Mama Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
Join us as we travel the coasts of Cameroon and pay a visit to Manu Dibango and “Soul Makossa”. Michael Jackson would later steal the famous hook, “ma-ma-se, ma-ma-sa, ma-ma-ko-sa” for his hit "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", and even go on to give permission he that wasn’t his to give for Rihanna’s hit “Don’t Stop the Music”. We’ll discuss all that and along the way connect the dots to The Fugees, The Outsidaz, Eminem, D12, Quincy Jones and his daughters.
What we geek out over in this episode:
Manu Dibango, Coming to America, Makossa, crate digging, Ms. Fat Booty, Sing alongs with Mitch, David Mancuso and The Loft, The Fugees, Cowboyts, Pace Won, Rah Digga, The Outsidaz, offending Tupac, Famous Irish bands, Enya, Latoya Jackson, Rebbie Jackson, Eminem and D12, story time with Boo Kapone.
Bonus Material: The story of that time Tupac and The King of Pop threw down.
Joe's Spotify Playlist!
Joe: Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the surprising connections between songs past and present and share the fascinating stories that make music a universal language. I’m Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell. What’s up my friend?
Toby: Man, I’m so glad we are doing this right now!
Joe: It's been a minute since we did an episode, largely due to the challenges of the pandemic. But we’ve been using this time wisely, and are happy to share some exciting Riffs news with you all.
Toby: That’s right, with this episode, we are officially kicking off Season 2 of Riffs on Riffs! We’ve been digesting the listener feedback from our previous 40+ episodes and are excited to announce a couple of new updates. First, many listeners have expressed a desire to hear more of the songs that we discuss on the show. Since we don’t want each episode to be 4 hours long, we are going to create public Spotify playlists for each episode. Just search for Riffs on Riffs on Spotify to find each episode’s playlist for your listening pleasure!
Joe: We’ve also heard that the storytelling is what keeps you coming back, so we’ve adjusted the format to feature even more of the crazy connections and backstories around your favorite tracks. With each episode, we’re going to take you on an adventure ride through musical history. You can then dive deeper into the tracks we discuss via the Spotify playlists.
Toby: What do you say sir, you ready to get into it? Tell me how we are going to kick off season 2?
Joe: We’re going to build a musical bridge from the coasts of Cameroon to the “invitation only” party scene of 70’s era NYC. We’ll learn how Michael Jackson flat out stole a hook for one of his biggest hits and got away with it because, well, he’s MJ.
Toby: As always, the common thread is music, and in this case we’re going to start with the song Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango. From there, the easy connections are to Michael Jackson and then Rihanna. But there are so many more riffs to be had along the way.
Joe: Join us as we unravel the tangled thread that also connects The Fugees, The Outsidaz, Eminem, D12, Quincy Jones and his daughters. We’ll also chat about that time Tupac and Michael Jackson threw down, and Eddie Murphy might even show up!
Toby: Are we coming to America? I’m pretty sure Prince Akeem was from Zamunda, not Cameroon. But regardless, it all sounds really good.
Joe: It’s a long trip from Africa, so let’s head to Cameroon to get this party started. Tell me a little about Manu Dibango.
Toby: Manu was a songwriter and sax player that grew up with a Yabassi father and Duala mother. That Duala influence can be found in the name of our first featured track, Soul Makossa. Makossa loosely translates as “I dance” in Duala, and this is a song that definitely makes you want to get up and boogie.
Joe: It’s also the song that gave us the iconic phrase, " ma-ma-se, ma-ma-sa, ma-ma-ko-sa”, which was his way of making a fun play on the word makossa. Makossa became a very popular style of funk and dance music in Africa.
Toby: It also allowed Dibango to become the first African to have a top 40 US hit. Soul Makossa reached #35 on the Billboard Hot 100, but somehow the song has always seemed to have a certain “sleeper hit” status to it.
Joe: It certainly wasn’t a hit out of the gate. In fact, it wasn’t even the A side of the single. The A side was written as an anthem for Cameroon’s national soccer team. We owe the success of Soul Makossa in part to some crate digging by New York disc jockey David Mancuso. I know you’re a crate digger, what’s one of your favorite finds?
Toby: One of my recent crate diggin experiences led me to find a sample form Aretha Franklin’s song “ One Step Ahead” that was used in the Mos Def hit called Ms Fat Booty. If you like hip hop that tells a story and you haven’t heard this song. Let me tell you… you’re in for a treat! Make sure to check out the Riffs playlist after the ep! So Joe do you have one?
Joe: There’s an awesome antique shop down the street from my office. I bought 250 records in bulk one day, hoping to find some gems. Let’s just say they put out some interesting albums back in the day. I’ve got a lot of “Sing Along with Mitch” vinyl, and I’m not sure who Mitch is.
Toby: You mean Mitch Miller! Producer, TV Host, former head of A&R of Columbia Records. Sing Along with Mitch was a hit show on NBC in the early 60s.
Joe: I’m going to take your word on that. Let’s get back to the crate digging of David Mancuso.
Toby: Mancuso was a pioneer of the house party. In the early 70’s he would hold invitation-only events at a place that was known as “The Loft”, and it was all legal because he didn’t sell any food or booze.
Joe: Doesn’t sound like all that great a party. No booze? Flag on the play man!
Toby: Well, he did have one of the best high fidelity sound systems in existence at the time, and he made sure to curate the music to do that system justice. One day he was hunting through a West Indian record store and found a copy of Soul Makossa. It was a hit at The Loft, and soon it made its way onto New York radio station WBLS.
Joe: From there, it didn’t take long before all the copies in the city were sold out. But here’s the thing, there were so few copies available, no one could find it. And what do we do when demand outpaces supply?
Toby: We raise prices!
Joe: Well yes, that’s a sound business strategy. But in this case, there were a couple dozen other groups that hopped on the popularity bandwagon and released hastily recorded versions of Soul Makossa.
Toby: Thankfully, later in 1972 Atlantic Records licensed the original Manu Dibango version from his French record label, Fiesta, and the track climbed the charts. What’s crazy is that because of all the covers of the song, there was also a version of Soul Makossa by the band Afrique that charted on the Hot 100 at that same time!
Joe: Soul Makossa ends up being nominated for a couple of Grammy’s in 1974, and life is good for Manu Dibango. He keeps releasing albums, touring, and collaborating with countless other artists. Then, one day in 1982, he’s chillin’ in his Paris apartment, listening to the radio. And a little song called Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin' comes across the airwaves.
Toby: It’s a funky little ditty in its own right, and Manu is enjoying it. Then, a few minutes into the track, he hears Michael Jackson reciting his now famous lines. Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa. And then his phone starts ringing, with friends and relatives offering congratulations on having the King of Pop sing his song.
Joe: One big problem here. Michael never cleared the sample. Never even contacted Manu about using it. Now, we weren’t anywhere near the level of legal rigmarole in 1982 that we have now, but you still couldn’t just take someone’s song!
Toby: Right. Manu went to the record store, bought Michael’s Thriller album, and was puzzled to see that Michael Jackson was listed as the sole author of Wanna Be Startin Somethin.
Joe: I’m pretty sure his next call was to his lawyers.
Toby: This is what you call a Gwen Stefani moment. NO DOUBT that he called his lawyers. Michael admitted he stole the hook, and the two worked out a financial arrangement. All is well on the licensing front — at least for the next quarter century.
Joe: I smell foreshadowing!
Toby: Indeed. We’ve talked about how many times Soul Makossa has been covered, let’s talk now about some other times it’s been sampled, which is a lot.
Joe: You remember a little album by The Fugees called The Score?
Toby: I wore out my copy, yes. We also covered this one in a previous Riffs episode. I’m guessing we have a Soul Makossa connection?
Joe: We do! There’s a track on there called Cowboys, and I know you’re a fan of it. It samples Soul Makossa, and introduces us to Pace Won, Young Zee, and Rah Digga from the New Jersey hip hop collective The Outsidaz.
Toby: This was a dope underground group and I’m forever grateful for their existence because it gave us Rah Digga who later went on to join forces with Busta Rhymes and come out with great music.
Joe: Wyclef of the Fugees said that the Outsidaz were one of the few competitors to The Fugees at the time, so he wanted to get them on the same track. Somewhere along the way, they managed to offend Tupac.
Toby: To be fair, it wasn’t real hard to offend Tupac in those days.
Joe: That’s the truth. In this case, these lines from Wyclef did the trick:
“Rappers want to be actors
So they play the Jesse James call-up-card”
Toby: That’s it? That’s the line that started the beef? I mean, Tupac was acting, sure, but so was Lauryn Hill from The Fugees! She had a recurring role in As the World Turns and was in Sister Act 2.
Joe: Well, just in case it was about him, Tupac hit back on his dis track When We Ride on Our Enemies. And… we can’t share any of what he said on a family show.
Toby: But you can listen on our Spotify playlist for this episode… if you’re old enough, of course.
Joe: Right, parental discretion is advised. Also, I’ve got an ironic tidbit for you Tob.
Toby: Lay it on me.
Joe: The Fugees’ album “The Score” was released on the exact same day as Tupac’s equally epic album, “All Eyez on Me”. So there’s one more connection between the two.
Toby: I’ve got some more irony for you.
Joe: Hit me.
Toby: You remember how Manu Dibango was just chilling in Paris when he heard Wanna Be Startin Somethin and the interpolation of his Soul Makossa track?
Toby: Turns out one of the other songs off of The Score elicited the same response from another international artist. Can you name me the second best-selling artist out of Ireland?
Joe: I’m going to assume you say second best because U2 has to be at the top of the list. Alright, let me guess. Sinead?
Toby: Good guess, but no.
Joe: The Cranberries?
Joe: The Pogues?
Toby: No again, and you are out of guesses. You forgot about a certain Irish woman that goes by the name Enya.
Joe: Oh my, I certainly did. So how does she relate to The Fugees?
Toby: Enya released her self-titled debut album in 1987, which was later named “The Celts” for re-release in 1992. It contained the song “Boadicea”, which The Fugees sampled for the song “Ready or Not” from The Score.
Joe: Problem is, neither they nor Sony cleared the sample. Never asked for permission, nothing. The story goes that Enya was on tour in Australia at the time and heard the Ready or Not track. She was not too pleased.
Toby: It was an open and shut case of copyright infringement, and Enya’s team was insisting that Ready or Not be removed from The Score. Sony Music, however, had an inkling that the track was going to be a hit and didn’t want to take it off the album.
Joe: And here is where herself Enya steps in. Her biggest concern was that The Fugees were gangster rappers, and she didn’t want to be associated with those messages. Nicky Ryan, Enya’s manager, had a daughter who assured everyone that as far as she knew, The Fugees were anti-crime and drugs and their message was quite positive.
Toby: After Enya found this out, she requested that there be a more amicable solution to the issue. Sony agreed to place stickers on future pressings of the album giving thanks and credit to Enya. There was also an undisclosed financial settlement that I’m sure helped smooth things over.
Joe: I’m glad this all worked out, but I think it could have gone a different way in a hurry if Enya had listened to The Score in its entirety. The Cowboys track, for example. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it gangsta rap, it certainly does its fair share of promoting guns and violence.
Toby: The song did talk about guns and violence, but I think it did it in a way that said a lot of rappers act like tough guys when they’re not, but that could be just my interpretation. One thing that isn’t debatable is that Lauryn and Rah Digga had the best verse on the song. I wish those two did more music together.
Joe: That would’ve been nice, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Speaking of things that weren’t meant to be… the song Wanna Be Startin Somethin was composed and co-produced by Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones. It was actually meant for his sister La Toya Jackson.
Toby: Apparently the song was about her rocky relationship with her sisters in law. When I found that out all I could think about was man…. Forget the Fugees … La Toya is the real gangster. Her putting this song out means she really doesn’t care how bad that thanksgiving could go… and Christmas… and any family gathering.
Joe: So true- Knowing that little piece of information definitely gives new meaning to the lyrics.
So do you think that maybe MJ, being a good brother, went to Latoya and said, “
hey sis, I’m gonna keep the song for myself so that you can enjoy the holidays.”
Toby: Riiiiight… let me take this burden off of you and make a hit song! I’m sure she was really appreciative. Well Latoya still sings the songs at her concerts, so at least she has that.
Joe: We can’t talk about Michael Jackson without talking about his other talented siblings. Can you name all 9 Jackson children, and, you can get bonus points if you have them in order.
Toby” That’s an easy question. NO! But I will give you all of the names I do know in no particular order. Michael, Janet, Jermaine, Tito, La Toya, Marlon, and Rebbie… that’s all I got.
Joe: Well you forgot about Randy and Jackie- but that’s not too bad for being put on the spot. That’s a big family. Well now let me ask you another question. What was the first Jackson sister to go Gold
Toby: My guess is Janet- no life line needed… Final answer.
Joe: You are incorrect sir! It was Rebbie Jackson’s album entitled Centipede which was released in 1984
Toby: Wow. I had no idea. That’s crazy and it actually brings me to another question. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about Rebbie Jackson. I saw the video for this track and although her dancing skills are in question. She had a nice voice.
Joe: So let us take a step back and mention that all nine of the Jackson siblings have gold record credits attached to their name, and technically La Toya was the first to do so, though not for her own song. She co-wrote a song called “Reggae Night” for artist Jimmy Cliff, a track that went Gold in 1983.
Toby: That’s cool, but something tells me that doesn’t explain why Rebbie is often forgotten.
Joe: Well, that my friend, might have to do with the fact that Rebbie made an effort to distance herself from all the drama that goes along with being related to a famous family. 18 year old Rebbie told her family that she wanted to marry her childhood love Nathiel Brown in November 1968. It just seemed that he felt she had an obligation to get into the music business while she was young and not let starting a family get in the way. Her father was so upset that he refused to walk her down the aisle.
Toby: Wow. That’s seriously a shame. But unfortunately that’s how it is with family. There are some things that people just can’t get past. I did want to mention that sometimes a band or music group can operate like a family and when groups break up the repercussions can be just as serious.
Joe: Speaking of that, one of your favorite MCs is Eminem who was affiliated with the Outsidaz, in fact they collaborated on a track called Makosa that interpolates Manu Dibango’s version. Eminem and the Outsidaz also collaborated frequently with a Detroit based group called D12. So Eminem has this great career- multiple hits that have led to more than 220 million records sold. None of his bandmates have done anywhere close to that. My question is, does he owe them anything? Has Eminem helped bring up any artists?
Toby: I can say that Eminem certainly has tried to develop artists. After all he did sign 50 Cent which was major. He also signed Slaughterhouse, which was an underground MC super group composed of Joe Budden, Crooked I, Joel Ortiz and Royce the 5’9’’. But it doesn’t really seem to be his forte. When it comes to developing talent I had to talk to my music partner, Brandon to get his thoughts.
Joe: What did he say on the subject?
Toby: He said that Dr. Dre was probably the best curator of talent. After all, he worked with The D.O.C.,Ice Cube, Dogg Pound, Snoop Dogg and Eminem. I mean that’s a crazy list of talent right there.
Joe: That’s a fact my friend!
Toby: Could you imagine going to a house party with those guys? Man that would be a CRAZY time and I’m sure there are plenty of stories.
Joe: Speaking of parties and crazy stories, let me tell about the time that Michael Jackson got in a fight with Tupac.
Toby: I’m sorry, what? Like, a fight fight? We’re talking fisticuffs?
Joe: Yessir, at least according to legend. There’s a guy by the name of Boo Kapone, who apparently was heavily involved in the west coast scene back in the day. He tells a pretty fascinating story that connects a lot of these artists together, though I have no idea if there’s any truth to any of it.
Toby: Why let facts get in the way of a good story!
Joe: Good point. So we know that Michael Jackson worked closely with Quincy Jones, and because of that, Michael also became close with Quincy’s family. He even became godfather to Quincy’s daughter, Kidada.
Toby: Wait, wait, didn’t Tupac date Kidada back in the day?
Joe: You are correct sir! As the story goes, there was a party. Kidada was sitting on Michael’s lap – family like, since she had grown up together. Well, Tupac shows up to the party, doesn’t know what’s going on, but sees his girl sitting on another guy’s lap. He is not happy, and gets in Michael’s face. Allegedly, the two are eyeball to eyeball, Pac shoves Michael, and Michael rears back and lets his fist fly. They are quickly separated and cooler heads prevail, but that’s the story. I just want you to let those visuals sink in for a minute.
Toby: That’s nuts! Wow. I mean.. Fugees, Biggie, MJ… who didn’t Pac have beef with? Well I do think it would be good for us to get back to our featured artist Manu because he would have a beef of his own due to someone else sampling his music without permission.
JOE: You must be referring to Rihanna when she sampled MJ’s song for her 2007 hit, Don’t Stop the Music. Manu sued both her and Michael. Apparently when Rihanna asked Jackson for the permission he approved the request without contacting Manu Dibango beforehand.
Toby: That’s like me lending out my neighbor’s lawn mower without asking.
Joe: Well that shame cost a pretty penny. Dibango’s attorneys brought the case before a court in Paris and demanded 500k euros in damages in addition to Sony, BMG, EMI and Warner Music all being barred from receiving Mama se mama sa related income till the matter was resolved.
Toby: I hope mama say I’m sorry, mama say can we past this…
Joe: Well, it was resolved, though not in Manu’s favor. The courts decided he had essentially given up future rights when he cut his first deal with Michael, so the suit was dismissed. And on another tragic note, Manu was lost to COVID-19 earlier this year. May he rest in peace.
And with that, I think we are out of time my friend. Can you tell everyone what all we discussed?
Toby: Gladly- We started the episode by discussing the hit song Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango and then traveled overseas to see why Michael Jackson always wanna be starting something. We then went to New Jersey to hang out with the Fugees and the Outsidaz. We then talked a little bit more about the Jackson siblings and ended with Rihanna who won’t let anyone stop the music but almost let someone stop her from getting paid for her music. I think that sums it up!
Joe: Good job Tobe. Thank you everyone for listening to our first episode of Season 2 of Riffs on Riffs. Be sure to listen to the Spotify playlist that accompanies the episode, and please give us your thoughts on the new format via social. You can find us @riffsonriffs on your favorite channels. Till next time, thank you for listening.