Queens. Mid-'80s. The borough is represented on the flourishing East Coast hip hop scene by names such as Run-DMC, LL Cool J and Roxanne Shante. Nathaniel Wilson is introduced to Thomas Pough through his longtime friend, Eric Barrier - the former become Kool G Rap and DJ Polo, and the latter abbreviates his surname and links up with a young emcee named Rakim. Nas, just 12 years old, listens to hip hop records with Ill Will. Havoc, only 11, is yet to meet Prodigy.
Whilst Queens is barrelling towards hip hop excellence, female emcee Sweet Tee - born Toi Jackson - is signing a deal with an upstart label, Profile Records. After getting her start providing uncredited vocals to Davy DMX's classic '84 joint, "One For The Treble," Tee linked up with influential producer Hurby Luv Bug and began cutting her first album. That debut, the aptly-titled It's Tee Time, remains her one and only LP. Preceded by a handful of singles and succeeded by a soundtrack-featured comeback, it's the sole calling card for a single-album act whose versatile, pop-savvy offering has kept her endeared to particular kinds of hip hop traditionalists.
The emcee shares her stage name with another little-known hip hop pioneer, Tanya "Sweet Tee" Winley. That Sweet Tee, active throughout the late '70s and early '80s, was the daughter of record producer Paul Winley and one of the first recorded emcees. Though released almost a decade later, It's Tee Time positions Sweet Tee amongst the first generation of record-cutting female emcees. These artists follow in the footsteps of acts such as Roxanne Shante, Antoinette and The Real Roxanne, early solo female artists restricted to standalone singles. The late-'80s push towards fully-realised solo female acts, led by MC Lyte, presaged an explosion of talent: throughout the '90s, acts such as Lyte, Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo, Missy Elliot and Lauryn Hill came to dominate the musical landscape.
Not every record can be a trailblazer, and Sweet Tee's It's Tee Time is a prime example of charting hip hop in the late '80s. Entirely produced by Hurby Luv Bug, producer and mastermind behind Salt 'N Pepa and Kid 'N Play, the LP is a fun effort by a one-off emcee and an accomplished pop-rap producer. In celebration of the record's thirtieth anniversary, we're breaking down the Luv Bug sampling across the album, diving into the sonic blueprint that underwrote hit pop-crossover acts in the late '80s.
The instrumental sample that kickstarts the hit single is taken from Parliament's "Mothership Connection (Star Child)." As is often the case with the George Clinton-helmed P funk pioneers, the track is steeped in images of cosmic funkiness.
The drums that follow up that instrumental are taken from a different source: a live rendition of Trouble Funk's "4th Gear." That track, originally included on 1983's [?], was recorded for the group's first live LP, Saturday Night Live from Washington D.C..
Though a lesser hit than "On The Smooth Tip," "Let's Dance" charted at #40 on the Billboard Dance Club Chart in mid-'89. The track was released the year after the album dropped, remixed in a hip-house fashion to capitalize on the then-growing appreciation of hip hop-house crossovers. Whilst the subgenre had slowly gaining appeal in Chicago, the home of house music, since 1986, it was Jungle Brothers' 1988 hit "I'll House You" that took the niche national.
The simple guitar riff that opens "I Got Da Feelin'" is an interpolation of Bobby Byrd's "I Know You Got Soul," though the original riff is largely obscured by Byrd's intense vocal performance.
"I Know You Got Soul," released in 1971, has become a hip hop favourite, most famously forming the basis of Eric B. & Rakim's 1987 classic of the same name.
The drums that underpin that riff are lifted from another Brown production, this time lifting the oft-sampled break from Lyn Collins' "Think (About It)."
Elements of track have been sampled more than 2000 times, making it one of the most frequently sampled songs of all time. Whilst the break is oft-utilised, the hook within - "it takes two to make a thing go right" - was famously sampled throughout 1988 rap hit, "It Takes Two."
The horns that punctuate Sweet Tee's basic hook at 0:44 are perhaps the most identifiably Brown aspect of the whole track. Brown's brass parts are a hip hop staple in their own right: earlier in '88, samples of his horns helped craft the signature sound of Public Enemy's magnum opus, It Takes A Nation.
"Show and Prove"
"Show and Prove" has never been sampled, and features just one sample of its own - naturally, it's taken from James Brown's artistic orbit.
The sole sample on "Show and Prove" is sourced from the work of Brown's longtime backing band, The J.B.'s. It's taken from their 1975 cut, "(It's Not the Express) It's the J.B.'s Monaurail."
The group formed in 1970 after their predecessors, The James Brown Band, quit after a pay dispute. The J.B.'s played until the early '80s, and featured future Parliament-Funkadelic members Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and, briefly, Bootsy Collins.
"Work Out" features backing vocals from R&B veteran and Hurby Luv Bug associate Jimmy Young, Teddy Riley-associated singer-songwriter Karen Anderson and enigmatic singer Lenora Helmm. "Work Out" was Anderson's first vocal credit, and she would go on to later record with acts such as Big Daddy Kane, JAY-Z and Notorious B.I.G..
"It's My Beat"
With four samples over five minutes, "It's My Beat" is one of Hurby Luv Bug's more intricate productions.
The first (but certainly not the last) appearance of Brown's breakbeat classic, "Funky Drummer." Despite the tracks place in hip hop culture, it wasn't until 1985 that "Funky Drummer" was first sampled.
Hurby Luv Bug makes use of Brown's four-count and ad-libs as well as Clyde Stubblefield's distinctive drumming.
Hurby briefly layers another break at 0:18, taking the opening fill from T-Ski Valley's "Catch The Beat."
The nine-minute 1983 hip hop track has been featured on over 50 tracks: you might recognise elements from joints by MF DOOM, De La Soul and The Avalanches. It also featured in the legendary 1981 battle between The Cold Crush Brothers and The Fantastic Five MC's.
The interjection that punctuates Sweet Tee's refrain at 1:03 - "huh, what?" - is lifted from Joeski Love's 1986 hip hop hit, "Pee-Wee's Dance." The single peaked at #16 on the Billboard 100, marking Love's only entry on the chart.
He teamed up with Hurby Luv Bug, who produced this very track, for his 1990 debut, Love.
The tyre-screeching sound effect that closes out the track is taken from The Gap Band's 1980 funk cut, "Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)."
"As the Beat Goes On"
Rakim once said that "as the beat goes on, it's rougher," and Sweet Tee's song of the same name runs with this idea. Tee continues to spit atop the same "Funky Drummer" sample, though Hurby Live Bug turns up the tempo, demanding a more relentless lyrical onslaught from the emcee.
The fleeting drum fill that opens "As The Beat Goes On" is taken from the heart of Graham Central Station's 1975 album opener, "The Jam." There's a harsh juxtapoisiton between this drum fill and the second drum sample that enters thereafter.
Like "It's My Beat" before it, "As The Beat Goes On" samples the distinctive break from James Brown's "Funky Drummer."
The rhythm that enters after the initial opening fill is courtesy of Clyde Stubblefield, Brown's onetime drummer, and the sampled segment also features Brown's own ad-libs.
"It's Like That Y'all"
With just five samples, "It's Like That Y'all" is the densest track on It's Tee Time. Leaning on Luv Bug's typical love of '70s funk cuts, the track might as well give Brown a co-writer credit. Though "It's Like That Y'all" wasn't a hit in its own right, it became popular amongst producers, appearing on 10 songs between '88 and '90, including tracks by Jock D, Jealous J, Richie Rich, MC Luscious and III Most Wanted.
The guitar riff that opens the track is an interpolation of Betty Wright's 1971 cut, "Clean Up Woman." The hit soul single, which featured guitar from soul sessionist Willie 'Little Beaver' Hale.
The single was a hit for Wright, and was certified Gold by the RIAA at the end of the year. It featured on her '72 sophomore LP, I Love the Way You Love, and has since been sampled by acts such as Chance The Rapper and Mary J. Blige.
The scream at 0:10 is taken from the opening of James Brown's 1976 hit, "Get Up Offa That Thing." One of Brown's most enduring singles, the track was recorded live in-studio, a rarity given the advent of the multi-track recorder.
The horn samples that appear at 1:00 on "It's Like That Y'all" are also taken from "Get Up Offa That Thing." They appear at 0:19 on Brown's original recording.
"It's Like That Y'all" features yet another sample of Brown's "Funky Drummer."
This is the third time on the album that producer Hurby Luv Bug has sampled Brown's breakbeat staple, making it a clear favourite. He also sampled it on Salt N Pepa's 1988 track "Let the Rhythm Run (Remix)," and again on Kid 'N Play's 1990 single, "Funhouse."
The titular refrain that enters at 0:59 is interpolated from an earlier track included on Run-DMC's 1984 self-titled debut. "Hollis Crew (Krush-Groove 2)" was the fifth and final single from that groundbreaking LP, which helped usher in the 'new school' of hip hop.
The "hey, yeah, yeah, yeah" interjection at 1:03 could be the work of just one man. Brown released "Superbad, Superslick" as a two-part single in 1975, and the track was included on his second '75 LP, Everybody's Doin' the Hustle & Dead on the Double Bump.
Though increasingly prolific, Brown struggled throughout the mid-'70s as his critical and commercial appeal rapidly faded.
"Why Did It Have To Be Me"
The rap-ballad that closes the LP boasts Sweet Tee's second and final music video. A melancholy reflections on the pitfalls of love, "Why Did It Have To Be Me" is stylistically similar to Big Daddy Kane's "The Day You're Mine," the sole slow-burner on his 1988 debut. This track is the only one on the record featuring production from Sweet Tee, credited to her real name, Toi Jackson.
Tee Time Is Over
Though it failed to chart on release in '87, Tee's most enduring track is an unlikely one: "Let The Jingle Bells Rock," her contribution to Profile Records' festive hip hop compilation. Tee's track was featured alongside similarly holiday-themed cuts by Run-DMC, Spyder-D, Disco Four and Dana Dane.
Sweet Tee reemerged in 1995 under the alias of Suga, releasing "What's Up Star?," a track included on The Show OST. She toured in support of the soundtrack with Onyx, Erick Sermon, Wu-Tang Clan, Redman and Method Man, an almost comically stacked mid-'90s roster.
Three decades after her major splash, Tee remains a respected veteran of the game. She calls into NYC radio shows offering sage advice and cultural commentary, rocks a mic without hesitation and reflects on her role as an influential golden age emcee. Still working in Queens, though no longer an active emcee, Toi Jackson remains an important figure in one of rap's most exceptional locales.