1-on-1 with “Love You Down” Singer, INOJ

One of Summer 1997’s defining anthems, bass classic “Love You Down” was recorded by singer/songwriter, INOJ, for the So So Def Bass All-Stars II Album.  The song was a hit, spending 45 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.  As Friday, July 28 marks the 20 year anniversary of the single’s release, we caught up with INOJ to talk about the song’s origins, fame in the 90’s, Jermaine Dupri, Aaliyah, not singing “My Boo”, and what she’s been up to lately.

Check out the newly launched https://www.inojofficial.com/.  A special thanks to INOJ and Brandon Bailey of Two B Entertainment for making this possible.

 

In Hindsight: Who’s idea was it to cover Ready for the World’s Love You Down? Were you previously familiar with the song? Was the track specifically intended for the So So Def Bass All-Stars II album and did you think the record would be a hit?

INOJ:  The way this song came to me was truly a divine effort. Let me set up this situation for you first. A year and a half before I released Love You Down I was signed to Dallas Austin’s label Rowdy/Arista in a singing group. The group for multiple reasons dissolved and each member went her own way. I was pretty hurt by the break up actually, so I decided not to pursue being an artist anymore, I was just going to focus on writing songs. One of the girls in the group had a friend that worked at a popular radio station in the DC metro area. In addition to making some of the popular remixes, he was also a music producer. His name is Charles Roane or Charles the Mixologist. She thought we would really hit it off so she insisted many times that we meet each other and finally we did. From our very first meeting Charles and I hit it off. We skipped the pleasantries and just started working. A couple of weeks into our new working relationship Charles asked me if I ever heard of bass music. Being in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area and previously Baltimore, we didn’t really listen to that much bass. I told him I knew some Luke Skywalker songs, like booty shake records. He was like “Yup that’s it and there’s a song called My Boo on the So So Def Bass All Star album, have you heard it?” At the time, I heard it maybe a few times. Well Charles was working with Lil Jon (Smith) and asked me to write to some of his bass tracks for the So So Def Bass All-Stars II compilation. We recorded a few songs together for the project and then Charles asked me a question that would completely change my life… “Would you demo a song for me?”. Neither one of us knew how that simple conversation would change the direction of our lives. Looking back on the situation, I can see how the group dissolving made room for my success and my group mate with her introduction to Charles directly contributed to my divine plan and I am very grateful! ..So I was like “Sure, what is the song?” He said the song is called Love You Down by Ready For The World. I was like “Yeah, I love that song!” I couldn’t really listen to RFTW when I was younger because of the lyrics in their song Tonight, but I listened anyway. So to answer one of your questions, I believe it was his(Charles) idea. Now regarding whether it would be a hit song, NONE of us were expecting that it would! Let me explain further. I finished what I thought was a good demo of all of our originals and the cover LYD. Well Lil Jon reached out after he heard the demo and told Charles he really liked it. Initially I was demoing the song for another artist, but when they heard my version of the song, they asked me to record it for the project. Charles expressed to Lil Jon that I wasn’t interested in being an artist and Jon informed us that this song would not be a single, so I didn’t have to worry about that. Boy was he wrong about that. I guess LYD went viral before viral was even a thing. No social media, no single promotion, just awesome DJs who supported the record and word of mouth. I took the long way to give you the answer but, the answer officially is no, we had no clue.

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In Hindsight:  When did you first meet Jermaine Dupri?

 INOJ: The first time I met Jermaine Dupri was way after I recorded the song (Love You Down). I lived in the DMV area, (DC Maryland Virginia) and the So So Def team all lived in Atlanta. I didn’t come to Atlanta until the song started doing really well and they wanted me to record a video. My first or second night there, one of the label reps took me to a pool party. I’m not sure if it was Jermaine’s party but he was there and I met him that night, that was sometime in July, 1997. I can’t recall anything we talked about actually. I was a little distracted because I didn’t know I was going to a pool party, so I was not appropriately dressed….jeans at a pool party. Hashtag awkward.

In Hindsight: What was your life like when “Love You Down” began to chart? Do you remember hearing yourself on the radio for the first time? Any memorable performances?

INOJ: In 1997 between recording new songs I was working for Prince George’s County schools as a long-term substitute teacher. I was living in Landover, MD near the new Redskins stadium. The end of the school year was approaching and the CD was already released, think I bought it on cassette and CD actually. A few of the teachers I worked with knew that I recorded a song on the Bass All-Stars project and they shared my excitement just being a part of it. It was the middle of June I think and the students were getting out of school for the year. A few of the teachers jokingly said I guess we won’t see you next year, cause you are about to blow up. We laughed about that a few times and I pretended to “blow up” like I was a big star. Saying that out loud is giving me chills right now! I guess Love You Down was getting an unusual amount of spins right after I finished teaching school for the school year because I got a call from Charles. He told me that some DJ started playing the song and he shared it with another DJ and it was catching on around the country. It didn’t set in what was actually happening until he called me about a week later to tell me that So So Def wanted me to shoot a video for the song. My life changed in the blink of an eye because I was teaching school one minute and and the next minute, I was arriving in Atlanta in preparation for my first music video. While I was in Atlanta, I received word that the TV show Much Music wanted me to perform on their show in Toronto, Canada! I was like are you serious?!? From that point everyone called me Joni or Ayanna, now I had to get used to me responding to this new name that I never thought I would use, INOJ. That was my first show EVER! I had not ever performed anywhere and now I was booked on a show to perform Love You Down on Much Music in Toronto Canada?!? I made it through and figured it out as I went along, interviews and everything. I had a couple rehearsals with my dancers who were also featured in the LYD music video. Looking back I know it was better that I didn’t have time to think about it or be nervous, I just went with it, you know. About one or two days before the video shoot I was in a hotel with the stylist trying on different wardrobe pieces and all of a sudden Love You Down came on the radio. That was the first time I heard myself on any radio in my whole entire life and I completely freaked out ran in the bathroom and shut the door. Everyone with me in the hotel was like why are you hiding in the bathroom. I said “I can’t believe this is happening”. It was a combination of excitement, fear, adventure and utter shyness, as I have known to be sometimes. Regarding memorable performances there are so many, too many to count! But one in particular stands out. I was in Minneapolis performing with the Backstreet Boys. RL from the group Next was there and I asked him to come on stage with me while I performed my song Precious Love. He showed up at the perfect time but he started walking off before I was ready for him to leave. I ran after him and slid on my knees across the stage. The fans were going crazy with the dramatic exit, but my knees were on FIRE!!! OMG!!! That was NOT in the script lol!!! When I got up my legs were bleeding, but hey, I was committed. Very memorable to say the least. The first time I met Aaliyah was very cool for me. We later became friends as we performed a lot of shows together. In 1997 there were so many talented artists out and individually such musical diversity, and for some reason, it all worked together and we all shared the same stage. There was room for everyone to succeed during this time. I performed with the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC and Fergie when she was in a group called Wild Orchid. It was cool to see people branch out and do other things as well! I get excited when I see that. Of course later on I would be one of the supporting acts on the NSYNC tour.

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Aaliyah and INOJ

In Hindsight: We mentioned My Boo earlier– How often are you miscredited with that song? Does it bother you?

INOJ: 1998 was the first time I think I heard someone mention that I sang My Boo.   My manager and I informed them that I don’t sing that song.  That’s Virgo from Ghost Town DJ’s.  The person was like, “Oh, okay” and we didn’t think it was a big deal after that. When YouTube was created it gave fans a platform to post videos. One video channel posted My Boo and put my (album) cover from my Ring My Bell (recording) up for the cover art. The video played there at least 1 million times. The fact that the cover art says one title and the song another title would cause me to raise an eyebrow personally. You ask if it bothered me… I wouldn’t say it bothered me per se, but it was frustrating because I said “I don’t sing that song” so much and people still didn’t believe me. One fan wrote me back and said “You’re lying. You do sing that song. Look at your picture on this cover”. It was the same INOJ Ring My Bella(album) cover on YouTube page I mentioned. I just threw my hands up, like I am over it. I try not to disturb my inner calm with chaos, so I keep a very peaceful attitude generally don’t let many things bother me.

In Hindsight: Can you describe your relationship with other So So Def artists at the time? Were you performing together, hanging out with one another? Was there a “crew” mentality that say Bad Boy Records had at the time?

INOJ:  Since I didn’t reside in Atlanta, I didn’t see many of the So So Def artists often, so hanging out was few and far between. Living in the DMV area, it was easier for me to travel to New York. I frequented Columbia Records a lot for this reason. Besides that, my manager at the time Daren Hall, also lived in NYC. Now when we (So So Def) did get together, it was a good time!! We did have a couple of shows together as a So So Def family which was very cool. I wasn’t officially signed to the label at this time, but everyone made me feel like family. One time sticks out in my head though. When I was leaving to go on tour with NSYNC, Kandi and a few members of Jagged Edge came on my tour bus to see me off. That meant a lot to me and I appreciated the support from my peers/label mates. I am not currently signed to So So Def but they will always be my family! I am very grateful for the opportunities So So Def, Jermaine Dupri and Lil Jon afforded me.

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In Hindsight: It would be two years after Love You Down initially charted that your first solo album, “Ready for the World”, would be released. Was this planned? Do you think a different timeline might have changed your career? Am I correct to assume the title is a nod to the group whose song spawned your first single?

INOJ: Wow I didn’t even realize it was 2 years after the release of Love You Down. My album was not released in the United States until many years later. I heard that it would only be released in Asia while I was on the NSYNC.  To this day I am still unclear to why the project was pulled from the US release. There are rumors circulating that it was due to an internal issue with the music group. Unfortunate, but why not Ready for the World 2.0 following Love You Down 20th anniversary due out July 28, 2017. The fans deserve it and why not 2.0 for late 2017/early 2018? In my experience, I have learned enough about validating everything that comes from the rumor mill. If I needed to ask though I am certain I could get a straight answer. Somethings are better left where they are though. To me it makes more sense to continue to build. You could actually build something better. Very observant on the title of the album! Yes I wanted to give a nod to Melvin Riley by titling the album “Ready For The World” because he is the songwriter of Love You Down. I also wanted to express appreciation because I was grateful to be a part of his creative work and wanted to salute him with the title.

In Hindsight:  You’ve remained active in the music business, writing and recording (I really like My Love for You) — how do you view your past success and what are your hopes for the future?

INOJ:  Thank you and thank you for noticing. I have released other songs through the years just to let the fans know I’m still thinking about them and released My Love For You last year, to continue on that trend. I have so much music that I have not released and I am thinking about sharing more of my art. My past successes make me feel accomplished, but truthfully, I feel I have unfinished business. There are so many things I want to experiment with musically. To say whether or not they will be successful or to make that the main focus to release music, would keep me from creating freely. Sometimes I need to express myself without being concerned whether I am creating a hit or not. In regards to writing, one of my goals was to write for Janet Jackson! That actually happened in 2007 on her and Damita Jo record when I wrote a song called My Baby along with Sean Garrett and Kanye West. That was pretty awesome for me. Fun fact, we wrote that song about Janet Jackson and Jermaine Dupri when they were dating.

In Hindsight: The “Love You Down Challenge” videos on YouTube are rapidly gaining popularity, with Guava Juice’s own video amassing nearly 2 million views in only 10 days.  What do you think of Love You Down being used in this way and can we expect to see you partaking in the challenge?

INOJ: This is so crazy and the timing is absolutely perfect considering I am celebrating my 20 year anniversary for the original release of Love You Down.  I am all for having fun especially in such a positive way and I am glad my voice could inspire so many to be so creative.  So yes to your question, I will be recording a LYD Challenge video of my own.  Now I have to figure out what costume I am going to wear.

In Hindsight: What would be on you Summer 1997 playlist?

INOJ: Before I give you my 1997 summer playlist, I want to thank you for the opportunity to interview and to share my story. I appreciate you and I wish you much prosperity in your endeavors. INOJ’s 1997 playlist…in no particular order, because I would shuffle. I am sure there are more that I would add to this, but here’s a sample:

(Editor’s note: If Your Girl Only Knew was included on this list, but is one of many Aaliyah tracks not on Spotify.  Nobody is happy about this.)

For INOJ Press & Inquiries please email Contact@twobentertainment.com

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Movie Soundtracks: 1997 Yearbook

In the pre-Napster universe of 20 years ago, motion picture soundtracks had big time appeal with the masses.  Often featuring singles not yet available on their artist’s LPs and frequently containing tracks hand-carved for their big screen counterparts, these albums were chart-topping monsters in the mid-to-late 90’s.  The appeal made sense.   Not only did they offer exclusive content, but in an era when hearing an act predominantly meant purchasing their full album , they also provided a variety of artists to test drive.  Let’s survey the field at the time…

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The Precursors: Late ’96

One cannot fully understand the success of movie soundtracks in 1997 without first examining how 1996 would end.  Three soundtracks released in the final quarter of the year would combine to sell nearly 20 million records in the US:  Romeo + Juliet (5M), The Preacher’s Wife (a Whitney Houston solo effort; 8M), and Space Jam (6M).  Each of these represented fairly distinct genres– alternative rock, gospel/adult contemporary, and hip-hop respectively.  A bevy of hits resulted, including The Cardigans’ “Love Fool“, Whitney’s “I Believe in You and Me” and “Step by Step”, R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly“, Seal’s “Fly Like an Eagle“, and Monica’s “For You I Will“, among others…

The emotional ballads from Houston and Kelly followed a recent trend of tear-jerker tracks from tent pole films that would terrorize airplay, in the vein of “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991), “I Will Always Love You” (The Bodyguard, 1992),  “Will You Be There” (Free Willy, 1993), “All for Love” (The Three Musketeers, 1994), and “Kiss from A Rose” (Batman Forever, 1995).  If you were not a fan of these types of songs, your ultimate scourge would arrive in November 1997.

The Setting-Enhancement Compilations

While 1997 would not be short on blockbuster ballads, a variety of soundtrack sub-genres would see success during the year.  Particularly enjoyable were albums that utilized older records to establish the film’s setting.

Boogie Nights masterfully performed this task, with director Paul Thomas Anderson handpicking disco aces like “Best of My Love” and “Got to Give It Up”,  80’s power jam “Sister Christian“, and pool party staple “Spill the Wine” to transport us to the San Fernando valley of yesteryear.  The soundtrack was so successful that a second part was release a few months later.

Jackie Brown found its muse in the blaxploitation films of the 1970’s and set it’s tone from the opening credits with Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street”.  Tracks from the Delfonics and The Brothers Johnson continue the California cool vibe for Quentin Tarantino’s crime caper on an album easily enjoyed regardless of one’s familiarity with the film.

1997 would also mark the release of the first Austin Powers movies, introducing a new generation to Burt Bacharach and “Soul Bossa Nova“.

Artist Vehicles

Two very different movies spawned two very different albums that can be grouped under this category.

Selena, a biopic of the Tejano performer killed only two years earlier, starred Jennifer Lopez but used vocals from the titular character for both the film and soundtrack.   It is essentially a compilation of the late singer and went platinum.

 Six of the fifteen tracks on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack were written and recorded by Elliott Smith, with “Miss Misery” nominated for an Oscar.  Not surprisingly, it is equal parts good and depressing.

Hip-Hop and R&B Mixtapes

1997 would be a landmark year for hip-hop music crossing over from a niche genre to a mainstream mainstay.  Concurrently, a swell of soundtracks targeted these same audiences with line-ups of the artists frequently atop the charts.

Gridlock’dstarring Tupac Shakur, premiered four months after his murder.  The late actor/rapper’s record label, Death Row Records, released the soundtrack which featured heavy contributions from their roster, including Pac himself, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and The Lady of Rage.

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Booty Call would be released the next month with an emerging Jamie Foxx in the lead role.  The soundtrack gave way to singles from SWV & Missy Elliot (“Can We“) and Joe (“Don’t Wanna Be a Player“), the latter of which would be sampled later in the year by Big Pun on his debut single “Still Not a Player“.

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Nothing to Lose carries a rating of only 29% on Rotton Tomatoes, but its soundtrack went gold.  Two singles “Not Tonight“, featuring a who’s who of leading lady rappers (including Lil’ Kim and Left Eye), and Coolio’s “C U When U Get There” charted in the top 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and saw significant rotation on MTV and BET.

 

Babyface produced seven of the fifteen tracks on the more R&B focused Soul Food soundtrack, featuring the likes of Boyz II Men, Dru Hill, Usher, and En Vougue.  The album went 2x platinum.

Big Budget Albums About Big Budget Movies

Warner Brothers dumped $125 million into Batman & Robin and while the film was panned by most critics, batfans, and its director, it would more than recoup its cost at the box office.  Clearly the studio hoped to reach all swatches of fans (and succeeded, as the album went platinum), releasing singles by The Smashing Pumpkins, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Jewel, Goo Goo Dolls, and R. Kelly from the album.  Kelly’s contribution, “Gotham City”, smells like an attempt at recreating both his success with “I Believe I Can Fly” and the previous Batman ballad success of “Kiss from a Rose”.  It straddles the line of “over the top” and “palatable” better than the film, complete with a children’s chorus.  Kels would go back to the soundtrack well twice more with “Bad Man” from Shaft and “The World’s Greatest” from Ali.  Both will be featured in some way on this blog 🙂

 

“Here come the Men in Black…” clap, clap.

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This was the big summer blockbuster that Batman hoped to be, grossing nearly $600M (more than twice the Caped Crusader), receiving favorable reviews, and spawning two sequels.  The album performed similarly well, going 3x platinum, and marking Will Smith’s comeback to the music world.  It’s hard to believe a pre-jiggy era ever existed.  The titular single, cleverly sampling “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen in a way that may have rendered the original mute, blew up with airplay over every medium imaginable.   Smith followed up with “Just Cruisin’, perhaps to prove he could make songs about more than the movie in which he starred, although he would do plenty of that again.  Nas, Snoop, and Jermaine Dupri also stop through on a generally fun, summer album.

 

The Inevitable

So that earlier chronicle of sappy ballads leads us here.  Much like the iceberg, we should have seen it coming.  Celine Dion had a smash single in 1996 with “Because You Loved Me”, setting records for its reign atop the charts.  The song was the theme from the movie “Up Close and Personal”, but curiously was left off the soundtrack (likely negotiated by Dion’s management).  James Cameron would make no such deals, and “My Heart Will Go On” would tow the Titanic soundtrack to more than 30 million (!) copies sold, despite being the only song on the album with words.  A few months later, Sony would release another album (Back to Titanic) with more sounds from the movie that would go platinum, this one containing a version of “My Heart Will Go On” with clips of dialogue from the film (another trend started in 1996 with Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” from Jerry Maguire).  At the time, an album of white noise with the the word “Titanic” anywhere near it would have gone gold– I would be surprised if someone didn’t try.  This was everywhere, forever.  It’s still too soon to hear again, but enjoy this classic Billy Zaine line.



Champion Throwback Jersey Power Rankings: 1997 NBA Draft Edition

“It takes a little more to make a Champion.”  Well, that can be debated.  The screen-printing and, at times, startling lack of detail (pinstripes forgotten, v-necks turned u-neck) of the mid-90’s Champion NBA replica jersey certainly seemed second-class to their authentic counterparts or the flashy incantations Nike and Adidas would roll out in subsequent years.  Maybe that was part of their charm– overqualified tank tops at a $40 price tag, available for just about every player in the league if you knew where to look.

These entry-level coups now seem to carry the panache of a vintage Corvette.  Perhaps due to Champion’s renewed brand power (walk into an Urban Outfitters), perhaps due to our nostalgia for the famous and infamous icons of our childhood, perhaps as an excuse to wear things we owned 20 years ago– Champion jerseys don the backs of the 20’s-30’s crowd from brunch to the beach and carry price tags 2-3x their original value both online and in vintage boutiques.

Let’s take a few minutes to celebrate these mesh miracles while simultaneously slipping into the spirit of NBA Draft season.

I’ve devised a grading scale to evaluate how exaggerated of a head-nod one might receive  in 2017 for rocking a Champion throwback jersey of any 1997 draftee.  A few criteria:

  • We are looking at only the home/away jerseys for the team that opened the 1997-1998 season with the draftee on their roster.  A jersey from any other team  for which a draftee played later in their career or later in the season is ineligible.
  • We consider only the uniform style used by the team during the 1997-1998 season.

The grading scale (1-10 in each field, 10 being the best):

  • Player Intrigue (PI) – Coolness matters.  In-game dunks and other highlight reel fodder, personal style, and a bold persona carry significant weight here.  Tim Duncan is not on this list.  He is the best player from this draft– an all-time great and sure-fire hall of famer, whose game I grew to love over the course of his illustrious career.  None dare call him cool.
  • Obscurity Balance (OB) – This cuts a few ways: both the obscurity of the player and the obscurity of the tenure.  Ideally, we are looking for players not necessarily in forefront of your brain– someone you forgot that you loved.  By the same measure, a second round pick nobody remembers would be a step too far.  A less than obscure player who may have had an often forgotten tenure with their original team can gain back ground on this metric.  Again, balance is key– they should have seen some court time during their tenure.  Tim Duncan would rate poorly in this field, being very not obscure on the same team for 19 years.
  • Uniform Noteworthiness (UN) – 1997 in the NBA had a very unique look to it.  Specifically, many teams scrapped their classic designs for logos apparently made using ClipArt.  Some results were disastrous, but they sure were fun.  High scores go to the adventurous.  Tim Duncan’s jersey in 1997 was not very different from Tim Duncan’s jersey in 2016.

Also, enjoy the virtual pack of basketball cards!

The List:

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10.  Tony Battie – Denver Nuggets (Pick #5)

    19 Points (PI 6/10, OB 8/10, UN 5/10)

Tony stuck around the league for 14 seasons as a role player, collecting boards and swatting shots.  He dressed like a bad investment adviser on draft day, but shows a little more personality in the above picture.  The Nuggets uniforms during this era were painfully dull (especially when compared to their rainbow-city predecessors), but I think you could get a little cred on my block with a Battie throwback.

 

 

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9.   Ron Mercer – Boston Celtics (Pick #6)

    19.5 Points (PI 6/10, OB 7.5/10, UN 6/10)

Mercer was a college star at Kentucky who bounced around the league, party to four trades and member of seven teams in eight seasons.  While no one will twist their neck to check out your Celtics jersey (its legacy still gives it a point above Denver), they might smile if they see the name on the back– particularly those of the Wildcat persuasion.

 

 

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8.  God Shammgod – Washington Wizards (Pick #45)

    20 Points (PI 9/10, OB 4.5/10,  UN 6.5/10)

This one may teeter too far to one side of the obscurity balance for some.  He was a 2nd round pick who played one season in the NBA.  On the other hand, he was a New York city point guard who helped revolutionize the cross-over and his actual birth name was God Shammgod! He went by Shammgod Wells in high school, which is somehow cooler, and had a memorable Elite 8 run with Providence in the 1997 NCAA Tournament.  Though the newly branded Wizards logo meets some of the noteworthy criteria, it was ugly in a boring way– the old school Bullets uniform would have helped the rating.  Closing point: I live in New York and would be shocked if you could wear a God Shammgod jersey for an entire day without someone audibly cheering you.

 

 

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7.  Mo Taylor – Los Angeles Clippers (Pick #14)

    22 Points (PI 8/10, OB 7/10, UN 7/10)

One half of the Taylor-Traylor combination at Michigan (with Robert Traylor) that tipped the scale at more than 550 lbs combined.  As a kid, the duo fascinated me in the same way that Bebop and Rocksteady or Men on a Mission might.  While Traylor seemed on the sloppy side, Mo was a big dude with swag.  As the card reads: “Smooth”. He amassed some empty calories on really awful Clippers teams before contributing on some decent Rockets squads in the mid 00’s.  In light of the Clippers newer bad uniforms, their older bad uniforms seem kind of cool.

 

 

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6.  Adonal Foyle – Golden State Warriors (pick #8) 

    22.5 Points (PI 7.5/10, OB 8/10, UN 7/10)

While the 2017 Warriors embrace their Larry O’Brien trophy, let’s not forget the state of things 20 years ago.  Sandwiched in between the “Run-TMC” and “We Believe” eras was an odd time when a masked, lightning bolt-wielding figure in rather snug body armor represented the Dubs and Latrell Sprewell assaulted his coach.  With this backdrop, Adonal Foyle took the court in Oakland for 10 seasons and blocked an alarming number of shots.  Had he played the qualified amount of minutes (~13,000 played vs 15,000 required, per Basketball Reference), his 6.4% career block percentage would rank 5th all-time, one spot above Dikembe Mutombo.  Blocks are cool and this was an interesting time for one of the NBA’s iconic franchises.  Also, look at that card!

 

 

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5.  Chauncey Billups – Boston Celtics (Pick #3)  

    23 points (PI 8/10, OB 9/10, UN 6/10)

This is an example of the “obscure tenure” metric taking hold.  After being drafted third overall, Mr. Big Shot was traded 51 games into the season.  His title run with Detroit, later success with Denver, and overall swaggy, “no sweat” demeanor make his forgotten run with the C’s a nice career Easter egg.  The zig-zag center hair part absolutely helps, and I’m told has also aided in his candidacy for Cavs GM.

 

 

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4.  Tim Thomas – Philadelphia 76ers (Pick #7)

    23.5 Points (PI 8/10, OB 9/10, UN 6.5/10)

These 76ers jerseys were dogs in the same vein as the Wizards, but Tim had a cool aura about him and his jack-of-all-trades game that may have made him better-suited as a stretch 4 in today’s NBA.  Let’s not bury the lede– that draft suit!

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This has to be the poorest fitting garment this side of the Warrior’s body armor.  I love/hate it more than just about anything.  It’s white with pinstripes and 3 sizes too big for a guy that is 6’10!  Notoriety plays well here.

 

 

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3.  Antonio Daniels – Vancouver Grizzlies (Pick #4)  

    24 Points (PI 7/10, OB 8/10, UN 9/10)

The Vancouver Grizzlies afterlife post Memphis relocation has far eclipsed anything they accomplished as a basketball team while in that market.  The beautiful teal, red, and black color scheme, the giant animated bear, the tribal trimmings– it’s a winner, even though they were far from it.  AD was an intriguing combo guard who spent only one of his thirteen seasons up north.  He generally played like he thought he was much better than he was.  The Griz uniforms are doing the heavy lifting– not sure that there is a player who wouldn’t make the top 5 with his name across the back of one.

 

 

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2.  Derek Anderson – Cleveland Cavaliers (Pick #13)

    24.5 Points (PI 9/10, OB 7.5/10, UN 8/10)

DA checks a lot of “Player Intrigue” boxes– highlight dunker, Jordan brand guy, No Limit Records tattoo, notable Slam Magazine pin-up, shares a name with a quarterback who would later play in the same city…  Add in the splash backboard era Cavs jerseys which hearken back  to a simpler time of fat Shawn Kemp and Bob Sura dunks, back before Lebron complicated things with his wine and gold success, and you have a true Champion.  Well, second place.  And my word, what is he doing to Sherm?

 

 

 

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The Champ:  Tracy McGrady – Toronto Raptors (Pick #9)

    28 Points (PI 9/10, OB 9/10, UN 10/10)

T-Mac’s first Raptors jersey gives you everything you could want in a throwback: A Hall of Fame player when he was still a straight of of high school sensation seeing limited minutes, most notable for highlight reel slams and familiar ties with soon-to-be teammate, Vince Carter.  The jersey speaks for itself– there is a giant cartoon dinosaur dribbling a basketball and claw-mark pinstripes.  The fact that Toronto would simplify the jersey design only two years later adds to its panache.  Looking at the ratings, this was the run away champion and perhaps the best piece of 1997 that can be worn.

 

 

Wu-Tang Forever at 20: Ranking the Verses to “Triumph”

Twenty years ago this month, the Wu-Tang Clan dropped their iconic sophomore LP “Wu-Tang Forever”, which would top the charts by month’s end and go on to sell more than 4 million records.

In celebration of its release, I’ve swarmed through the nine epic verses of the lead single “Triumph” in an attempt to rank them.  

Honorable Mention: Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Intro

ODB:

What y’all thought y’all wasn’t gonna see me
I’m the Osiris of this shit
Wu-Tang is here forever, motherfuckers
This ’97
Aight my niggas and my niggarettes
Let’s do it like this
I’ma rub your ass in the moonshine
Let’s take it back to ’79

In Hindsight:  I, for one, am always glad when Dirt McGirt makes an appearance.  Referencing one of his many aliases (this one an allusion to the Egyptian god of the afterlife), ODB sets the stage for the crime -caper meets rapture disaster-flick rap saga to follow.  Perhaps a bit daft to deliver a verse on the apocalyptic track, Dirty qualifies as the perfect hype man to “rub our asses in the moonshine”.

9th Place: Cappadonna, Verse 3

Cappa:
I twist darts from the heart, tried and true
Loop my voice on the LP
Martini on the slang rocks, certified chatterbox
Vocabulary ‘Donna talking, tell your story walking
Take cover kid, what? Run for your brother kid
Run for your team and your “six can’t rhyme” groupies
So I can squeeze with the advantage and get wasted
My deadly notes reign supreme, your fort is basic compared to mine
Domino effect, arts and crafts, paragraphs contain cyanide
Take a free ride on my thought
I got the fashion catalogs for all y’all to all praise due to God

IH:  Sometimes Wu member, sometimes featured artist Cappadonna delivers a fine effort here, but he’s buried beneath a deep roster delivering all-star performances.  It seems like pretty stream of conscious stuff that doesn’t build on the imagery or themes that make this song a classic.  For what it’s worth, I like how he says “squeeze”  and “paragraphs contain cyanide” is a dope line.

8th Place: GZA, Verse 6

GZA:
War of the masses, the outcome disastrous
Many of the victim families save their ashes
A million names on walls, engraved in plaques
Those who went back received penalties for their acts
Another heart is torn as close ones mourn
Those who stray, niggas get slayed on the song

IH:  This is glue necessary for cohesion of the track.  GZA provides a scope (albeit an extremely vague one) of the loose disaster plot and its aftermath.  Its six bars stick to the brain and beg further questions.  The closing line serves as a subtle reminder that the catastrophe symbolizes lyrical decimation.  Cool imagery, but six bars.

7th Place: RZA, Verse 5

RZA:
March of the wooden soldiers, C-Cypher-Punks couldn’t hold us
A thousand men rushing in, not one nigga was sober
Perpendicular to the square we stay in gold like Flair
Escape from your dragon’s lair
In particular my beats travel like a vortex
Through your spine to the top of your cerebral cortex
Make you feel like you bust a nut from raw sex
Enter through your right ventricle clog up your bloodstream
Heart terminal like Grand Central Station
Program fat bass lines on Novation
Getting drunk like a fuck, I’m ducking five-year probation

IH: There’s a lot going on here.  The opening lines give us a picture of a riot (I’m told “C-Cypher-Punks” are cops), which fits in with the bigger narrative of the track.  We get a cool Ric Flair reference (always welcome), a sex metaphor that titillated me as an 11 year old, and a shout out to traffic at Grand Central (I didn’t move to New York until 2011, but Penn Station seems more apt).  A nice, quick verse from RZA’s unmistakable Staten Island drawl over his own beautifully composed beat.

 

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6th Place: Method Man, Verse 2

Meth:
As the world turns, I spread like germ
Bless the globe with the pestilence
The hard-headed never learn
This my testament to those burned
Play my position in the game of life standing firm
On foreign land jump the gun out the frying pan into the fire
Transform into the Ghost Rider
A six-pack and A Streetcar Named Desire
Who got my back in the line of fire holding back?
What? My peoples if you with me, where the fuck you at?
Niggas is strapped and they’re tryna twist my beer cap
It’s court adjourned for the bad seed from bad sperm
Herb got my wig fried like a bad perm
What the blood clot? We smoke pot and blow spots
You want to think twice? I think not
The Iron Lung ain’t got to tell you where it’s coming from
Guns of Navarone, tearing up your battle zone
Rip through your slums

IH: Most of what I like about this verse is that it’s Meth rapping, regardless of the content.  We do get a taste of the “plague” theme furthered significantly in the music video, but mostly this is Meth servicing a few of his many aliases (John Blaze, with the Ghost Rider reference, as well as Iron Lung) and demonstrating a fine knowledge of classic movies– A Streetcar Named Desire and The Guns of Navarone.  “It’s court adjourned for the bad seed from bad sperm” is worth remembering.   

5th Place: Raekwon, Verse 9

Chef:
Aiyo that’s amazing, gun in your mouth talk, verbal foul hawk
Connect thoughts to make my man child walk
Swift notarizer, Blue-Tang, all up in the high-riser
New York Yank visor world tranquilizer
Adjust the dosage, delegate my Clan with explosives
While my pen blow lines ferocious
Mediterranean, see y’all, the number one draft pick
Tear down the beat God, then delegate the God to see God
The swift chancellor, flex the white gold tarantula
Track truck diesel, play the weed God substantiala
Max mostly, undivided then slide in sickening
Guaranteed made ’em jump like Rod Strickland

IH:  A climactic end to an awesome track.  Coming into this, I thought Raekwon would rank higher.  I love 90’s basketball and in particular, Rod Strickland– subject of the iconic closing line.  That being said, we don’t feel much of a connection to the rest of the song and the themes addressed, other than that of rap verses as weapons.  There’s more than a chance that I need some of this one explained to me.

4th Place: Ghostface Killah, Verse 8

GFK:
Yo Yo Yo, fuck that, look at all these crab niggas laid back
Lamping like them gray and black Puma’s on my man’s rack
Codeine was forced in your drink, you had a Navy green
Salamander fiend, bitches overheard you scream
You two-faces, scum of the slum, I got your whole body numb
Blowing like Shalamar in ’81
Sound convincing, thousand dollar cork-pop convention
Hands like Sonny Liston, get fly permission
Hold the fuck up, I’ll unfasten your wig, bad luck
I humiliate, separate the English from the Dutch
It’s me, black Noble Drew Ali
Came in threes we like the Genovese, is that so?
Ceaser needs the greens, it’s Earth
Ninety-three million miles from the first
Rough turbulence, the wave burst, split the megahertz

IH: So much to unpack.  Admittedly, this one falls short on the “consistent themes and narratives” front.  It’s a dis track with references to Shalamar, Sonny Liston, Noble Drew Ali, the Genovese Crime Family, and the distance from Earth to the sun.  It’s ambiguous, but interesting enough to pour over, and aggressively paced in Tony’s Stark’s preferred style that sets up Raekwon perfectly for the close.  I’ve always enjoyed the line “separate the English from the Dutch”–  perhaps comparing his own control of New York and propensity to win a deal to the control gained of the territory that would become New York by the English in the Treaty of Breda.

 

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3rd Place: Masta Killa, Verse 7

MK:
The track renders helpless and suffers from multiple stab wounds
And leaks sounds that’s heard
Ninety-three million miles away from
Came one to represent the Nation
This is a gathering of the masses
That come to pay respects to the Wu-Tang Clan
As we engage in battle, the crowd now screams in rage
The high chief Jamel Irief takes the stage
Light is provided through sparks of energy
From the mind that travels in rhyme form
Giving sight to the blind
The dumb are mostly intrigued by the drum
Death only one can save self from
This relentless attack of the track spares none

IH: Another glue verse, but one more important and vivid than GZA’s offering.  Masta Killa gives context to many of the song’s earlier allusions.  The track is a plague unleashed by the Wu-Tang Clan with powers to heal and powers to destroy.  “The dumb are mostly intrigued by the drum” demands attention to the song’s depth in theme– a nice “attaboy” to someone diving deep into this thing 🙂  Master Killa is Jamel Irief, and apparently a messianic figure from the sun.

 

Runner-up: U-God, Verse 4

UG:
Olympic torch flaming, we burn so sweet
The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat
We crush slow, flaming deluxe slow for
Judgment Day cometh, conquer, it’s war
Allow us to escape Hell globe spinning bomb
Pocket full of shells out the sky, Golden Arms
Tunes spit the shitty Mortal Kombat sound
The fake false step make the blood stain the ground
A jungle junkie, vigilante tantrum
A death kiss catwalk, squeeze another anthem
Hold it for ransom, tranquilized with anaesthesias
My orchestra, graceful, music ballerinas
My music Sicily, rich California smell
An axe kill adventure, paint a picture well
I sing a song from Sing-Sing, sipping on ginseng
Righteous wax chaperon, rotating ring kings

IH:  Oooh– some nice wide world of sport imagery, mixed perfectly with an apocalyptic tone. “The fake false step make the blood stain the ground”– for a group of kung-fu enthusiasts, you know that one drew a chorus of “Oh shit!”. This is the verse that really describes the carnage of the rapture at hand, and compares the destruction to fine-art.  The Sing-Sing line not only shouts out ginseng before its prime, but perhaps offers the possibility that the whole track is a prophecy of a mental patient.

 

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The Champ: Inspectah Deck, Verse 1

ID:
I bomb atomically, Socrates’ philosophies and hypotheses
Can’t define how I be dropping these mockeries
Lyrically perform armed robbery
Flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me
Battle-scarred Shogun, explosion when my pen hits
Tremendous, ultraviolet shine blind forensics
I inspect you, through the future see millennium
Killer Beez sold fifty gold, sixty platinum
Shackling the masses with drastic rap tactics
Graphic displays melt the steel like blacksmiths
Black Wu jackets, Queen Bees ease the guns in
Rumble with patrolmen, tear gas laced the function
Heads by the score take flight incite a war
Chicks hit the floor, die hard fans demand more
Behold the bold soldier, control the globe slowly
Proceeds to blow, swinging swords like Shinobi
Stomp grounds and pound footprints in solid rock
Wu got it locked, performing live on your hottest block

IH:  One of the hottest verses in hip hop history– one not easily defined by even famed philosophers.  A devilishly detailed heist scene that evolves into a revolution– like something the SLA or another militant group of the time might have conjured.  Maybe that’s why ODB had to take us back to ‘79.  All the while, we are aware of the lyrical metaphor present.  This wasn’t Inspectah Deck’s first classic verse– he delivered some key contributions to “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Protect Ya Neck”, but this is his magnum opus.  More revered rappers in history have never dropped a verse like the opening to Triumph.