An interview with Danyel Smith, author of Shine Bright, the best music book of the year

“I’m Coming Out” – written and produced by chic disco architects Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards – is all joy, long strut and newfound love for yourself. A year after the song’s release, Ross told Dutch television host Mies Bouwman, “Some of the teens who buy these records don’t know the Supremes. They don’t know,” Ross said, squeezing her own jaw, “that I’m real.”

The deep impression of “I’m Coming Out” became even more evident eighteen years later, when Christopher “The Notorious BIG” Wallace’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” was released posthumously on July 15, 1997. After the saxophone break on “I’m Coming Out,” the Bad Boy production was nominated for a Grammy, spent two weeks at number one in the United States, and pretty much charted in the top ten of pop music around the world .

“It’s a perfect record,” says author, broadcaster, and TIDAL chief content officer Elliott Wilson. Wilson, who is my husband, first heard “Mo Money” in an Arista Records office when Sean “Puffy” Combs and Biggie presented Life after death to the editors of The source magazine, of which he was then music editor. The meeting was pre-release, but Puff and Big knew what they had. “The song was done so well that it killed all the talk about how it wasn’t authentic to use pop music samples. ‘Mo Money’ is one of hip-hop’s signature songs. I can say that it is one of the twenty best hip-hop songs ever. I can also make the argument that it is number one.”

“Mo” was a collaboration between different eras. A bit of Ross’ vocals—I’m / Coming / Out– is laid, mantra-like everywhere. The ecstatic quip acted as a hip-hop announcement in the 1990s that grew out of the shock and grief of the twin murders of Biggie and Tupac. It also acted as parade music for hip-hop’s rise to cultural dominance. Opening of Mase, Who shot / Who not, sets off one of the most boastful verses of his career. Christopher Wallace’s verse, inclusive Player, please / Lyrically / See niggas / BIGis a diamond among its pearls.

But the epic chorus of “Mo Money Mo Problems” is where the money is. It rises to the glory of Diana Ross’s “Coming Out” vocals, and it’s from a middle child named Kelly Cherelle Price from Queens, New York.

When Biggie and Tupac died, many of us thought hip-hop would go to the grave with them. Gatekeepers had been saying since rap’s inception that it wasn’t real art, that it was a fad, that it wasn’t worth documenting, let alone praise or respectful criticism. Despite that grief and fear, singer/songwriter Price helped keep hip-hop as vibrant as Big, Puff or Mase.

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