OPINION: The classic Miami-bass-meets-Atlanta-swag record from 1997 takes me back to the magic that was mid-’90s Atlanta.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
I had the foresight and good fortune to attend Morehouse College in the mid- to late-’90s; it was a magical time in Atlanta, the capital of African America. Somewhere in the early to mid-’90s, Atlanta became the focal point of Black music and culture, supplanting both New York City and Los Angeles. Black people moved to Atlanta in droves from all over and any entity in the business of Black creativity followed. Some of the most classic songs of all time came out during that period.
For instance, even in 2022, if you want to get a whole room full of people singing along in unison, you can drop Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo” and folks will get to singing and moving along. Quick, quick…name ANYBODY actually involved in the singing or production of the song? You probably can’t. Most folks can’t—Virgo Williams sang the leads and it was produced by Rodney Terry, who was part of the Ghost Town DJs along with DJ Demp, Greg Street and Kito; you’re welcome—but that’s how iconic the song is. It’s so good it doesn’t even matter who was involved.
“My Boo,” though initially recorded as a one-off record that charted back in 1996 and charted HIGHER in 2016 when it became the sound bed for the viral #TheRunningManChallenge, ended up as one of the feature songs on Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Bass All-Stars. That album was a compilation of largely Miami-bass-influenced jams with an Atlanta spin, A&R’d by Lil Jon of eventual Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz fame. Riding the success of the first album, Jermaine Dupri and Lil Jon went back to the well and released So So Def Bass All-Stars, Vol. 2 a year later on June 24, 1997—25 years ago. This time around, though, Lil Jon both served as A&R and produced records, including the Miami-bass-influenced centerpiece of the album, “Freak It,” performed by an up-and-coming singer from Detroit named Lathun Grady, credited on the album as Lathun.
“Freak It” was a monster record in Atlanta, and apparently Miami, Detroit and well, wherever Black people enjoyed dancing. Since I was in Atlanta when it dropped, that song played non-stop on both V103 and Hot 97.5 (which would eventually become Hot 107.9). Atlanta radio back then was a beautiful thing where songs by Gangstarr and Nas played alongside songs like “Freak It” and “Da Dip” by Freak Nasty or “Shawty Freak A Lil Sumtin’” by Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz. It really was magical. There was nothing like hearing a bass jam like “Freak It” in the middle of your drive up or down the I-75/85 connector through downtown trying to get to or from work or to or from happy hour. It was NOTHING to see and hear folks ON THE HIGHWAY stuck in traffic all listening to the same songs and dancing and gyrating as hard as possible, in unison. “Freak It” was a song that, both in the car and the club, had the butts moving and singing along. “Ladies in the house tonight…are you ready?!?!?”
The song was so good, so cookout friendly, so club-ready that it comes as no surprise that Mr. Hanky (real name Corey Dennard), an Atlanta-born-and-raised producer who came up under Mr. Collipark (or as we used to call him, DJ Smurf) would dig up and repolish Lathun’s 25-year-old jam and repurpose it into “Good Love” a certified jam by City Girls and Usher. I can imagine it now (and I have literally no idea if this is close to the story or not), Mr. Hanky driving through the city—and because we love our homegrown songs on Atlanta radio—hearing “Freak It” and feeling like he should flip that for a new generation. And since it’s a Miami-bass sound, and he just did “Twerkulator” for City Girls—and since Yung Miami and JT are from Miami—it would be the perfect bridge song from the old and the new and from Atlanta and Miami. And putting Usher on the song is the cherry on top. It really is a perfect old-to-new jam.
“Freak It” is timeless; one listen to the song right now reminds you just how good a song it is and how you can probably play it for decades, especially in dance and house-heavy locales like Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, Baltimore and New Jersey. But also…everywhere because good is good. And if you’re a DJ, it’s the PERFECT alley-oop record. You can either go from “Good Love” to “Freak It”—my preferred order—or “Freak It” to “Good Love” for the younger crowd who might be confused as to what they’re listening to at first.
I love songs like “Freak It” along with hundreds of other songs that truly helped define the sound of Atlanta in the mid-’90s, a time when Atlanta was both growing and establishing itself as the new Motown of the South. LaFace records set up shop at the turn of the decade and launched the careers of countless national artists like TLC, Outkast and Toni Braxton. Jermaine Dupri put his stamp on the city and countless bass artists from all corners of the city were creating a new sound and giving Atlanta a renaissance in music that you could feel on the ground, in the clubs and on the radio. Lathun’s “Freak It” is one of those songs that takes me right back to that time and City Girls’ “Good Love” both reminds me and takes me back there.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).
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