Anniversary, History, Interview, Music, News

Left Eye’s N.I.N.A Project For Death Row Features Ray-J (Full Album Link)

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Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes shocked the world when she signed with Suge Knight‘s reinvention of his classic Death Row records, renamed as Tha Row back in 2002, as a result of her disappointment at her home label, Arista Records, failing to support her debut solo album, ‘Supernova, in 2001.

Lisa’s new moniker was N.I.N.A (New Identity Non-Applicable) on Tha Row, a name given to her by Knight, as he felt her small frame was like a small 9mm handgun (which has a street name of ‘nina’). When she was spotted with Knight at a Lakers/Grizzlies game in LA on Nov 9, 2001, Lisa explains to EW, “I was visited by a man in my dream, one that sweated me all night about Mr. Suge Knight. He was right, but that’s a whole other story.”

Eastwood, a label mate of N.I.N.A on Tha Row worked with her on her solo project shortly before she passed away on April 25, 2002. He told Variety that he worked on 99.5% of her second solo album, and even co-wrote her verse on TLC‘s single, “Girl Talk“, the lead track from their ‘3D album in 2002.

“You know the song “Girl Talk” with TLC? That was their last joint — I wrote her verse on there. If you go back and listen to it, you’ll hear me respond to her in the beginning of that verse. This happened three days before she passed”, Eastwood said.

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Producer Darren Vegas worked on the majority of the tracks for the N.I.N.A project, and when she tragically passed away he was given the task to work with material that was left over, mostly comprising of masters from her previous solo album. “Her vibe was real cool,” he says. “I expected her to be all wild and stuff from what I’d heard, [but] she was real laid back and calm”, he told LA Weekly.

“When she was [signed to Tha Row] she didn’t drink at all. She was on a cleanse, and she actually got artists at Death Row to do cleansings, as she was back and forth to Honduras”, he continues. “She just seemed real determined to have the world hear a solo album. The stuff we were working on, we weren’t copying what she had done [with TLC]. We were creating a brand new sound.”

Many of the tracks were released online over the years as the project was eventually abandoned, officially. Jordan Cooper of the Left Eye fanpage The Eye Is Right decided that the project deserved some more attention, and decided to compile all of the available material from the project as one album for all to enjoy.

After creating some polls with fans on social media, the title of the project was decided as the self-titled ‘N.I.N.A‘, which was released on July 25, 2020 via the fanpage. It also features a version of “Too Street 4 TV” featuring Brandy‘s brother Ray-J, who also signed to Tha Row for a brief period of time.

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‘Tha Row Presents… N.I.N.A.’

Tracklist:
1. Block Party (featuring Eastwood and Phobia)
2. Life (featuring Danny Boy and Eastwood)
3. Let Me Live (featuring Crooked I)
4. Universal Quest (featuring Crooked I)
5. Rags to Riches (featuring Kurupt)
6.Untouchable (with 2Pac)
7. I Believe In Me
8. Hot Lanta (featuring Kurupt and Juvenile)
9. Tru Confessions
10.Too Street 4 TV (featuring Danny Boy)
11. Friends (featuring Kurupt and Danny Boy)

Bonus Tracks:
12. Life (Alternate Version) (Featuring Carl Thomas and Eastwood)
13. Too Street 4 TV (OG Version) (Featuring Ray J.)
14. Crush on You (with Ejypt)

Cover designed by Demar Maurice.

Grab a copy of the full album HERE

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Anniversary, History, Interview, Review

25 Years Of “Freedom”: The Top R&B Divas Of The 90’s Unite To Create Epic Black Girl Magic

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In fall of 1995, more than 60 female musicians traveled to Capitol Records in Los Angeles, where they recorded both the vocals and the visuals to the ground-breaking single, “Freedom“, on the same day. The single was the title track to the Mario Van Peebles directed movie, ‘Panther‘, based on the Black Panther Party.

Women’s publication Zora gave us a well documented account of events of how this historic masterpiece came together. The song was originally recorded by the singer Joi for her debut album, produced by Dallas Austin. It was later picked up, reconceptualized, and released as ‘Panther’s official theme song.

Former label executive Ed Ecksein says having a record featuring all women sent a message about the film before it even hit theaters. “The power behind the organization was women. The backbone behind the organization was women,” he says. “So we needed to do something similar on the soundtrack as we did for the BMU record (Black Men United).”

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The actual day of the track’s recording required ultimate levels of coordination and an understanding of how and why to stagger artists’ arrivals and recording schedules to avoid overlaps. There were camera crews, food service, hair and makeup, but no egos in sight.

Even with stars like Queen Latifah, Vanessa Williams, MC Lyte, Mary J Blige, Aaliyah, Brownstone, Salt-N-Pepa, Patra, XScape, and En Vogue in the house, A&R Sam Sapp remembers this remarkable tidbit: “Everyone was in the same room, and there was no VIP area.”

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TLC were determined to be a part of this amazing project but were unable to be there at the same time as the other artists, so they recorded their parts at a later date and were edited into the final mix.

In order to work around Left Eye‘s probation-related travel restrictions Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins says the trio recorded vocals in a local Atlanta studio and filmed the video from the conference room at LaFace Records.

“It was the most amazing thing to have my fist pumped and have on this hat that had a Black ballplayer and a ball on the front and represent,” she says. “It made you feel so proud to be Black. It was an awesome thing to be a part of.”

The record was also a game changer in that both an R&B and a rap version were featured on the soundtrack. Sapp says artists were freestyling to the instrumental while waiting to record, and they commissioned the “Dallas’ Dirty Half Dozen Mix” on the spot.

The “Freedom” single was a top charter on the ‘Panther’ soundtrack, peaking at #10 on Billboard’s R&B Singles Chart and snagging the #45 spot on the Hot 100.

While there may not be as many Black women artists today, they are still making their mark in music. For the first time in history, four Black female soloists recently occupied the Hot 100’s top two slots (Doja Cat‘s “Say So” remix with Nicki Minaj took the top spot, with Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce‘s “Savage” remix at the second spot).

As for another Black woman collective recording in the future, “Freedom” artists are passing the torch.

“It should be another song now with the new generation of artists that would show people that we’re sticking together,” T-Boz says. “I think it’s needed again, especially with the state of the world today.”

Read the full story from Zora here.

Artists featured on “Freedom”:

Aaliyah, Amel Larrieux, Brownstone, Jade, Blackgirl, SWV, Monica, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Mary J Blige, Tanya Blount, Changing Faces, En Vogue, TLC, Felicia Adams, Joi, N’Dea Davenport, For Real, Zhane, Eshe, Queen Latifah, Billy Lawrence, Lalah Hathaway, Brigette McWilliams, Miss Jones, Me’Shell NdegéOcello, Pebbles, Patra, Chantay Savage, Sonja Marie, Xscape, Terri & Monica, Y?N-Vee, Vanessa Williams, Karyn White, Caron Wheeler, Crystal Waters, Vybe, Tracie Spencer, Brenda Russell, Sweet Sable, Raja-Nee, Pure Soul, Nefertiti, Natasha, Yo-Yo, Cindy Mizelle, Milira, Da 5 Footaz, Emage, E.V.E, Penny Ford, Jazzyfatnastees.

History, Interview, News

Jermaine Dupri: “Xscape Sang Low On First Single To Sound Like TLC”

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In the second episode of T.I.‘s ExpidiTIously with Jermaine Dupri (April 9), he reminisces about the early days of his career and how he first became to work with Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, whom he met through his close friend Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, who was sleeping in his closet at the time.

The girls were in a girl group — but it wasn’t the TLC we currently know and love. T-Boz and Left Eye were in another group, calling themselves Second Nature. “I started cutting songs with ‘TL’ in my house, way before L.A. and Babyface came onto the scene”, Jermaine recalls.

“I was writing R&B songs for them, and they were like, ‘okay, let’s do it’. So, I wrote these songs for ‘TL’ and one was called “I Got It Goin’ On“, he continues. “The way I was singing on the demo, I said I want you to sing it like this. Tionne was like ‘that’s low, don’t nobody wanna hear me sing like that, they wanna hear me sang’.”

“I was like ‘nah, you’ve gotta be cool. You’ve gotta sing down here where I’m at. You hear where I’m at?'”, Jermaine said. “So, Tionne started mimicking my demo, and that’s how she got that T-Boz sound that people know of today “.

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TLC as 2nd Nature in 1990

Before TLC signed a record deal with LaFace Records, Left Eye called Jermaine to tell him about a meeting she had scheduled with Pebbles. “She said ‘JD, we’re having this meeting with Pebbles, should I take the meeting?’ I could have told her don’t go.”, he recalls. “But I didn’t have a label or an outlet to tell her to say no at the time. I couldn’t replace the opportunity. So I told her to go to the meeting, because if you get signed I’m going to do the songs. So, I was thinking as a producer as opposed to the CEO of a record company. I was thinking if they get a deal bigger than I had, then I can produce on these bigger records. So, I encouraged her to have this meeting with Pebbles, and basically said I’m caught up with Kris Kross, I don’t have the means to do both.”

Jermaine points out that if he had signed TLC at the time when he had the opportunity, it would have been a slightly different TLC with a former member instead of Chilli. “The C at that time was a girl named Crystal, who was the girlfriend of Headliner, a DJ from the group Arrested Development, another one of Ian Burke‘s groups, which is how Crystal got in the group. I don’t know what happened in that meeting with Pebbles, but she got rid of Crystal and added a girl she knew, which was Chilli, and introduced them to L.A. and Babyface.”

He is grateful for how TLC have always had his back throughout their career, never forgetting where they came from and keep him involved in their projects. He said, “I did the “Hat 2 Da Back” remix, which is the version that came out, and a couple of songs on ‘CrazySexyCool‘ including the intro with Phife Dogg, rest in peace. But they always kept me in the mix, they really remembered and never acted like that shit came from somewhere else, they remember how it started. So I was cool; I’ve got TLC. I’ve got Kris Kross. I’ve got Xscape”.

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T-Boz with Jermaine Dupri on the video set to TLC “Baby-Baby-Baby” in 1992

Jermaine mostly wrote his R&B songs with a low register in mind based on the T-Boz sound. “I was making these records with Tionne and she was singing low, so that’s all I knew when it came to R&B, as far as me writing it”, Jermaine explains. This sound went on to influence Xscape, the first group he signed to his So So Def label.

Although Xscape already had cemented their sound with LaTocha Scott as the lead singer, Jermaine wanted to inject some songs with a low register lead vocal like TLC. He presented the track, “Just Kickin’ It” to the girls, which was also the debut single for the group. However, it featured Kandi Burruss on the lead vocal, as Jermaine felt she had the lower register that LaTocha couldn’t achieve. “I had LaTocha sing on it but it didn’t sound right for what I wanted”, he admits.

Jermaine notes he feels that his influence on changing the original vocal dynamics of Xscape led to their problems with each other later on in group, which ended with the original line-up of the group going on a lengthy hiatus for 18 years before reuniting to go on tour in 2017.

“I was against them being just another En Vogue, there needs to be an edge to it than just four girls singing, all of them need to sing” Jermaine explains. “If “Just Kickin’ It” wasn’t successful, Kandi probably wouldn’t have been lead on the second album. If people liked her singing on lead, then okay”.

Do you think Kandi and T-Boz sound alike vocally? Would a TLC and Xscape collab be good? 

Catch up on the first part of the JD interview here

Appearance, History, Interview, Television

T-Boz Stars In Netflix Series ‘Hip-Hop Evolution’: “Atlanta Was The Twerk Capital!”

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Hip-Hop Evolution is a hit Canadian music documentary series that originally aired on HBO Canada in 2016, which has since spawned 3 seasons on Netflix, featuring in-depth interviews with a selection of some of hip-hop’s original artists, producers, DJs, and promoters.

A hot and sticky music scene is born in Atlanta as the infectious hooks of TLC and Kris Kross yield to the gritty originality of OutKast and Goodie Mob.

In it’s 3rd season, our very own Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins shares details of her humble beginnings of how she started out in the business and the major part she played in helping to shape Atlanta: ‘The Dirty South’, to become the pioneering force in music that it is today.

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T-Boz in Hip-Hop Evolution

Before the music scene was dominated with what we know today as ‘twerking’, T-Boz says it was originally known as something else. “We used to call it shake dancing before it was called twerking, and then that started the stripping thing in the strip capital”, T-Boz reminisces. “Atlanta was the shake dance capital”.

L.A. Reid and Babyface decided to uproot from Los Angeles and arrived in Atlanta in 1989 to launch their new label, LaFace Records. T-Boz was working in a hair salon at the time, when she learned that her friend, Marie Davis, used to do hair for Pebbles, who was married to L.A. Reid at the time.

download (2)_1.gif“I was like, ‘yo, you need to go and tell Pebbles that I’m the bomb, she need to holla at me'”, T-Boz recalls. “I didn’t really think that she would do it, but Pebbles called me at home that night. It was Chilli, me and Lisa. We were calling ourselves TLC. It wasn’t really girly, but it had a lot of hip-hop elements. Lisa, she came in as a little, feisty rapper, so that gave us that hip-hop element.”

 

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Pebbles with TLC

T-Boz was only interested in working with producers in Atlanta, her long-time friend, Dallas Austin, to be precise. “When we did get to L.A. Reid, he asked who we wanted to work with and I would only say Dallas Austin, he has to be our producer — and he got it”.

Despite the crossover appeal of TLC and Dallas Austin, a soulful team of producers were waiting to be discovered. Rico Wade, Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown aka Organized Noize, were good friends with T-Boz, who introduced the production trio to Pebbles.

Pebbles being interested in their talents led them to work with other LaFace Records artists, which in turn led to the discovery of Outkast, Goodie Mob and the Dungeon Family.

Organized Noize eventually crafted the most iconic TLC single in history, the legendary “Waterfalls“.

Catch the unmissable Hip-Hop Evolution series on Netflix now.