlanta, I think about going to various cookouts my parents used to take me and my sister to when we were younger. They were either their close friends or co-workers who always welcomed my family with great BBQ, fun games and plenty of music and dancing. It’s amazing that Black people possess the creativity and dancing skills that shape dance culture in the Hip-Hop world. Some of my favorite dances came from the 90s, especially memories of having booty shaking (aka twerking) battles with my friends at summer camp and trying to do the Tootsee Roll on roller skates.

I’ve always had a love for dancing, so when my favorite song, “C’mon N’ Ride It” by the Quad City DJ’s came on at the cookouts I was ready to show out. I would begin to bounce my shoulders, roll my arms and rock side-to-side in a rhythmic fashion and proceed to ride the train. This dance was closely similar to the popular Southwest Atlanta dance, the Bankhead Bounce originating in the Bankhead neighborhood. The original song that the Bankhead Bonce originated from was performed by an Atlanta rapper named Diamond and featured D-Roc in 1996 [i]. This dance required a rapid shoulder bounce with hands and fist bouncing in front of you from side to side. This dance could have been performed to any southern Hip-Hop song such as A-Town Players, “Wassup Wassup”, 95 South’s “Whoot! There It Is” and TLC’s Waterfalls, which they performed in their music video in 1995 [ii].

Most of my early summers were spent at my local Boys and Girls Club. I had a cool group of girlfriends who were always down to dance. So, when one of the camp counselors brought in their mix city with the latest Hip-Hop songs we would rush to the boom box and dance till our moms came to pick us up. A classic was the 69 Boyz, “Tootsee Roll” which actually peaked at the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Rap chart and number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1994 [iii]. This dance was a more inverted funky chicken, which one would wind their knees inward while doing a dip. We also enjoyed the butterfly—similar to the Tootsee Roll, Da Dip by Freak Nasty and any other song that provided us instructions to shake our hips or drop it low.

As a young Black girl, I wasn’t aware of why I was shaking my butt at the young age of eight but similar to the women who were getting’ down at Freaknik or Black Bike Week it was a fun dance to do and you couldn’t resist the beat of the music. Growing up in the era of 2 Live Crew and Uncle Luke, or hearing songs that tell you to “Back that azz up” it’s a dance move that’s hard to refuse. When me and my friends or cousins got together at a family cookout hearing Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” really took over for the ’99 and the ’00. With its sexually explicit lyrics demanding listeners to back their ass up on the rapper himself, this song defiantly is a cultural favorite and can still be heard on your local HBCU campus and neighborhood cookouts.

The beauty about Hip-Hop is that it has the ability to make listeners feel good and bring people together to have a good time. I have many great memories as I reflect on the times when I used to dance to these songs. Now that I’m older the songs and the dances are quite nostalgic and take me to a place where I remember eating saucy ribs and burgers, smelling hot links on the grill, and bouncy houses in the backyard. Importantly, these dances are still remembered today and when played at parties or clubs now, me and my girls will still get low and do the Tootsee Roll and twerk to Uncle Luke’s “Cap D Comin’”. I just hope that this new generation of Hip-Hop dances continues to provide the same nostalgic memories and blissful feelings that we all grew up with in the 90s. —Adeerya J.



[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/95_South