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Letter From The Editor #9 — The Passion Of Backyard Band’s “Thug Passion”

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Marcus K. Dowling

“We got you drippin’ wet, from that way we make you sweat/ Gimme some of that thuuuuug passssioooonnn”

If you take one listen to DC-based go-go legends Backyard Band’s take on 2Pac’s 1996 released album All Eyez On Me song “Thug Passion,” it encapsulates everything we love and will fetishize forever about soul music, street life, partying in the club and being ratchet in the classiest way possible. In 2016, we’re in an era that mirrors both the vibes of 1996 and the forever loved vibes we’re discussing. Rappers are almost synonymous with soul singers, and these soul/rap hybrid artists’ love of street life, partying in the club and getting ratchet dominates pop music airwaves. Maybe moreso than their current hit with Adele’s “Hello,” it’s this Backyard Band classic that truly deserves a listen as it creates an ideal template for radio-ready top-40 to finally connect with DC’s beloved urban “pocket” groove.

The “thug passion” in Washington, DC was very real in 1996 as 397 people were murdered in the Nation’s Capital, and kicking off a seven-year period in which handgun murders doubled in the city. Of course, Tupac was shot to death in Las Vegas in 1996, so there’s a definite parallel between the lives of Makavelli and a go-go band from then crime-ridden Northwest DC. There was also a still-vibrant club scene for go-go in DC in 1996. Therefore, Tupac’s song about an alcoholic concoction of Alize cognac and Cristal champagne for which he was fond of drinking, was ripe to be covered for an aspiration-driven club scene driven by money, murder and entertainment — ideas that have perpetually apparent for better or worse since rap music and nightclubs collided.

But for as much as Tupac’s underground favorite is a rap song, it’s the presence of R & B in Backyard’s version that gives it staying power. The percussive groove swings instead of breaks, and the insistence of pushing “love” being “for real” while getting sweaty on the dance floor over a sumptuous orchestral production instead of ‘Pac talking about a drink that will “get her pussy wet and your dick hard” over a sample of Zapp’s synth-laden ’80s hit “Computer Love” is significant. Backyard’s cooing about getting sweaty first while dancing and then getting sweaty later via making love. Comparatively, Mr. Shakur is trying to get sweaty while just fucking someone. In women and men oftentimes desiring to locate the romantic notions that lie beneath base desires, Backyard’s “Thug Passion” may reign supreme.

As well, when murder reigns supreme and blood stains the streets, it’s sex that we may want in order to distract us from what’s happening. But it’s love — you know, that thing that reigns supreme and conquers all — that we may actually need. In 2016, with Donald Trump preaching intolerance as a campaign platform, we’re at another time in society where we may want sex but need love yet again. Thankfully, it’s also not because of the murder rate being high, as in 2012, only 88 people were murdered in DC, a 78% drop from 1996’s tally of 397. However, the “thug passion” in the streets may still be real, too. Pop-rap superstar Future says that “The burner is on me, can’t play with that money” in his song “Fuck Up Some Commas,” which allows us to surmise that guns, while not necessarily being shot, are still in play. “Thug Passion” is apparently forever relevant.

As we recently stated, pop’s ready for a go-go revival as on a musical level, the success of Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper’s recent output proves that live instrumentation is a valid musical form that can be successfully utilized by pop artists. This being the case, it may be necessary to dig deep into go-go and re-discover a song like “Thug Passion” (or even UCB’s The System “Don’t Disturb This Groove”-sampling “Sexy Lady” that transforms the meaning of a rap song about a drink that invites sex into being a groove that serves as a soothing ode to love and surviving the wildness of criminal life on the streets.

If you’re loving what Backyard Band did with “Hello,” then take a listen to what they did 20 years ago with “Thug Passion.” It’s not just the “dope jam” that they describe it as. It’s maybe the “dopest” jam and could hold within it the recipe for a series of hits that could allow go-go to surge past regional appeal and occasional mainstream radar blips into a beloved staple of the modern pop musical canon.

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