Janet Jackson Shows Her Claws: August 28 in Hip-Hop History
This day in hip-hop history contains a mix of shots fired, black cats and horrorcore. It's not all as strange as it sounds, though. Let's check it out.
Janet Jackson rocks out on "Black Cat" (1989)
Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 was a concept album that explored a variety of topics like poverty, racism and substance abuse. Its sixth single “Black Cat” saw the singer step away from the R&B she was known for. “One night I told her I wanted her to sound like a rock 'n' roll queen on it — she usually uses one of her other voices to sing R&B funk,” her musical partner in crime, Jimmy Jam said in an interview. “[For this song], you wanted to be funky, but more rocked out. That was what I was trying to get her to do, and she did it in one or two takes."
The lyrics tell a tale of a woman who's about to leave her reckless boyfriend, whose life on the edge has taken its toll on their relationship. The results were well-received; the song shot to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and Jackson would go on to be nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance.
TLC drop "What About Your Friends" (1992)
Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas told cautionary tales that nevertheless made you want to dance. Their third single, "What About Your Friends," applies a New Jack beat to a track that speaks to the importance of loyalty. "Will they stand their ground? / Will they let you down again?" the trio sing in the chorus -- pretty deep thoughts from a group that at the time was better known for their crazy-colorful clothes and Lopes' use of condoms with her eye wear. They would mature by their next album, and that maturation probably started with this single -- a Top 10 hit and a '90s hip-hop classic.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love hits theaters (1998)
Harlem-born singer Frankie Lymon was a tragic star, best known for his 1956 single “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” which was the title of this romantic drama about his life. The film, directed by Gregory Nava, tells Lymon's story from the perspective of the three women he married within a four-year period before his death at the age of 25. The movie starred a fresh-faced Larenz Tate, a natural leading man, alongside Halle Berry, Lela Rochon and Vivica A. Fox. The film received mixed reviews by film critics, but landed Nava a win at the American Latino Media Arts Awards. Tate also earned a Best Actor nod at the American Black Film Festival.
Mary J. Blige airs personal drama in No More Drama (2001)
Mary J. Blige is the type of artist that lets you feel her pain, and she was in a lot of pain around the time she made No More Drama. She was addicted to alcohol and cocaine, and tired of how she felt physically and emotionally, having suffered through a string of abusive relationships. She told The Telegraph that when she sings the album's title track today, "I go through the emotion of being a child growing up in the projects, getting robbed, grown-ups snatching our trick-or-treating bags, being shot at, having to fight physically every day of your life, going home to alcoholic aunts and every woman around you being beaten so badly by men you can't even understand it, and then growing up and realizing you're repeating all those patterns ..."
Not that No More Drama doesn't have its good times, either. There's a star-studded ensemble of some of the industry’s best producers, including Swizz Beatz, Missy Elliott, Neptunes and Dr. Dre. Dre produced "Family Affair," the album's biggest hit -- a deep funk track, throbbing with bass and strings and positive energy.
Tech N9ne drops Anghellic (2001)
On Anghellic, horrorcore rapper Tech N9ne, born Aaron Dontez Yates, provides a dark, morbid platform for the rapper to express his spiritual torment. "Everybody witness my soul sickness," he spits on "Einstein," and that's pretty much the album's theme -- rhymes full with lines about drugs, sex, religion, fame, abortion, and even suicide.
RZA drops Digital Bullet (2001)
The Wu-Tang Clan were going through some tumultuous times in 2001, but RZA had reinvented himself through his alter ego Bobby Digital. On Digital Bullet, the second Bobby Digital album, RZA tells his strange stories about the world of the digital pimp, with tracks like "Glocko Pop," "Brooklyn Babies" and "Bong Bong." The result was a Wu-Tang solo spectacular and an instant cult classic.
Krayzie Bone drops Thug on da Line (2001)
Cleveland rapper Anthony Henderson, known to the world as Krayzie Bone, was onto something when he dropped his second studio album, Thug on da Line. The calm and collected Bone Thugs-N-Harmony member received favorable reviews from music critics for his efforts. And, he pulled a coup: it’s one of the only times you’ll ever hear a rare guest appearance from Sade, especially on a hip-hop album.
Cassie releases "Long Way to Go" (2006)
In 2006, the world was introduced to the young sultry Cassie Ventura via her club-friendly hit “Me & U.” Her self-titled album dropped a few months later, charting in the Billboard 200 and propelling the then 19-year-old into the pop stratosphere. She was a model turned singer and an object of fantasy for many, which made the album’s second single "Long Way 2 Go" fitting, since it's all about playing hard to get. "Wanna love me? Wanna touch me?" she asks. "Think twice cause you gotta long way to go." She apparently had lots of people thinking about it, because it was a smash around the world.
N.O.R.E. drops Noreality (2007)
In 2007, Queens-born rapper Victor Santiago (aka N.O.R.E.) released his fifth solo album, Noreality, his first record since his 2004 reggaeton project Y La Familia …Ya Tu Sabe. The album featured a plethora of guest appearances, from the likes of Jadakiss, Kurupt, Capone and Kanye West, and was well received critically and commercially.
Whitney Houston releases I Look to You (2009)
Whitney Houston spent years battling demons, whether they were her addictions to drugs and alcohol, or the things that kept her volatile marriage to R&B bad boy Bobby Brown afloat for so long. Her seventh and final studio album I Look to You was meant to show rejuvenation and to point the way ahead to better times, but her voice was fading, and not even the talents of collaborators like Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys and R. Kelly could hide that fact. Still, the record achieved some modicum of success, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and earning platinum certification.