Monthly Archives: September 2014

Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G’s Ready To Die

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest Times in Hip Hop history. On September 13, 1994, right in the middle of the Golden Age of 90s Hip Hop, Bad Boy Records officially dropped the debut album The Notorious BIG “Ready To Die“. This album went on to become one of the most iconic and influential albums of the genre, simultaneously making Bad Boy an industry super power and launching Biggie into superduperstar status. As we celebrate the anniversary of Ready To Die, with the help of my friend Shawn Adonis, we break down the top four songs from the album. If you don’t know, now you know….

UNBELIEVABLE

Breeze through in the Q-45 by my side, lyrical high / and those that rushes my clutches get put on crutches / get smoke like dutches from the master / hate to blast ya but I have to / you see I smoke a lot, your life is played out like Kwamé / and them fu**ing polka dots…

Cee: I don’t wanna add any more hyperbole to this song as great as it is already, but I could have honestly quoted the whole first verse of the song. When Biggie’s name was buzzing back in the summer of ’93 with his Party and Bullshit track, as much as I liked him and all the remixes he was on (i.e. see Mary J. Blige’s Real Love remix), I would have never thought he would have reached the lyrical levels that he brought to the song. I’ll admit, I just didn’t see the other levels coming. Before anything else that was released from him off of Ready To Die, this was actually the first cut I heard from the album. You can tell the difference in his voice from this song compared to the previously released tracks. It always sounded like he was yelling &/or too hyped up when he was rapping, as great as the songs were.

On “Unbelievable”, he appeared to be more relaxed, the confidence in his abilities had fully grown, & the swagger was completely swollen. But the lyrics….the lyrics….the lyrics though. In retrospect, what he did to that DJ Premier beat almost wasn’t fair. How he set up the metaphors (i.e.Breeze through in the Q-45 by my side…”), intersects the humor (i.e.Wear boxers so my dick can breathe“), ended the remaining potential of rappers careers (i.e. The Kwamé shot), this wasn’t just lyrical gymnastics, it was a verbal P90X session. Again, I’m only speaking about the first verse. Do you know how difficult it was to stand out like that lyrically in ’94 when people like Nas, Snoop, Jeru, Redman, Wu-Tang, Scarface, Keith Murray, Buckshot & everyone else were roaming the streets? And yet, he was so ridiculously talented that he made major room at the table anyway. The song title actually says it all to be honest.

Shawn: Very well said Cee. I’ve gotta say, you brought up some very interesting points that I’ve never really considered. And that I fully intend to steal like a burglar, while I head to the nearest barber shop to pass them off as my own original & enlightened thoughts so that I can be showered with praise.

I had heard a few tracks from Mr. Biggie Smalls before hearing “Unbelievable”, but they never captivated me enough to really keep my attention. The hyped up yelling flow that you mentioned just didn’t do anything for me, but this song changed all of that.  Just like you Cal, this was also the first track that I heard from Ready to Die. It was back in the days before you could go online and hear any song you wanted with the click of a mouse.  If you wanted to make yourself a hip hop mixtape (which back then was actually literally a tape), you had to sit by the radio with your fingers hovering over the ‘play’ & ‘record’ buttons waiting to hear something that was worthy to make the cut, and you were afraid to leave the room, cause as soon as you did, that’s when they’d play a song you wanted.  As soon as I heard that Primo beat come in, I started recording with the quickness.  After trying to figure out who “Sticky Smalls” was (I can’t be the only one who thought, and still thinks, that the hook sounds like he’s saying “Sticky, Sticky, Sticky Smalls is the illest”…. Perhaps this was some intentional brilliance that I just wasn’t cool enough to understand.  Why not just emphasize the B?). I heard him spit that first bar and I knew I made a wise recording decision.

No one can debate that Big was given a heater of a beat.  Back in those days Premier could have used a sample of himself passing a bowel movement, and as long as he mixed it right and added a baseline to it, it would be an instant classic.  But the “Unbelievable” beat stands out to me because it could have went either way depending on who laid down the verses over it, and the Notorious one’s style, flow, and energy is what made you take heed to the beat.  Any other rapper on that beat would have been like someone wearing a fly outfit with a beat up and bummy pair of sneakers.  It would have just ruined the whole thing.

What separated this song from others at that time, was that other rappers often used two bars to complete a thought, however, Biggie laced every bar with entirely new subject matter, and kept it up for line after insanely lyrical line. You hardly had a chance to process everything he was coming at you with.

And one last thing, that senseless unprovoked jab at Kwame was totally uncalled for. That poor bastard was probably somewhere plotting his comeback, when out of nowhere he was blindsided by the most relevant thing in rap saying he was now irrelevant.  I can’t help but to think that he was probably in a dark room somewhere pouring gasoline on his polka-dotted memorabilia, with tears streaming from his sleepy eyes.  To avoid the public backlash he was probably forced to change his identity……. which would have pretty much consisted of him dying that bleached swirl in his hair black.  Without that or the polka-dots, no one could have picked him out of a line up.

JUICY

It was all a dream / I used to read Word Up! magazine / Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine / Hanging’ pictures on the wall / Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl.

Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood / And it’s still all good / Uh… and if you don’t know, now you know, ni**a.”

Cee: It’s safe to say this is the most popular song Biggie ever made, right? I mean, we could make an honest case for that, can’t we? I don’t believe it was his best work, but it did its job, which was introducing him to the masses. And it worked in a major way. People can rip him all they want, but much praise goes out to Puff Daddy (I’m using his original name dammit!) for coming up with the idea of using Biggie’s talents over an old, classic 80s record. Sure, he almost ended up literally overkilling hip hop a few years later with that same “Just use the whole beat, don’t bother sampling it. No one will care!” formula, but for this song & some of the other Biggie songs & collabos down the line (i.e. Sky’s The Limit” and, I Love The Dough), it always worked to perfection. It was perfect actually. It allowed Biggie to stay street & gutter talking about his rags-to-riches story, but having the melodic nostalgia to play on major radio stations & still suck you in. In fact, the remakes Puffy created would bring new life to a whole new generation. Think about it Shawn, in 1994, what teenager even knew who the hell Mtume was?

To me, what made this song more of a classic than anything else is the video & the fact that it actually matches the lyrics. This is probably one of the more true to life videos we’ve seen, especially back then. It shows the progression from him hustling on the corner; getting arrested; his boys running after someone for doing something that violated crew standards; getting interviewed by the pool; his boys playing Street Fighter with either a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis on a 50-inch screen while Big, Puff & from the looks of the older token white man sitting beside him, his accountant handling business on the money green leather couches. Shit, he even had his Moms in the video holding the Source Magazine with a smile on her face. This was almost as authentic as you can get. A feel good story that matched the wordplay letter for letter.

If this song drops in 2014, there would be girl-on-girl kissing in the pool while guys pour Peach Ciroc on them; everyone holding red cups sipping on that lean & blowing weed smoke into the camera; & the reporter would have dropped the mic, stripped down to her bra & thong, to then start twerking on Big to the point of muscle spasming. But in 1994, everyone just waved their hands in the air & partied by the pool. It was almost wholesome.

Sidenote: Did you ever look at a street light & wanna do pull ups on it too Shawn or was it just me?

Shawn: Most definitely Cal, not only did those pull ups and dips on the street lights make those guys look like ghetto superheroes to me (cause as I’m sure you remember, I had what one might describe as a stick figure physique back then), but it inspired me to climb lamp posts to get my strength up. Unfortunately, they’re 30 feet high around here, so my fear of death deterred me a bit.

Now, I know that what I’m about to say is going to be considered the highest form of Hip Hop blasphemy known to man, and that the ground may open up and swallow me whole as soon as I finish typing this……..but…….. I’ve never really liked Juicy. * insert Gasp here *

Ok, now don’t get me wrong, I definitely understand the allure of the song and why so many people like it.  How can you not enjoy the story of a young downtrodden kid from the hood, single parent home, mother that struggled to put food on the table, took to the streets to make money, experienced the ups and downs of hustling, went to prison, pursued music to finally become one of the top rappers in the game, living a lavish life and finally being able to take care of his Mom.  I get it completely.  It’s just not my cup of tea musically.  So let me defend my opinion here.

First of all, like you said Cal, this wasn’t Big’s most lyrical contribution to the Album, and back then I was a lyrical fiend, I would live for those “I can’t believe he said that, I have to rewind it 30 times” moments, and this song had zero of these moments.  Secondly, that beat never did anything for me.  It was so simple, so boring.  I’ve never been tempted to so much as nod my head to, or even tap my foot to this song. When it comes on in the club, that’s my cue to take a trip to the bathroom. When it comes on the radio, that’s when I switch to the news station to get caught up on current events.  It’s one of those songs that you hear once and that’s enough.

It’s a great story that would make a great movie (which ironically was poorly casted years later, and made a mediocre movie at best), and like you said Cal it made a great video.  Sure, parts of it that looked cool to me back then, look a bit cornier and outdated now, but that’s only because people took this video’s blueprint and improved upon it throughout the years, which is why all the classics look a bit corny.  From what I remember too, this was the first video of that era where a rapper stepped out that “grimey” persona, and made it look cool to throw on some linens and hard-bottoms.  In a rap climate where Wu Tang, Nas, Boot Camp, and others made sure they were dressed in clothes that would make them “fit the description” of a perpetrator,  Biggie made it look cool to be classy.

Even though we only got little glimpses of it in this video, how cool were Puff’s diddy bop scenes? We had no idea at the time that Puff’s smooth two step/shoulder jerk/arm wave/neck bob/spin-around dance moves would end up playing Robin to Biggie’s Batman in his future videos and performances.  Or who would have imagined back then that this shirtless dancing champagne sipper would become one of the biggest music moguls in history?

By the way, not only did I not know who Mtume was in 1994, I don’t  know who they are in 2014 either.  But thanks to my pal Google, I’m fully caught up now.  Those dudes look disco-rific.  And sadly a lot of people would hear the original song today and think they stole Biggie’s ‘Juicy‘ beat.

Hey….um…. that 2014 version of the video you described, would you happen to have a link to that video that I could check out for some….. Uh…. research?

Cee: I’m sure we can find that version on Youtube somewhere. ***Searching***

BIG POPPA

“To all the ladies in the place with style and grace / Allow me to lace these lyrical douches in your bushes / Who rocks grooves and make moves with all the mommies / The back of the club sipping Moet is where you’ll find me / The back of the club, mackin’ hoes, my crew’s behind me / Mad question asking, blunt passing, music blasting / But I just can’t quit/Because one of these honeys Biggie gots to creep with”

“I love it when they call me Big Poppa / Throw your hands in the air if you’s a true playa”

Cee: This song is the blueprint and the reason why Rick Ross can take his shirt off, let his tatted man boobs swing freely into the air today & nobody bats an eye. In Hip Hop, The Fat Boys made being big funny and comical as well as stereotypical. I mean, we understood they were fat, but did they really have to talk about their love of food & gorge on pizzas in interviews too? Even as a little kid, I never took them seriously. Heavy D made the big man dynamic into something cool and fun. Not only were his songs on par with some of the best Hip Hop & R&B material during the late 80s & early 90s, but he kept up with everyone & them some on the dance floor in the era where you danced until you sweat through your clothes. He wore the suits, had his dancers behind him doing all the innovative dance moves (one of his dancers Trouble T. Roy died unfortunately during an accident at one of his shows, and was forever remembered on the T.R.O.Y classic by Pete Rock & CL Smooth), and even introduced Monifah to the game. I will never, ever be mad at him for that one.  With that said, as great as he was, he never gave off the image to women that they wanted to get with him. They wanted to party with him, and maybe afterwards give him a great big hug when the night was done.

Here’s where Biggie changed things. You know how you can speak things into existence? Meaning that if you keep making affirmations to groups of people after a while, the affirmation starts to become believable. Well, with songs like these and “One More Chance” (both the original & the Remix) off the album, Biggie gave the affirmation that he was a ladies man & gave all big boys a chance to prove they can also play the field. You kept seeing it in his videos. He started moving differently, performing in concerts in dress shirts, slacks & suits. He started looking more like the head of a crime family instead of a rapper. The bigger his star power got, the hotter the music got, the more women just started flocking to him. A year after this album dropped, this dude was married to one of the most popular R&B artists in the game on his own label (Faith Evans), & had a mistress on the side that we all pretty much knew wasn’t a real secret (Lil’ Kim). He converted this supposed weakness into strength and power.

The allure of power. It can make you look more appealing than you really are, funnier to your peers than you can ever imagine, and look more appealing than you really are. There’s a reason why I wrote that twice….it’s because it’s true. Some of your favorite athletes & entertainers are not the best looking guys, let’s face facts here. Also, the fact is, Biggie was not an appealing looking guy. Heavy-set, heavy-tongued, labored breathing when he spoke, & had an eye that was lazier than the least motivated couch potato. Not only did he know that, he effin’ told us this & rapped it so ridiculously most times, that it no longer became a focus. He turned his rap skills into a persona and his persona into superstardom. This song is living proof. Even in the video, he’s leaving with two chicks. I know it’s only a video & they said “Cut!” when he walked offscreen, but the images from that & the lyrics he spat made you think that this was at least possible to believe.

Most importantly, Big Poppa is a classic anthem that can still rock radio and clubs in 2014. The flow, cockiness & swagger was ahead of its time. Throw in The Isley Brothers Between the Sheets sampling, he raised the bar for “I’m gonna take you home. Here’s why and you’re gonna love it” records & almost made it mandatory for rappers to have at least one record on their album like this if they wanted to go major. All this from a  man who self-described himself as black and ugly.

One more thing: In the video, is there any reason why he couldn’t be in the whirlpool with the video chicks too? Puffy’s in the thing with all these woman wearing next to nothing, pouring champagne, basically about to get it in….. & Biggie’s rapping outside the lip of the pool like he’s providing them elevator music. The song’s called Big Poppa, shouldn’t he reap the benefits 100%? Instead he only got 80% like a work dental plan. Smh.

Shawn: You hit the nail on the obese head there my brotha. Big rapped with an arrogance and confidence that made it seem like if you were a woman, and weren’t craving him in all of his big, black, fat glory….then there was something wrong with you.  But something tells me, if he were Chris Wallace the grocery clerk, he may not have had that affect on the ladies.  It’s amazing how money and power seem to sexify a man in a woman’s eyes.  But then again who knows. They say he was a really charming dude, so maybe he would have dropped a line like, “Would you like paper, plastic, or latex?”, and he would still have the women fighting over his large physique.  

I’ve never really been a huge fan of these cassanova tracks, where rappers act like their lives are a never-ending Axe commercial.  But Big Poppa had to be the best of its genre, not only offering you ladies-man braggadocio, but clever wordplay such as: 

“Really honey listen I’m askin / most of the fellas think they be mackin’ / but they be actin’ / who they attractin’ with that line what’s your name what’s your sign / soon as he buy that wine I just creep up from behind…” 

Gotta respect a man that lets another dude buy the drinks before he comes in and snatches the woman right from under him, and quite aggressively too.  In the video Biggie moved the dude aside by palming his face like Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  Talk about adding insult to injury. I hope that dude went home after that. There’s no respectable way to dance and try look cool in the club after another man no-look passes your face. 

I have one question: Who was that chick that played the main love interested related too???  She had to be the director’s sister or something, cause she straight up looked like snaggle puss in the face.  Not only is she not the prettiest chick in the video, she wasn’t even the prettiest of the three people in that scene with her, Big and Busta.  I mean, maybe she had a killer body, but you couldn’t really tell cause they didn’t pan down.  Didn’t this chick look like Ludacris from the “Word of Mouf” album cover?  Google that pic and tell me that’s not the same person. 

I hear what you’re saying Cee about that hot tub scene, they got Biggie up there rapping, steam from the hot tub probably got him dripping sweat under that leather jersey, leather sticking to his skin, all uncomfortable.  They couldn’t even invite a brotha to roll up his pant legs and let his feet dangle in the water, with the hot water bubbles massaging his feet?  Honestly, it’s only cause Big played it so cool, making it look like he gets so much ass, that it didn’t even phase him to let his peoples enjoy moments like that.  Most men, myself included, would have taken a running start into a canon ball in that tub.  But I guess that’s what separates Big Poppa from the rest.

It’s all good Baby Baabeehh…..

THE WHAT ft. Method Man

“(Assume the position) / Stop, look and listen / I spit on your grave then I grab my Charles Dickens, bitch” – Method Man

Shawn: Cal my good man, the first time I heard Method Man, my favorite rapper at the time, spit that line, I thought my head was going to explode into my Wu Tang scully (actually, I was never cool enough to have a Wu Tang scully, and by the time I finally had two pennies to rub together and bought a Wu Tang t-shirt, it shrunk after one wash and was unwearable. Very traumatizing. I try to repress those painful memories). Not that it was necessarily the best line in the song, cause Meth and Big went back and forth with with so many hot lines that to borrow (steal) your phrase from earlier, I could have quoted the entire song, but something about this line stood out from the rest for me.

For the only feature on Ready to Die, Biggie employed the services of one of the games most captivating characters, the most recognizable member of the famed Wu Tang Clan, the “M-e-t-h-o-d Man”. Remember Cee, back then features happened about as rarely as a solar eclipse. Nowadays, rappers are feature whores, hopping on tracks with every other rapper, every time the wind changes direction.  It’s so bad now, that some rappers have more songs featuring other artists than they even have by themselves, and truth be told, it’s because a lot of them aren’t talented enough to hold your attention for a whole 3 minutes.  Some songs have so many different people featured on them, that by the time the song is over, you don’t remember who the song originally belonged to. But this wasn’t the case with “The What“. They were two rappers in their prime that could have easily commanded an entire song by themselves. What they offered their listeners was a rare gift.  Back then, cross-crew collabos were so rare that when you heard that two rappers you liked were hopping on a track together, you were actually excited, cause you knew you were in for some musical magic that probably wouldn’t be repeated any time soon by the pairing, if ever.

This song was very necessary for the album, it struck a balance between songs that real hip hop head’s would love (most men), and the more commercial snoozefest tracks like ‘Juicy’ that catered to a different demographic (mostly women, and we know that men like what women like).

I’m sure that Big spitting that opening line about throwing “Shield’s on the dick” was probably the last time a rapper claimed to use anything but Magnums, wouldn’t you say?  These days every rapper claims to be packing an Anaconda.  You have dudes that are 5’2″, 100 pounds, looking like they haven’t gone through puberty, yet claiming to be suffering from Ron Jeremy syndrome (I may have dated myself with that reference, and inadvertently revealed to my parents that those nights that I said I was watching “wrestling” in the basement, the blonde and brunette weren’t Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper) .  And then of course, in the next bar they use the word “magnum” as a double entendre in reference to a handgun. Man, hip hop is depressingly predictable these days.

Cee: Before I jump on this song, I wanna pour out a lil’ liquor for the career of producer Easy Mo Bee. Seriously speaking, this dude had a major hand musically for the first two projects for Bad Boy Records. I’ll never, ever take anything away from the talents of Biggie or Craig Mack, but think of how different life would be for those guys coming into the game without his production. I actually forgot just how much work he did for these guys. From “Party & Bullshit” to Flava in Ya Ear (AND the Remix!) to Get Down, I mean, I especially remember just how hot those records were back then. Shit, the “Flava in Ya Ear Remix” still shuts down parties now. By all accounts this is supposed to be one of the greatest albums that ever came across the Hip Hop genre & this man literally produced 1/3 of all the songs on it.  A third! Yet, by the time this album (and to a lesser extent, Craig Mack’s album) exploded, Biggie was a superstar, Puff was a superstar, Craig Mack was at his peak of screaming “Haaaa buoy!” everywhere with his Philly Afro-cutting ass, but where was Easy Mo Bee’s name in flashing neon lights??? Poor dude got left at the docks with his knapsack & suitcase while the party boat departed without him. He’s been properly credited for his work on “Gimme the Loot”, “Machine Gun Funk”, “Warning” (undisputed classic), and the album title track (Ready to Die), so I’m hoping he was properly paid for his services, however, I still can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. He’s THE forgotten entity off this classic & one of the most overlooked producers in hip hop history. I mean Shawn, did you know that he even produced this?!?!?!

Outside of DJ Premier with “Unbelievable”, Easy Mo Bee quite possibly produced the hottest beat on Ready to Die with “The What”. It might sound simple, but it’s a perfect combination of eerie and funkiness.  Also, if you’re gonna bring someone like Method Man in the studio to rap, wouldn’t it be to something like this? This beat was made for him. In fact, Easy Mo Bee created the perfect backdrop for both these rappers to come out with their best lyrics. If this was a boxing match, it would have been Method Man in a split decision, IF Biggie didn’t drop that last verse to make it a solid draw. Both guys are firing haymakers in this song, but these bars right here….

“I used to do stick ups, cause hoes is irritating like the **hiccups** / Excuse me, flows just grow through me / Like trees to branches / cliffs to avalanches / It’s the praying mantis….”

…..it showed another example of Biggie as the brightest of stars. Back in 1994, before Tical came out, Method Man was arguably the hottest rapper in hip hop. If he featured on your song, you had to perform first because once he got on, you had to do like those safe sex commercials & wrap it up. Nobody cared about you after he performed. Just sing the hook & get the hell out of Dodge. Make no mistake about it, Method Man came for the jugular here. So for Biggie not to only fight that off buzzsaw, but to drop lyrics like the ones I just quoted with almost effortless flair, it should have shown anyone who wasn’t aware that he was going to be major. And he was. By the beginning of ’95, he was the biggest hip hop star alive. You couldn’t touch him. The only ones that was on his stratosphere lyrically &/or star power-wise was Nas, Meth (and Wu Tang as a whole), Snoop & probably Tupac before he got shot and went to jail. He was not only the King of New York, but was basically the King of everything. Like Nas with Illmatic, he dropped a Mona Lisa. Unlike Nas, he eventually changed the game from how we looked to what we wore & what liquor to drink.

Looking back at it now, my generation was so spoiled because we had such groundbreaking legends from the rappers to producers who were creating at such a high level that we almost took it for granted. Almost. As a huge lover of music, I kind of wish that today’s generation experienced what mine did because we got fed. If hip hop was a restaurant, it was a five-star restaurant in the mid-90s. We were eating filet mignon & caviar, & washing it down with some Autumn Reisling wine and champagne often. As the times went along, the prices got more expensive and some of the superb dishes that we got to eat were taken off the menu. Now in 2014, a five-star meal mostly consists of spaghetti and meatballs with Allen’s Apple juice, & it’s being eaten up by everyone under the age of 25. I don’t want to knock it & say it’s not a good meal, but the palate of my generation was forever affected. Some of us decided to close our eyes and dig in, while others decided to try different restaurants altogether. And some like myself, want to try these new dishes, but when I look back at albums like Ready to Die & remember how well off I was, I end up walking out of the establishment shaking my head. Maybe that makes me a snob. Maybe so…. & it might be better that way. Damn, I hope I didn’t make you get hungry…..  

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button. Very special thanks to Shawn Adonis for his contributions to this posting.

Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of New York Undercover, Part 2

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to 1994 where we bore witness to a groundbreaking show that influenced a generation. Twenty years ago this week Executive Producer Dick Wolf and FOX Network launched the first episode of New York Undercover, which starred Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo as Detectives J.C. Williams and Eduardo Torres. In Part 2, myself & Headley Bent wonder if this show can work in 2014, our favorite episodes, and the one and only……. Danny Cort.

CLICK HERE FOR PART 1.

Danny “Danny Up” Cort

Cee: The 90s version to Avon Barksdale. Safe to say this was the best villain in the history of the show. They had some pretty good ones too. John Santucci & his mafia, Adolfo Guzman and his gang who beat Torres up when he kept messing with his Dad. Those were just small tremors compared to the contempt Cort & JC had for each other. Their relationship was the definition of a blood feud. Quick rundown of the beef: In one of the earlier episodes from Season 1, Cort ran an elaborate CAT drug lab that communicated through ghost emails & pagers (as high end as technology got back then). Torres helps break up the operation being undercover & puts Cort behind bars. Once Cort got out, he tried to run another operation again that ended up being foiled by JC & Torres in a wild shootout. JC ends up killing Cort’s younger brother with the monster afro. Oh & let’s remind you, this whole shootout all happens a couple of days before JC gets married to his fiancee Sandy. This is where everything flips on its head.

Normally with these network shows, maybe the villain would try to exact revenge by maybe holding the cop’s loved one hostage or something, but usually the good guys prevail at the end no worse for wear. By having Cort run up in JC’s apartment (after his right hand man Big Dawg tracks down JC’s address), impersonating someone making a delivery to Sandy & then shooting the living daylights out of her with a machine gun…. I’m not even sure if mind blowing is the right term to describe it. Anyone who watched that episode remembers, you were left stuck in your chair with the air completely sucked out of you. Like someone sucker punching kicking you hard in the stomach right when you’re swallowing some food. Outside of Dwayne Wayne breaking up Whitley’s wedding in A Different World, & Optimus Prime actually dying in the Transformers movie, I can’t remember a time when a TV show threw me for a loop like that, but this was so brutal, you felt for JC like it was your brother. Right then & there, I became a fan of Ice-T.

Listen, as a rapper, I really wasn’t the biggest fan of Ice-T. I know I’m supposed to hold Colors in high regard, but maybe I was too young to fully appreciate it or it just sailed over my head back then. To be honest, I’m still not crazy about his songs. But Ice-T the actor? Two thumbs up.  His start in New Jack City was great, but I’ll always associate that movie with Wesley Snipes, who in this movie was at the height of his powers with his charismatic forceful personality & his dark-skinnededness. He was raising the flag for dark-skinned brothers everywhere at the time, and of course I had to ride for that! Not to say whenever I think of this show I think of Ice-T, but he had a major impact on the show that you couldn’t shake. It forever changed JC’s character on the show, even made him slightly crazy after Sandy’s death (which was amazing by the way). Ice-T was ruthless, relentless, & was one of the most underrated & overlooked villains of our time.

Headley: 

Torres: “Listen, you’ve gotta take this kid with you. He’s gonna die if he doesn’t get to a hospital!”

Cort: “Look, I would if this was a ‘saving the kid’ kind of a day, maybe. But unfortunately, today’s turning into a ‘save my ass’ kind of day.” – Quote from Season 1, episode #19 “CATS.

This was the kinda guy Danny Cort aka DannyUp was. To put it lightly, he was a drug kingpin, but accurately, he was a psychopath.  Like Cal, I’m not the biggest fan of Ice-T’s rap career, but I give due where due is deserved, and he’s a pioneer. Even Ice T admits he wasn’t the best rapper but he was Tupac before Tupac. He put out tracks we only thought about. If Ice T was indicative to what kind of music that Danny Up would be listening to, I’m sure Original Gangster, New Jack Hustler, Midnight and Cort’s favorite Cop Killer would get so much play it would cause his yellow Discman to smoke. DannyUp was only in three or four episodes?!?!?! I swear I thought he was in more. I remember him like he was a pivotal part of the plot. That goes to show how his small role was impactful. I’ll say this much: had they spread that storyline the whole series, it would have been on par (okay not on par) of drug lord Gus Fring in Breaking Bad season 2-3-4. Fring and Cort did their business completely different, all I am saying is that Cort could have had his own Wikipedia page had it developed more. But as it stands, nothing touches Gustova. NOTHING! That’s for another time.  But I find it timely to mention the actor that played him in Breaking Bad (Giancarlo Esposito) also guest starred in New York Undercover as Adolfo Guzman. He was an associate to the John Santucci mafia you mentioned Cal. Well it was Guzman’s character that had a long brewing feud with Det Torres and temporarily took over Natalie’s from Eddie’s pops!!! I’m telling you, this series was the catalyst to a lot of great acting. We just had no idea what we were watching. As we know, Ice-T also became better known as Det. Fin on Law & Order: Special Crime Unit from 2000 to the this very day.

Interesting Note: Ice-T also won the NAACP Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 1996 for his Danny Cort role. See, it wasn’t just hyperbole, he really did knock that role out of the ball park. Not sure who he competed with that year but let’s not pay any attention to that.

Favorite Episodes

Cee: The aforementioned Danny Cort one where he kills Sandy is really close to being my favorite. My favorite one personally is the episode when Cort comes back out of jail & terrorizes JC until they meet to the death.  Sending JC two human middle fingers by way of his son Gregory aka G., leaving a dead body in his car, having Naomi Campbell (who played JC’s new woman in the show) help kidnap his son & Chantal (Mother of JC’s child). I’m not sure if you can hit the mountaintop of the blood feud any higher than Cort playing Russian Roulette with JC’s son and laughing. I’m sure some people turned the other way in real life when they saw Ice-T coming. He played that shit a little too good.

Underrated favorites are the first 4-5 episodes of Season 2 when JC comes back on the force after Sandy’s murder/JC-Cort Round 1 & was mad at the world. He snapped on everyone, beat up criminals way too aggressively, even smacked around Torres at one point.  Every time he flipped out, my cousin Brian would call me & we’d freak out about it like Jordan came down the lane & dunked on somebody. And vice versa. If you’re thinking it, you’re right: we were idiots.

Headley: I’m going to simplify this and bring it down to one episode. This might not even be my favourite episode but it’s the most memorable. What’s reminiscent is the scene with Det JC Williams chasing down Danny Cort by the docks. It’s the one singular scene which captures a genie in a bottle. For those playing at home that haven’t caught on yet, it’s the same episode that Cal mentioned earlier about Danny Cort cocking his gun to G’s head.

Before I get into it. Let me give you some interesting facts which we never realized before the lineage that was forming. We always talk about the heavy hip hop influence on the show. Reggie Rock Bythewood who wrote the episode and one of the main writers of the series went on to write the biopic Notorious on the acclaimed life of Notorious B.I.G. Also Cal, you make a reference to legendary villain Avon Randolph Barksdale of the infamous The Wire series.

Get this: Actor Steve Harris who plays Terry Ellers which has a longtime fued with JC. Ellers early on in this episode walks into the precinct accusing JC of harassment, and later on ends up dead with his finger cut off. Danny Cort has his finger gift wrapped to JC delivered by his own son G, Cort is nuts. Well, Steve Harris became a larger star in the American legal drama The Practice , playing lawyer Eugene Young. To this day, that acting is one of the best played out characters I have seen on the small screen, and Steve Harris has the awards to back it up. One of my all-time favorite dramas too. We were privy to a preview of his discovery on New York Undercover. And Cal, guess who Steve Harris kid brother is? You give up? None other than Wood Harris. Yes, the same Wood Harris that would later on bring Avon Barksdale to life on The Wire. He actually had a cameo in season four on New York Undercover too. Okay, school is out.

The reason why I love this series is because the storyline of Danny Cort was finally coming to a climax. The build-up was intense, like I’mma ‘bout to pop that…. lid (trying to keep it PG people). As Cal said, Danny Cort had already solidified himself as a maniac, you just wanted to see him and JC finally square off. And nothing becomes more apparent with Danny Cort’s mindset then when he explains the mental torture he wants to put JC through when he’s in the car with his right-hand-man, CoCo. And the twist of finding out that JC’s girlfriend played by the lovely Naomi Campbell is a double agent who is really in Danny Cort’s camp. You knew something was up when she accused Torres of hitting her. You realize Danny Cort is one sick, but smart ass dude. Finally, when JC is praying for his family’s life and Danny’s yukking it up, you forget Danny Cort is just a character and start to think Ice-T might be nuts. But when JC get’s the upper hand and the foot race is on…. I swear to you, I watched the scene on my feet when it first happened. You’d a thought I was watching 90s playoff basketball…. I WAS AMPED. I had been waiting for this showdown to finally happen like prize fighters, the time for talk was over. And when JC catches him, and Cort goes on that rant from his back saying:

“Listen, this thing ain’t neva gonna end, not until you’re  dead, not until Chantal’s dead, and not until I kill your kid. I’ll be back before you know I’m gone. PULL THE TRIGGER YOU LITTLE BITCH!!”

J.C’s eyes bugged out. Episode just ends with a single gunshot heard. You could have heard a pin drop in my basement. Oh yeah, and to top it all off….Al Green was the musical guest at Natalie’s. **drops mic**

(** But I have to say watching the episode again, it’s not as nearly at mind blowing as I first remembered but neither are eye candies in old 2 Live Crew videos either. It’s the times. **)

Can this show be remade in 2014?

Cee: I don’t even see how that’s possible. Seriously. First of all, on the musical side, the music has changed so much since 1994, that hip hop today mostly sounds the same. Meaning that it doesn’t matter what region you’re from, most of it has that same trap music sound. The best part of New York Undercover musically was that with the distinctive New York flavor (where most of the rappers rarely sounded alike even though they lived in the same city), the show just felt like a New York city show. Right now the show would have to be called Miami Undercover or Atlanta Undercover or even Louisiana Undercover. But not New York.

Secondly, who would even play the role of JC & Torres? Who pulls that off? Or do they just come with different characters altogether, like Detectives Ronde Jenkins & Benito Santiago? Most importantly, they have to not only be female eye candy, but also have enough swagger and sense of style that the guys want to follow as well. In the social media world & all the distractions and avenues that it can take you on, I’m not quite sure how that happens. Unless…..

….you put this show on HBO. This show would have to be darker, sexier, more violent, and whoever plays Nina Moreno or her equivalent has to be hot & willing to be naked. A lot. So much so that I’m tweeting about it, posting her pics on Instagram, and definitely talking about it non-stop with my peoples on WhatsApp. That will pique my interest for starters. Overall however, the show would have to become even more grittier than its predecessor. This may be fine, but then you kind of lose its coolness factor of the show too, & that kind of defeats the purpose. You know how some songs are sung so well that they should just be left alone? Some songs are meant for that time, in that era, & to be sung only by those original artists. Well, this show might fall into the same category. Yoba & DeLorenzo had a natural chemistry that’s not easily repeated. That’s the thing about chemistry with regards to any kind of relationship. It’s not something that happens often, but when it does, you know it right away. Sometimes it lasts forever, and there are times it doesn’t, but when it does, you always know for certain that recreating that feeling is impossible once the elements change. That’s why Season 4 never worked once Torres & Lt. Cooper were gone & all the new castmates replaced them. The chemistry died once the JC & Torres dynamic was altered. It couldn’t be done in 1998 & it’ll be hard to do now. That memory needs to remain in our minds & on segmented Youtube clips forever….

…..unlike Season 4 because we’ll always pretend like that shit never existed.

Headley: I disagree with some of your points. The chemistry between Torres and JC isn’t something that was made in a lab and is now buried in a time capsule. It can happen again. The problem is when they killed off Torres, we couldn’t fathom seeing anyone else as JC’s partner. This isn’t Chicago PD or Game of Thrones, or The Wire era. We weren’t use to main characters being off’d. Almost like the series was better off with them both dead and starting two fresh lead characters. Although the series still didn’t do any better, but could you imagine if Derwin and/or Melanie started messing with someone else while their other character moved away in The Game?!?! Those two were corny but their corniness worked together. And I never knew about Malik Yoba or Michael DeLorenzo before New York Undercover, so for a remake, it doesn’t need named actors, the history of the show, and not the actors, is what will draw past viewers, and attract new ones.

With all that said… my simple answer to this question is still “NO”. Lol. Not with how attention spans are now, and to the great lengths shows have to go for originality and plot development. This show would get swallowed up. You’d need a Danny Cort-type character in every season or it wouldn’t have the same impact. Just like RUN-DMC not being able to duplicate its run in the 80s if they came out now. But the same way I would love to see them in concert, I’m not sure I want to hear a comeback album. There’s a meaning to “the right place at the right time”. I won’t say it would have been impossible but DeLorenzo destroyed that.

The rumors were that DeLorenzo got into a contract dispute with the Executive Producers/FOX and completely annihilated the show after only three seasons. I understand him wanting to cash in on the popularity but when they wrote him off, this series went right off the cliff. We talk about this series and it was on only three seasons (the last season like the Arsenio Hall and MJ returns are so unmemorable, I try to block it out my memory). And the worst thing is, you never saw Michael DeLorenzo again, this was his apex. At least when David Caruso walked away from NYPD Blue after one season, he resurfaced again with CSI Miami. I have literally never seen DeLorenzo again!! Is he doing community production stage plays of New York Undercover now?!??! The joke is, he left because of cash and the royalties they could have made if he had stayed was probably more than he would have ever made afterwards. His bluff got called and he didn’t even have a pair of twos. He’s no better than Shereè leaving RHOA (from what I am told. I don’t watch that… ummm… ever. Really. Really). But let me digress, I know this wasn’t the question but if this series would have gone eight plus seasons strong, it would have had a Miami Vice rep and we’d be talking about big budget movie options like they had (which was horrible by the way). Point being right now with a short-lived series and over saturation of cop dramas, it won’t happen.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Just recently a few years ago, a New York cop series premiered with a Jay Z song “Heart of the City / Ain’t No Love” as the opening jingle. I had the show PVR’d before you could spell out PVR. I had the memories of New York Undercover spinning in my head like your HS sweetheart when I saw the commercial.  Show looked to have some potential swag, following rookie cops in the Upper Manhattan side of NYC. The show lasted one season and it was one season too long. Can’t be duplicated.

Cee: That DeLorenzo holdout point you made was very depressing. He single handily may have killed the long-term potential of the show. I think I actually saw him as a dance instructor teaching Duane Martin to dance on the show All of Us about 10 years ago. Maybe that was his way of taking it back to his Fame roots, who knows? Either way, that was a sobering way to end this blog. Thanks for killing my buzz.

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button. Very special thanks to Headley Bent for his contributions to this posting.

Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of New York Undercover

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to 1994, where we bore witness to a groundbreaking show that influenced a generation. Twenty years ago this week, Executive Producer Dick Wolf and FOX Network launched the first episode of New York Undercover, which starred Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo, as Detectives J.C. Williams and Eduardo Torres. By the end of its first season, it garnered critical acclaim & helped influence the musical and fashion decisions of youth everywhere. With the help of my friend Headley Bent, we will break down those influences plus discuss all things that New York Undercover impacted in the mid 90s. Yup, we’re on the case….

How did you first come across the show?

Cee: Sounds like a weird question until you realize that back in 1994, I lived in the South Shore & did not have any access to FOX. We only got it a few months later during the holidays. No more waiting for Headley’s sister to mail us** videotapes of Martin & all the other black shows we didn’t get in Montreal. I could watch it on my own now! Before FOX came into our lives, we had to depend on local stations to carry those shows, which of course, they never did. So one night as I was getting ready for bed, I had the TV on CFCF 12 (CH. 12) in the background as the news was ending. While I’m changing my clothes, I hear Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage being played out of nowhere. I pulled that “180 slo-mo” turn toward the TV with that WTF look on my face. I’m seeing this guy running away from two goons before eventually falling to his death. I didn’t understand what has happening. I only had two channels in my room: CBC & CFCF 12. Ok, & sometimes if there were no clouds in the sky & the antennae was tilted juuust right, I’d get to watch Bleu Nuit on CH. 4 too on Saturday nights….but that’s another story for another time. Basically though, how the hell would CFCF even know about Hip Hop, much less playing it?? And why was it being played for this segment? What was so fantastic about this voyage???

Eventually, I realized it was the first scene of New York Undercover, & I’m seeing the Spanish dude from Fame & one of the Black Bobsledders from Cool Runnings as the two stars. Ok, lemme kick back & watch! As the show continued on, it immediately roped me in. Detectives J.C. Williams & Eduardo Torres looked like us, spoke like us, and dressed like us. In most cases, they dressed waaaay better than us. Everything came to a climax when they showed Torres rocking the Ottawa Senators hockey jersey with the Jordan IIIs running around New York city chasing a lead. IT WAS OVER. DONE. If the show was a cult, I would have thrown on a robe & started following the leader. I just couldn’t comprehend what the fu** was happening. On a random Wednesday past midnight, I’m watching a cop show whose detectives are wearing all the latest apparel & other stuff we didn’t even realize was hot yet, and spoke just like I did, while playing all the hottest hip hop & R&B tracks in the background. Oh yeah, & I’m watching all this in my bed on a local channel where the only black people that were on there was Oprah & one of the Montreal Expos players (probably Marquis Grissom) on the news. What the hell was happening here?!??

** Also Headley, notice I said Us? I don’t care, I benefitted from those videotapes too. So really, it was like both of ours…. you just kept it at your house.

Headley: Lol,  The other show was Living Single. What’s sad is you’d think my sister lived in the heart of the States, in the Big Apple, or somewhere easily accessible to these shows. She lived in Pickering?!?!?! And yet she had to feed me sitcoms like it was classified. But we ate it up. New videotapes was like putting on a new pair of kicks.

But back to your question. This is actually a haze to me. Like trying to recollect your first steps, but you know it happened seeing as you’re running today. All I know is the show debuted on CFCF 12 at midnight, and I just stumbled upon it. I think I was watching the news (yes I watched the news back then) and sports segment came at the end of the broadcast. There was no all-day sports channel in English for us Anglophones in Montreal. RDS (a French Sports station) didn’t get much play in our house. Plus I was lazy & we had no remote to just signal off right away, I had to work the energy to get up and physically turn the dial. Yes, I didn’t stutter…. I SAID TURN THE DIAL. So before I could conjure up the energy to turn off the TV, I heard the music from the opening scene, and the perplexed look on my face had to have been priceless. I froze for a second like I heard footsteps in the attic. My face was in the pillow and I said to myself, “that sounds like Video Music Box”. I now turn around to face the TV, and I’m seeing a scene that looks like a video I’d often record with my VHS tape on SLP, when I visit my fam in NYC. I’m like “what am I watching?!?!?” Nothing like this ever came across my TV set unless it was controlled by my VCR. Needless to say, I watched the entire episode like I was watching Santa from behind the door on Christmas Eve. I was hooked before the beginning credits were finished, and all sleep had left my body. By the time it ended with a scene at Natalie’s, I’d already convinced myself I’d see no rest before 1 a.m., whenever this show was on in the immediate future. That was a guarantee.

Cal, did we talk about it in school the next day? I felt like I had a story to share. Like it only came on my TV. Hadn’t been that geeked up to talk about a show since watching an episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, where Lois had a running slow-mo scene and the bounce…. ***daydreaming***

Cee: AHHHH yes. There were few things more resourceful & valued back in the early to mid 90’s than Teri Hatcher & her breasts. For God’s sake, they even created a whole Seinfeld episode around them. I’m sure there were many faculty members of school boards across the country who wondered why their male teenagers kept showing up every Monday morning with one of their forearms looking like Popeye’s.

But yes, I’m sure we had healthy conversations about the beginnings of New York Undercover back then. I mean, how can you not have??? Especially when most people in our city only heard of Martin & the other black shows that did not air on NBC or ABC. The girls were in love with the sex appeal of the two stars (especially when J.C. took off his shirt). The guys loved the overall swagger of the show, the really horny guys wanted a piece of Lt. Cooper for whatever reason (trust me, I knew a couple), and the show among black people & anyone else who embraced hip hop & urban culture grew a cult following almost overnight. You wouldn’t dare miss an episode afterwards.

What kind of impact did New York Undercover have?

Cee: I would say it without knowing the data or statistics of the demographic groups back then, but judging from my eyes, on a scale from small to MAJOR, it probably had as much impact as a Tsunami crashing onto a small island. At least to anyone 25 and under at the time. You have to remember, this show came smack in the sweet spot of the best time in Hip Hop, back when all the new major artists were pumping out some of the best work we had ever heard. East coast, more specifically, New York’s hip hop scene was going through a renaissance period, that was dominating the airwaves around us. Simply put, hip hop artist were becoming superstars & affecting the culture around them. Their music itself blended perfectly with the main characters & storylines from the show. We weren’t used to seeing a Hispanic and a black male being the main leads on a TV show, much less for a major network. The music that was played in the show was extremely relatable & realistic to how they carried themselves.

Let’s get into the fashion sway that NYU had over my generation for a moment. I said earlier that they dressed way better than us. I’ll take it a step further, that show was our motivation on how to look and dress. It’s not an exaggeration. Whatever JC & Torres wore, after a while was studied down to a science. A lot of it was borrowed from the hip hop artists, movers & shakers during those times without question. In fact, it was an explosion in urban fashion where wearing name brands became something you had to do. But the show gave it further validation when we kept seeing it on a weekly basis with consistency. From the hockey jerseys, the winter skullies with the beak, the black university tees and sweaters, the army fatigue pants with the drawstrings in the cuffs, it was like a how-to on how to look fly. Quick story: I’ll never forget the first time I saw a bubble goosedown winter coat, it was when JC rocked it. My cousin from New York was coming up to see us, & I basically told him don’t enter my house without that bubble goose (I would pay him back of course). He got me a black South Pole bubble goose down 3/4 length with the matching skully. NOBODY had that yet.  They didn’t even sell the jacket in stores yet much less the 3/4 length one. When I went to school the following week with that on, plus the mustard Timberlands I got from my older brother, with my Franchise Athletics black & yellow hockey jersey… simply put, I felt like a pimp. The only thing I was missing was a gold cane, but the way I strutted through the front doors, it was like I had an invisible one anyway. At that moment, I was Kanye before Kanye. Everyone was looking at me & I was looking back at them like, “Excuse me, was you saying something? Uh uh, you can’t tell me….NOTHING!!” The impact on us was unreal. I don’t think any show influenced me like that before or ever since.

Headley: Cal, you sound like when I bought my first pair of name brand sneakers entering High School. We’ve shared stories for years about the dreaded visit to Pitt/Yellow shoe store off Tashereau in Greenfield Park. Last I remember, those stores are still there today.  Buying cheap sneaks which would disintegrate on your feet while wearing them was the norm. But our parents were sucked in by cheap prices (even though you had to replace them monthly). When I went to NYC on Labour Day weekend in 1989, and got my first pair of legit sneaks, you couldn’t say nothing to me. I walked the halls with pointed feet. And get this… THEY WERE AVIA’s!!! Back to the question at hand….

Let’s just forget the series for a moment. I’m going to ignore everything you just said. Not because it’s not valid, but because I cannot explain it any better. That impact was undeniable. But I’m going to touch on another aspect that gets lost but was profound to Montreal specifically.   This series, this show changed the way we advertised for parties in Montreal. Up until that point, it was purely pushing flyers, basically old school. Still to this day, it’s the most grassroots marketing for parties. With all the technology out in the world, pushing flyers is still effective. As we’ve gone from LP to CD to MP3, you can still expect to get flyers on your windshield on a hot weekend. Well, back then that was the only way you got parties promoted. I didn’t get my first email address until 1996 when the series was well underway. But it was during New York Undercover programming that we started seeing commercials for parties. This was epic! No such thing as PVR, yes you could set your VCR to record, but most people watched the episodes live. You couldn’t bear to wait longer than the necessary week, from one episode to the next, so everyone into urban culture was glued to the set and having to endure the commercial breaks. It was a savvy move to drop a commercial ad because the time slot would be relatively cheap and everyone in your niche market being catered to would be watching. I think it was either a Rickey D & Shaheed or the Keith & Karen ads I first saw, and soon became routine to see the low budget commercial on the reel during New York Undercover. The sophistication on advertising parties had arrived in Montreal’s urban scene. It was the shift to new school marketing in our party scene.

Interesting Fact: Malik Yoba (J.C. Williams) and Michael DeLorenzo (Eduardo Torres) were the first two people of color to be in the starring roles of a police drama on US Television.

Natalie’s

Headley:  I referred a bit to Natalie’s in the first question. The fictional café jazz lounge featuring live band performances. I think the concept of Natalie’s clubhouse probably originated as a humble story line to encompass the music culture into the show and morphed into being as intriguing as the program itself.  Natalie’s was owned by Natalie herself, then later in Season 2, by Detective Eddie Torres’ father, Mike Torres, a musician and recovering drug addict. You could argue that the acts and anticipation of the performances covered on the show, were as big as the musical guests on The Arsenio Hall show. Yes, I said it. Again, seeing black acts on TV wasn’t regular as it is today. We didn’t have BET, or any of those specialty channels in Montreal, so it was Arsenio’s show that we relied on. Arsenio coincidentally ended his stint (I don’t acknowledge his return back to TV like I try to forget MJ wore Wizards colors once) right around the time New York Undercover debuted. So you looked forward to those five minutes of the Natalie scene at the end of episodes because they had star studded performances everywhere from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to The Temptations. While I get that Arsenio was more revered because in addition to singing, there were interviews that allowed a voice to a muzzled, somewhat controversial, culture which was hip-hop back in it’s early infancy… but the acts weren’t any bigger. New York Undercover brought in top acts. I also willfully enjoyed the throwback artists such as The O’jays, Chaka Khan and George Clinton, to name a few. Not saying that Arsenio didn’t support these type of artists, but watching them perform in a jazz band was very reminiscent of how their career started. My sister was a collector of LP’s (we have several years difference) so I would play a lot of records growing up, and was familiar with some acts, but watching a performance, although short, was still riveting. Natalie’s brought back sounds of yesteryear that we all lost some appreciation for. They brought divas and legends back to life. My appreciation for rhythm and blues / soul / jazz / whatever you want to call it was reinforced because of this lounge. Between Natalie’s at the end of the episode, and the music played in the opening scenes, it was a great way for infusing musical content in a show which really hadn’t been done as smoothly unless the show was about the type of music you heard on Glee. The music content just seem so relevant but never overpowering. Cal, do you remember who played Natalie, the lounge it was named after? Hint, she’s a diva!

Cee: “Was it………um……Gladys Knight??”

“Survey say….**DING!** Gladys Knight everyone!! Gladys Knight was the #1 answer!” #SteveHarveyvoice

Knight was the original Natalie, which I found weird because she was only featured in a few episodes in the first season. Shouldn’t she have been featured in more episodes considering the club was named after her? In real life, can you imagine night after night all these superstars & upcoming artists just rolling up on stage? What was the cover charge?? Was it on some exclusive, VIP-type levels where you needed to be on the list & give up a vial of your own blood?? Think about it: you’re chilling with your date nursing a drink or two & up walks Luther Vandross on stage & he starts singing “Here and Now”. You supposed to sit there all cool & calm like a karaoke singer just walked on? Is that the rule when you’re sitting in Natalie’s, don’t over-cheer? I can never understand how you’re supposed to remain cool with all these heavy hitters performing on a regular basis. Anyhow, if I owned the club, I’d charge $75 a pop & who would say no? You could see Mary J. Blige, you could see Aretha Franklin, who knows. But you gonna pay that $75 though & smile while you’re doing it.

Think about how cool this concept was for a TV show. It didn’t have just one, but it had two different soundtracks which included some of the hot R&B tracks of the time plus the performed songs from the show. You’re right Bent, it was a great concept. I’ll take it a step further and I want you to think about this. This was one of the few shows in TV history that produced an original song that ended up being a classic. Don’t remember? I’ll give you a hint….

Tell me what you like, baby….

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the legendary Guy!! The show was so popular that it brought a group together who was broken up at the time, to make one more classic. That song dropped on the show, everyone flipped out as it was so unexpected and it departed from the norm of artist doing cover songs or something that we knew. AND IT WAS FIRE. A couple of months later, the song was literally everywhere & we all thought Guy was coming back together. The hype was for nothing as that was literally the last song that they ever made & Teddy Riley continued on making a new future with Blackstreet.** It happened so fast, the reunion thought was gone before it can even marinate in your mind. Sad really, but was grateful for Natalie’s because even in fictional terms, it was able to produce a real life classic. How many shows can you say did that?

Headley: Cal, if you recalled I always said if I ever owned a lounge club, I’d call it Natalie’s. Not because of your sister (I love you Nat!!) but because of this show. I loved it that much. I’ll leave it at that. How many TV shows had soundtracks back then? Could you fathom buying a Friends or Frazier soundtrack? Case close.

Interesting note: Back in the early 90s, this concept was tried in Toronto by R&B star Keith Washington, who had opened a lounge here with performers & everything. Almost like Natalie’s. After a couple of months, a few people decided to have weekly & impromptu MMA street sessions (aka wild fights) that sent people scattering for their lives. Needless to say, the club closed down before it made its real mark.

** Also, Guy did actually come back with an album in 2000 called Guy III. But much like Wayne Gretzky in a St. Louis Blues uniform, we try to forget that actually happened. Let’s move on before we start remembering again.

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2. 

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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