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Rediscovered: RnB & Hip Hop Forgotten Gems

Written by Nathan* DJ Impulse(V1) Who takes us on a journey of re-discovery and music nostalgia.

Full playlist on Spotify

I wasn’t a huge fan of Ms Benson’s original song. I liked the song but it wasn’t staying in my car multi disc CD player for long, (Admit it! you wanted one of those in your car at some point too and if you didn’t, you’re probably too young so respect your elders!) but then MTV base played a head nodding, foot tapping remix and I completely fell in love …..

Nathan, DJ Impulse(V1)

I’ve had music in my life for as long as I can remember, My Dad and his 5 tier 80’home stereo system, My Mum taking every opportunity to dance to her favourite King Sunny Ade tunes (look it up youngsters), I have two sisters that have attempted every Mariah Carey note since 1990 (with various degrees of success) and not to forget my baby brother and I have been playing the drums for years. Even to this day I get home and I play music in the background, not anything in particular, just that it also helps distract me from my day good or bad. Now when your iTunes tells you “you have enough songs to play for 76 days straight”, there is a lot that tends to go under the radar. Some songs you haven’t played in so long and you have no idea why. Did you forget them? Outgrow them? Or were they just not that good in the first place? Let’s be honest most of the songs that were hits, are instantly recognisable, but not necessarily works of art, they just connected with you at that period of time.
I needed an angle when I became a DJ, in this game you quickly realise anyone can put a few songs together, but less people can select songs well, less people than that can mix, even less people can scratch mix on and on it goes. My angle was to try and avoid the obvious. You go to an 80s rave and you know what to expect, my god-daughter is 7 ¾ years old, but even she knows Whitney Houston’s “I wanna dance with somebody”, everyone who has access to Heart Radio has heard Prince’s “when doves cry” but only an 80’s head will hear a DJ play Midnight Star’s “Midas touch” and have that feeling of nostalgia wash over them. I was barely out of infancy but I remember my mum dancing with me to the track (side note, Wet my Whistle is their best track).  I took that and decided I would make mixes for the forgotten gems, songs that weren’t the regular first draft picks but were hot enough that caused a reaction in your feels. And it worked, I earned a lot of praise for my 90’s forgotten gems series which currently stands at four iterations. I always planned to release a fifth version but wondered if I had tapped the well dry, plus a lack of time had caused me to put that on hold.

Then Covid-19 happened…

During this lockdown I’ve had a little time to myself and in between doing mixes on Facebook live, I’ve had the opportunity to look through my large music collection and I’ve come across songs that I haven’t played in literal years. Each of which brought back a memory for me personally, So I figured I would share a couple and see if they start some memories for others or worst case scenario I introduce people to some old gems

Ahmad – Back in the day

Ahmad is not going to be a name that jumps out at you as hip hop royalty, but he was a regular fixture on the legendary wake up show freestyles. His only mainstream hit has been sampled and reused in music and movies. “Back in the days when I was young I’m not a kid anymore, but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again “ It’s a sentiment that we have all felt, at moments of stress, nostalgia, depression and even admiration. Helped by a smooth groove which samples Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love TKO”, this is the lay back with a glass of your favourite beverage and sigh about those youthful moments track, we all need at some point. By the way, I slightly prefer the remix.

TLC – What about your friends

It’s hard to explain what and how big TLC were when they came out. Closest I can think of is Lady Gaga, there was simply no one like them around, they immediately stood out from the pack. Their infectious personalities, outlandish almost tomboyish yet sexy style and brashness was a phenomenon and spawned a whole bunch of imitations. I had just gotten a second digit to my age when I started singing ”Ain’t 2 proud 2 beg” and when I got the meaning of those lyrics some 7 odd years later… let’s say I’m happy I can’t blush.
“What about your friends?” is a tremendous song about the evolving moments in your life and the people that surround you during them and in my opinion is the 2nd best song off their Debut album.

Da Brat – Give it 2 U (remix)

On the subject of tomboyish yet sexy, I present the first female rapper to have a platinum album. Da Brat’s 1994 debut Funkdafied, was met with criticism from some on how she jacked Snoop’s (Doggy) Doggs style. That was always a disservice to her obvious talent. Never one to drop a weak verse, Brat proved herself a top-level emcee whether mixing it up with the male or female end of hip hop. Give it 2 U (remix) is just a head nodding masterpiece from Jermaine Dupri who really doesn’t get the respect he deserves (well, as a producer anyway) Also check out the cameos in the video.

Skee-Lo – Top of the stairs

If you’ve ever listened to a Will Smith album since he started using his real name, you’ll notice that he tends to go at his critics that proclaim him as soft/corny/a joke. I’ll put my hand up and say the mindset I was directing at the former Fresh Prince at the time was probably irresponsible although in my defence I was far from the only one.
It’s 1995 and gangsta rap is at the top of its game. Death Row was running the West, Biggie, Mobb Deep, Nas were running the East, it was all about the “streets” and there was no space for happy jokey rap. simply put, Will Smith type records were the past…. And then Skee Lo happened.
I Wish was the surprise hit of that summer. It didn’t contain a single curse word, it was funky and most importantly it was relatable. For everyone, but as much as I do love that song it’s his second single that needs props here. “Top of the stairs” is an open look at life and lessons learned. No drug dealing tales, no balling, and the only time his female conquests are brought up, he reminds us about STD’s. it’s a great song from an artist who was never appreciated as much as he should be for his brief time in the music business. For a music genre that takes itself way too seriously in embracing the negative aspects of life, there should be more Fresh Prince’s and Skee-Lo like artists to remind us of the lighter things in life. 

Eric Gable – Remember (The first time)

Be honest, how many of you truly remember Eric Gable? For a long time I was under the impression that he was a one hit wonder and I was right. Except the one hit I knew (1994’s Process of elimination”) is officially not that hit. 1989’s Remember was one of the biggest songs in R&B for that year. But Mr Gable was a victim of label issues that never allowed him to capitalise on this big hit. It’s Soaked in 80s charm, but it deserves to be remembered alongside Aaron Hall and Tevin Campbell level hits.

Brandy – I wanna be down (remix)

Try to imagine an empowering song featuring the top female rappers of today, Y’know Nicki, Cardi and Doj… BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I tried, I really did….. Anyway, when Yo-Yo, Latifah and Lyte were added to Brandy’s 1995 mega hit debut single, I never actually thought I would prefer it to the original. However, I actually had to buy the single a second time just to get this remix (things were different back then kids). This is a case of a remix feeling like an actual extension of the original song. Like they’re supposed to be played back to back. The only criticism I have is Brandy herself doesn’t get enough shine on what is still her song but regardless, it’s a beautiful thing.

Monifah – Touch It

At least with “Ain’t 2 proud 2 beg” the chorus was somewhat vague. This was not a song you could sing in a Nigerian household without death stares. Funny thing is to this day I have never heard the unedited version of this song and I’m the type of person that has the explicit version of Big Pun’s “Still not a Player” that wasn’t even on his album. This was Jack Knight’s first production credit before he would move to Bad Boy and write songs like Faith Evans’ “Can’t believe” and I give him credit because prior to this I didn’t feel Monifah worked well on a dancey track. She proved me wrong here and I’m grateful for it, her lovely breathy vocals are awesome for the chorus. Sadly, Monifah fell away from a seriously crowded R&B scene in the early 2000’s after her 3rd album flopped, (which is a topic of future discussion) but she had a couple of real gems in her catalogue.

Fugees – Nappy Head (remix)

Before the Age of YouTube, you were at the mercy of pirate stations and two hours a week on MTV (UK) for the underground hip hop hits. ‘Yo MTV Raps” or later just “Yo” was a constant topic of discussion in the classroom on Monday morning. So one night in 1994, I just happened to watch and the Fugees song “Vocab” came on. the song caught my interest and when I eventually went to Our Price Music Shop to listen to their debut ‘Blunted on Reality” I was disappointed with it. Disjointed and unfocused, it was left back on the shelf and to be honest I didn’t expect to hear from them again. I’m glad I was wrong, because two years later their classic “The Score” dropped and became one of the biggest albums of the 90’s.

To most The Fugees seemingly just appeared out of nowhere and considering the first hit was a cover of a classic soul song, many didn’t even realise they were a hip-hop group. So, when my best friend bought their second single “Ready or Not” we came across a little gem that had been added as a bonus track. Legend has it that Nappy Heads remix is what got them a second album, the song was a bigger hit than any of the songs on the first album and convinced Columbia to give them creative control for “The Score” (and it paid off). Lauryn steals the show as usual, but Wyclef really shines here. Also the song features very little Pras (haha).

Res – Golden Boys

Early in the 2000s there was a spate of Neo soul singers that out of nowhere jumped to the forefront of black music, Jill Scott, Musiq and India Aire joined the likes of Erykah Badu and Ms Hill in both critical and commercial success. However, in early 2001, It was new release day Monday I was working in Virgin megastore and a brand-new song was played over the store radio. I couldn’t place the lovely voice but I loved the melody and chorus caught my attention. As you may have noticed I’m a sucker for a good track with an interesting message and Res “Golden Boys” hits hard with her dissection of the celebrity/ baller facade. I always found it a shame that the Philly native didn’t gain more fame as her album “How I do” is in my opinion an excellent album that wasn’t given a fair chance and I would recommend a listen to anyone interested in the genre.

Rihan Benson – Say how I feel (Remix) feat Slum Village

Remember what I said about remixes that sound like a continuation/ extension of the original? I wasn’t a huge fan of Ms Benson’s original song. I liked the song but it wasn’t staying in my car multi disc CD player for long, (Admit it! you wanted one of those in your car at some point too and if you didn’t, you’re probably too young so respect your elders!)but then MTV base played a head nodding, foot tapping remix and I completely fell in love with it. Everyone brings it, BR Gunna with the beat, Dwele vocals complementing Rihan’s sultry voice and Elzhi with the verse. A great remix that is completely different from the slow moody original. And the kind of thing I believe should be attempted more.

If you have thoughts feelings or just general feedback about my song selection, lets continue the conversation on social media, use #ColourOutTheBox as I would love to discuss more.  

The full playlist can be found on Spotify

Listen to more of my music mixes on Mix-Cloud and you can also find me on Twitter. Finally do listen to my past appearances on Colour Out The Box podcast. 

This has been Nathan, DJ Impulse(V1), until next time signing-out …..