Summer, Summer, Summertime

06/27/2011


There’s a gang of songs from 1991 that haven’t gotten any airplay since ’91. There’s a few that will occasionally get a spin for nostalgia’s sake. But if there’s one that without fail gets play every year as soon as June breaks in, it’s “Summertime”. While Will Smith was getting started on bigger and better things in his career, he was still primarily known as a rap star, along with the homie Jazzy Jeff as his DJ and producer.

The first time I heard “Summertime”, I’d imagine, was the same time a lot of people heard it. Fresh Prince of Bel Air was closing up its first season, and as part of the season finale, they aired the video at the end.From then on out, it was officially the song of that summer. It hit the radio instantly and was all over the place. Even as Prince & Jeff were mostly considered to be for the “Pop Tart Charts” by then, this one hit across the board, even with the harder-edged hip-hop audience. Even if their other songs from the Homebase album pretty much fell on deaf ears, “Summertime” was the clear undeniable hit that they probably expected it to be.


Still, I’m not even sure they knew just how long this song’s shelf life was. By the mid-’90s, “Summertime” became similar to those Christmas songs that you can never seem to get away from soon as Black Friday hits. Every June, and no later than July 4th, radio and TV would break it out and sporadically start spinning it through August. The video became a classic just as the song did, and basically set the tone for every “cookout in the park” video that’s ever been made since.

Will continued dippin’ and dabbin’ into his rap career through the ’90s, but it’s mostly played the back to his other endeavors after his acting career turned out to be extra-large. Even though he had major hits prior to “Summertime” and had even bigger ones in the years afterwards, it’s this one that’s become his longest-enduring track. 20 years later, “Summertime” is still getting its obligatory summer spins, and it’s still a winner.

With a laid-back flow (that sounds a lil’ Rakim-ish if you think about it) and a sample of Kool & The Gang‘s  “Summer Madness”, Will & Jeff made a hit that might not be for all seasons, but is apparently one for any year.

Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince “Summertime” (1991) 

-D! 


The Darkness

05/19/2011

By late-1997, the “Shiny Suit Era” was at its absolute peak. A monster had been created, which extended to an overflow of glossy videos and ’80s samples. While I personally enjoyed a good deal of the music that came out of it , some of it was flat-out unfukkinecessary. Regardless, it was the thing of the moment, and the whole world was on it. In the middle of this craze, there was an upcoming artist who was the complete opposite of everything that era represented. As a matter of fact, he seemed like he would’ve fit more into the era that preceded it, when things were a lot more grimy and a lot less polished and mainstream-aimed. His name was DMX, and in spite of what was dominating the charts, ’98 was about to be his year.

Ironically (or maybe not), X’s buzz started building through his appearances on albums by people who were actively jumping into the Shiny Suit Era. In the midst of Ma$e‘s extra glossy-flossy Harlem World, X was stealing the show on “24 Hours To Live”. As The Lox were trying their best to fit into the Bad Boy team with their Money, Power, Respect album, X shut it down on the title track. While LL Cool J was Puff Daddy-in’ it up with the Phenomenon album, there was still “4-3-2-1”, which X appeared on and killed. On top of that, he closed out ’97 with his own single “Get At Me Dog”, which hit hard and fast into the new year.

And from there, it was probably the greatest pre-album buildup ever. It seemed like every other week, he was making a guest appearance on some shit. From DJ Clue tapes, to remixes by Ice Cube and Mic Geronimo, to a currently obscure-as-fuck song by two female MCs named Duo, DMX was unavoidable. By May 19, 1998, X could do no wrong, and that was the level of anticipation he had as It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot hit the stores.

That album was the must-have of the time. Just about everybody I knew had it by the end of that week, and of course I did. I was STILL just getting over “Get At Me Dog” (and its video, which was the perfect introduction for him being the anti-shiny suit), so I was definitely ready to hear what else he had on deck. As expected, he brought the same aggression he’d become known for by then. His lyrics were violent, dark, and at times even comical to a degree, while the in-house production (mostly done by Grease) were both timely and different for its time.

Speaking of the production, It’s Dark was also the album that kicked off the long-running career of Swizz Beatz. He only actually did one track, but that one happened to be “Ruff Ryders Anthem”, which ended up being arguably the album’s biggest song. After that blew up, Swizz spent the second half of ’98 the same way X spent the first half- with his name popping up in some of everybody’s album credits. It was also that song which established the Ruff Ryders label as a brand and sound that would expand and remain relevant for the next couple of years.

As I said earlier, X surely brought the aggression and violence, but there was another angle to his music that I didn’t really expect. On top of all the chaos, he also rhymed about struggle- not just “trying to make ends meet” struggle, but being internally conflicted between living right and doing wrong. There was also a religious angle, most emphasized by his prayer towards the end of the album. While it didn’t dominate the content of It’s Dark, it did seem to flesh it out, especially in the era where who an artist was as an individual became just as important as what an artist said. It also turned out to be very true-to-life, as evidenced by the downfalls in both X’s life and career in the years since It’s Dark.

There’s a friend of mine who in retrospect said, “I can’t believe I used to listen to a nigga who barked on his records”. That is kinda funny when you think about it- I don’t know that if an artist came out nowadays making animal noises of any sort, I could even attempt to take that shit seriously. But it also says a lot about how strong DMX was as an artist at his peak in ’98. Outside of all the growling and barking (and I’m positive I heard him yelp and wimper a few times too), he had a voice that came along at just the right time. For that reason among others, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot was one of the best and highest-selling albums of ’98, and one that brought the street element back into the forefront.

“Ruff Ryders Anthem”

“Get At Me Dog”

“Damien”

“Stop Being Greedy”

“Niggaz Done Started Something” (feat. The LOX and Ma$e) 

-D!


DANJ! Presents: 25 For Love, Pt. 3 (#5-1)

02/18/2011

That’s the best shit. Making your girl happy man. Then after that, you know what it is! You gon’ go in there and you gon’ make love to her. But don’t make love to her without the MUSIC on! You gotta put that SLOW shit on and you fuck her reaaal slow.”- Ghostface Killah, via Twitter

I wish I could top that… but I ain’t even gonna put forth the effort. And so, with no further ado, and a shoutout to The Doors, we go from five to one right about… NOW:

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DANJ! Presents: 25 For Love, Pt. 2 (#15-6)

02/16/2011

“I just zoned on how ill it is to really fall in love… Pimpin’ is whatev … Love is that shit!”Kanye West via Twitter

If I can be allowed to get on some butter-soft shit before I go into these here luh songs… I think at times that I’ve been more in love with love than anyone in particular. I like songs about it, movies about it, I even like happy couples when I see ’em at Wal-Mart n’shit. Even in having enough justification to hate the hell outta love, I still believe (shoutout to Brenda K. Starr). I wouldn’t say I’m a sucker for love, like them niggas who probably spent most of Monday posting bitter status updates on FaceBook. Still, a good song at the right time of year has been known to have me on Stupid Cupid mode. Case in point: the 10 I put up the other day, and now, these 10…

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DANJ! Presents: 25 For Love, Pt. 1 (#25-16)

02/14/2011

I have a love/hate relationship with love songs. I’ve had times when I listened to them out of being in love or at least catchin’ some kinda feelings. Other times, I’ve listened to them while in “maaannn, fuck love” mode. There was a time when I was a kid who had no real grip on matters of the heart and all the highs and lows they entailed. Back then, I just liked the way they sounded. Nowadays, I feel the various emotions of those songs- whether they be about infatuation, bitterness, appreciation, or heartbreak. This week, I drop 25 in particular that I’ve loved for years and continue to. Here we go…

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The Eyez Never Lie

02/07/2011

15 years ago this month, 2Pac was the newest signee to Death Row Records, and the label was at the height of its popularity. Every album with that electric chair logo was selling like crazy, with more to come for ’96. Three albums deep by that time, ‘Pac was already a major star, but also ran into some much bigger problems that landed him in jail. After being bailed out by Suge Knight (in exchange for signing to the Row), he went straight from the jail cell to the studio. Within two weeks, ‘Pac recorded 28 tracks for his Death Row debut, which has since gone on to be his highest-selling album of all, All Eyez On Me.

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Message from a Black Man

02/03/2011

So, it’s Black History Month (and Chocolate Lover’s Month at Dunkin’ Donuts– but that’s neither here nor there… right?), and I’ve decided it’s a good time to share this lil’ jewel here. Around the early-’90s, when “black comedy” had kinda blown up through shows like Def Comedy Jam, In Living Color, and ComicView, a number of standups were getting TV shows and books and all type of shit.  One who’d been around for way longer had also gained some recognition- enough to get a deal with StepSun Records and drop his own standup comedy album.

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