On Chapter 29 of Black Girl Songbook Danyel Smith celebrates the undeniably soulful yet powerful voice of underrated enchantress Deniece Williams and her influence on popular genres/artists that people tend to forget about.
Deniece’s influence trickled into the enchanted, soulful voice of Donna Summer and her undeniable contribution to music as a major contributor to disco and pop. Danyel walks us through the trials and tribulations that Donna endured as she continued to be a creative force in the music world even though American culture attempted to kill a genre she stood at the forefront of.
Story consultant Taj Rani joins Danyel to discuss some of Danyel’s favorite male artists, their hits, and contributions to music.
Deniece Williams (June Deniece Chandler) , fellow Gary, Indiana native like the Jackson 5, made her debut in the 60’s, but didn’t get her recognition until the 70’s when she worked with Stevie Wonder on his Wonderlove album as a songwriter. Her debut album This is Niecy went gold thanks to her hits “Free” and other songs she cowrote.
In the 80’s, Williams made an even bigger splash with her smash hit “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” that was apart of the Footloose soundtrack, which is Grammy nominated. Williams is highly connected to the music industry not only through her sound and penmanship, but also her personal connections with unknown hitmakers. This and Free are two of my all time favorite songs, but this song in particular makes me want to recreate the dance scenes in Footloose, while simultaneously dancing with a great guy; except people don’t dance that much today sadly.
Two of her background singers, George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, went on to form their own group Boy Meets Girl and making their own mark in the music industry. George and Shannon wrote two of the most iconic songs in history for none other than Nippy, aka Whitney Houston. Those songs are How Will I Know and I Wanna Dance With Somebody.
Donna Summer is an artist who is heavily influenced by Deniece’s sound where she combined soul, R&B, and funk to help make the disco/pop sound Donna Summer is most known for. Danyel pointed out something interesting with the Williams influence with her comparison of the Last Dance intro to the intro of Free. I never realized this connection until listening to this episode and it blew my mind. i’ve always found those intros to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. It reminds me of what Tina Turner said on Proud Mary, “You see we never ever do nothing, nice and easy. We always do it nice and rough.” In this case, we started out nice and easy, then got funky instead of rough.
Danyel then breaks into her conversation with story consultant Taj Rani as they discuss a few of Danyel’s favorite male artists and gives them their flowers as we literally Hear It For The Boys. The male artists were: DJ Quik, Drake, Usher, Wale, and Tevin Campbell, who are all legendary within our community in their own way.
Dj Quik is a legendary rapper from Compton, CA that isn’t as well known in rap/hip hop as he should be, but he’s extremely well known in the West Coast. Danyel is from Oakland, so her connection to the rapper runs deeper than simply being a fan of his music, but a connection is able to be made through the music as they’ve experienced some of the same issues being from California. I loved the fact that Danyel is so passionate with her appreciation for him as an artist, you can hear it in her voice and as she so passionately recited her favorite verse from the song Born and Raised in Compton. I love the message behind her favorite verse, because she touches on those lyrics being her shield of protection as a woman in the media world. You have to have tough skin in the industry because at the time, people tried to discredit or tear you down as a black woman music journalist.
Audrey Graham, aka Drake, is discussed, as he should be! I’m a huge Drake fan myself, and I agree with everything both Danyel and Taj discuss the contributions and uniqueness Drake has provided for the rap industry. He embodies the traditional nature of rap, but also changed the appeal of rap as far as his content and style. Taj does a great way of comparing Drake to LL Cool J with his sex appeal and diverse music. LL Cool J has been known as a battle rapper, or even master rapper, but LL has been able to make women feel sexy with his music. Drake does a great job with that because he isn’t afraid to try new sounds, like his Honestly, Nevermind album that wasn’t as well received by “true” rap fans, but highly loved by people who enjoy a great alternative sound. I enjoyed that album a lot because it was different and he sounded amazing on it, which everyone isn’t able to execute properly. One of Danyel’s favorite songs by Drake is a perfect example of how eclectic he is and how well that works for him. His hit song Hold On, We’re Going Home is discussed for the dreamy feeling it gives, and that’s one of the best examples I’ve heard to describe the song. I agree with the ladies that I love a great song that evokes magic or a dreamy feeling, because music rarely has that appeal these days. Drake has a way of making you feel like you’re in your dream world, living lavishly and peacefully, which is all we want right?
Usher Raymond, aka Usher, is declared an underrated yet extremely impactful artist to the music industry and I again couldn’t agree more! There’s been a debate since COVID-19 lockdown where people are arguing whether Chris Brown or Usher are the true King’s of R&B, is this really a question though? Without Usher, there would be no Chris Brown, just like there wouldn’t be an Usher, without Michael Jackson, and no Michael without James Brown. For each generation, the title is passed down as it should be, but people write off Usher as if he hasn’t consistently provided us hits over 20+ years, and is still delivering today. Usher is currently in residency in Las Vegas and his show is said to be one of the most spectacular shows next to Adele’s, but are we surprised? Danyel’s favorite album of Usher’s is his legendary Confessions album. Her favorite song is Confessions Part II, with every good reason why. This whole album was a poetic story of the unfortunate reality that relationships face, and what made this album even juicier was the assumption that this was Usher’s life. Confessions Part II was a declaration and begging for forgiveness song that hasn’t been done in that way before. We know of classic love or sad ballads, but never anything where someone willingly admits to their wrongs, expressing how they don’t know how to handle it, but asking for forgiveness. It was a first time for society where someone allowed themselves to be completely flawed human in a song. He gives us a lot of range in his music where he tells a story while also paying homage to his music influences.
Wale, Olubowale Victor Akintimehin Folarin, is a Washington D.C. native who embraces his African roots, while celebrating the D.C. go-go culture in his music. Wale is poetry in motion in my opinion, and Danyel said it perfectly, “Wale is what sex appeal is.” Not the dirty stank sex, but the sensual, mind-blowing sex that has you walking on sunshine, at least for me. Wale is one of my top favorite rappers of all time, but is heavily underrated because he uses poetry in his work. Danyel and I share the same love for his music, but especially for his song Lotus Flower Bomb with lyrics like, “Navigating through her eyes, destination to her thighs.” That is pure poetry in motion and like Danyel said, “Wale talks as if he likes women. Not in a derogatory way, but in the way that he actually cares about women, making them feel seen and heard.” Wale helped me get through high school because you get judged a lot in those years, and me being a closet nerd, I would listen to Wale to help me love myself more. One of my favorite songs by him is Ambitious Girl where he’s literally expressing his admiration for the girl who’s working hard in life to create a better life. He doesn’t sexualize her, but touches on certain aspects of her that he appreciates so much. Every time I hear this song I feel like he’s literally hugging me and speaking directly to me. I feel seen, heard, and damn near sexy based on him loving me enough to pray with me as he states in the song. That’s the vibe all women want from their partner, but to have an artist be so vocal and consistently passionate is an amazing thing to witness. Yet, Wale is extremely underrated to the point he’s almost forgotten about and I don’t appreciate that.
Tevin Campbell, aka the true prince of soul, is our final artist that I believe has shaped the course of R&B as well. Danyel does great with speaking on the legends that helped build Tevin Campbell’s sound/presence, Kenneth Babyface Edmonds and Quincy Jones. These two musical geniuses know how to find a great sound, but their handling of Tevin Campbell helped the artists make consent sexy. Danyel and Taj discuss Tevin’s most famous song Can We Talk where Tevin is singing his heart out about the possibility of being granted a conversation with the young lady he’s thinking of pursuing. The simple act of consent is the theme of this song and it’s extremely beautiful due to how rare content like that is, but also how popular this song remains since its release. Danyel points out that people focus on the surface level of the song, but when you look deeper it’s another poetic song as well. Babyface and Quincy Jones helped Tevin maintain that charm and innocence through his music as a young man. The world wasn’t ready for someone like Tevin Campbell even though he has a lot of success, but he disappeared for awhile until he resurfaced for a surprise BET performance. Fans have started showing him the love he deserves with the Can We Talk challenge that happened on social media during the pandemic lockdown where artists showed their range by hitting the high note of that song. I really appreciated it as a fan to see younger generations catching on to his greatness, while generations who’ve known him are able to express their love thanks to social media today.
Image Courtesy of: Jezebel