By Cammy Thomas
Something very interesting is occurring within the current soundscape over the last few years, and after feeling uninspired to write about the formulaic releases, or the style over substance songs being churned out faster than Cadbury’s could churn out Easter eggs, I hadn’t felt the urge to write! Whether it’s because I grew up in a different era where originality, innovation and creativity were the hallmarking’s of 1990’s and 2000’s music sonically AND visually and my ears are not yet attuned to current musical styles, or whether production has become lacklustre in recent years because big labels would rather stick to the same tried and tested formulas to ensure they recoup their investments, I’m unsure. But what I AM sure of is that the current influx of tracks being released incorporating and reinterpreting the slick and polished days of 1990’s R&B and hip-hop, is ironically making current releases feel fresh again.
The so-called bad boys of R&B, Jodeci, comprised of JoJo, DeVante Swing, K-Ci and Mr. Dalvin, were one of the first R&B groups to merge the rawness of hip-hop, with the smoothness of R&B within their lyrics and style, with the release of the colossal classic, ‘Freek’ N You’ back in 1995, and it blew up! The impossibly smooth, sleepy, yet silky instrumentation, juxtaposed with the overtly sexual lyrics, saw Jodeci contribute to a brand-new sound, when they married edgy hip hop lyrics with glossy R&B music and hip-hop soul (or R&B hip hop to some); was born. Before the release of ‘Freek’N You’, Jodeci were a straight up R&B quartet, styled in cream polar necks and slacks, to emulate the success of clean-cut Boyz 2 men, singing sweet and sickly but nonetheless revered love songs. The release of ‘Freek N You’ flipped their style on its head, as it was the first-time listeners had heard sexually charged lyrics over glossy R&B production from an R&B boy group. The release saw a complete image overhaul for Jodeci, and the ‘R&B thug’ aesthetic was introduced to the world in the mid 1990’s. The distinctive sound and image went on to influence many groups who came after Jodeci, such as Dru Hill (With lead singer Sisqo citing K-Ci’s raspy singing style as a direct influence on his vocals), Jagged Edge, Ruff Endz, Next and MN8. ‘Freek N You’, from their third studio album, ‘The show, the After Party, the Hotel’ has gone on to be covered and sampled by a slew of artists over the last 26 years, including – Club Asylum, Tough Love, Party next door, Drake, DJ Khaled, Ne-Yo and Justine Skye. I think we can all agree the much loved 90’s classic is completely worthy of its certified gold status.
The 1990’s remix was a behemoth to behold, simply because a 1990’s remix sounded completely different to the original song. From the composition, arrangement, and lyrics you got a brand-new song with a 90’s remix, with elements of the original interspersed with the remix linking them together. 1990’s remixes are a huge part of my come up, and were a big deal to the musical landscape as a whole, so much so that to this day people remain fascinated by the fact completely new lyrics were written for a remix, with artists actually grouping together in person to record the new version of the song in the studio, delivering new lyrics over a new beat complete with tempo switch ups, with shades of the original throughout the track to allow the listener to distinguish it as a remix and not a brand new song. Remixes of this inventive era also brought about the most unlikely collaborators, who may as well have inhabited different planets, joining forces to bring us classics, which are being dusted down and celebrated in all their dazzling glory by artists of today. Many agree this trend began when Mariah Carey risked her entire career to drop her ‘Fantasy’ remix with Wu Tang clan’s ODB. The ‘Fantasy’ remix produced by Puff Daddy, took on a life of its own upon its release in 1995, eclipsing the original version.
Which brings us nicely to the 1996 remix of Jodeci’s ‘Freek N You’, featuring Raekwon and Ghostface from the shaolin super group, Wu Tang Clan. The remix came to fruition when Jodeci member and producer Mr. Dalvin remixed the track, and wanted to put standout member, Method Man, of his favourite hip hop group on the remix. A quick call to Wu Tang’ front man RZA informed him that wouldn’t be possible, as Method Man was in Japan, but RZA suggested newer members of the ‘clan, who he predicted would be next for solo success and sent them to the studio to record the remix. The rest as they say is history, and Raekwon and Ghostface did indeed go on to have a meteoric rise to become hip hop royalty as solo artists. Where the original ‘Freek N You’s’ composition contains sprawling echoing synths, the plink plonk of pianos, slow hand claps, cymbal flourishes, and a hint of vocoder effects on part of the vocal not dissimilar to Cameo’s 1986 hit ‘Word Up’, the remix contains a consistent jabbing bass, with an intrusive electric guitar plucking throughout, a break beat in rhythm on the 4th stanza creating a well…jagged edge to the remix. Add to that the thuggish ruggish guest raps from Raekwon and Ghostface, and you have a remix worth sampling at, oh I don’t know, say your Coachella 2022 performance perhaps!
As an avid music fan and a passionate music writer, you tend to make it your duty to keep up to date with new artists and current releases, whether you feel inspired to write about what you’re hearing or not. Every year, every music writer, blogger, and journalist will pay particular attention to all the big festivals to earmark artists to listen out for, to keep up with the ever-shifting sonic and trends. Coachella, although on the other side of the Atlantic held in a sun-drenched desert in Indio, California (Is it really a festival unless you’re trudging through the mud with your wellies on, rain mac swinging wildly, as you jump about slippin’ and sliding in the rain!) Coachella festival usually gets a fleeting glance because it’s so far removed from our culture and traditions when it comes to music festivals and live events. After a quick scroll of performances I curiously clicked on she who shall now be known as queen-chella, aka Megan Thee Stallion’s performance and here I am, feeling inspired all over again to sit down and type about the power, stage presence, and nostalgia I witnessed in her performance, which teased her new song, ‘Plan B’, which samples the beat from Jodeci’s ‘Freek N You’ remix.
Megan Thee Stallion (A nickname coined from her upbringing in Houston, Texas where a tall, curvy girl is known as a stallion) had my attention, and has managed to hold it since I watched her flow over the 1996 beat with total conviction, cockiness, and confidence as she commanded the stage with prowess, as strobe lighting lit up her sky blue ankle boots, and her bejewelled top and shorts as she proudly showed off her curves which earned her the name; ‘The Stallion’. Megan came through with a raw, unapologetic, and defiant delivery, I was instantly hyped as she sauntered off the stage with a deliciously wicked giggle, obviously knowing full well she tore up the track with the power of her delivery, and the controlled pacing of her bars, as she directed the crowd “Ladies, love yourself, cos this sh*t could get ugly”, which was reminiscent of Notorious B.I.G’s lyrics from his smash ‘Players Anthem’. This.Is.IT. I thought, THIS is what’s been missing in modern Hip Hop. The brashness and braggadocio delivered so effortlessly by 1990’s femcee’s of the time Lil Kim, Foxxy Brown and Missy Elliott is back. With that one performance at Coachella festival. Megan Thee Stallion has reintroduced substance over style to a new audience and reignited the ‘Hardcore’ era Lil Kim embodied in the 90’s. From the reaction to queen-chella’s brazen bars, I was not the only one who missed the hey days of the fierce female rapper who could go bar for bar against the men, fans were calling for Megan to “Drop that sh*t right NOW, we need it!” and commented, “She switched up her flow to a Lil Kim style, the old Megs is back”.
Megan Thee Stallion’s response for multiple requests from her fans to release ‘Plan B’ officially, saw her literally “Drop that shit”, just as she’d instructed her DJ at her 17th April Coachella performance, before surprising us with new bars over a 90’s beat. As an artist who enjoys interacting and engaging with her fans, it’s no surprise the Houston hotty succumbed to her fans requests and officially released ‘Plan B’ on all streaming platforms available for download on Friday 22nd April. Megan is no stranger to favouring xrated lyrics causing controversy with her rhymes, we all remember the furore Megan and Cardi B created with the release of their overtly sexual, polarising 2020 track, ‘WAP’. As far as sexual gratification goes, ‘Plan B’ follows a similar mantra. As Megan spits “’Cos who the f**k rock it like me, no bra, tight tee, slick back ponytail, feelin’ like Ice T…” (and those are the tame lyrics), it’s clear Megan’s brazen self-assuredness along with such bold proclamations of her sexual appetite and sexual dominance, makes some people feel uncomfortable, as this was a subject within male dominated music industries like Hip Hop and Grime, where women remained fairly low key about the subject in the respective genre’s early inceptions, whereas the men within these industries were loud and proud regarding their sexual escapades.
What many may not realise is that women rhyming openly and graphically about their sexual expectations is not an entirely new concept, and can be traced back to the invention of Dancehall in 1970’s Jamaica. Like many genres’ dancehall evolved and splintered off into a sub-genre known as – slackness. The slackness genre which emerged in late 1980’s, Jamaica, was personified by female sexual dominance, raucous rhymes, graphic details, and batty riders* and bra tops. The standout star of this genre being Lady Saw. Jamaican’s will always remember what the iconic Caribbean artist turned church minister, got up to under the ‘Sycamore Tree’, as most grew up with this track on repeat in our households, as dancehall and slackness became synonymous with Caribbean life styles and culture as a whole, to the point that seeing your grandparents whine and twerk at a family party to the sounds of their homeland, became the norm. Nowadays we have Jamaican artist, Spice at the forefront of the slackness genre, and her sexually empowering track ‘Rampin’ Shop’ remains a firm favourite.
Just as trends and styles come full circle, so too do musical genres, with the release of Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Plan B’, not only has she brought a much loved remix back to the forefront of our consciousness and made us reminisce and celebrate the 1990’s again, she’s also tapped into a style of rapping and sexual liberation first heard in the Caribbean in the 1980’s, reinterpreted by Lil Kim and Foxxy brown in the 90’s, and rejuvenated today by Megan and co. in 2022. ‘Plan B’ also serves as a response to Jodeci’s 1996 ‘Freek N You’ remix. On the predecessor, K-Ci crooned about what he wanted to do to his woman, in stark contrast Megan states not only what she’d like done to her, but how she’d like it done. Megan then pushes the boundary even further by proudly declaring her independence, ownership of her body, and complete control of her future by rhyming “Poppin’ plan B’s* cause I don’t plan to be stuck with you”.
Whether you agree with Megan’s views or not, whether you find her empowering or revolting, it’s her truth to tell, and she’s entitled to express it. If you choose to take in Megan’s truth’s and listen to her latest release, I’d highly recommended listening to the ‘95 original and remix before diving into the 2022 refix, for a mini musical journey of differing era’s. Listening to the three tracks back-to-back, is almost like the woman who surrendered to Jodeci on the 1995 version, has grown into an independent bad ass on Megan’s version, and has decided it’s her turn to get hers, and she’s not coy about demanding it either, to get the man to surrender to her! Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a complete musical flip reverse on our hands, which has evolved over a 26-year period, where Megan is now the ‘Freek’, and Jodeci although the respected originators of the beat, are relegated to mere bystanders to her demands in this modern musical era of; the female boss.
*Batty riders – Jamaican slang for hot pants *Plan B – The U.S version of the morning after contraceptive.
Photo credit: Megan at Coachella, theestallion/Instagram
Download & listen to Megan Thee Stallion’s, ‘Plan B’ available on all Platforms below. *OUT NOW*