Ms. Jackson is OUT of Strawberries
Truth be told, there is a bit of confusion about what exactly was sampled from Shuggie Otis' "Strawberry Letter 23” to help create Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson”... But one thing that isn’t up for debate is that both of these songs are hits and there’s no time like the present to discuss these artists and their impact. Join Joe and Toby as they wind through the connections between these tracks.
What we geek out over in this EP: Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, Mobb Deep, Brother’s Johnson, Beyonce, DJ Pretty Lights, J Dilla, The Misfits, Ludakris, Goodie Mob, and Souls of Mischief.
Bonus material: We focus on a few of the many artists that have sampled Ms. Jackson including Kanye West, Fat Joe, 50 Cent, Mr. Cheeks and DJ Khaled.
Intro Music: Play Ms Jackson
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell.
Joe: Together, we listen to the legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well-known — songs they sampled from. Toby, what are we listening to today?
Toby: We are listening to a song called Ms Jackson by one of the best duos in hip hop — OutKast from their 4th studio album Stankonia. Why don’t we hop in the Delorean and see what track was sampled to make this hit?
Play Strawberry Letter
Joe: Well sir, can you tell the good people what we are listening to?
Toby: This is the artist Shuggie Otis and his song Strawberry Letter 23. Joe, can you tell us a little more about Shuggie?
Joe: Johnny Alexander Veliotes, Jr. was born on November 30, 1953. Take note of the “junior” in his name – his father was the legendary Johnny Otis, the singer, musician, composer and producer extraordinaire that has been called the Godfather of Rhythm and Blues.
Toby: I love when we make connections, and this is an easy one back to our last episode on Etta James. Johnny was the one who discovered Etta at a talent show when she was only 13, and he co-wrote and produced her song “The Wallflower (Dance with Me Henry)”.
Joe: Johnny Otis discovered many artists, including Big Mama Thornton and Jackie Wilson, and he had a long career is a successful artist with numerous top ten hits on the R&B charts. Let’s hear Willie and the Hand Jive, which went to #1 in 1958 and was later covered by many artists, including Eric Clapton.
Play Willie Hand Jive
Toby: The father was definitely a legend, but let’s get back to the son. Rather than calling him Junior, his mother nicknamed him Shuggie, a variation on the word sugar. He certainly demonstrated some sweet musical talent early on.
Joe: He started playing guitar at age 2, and performing professionally with his father at age 11. He’d have to wear a false mustache and some shades in order to be out late in the clubs. I’m not sure that’s the best environment for a pre-teen, but he certainly got some life lessons early.
Toby: I think you may be referring to some other work he did with his dad, specifically the sexually explicit album as part of a group whose name I’m not sure we can even say on this family show (Snatch and the Poontangs). He took the nickname Prince Wunnerful for that album, and was clearly getting some kind of education at the age of 16.
Joe: He was also working with behind the scenes with other artists, including Frank Zappa. Let’s listen to Shuggie play bass on Zappa’s song Peaches en Regalia, which was the single off of his 1968 solo album Hot Rats.
Toby: In 1970, Shuggie released his debut solo album, Here Comes Shuggie Otis. It caught the attention of a lot of folks, including BB King, who dubbed Shuggie his new favorite guitarist. That’s high praise!
Joe: Let’s take a listen to the song Oxford Gray from that album, and I think you’ll hear how Shuggie was influenced by another legendary guitarist, Jimi Hendrix.
Play Oxford Gray
Toby: In 2002, the Queens hip hop group Infamous Mobb would sample Oxford Gray for their song BIG TWINS on their debut album, Special Edition. Let’s take a listen.
Play Big Twins
Joe: In 1971, Shuggie would release his second album, Freedom Flight, on Epic records. This contains our first featured track, Strawberry Letter 23, and both the single and the album would chart on the Billboard Hot 100. But the most famous version of this song is The Brothers Johnson version from their 1977 “Right On Time” album. Let’s take a listen.
Play Brothers Johnson
Toby: This version hit #1 on the R&B charts and #5 on the Hot 100. And here’s an interesting tidbit about the song’s lyrics — in the chorus they sing “strawberry letter 22” rather than 23. That’s because letter 22 refers to the previous letter from their lover, and letter 23 is the response in the musical form of a song. Pretty cool.
Joe: Shuggie’s original version may not have charted as high, but it was sampled by some pretty big names. First, let’s hear how Beyonce uses it for the song Be with You from her 2003 Dangeroulsy in Love album.
Play Be with You
Toby: In 2017, DJ Pretty Lights would also sample Strawberry Letter 23 for the track Rainbows & Waterfalls. Let’s give that a spin.
Joe: And of course, there is our second featured artist for this episode, Outkast. But this is where things get a little tricky. Toby, I’m not sure where this sample is at on their Ms. Jackson track.
Toby: Me either. I’ve listened to it, trying to find the sample, but it’s not standing out to me. There’s also some discrepancy on the interwebs. Wikipedia mentions the sample in multiple places, but WhoSampled makes no mention of it.
Joe: Also, while Wikipedia lists Shuggie as having a songwriting credit, Discogs does not. However, the Wikipedia entries all say that the sample has been significantly altered. That may be true and explain why we are not hearing it. Listeners, if anyone has some insight on this one, let us know!
Toby: Regardless, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about these two artists, and point out that samples or interpolations are not always glaringly obvious. Sometimes they are modified so much in production that they are unrecognizable.
Joe: Which begs the question, is it even necessary to give credit then? At what point does it become an entirely new creation? Everything is inspired by something.
Joe: Speaking of inspiration, Shuggie’s next album, Inspiration Information, was released in 1974. It took three years to create because he wrote, arranged, and played all the instruments except for the horns and some strings. Let’s hear the song Not Available.
Play Not Available
Toby: Now let’s hear how J Dilla sampled Not Available for his 2006 album Donuts and the Donuts (Outro) track:
Joe: Beyonce again used a Shuggie sample for another track on her Dangerously in Love album. Let’s first hear Shuggie’s song Rainy Day
Play Rainy Day
Toby: Now let’s hear how Beyonce used it for the song Gift from Virgo:
Joe: There’s a cool video on YouTube that has this song playing over a 1948 cartoon from the Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Listeners, check it out.
Toby: Why was the forest service making cartoons? Does that prevent forest fires?
Joe: No Toby, only you can prevent forest fires. And only the title track of Inspiration Information broke the Hot 100, but Shuggie was still getting noticed in the industry. Billy Preston asked him if he wanted to tour with the Rolling Stones. He declined the offer.
Toby: Then he was asked if he wanted Quincy Jones to produce his next album. Once again, he declined.
Joe: All that declining led to a big drop — from the record label. And so the only Shuggie we got for the rest of the 70’s was his session work on Dad’s projects.
Toby: David Byrne, former front man of Talking heads, founded a label in 1988 called Luaka Bop, and it re-issued Shuggie’s work in 2001 with the double album Wings of Love.
Joe: In a 2013 interview with the Village Voice, here’s what Shuggie had to say about his career:
“I always wanted another record deal. I never ran from the music. Rolling Stone magazine said I retired at 22. That pissed me off when I read that. I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Who is writing this and why?’ Is it my fault that I retired because I can’t get a record deal? I will never retire. Put that down. I’m never retiring. I’m a musician, and musicians can’t retire.”
Toby: True to his work, Shuggie released a new album in 2018 on Cleopatra records called Inter-Fusion. Let’s have a listen to the track “Woman.”
Joe: I think it’s time that we turn our attention to our second featured artist. Toby can you do the honors?
Toby: With pleasure! Andre Benjamin aka Andre 3000 and Antwan Patton aka Big Boi met while attending Tricities High School in Atlanta Georgia. This was a performing arts high school and a perfect place to make a name for yourself in rap circles. One way for young emcees to do that was to battle each other in the cafeteria.
Joe: Initially they were rivals but later decided to team up and form a group. Their first group name was 2 Shades Deep but after a while they decided that the name didn’t fit anymore and decided to go with another name. The Misfits.
Toby: You mean these guys:
Play Where Eagles Dare
Toby: That was the punk band The Misfits and their 1979 track Where Eagles Dare. Since a lot of groups don’t like sharing their name, Dre and Big Boi decided to go with a synonym and settled on Outkast. It’s impossible to talk about Outkast without mentioning the production team behind them.
Joe: That production team is none other than Organized Noize, which was composed of Rico Wade, Ray Murray and Patrick “Sleepy” Brown. For our faithful RIffs on Riffs listeners, you will remember our TLC episode where we discussed their hit Waterfalls. They are also behind hits like this.
Toby: That was Ludakris’ hit single Saturday from his album Word of Mouth released in 2001. Besides that hit they also produced this hit from Goodie Mob in 1998.
Play They Don’t Dance No Mo’
Joe: The whole point of highlighting these songs is to show their diversity of production. Benjamin and Patton met Organized Noize member Rico Wade outside of a beauty supply store that Wade worked at. They performed right there on the spot and the rest is history.
Toby: Rico invited the duo to the Dungeon, which was basically a studio located in Rico’s mother’s basement. This was the place where all the rappers affiliated with Organized Noize would meet and work on their craft. Their preparation and hard work paid off because it led them to an audition with a Mr. LA Reid from LaFAce records.
Joe: Now obviously this was a pretty big audition. La Reid is someone that can change the trajectory of an artist career. After they auditioned for him, Reid stated that he liked their raps and their music, but he didn’t see them becoming stars.
Toby: This was a huge blow for both of the guys, but lucky for all of us hip hop fans they decided to keep sharpening their skills. The Dungeon Family was the name of the hip hop & R&B collective based around the Dungeon studio, and both Benjamin and Patton considered it to be boot camp to get them ready for the next audition.
Joe: They eventually got another chance to perform in front of LA Reid, and this time he was blown away by their sound and stage presence and signed them soon after. Their first single was to be released on the LaFace Family Christmas album.
Toby: So before we play you the song, let me say that making a Christmas rap song — especially if this is the first song that the masses are going to hear — is not an easy task. They were not happy about it, but this is the type of situation where stars are made. Let’s take a listen to Player’s Ball
Play Player’s Ball
Toby: I went back over all of the lyrics and REALLY listened to the way that they took the assignment and created art. This song is an underrated Xmas song to say the least, and if you listen to all the holiday references you will recognize the genius.
Joe: Indeed. Players Ball was well received and peaked at #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and prompted the group to keep working to finish up their debut album. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was released on April 26, 1994 and was entirely produced by Organized Noize. I love the live instrumentation they use throughout the album.
Toby: It definitely helped them stand out from their counterparts and attracted a lot of fans. It also attracted detractors as well. A lot of people were looking at them as a more street version of Arrested Development, with a Heiro type of flow.
Joe: When you say Heiro are you talking about Egyptian?
Toby: Good question! No I’m actually talking about a west coast hip hop collective composed of groups like Del the Funky Homosapien, Casual, Pep Love and these guys…
Play 93 till infinity
Toby: That track is called 93 till infinity from west coast hip hop group Souls of Mischief. All the comparisons didn’t stop Outkast from releasing their 2nd album, ATLiens, on August 27th 1996. This album started to showcase the differences in style and approach between the two emcees.
Joe: They met while they were teenagers and their maturation began to be illustrated in their music as well as their personal lives. Andre stopped smoking weed, returned to high school and earned his diploma, became vegan, and started showing more of an eccentric style when it came to his clothing. Meanwhile, Antwan became a father for the first time. So I’m sure people had the question… will these changes affect their music, and can they be successful with their next release?
Toby: Common has a line that I feel is so apropos for that question:
“Time is real, we can’t rewind it, out of everybody I met who told the truth Time did.”
ATLiens went double platinum and Outkast and showcased more of a futuristic sound. Let’s take a listen to their first single, Elevators (Me and You)
Joe: ATLiens went double platinum and two years later their 3rd album, Aquemini, was released in September of 1998. The title is a combination of both of their Zodiac signs and highlights the difference between both Benjamin and Patton’s personalities and styles. On this album they continued to use live instrumentation due to all of the success they had on the previous album. The gamble paid off as this album went platinum 2 months after its release, and double platinum 8 months after that.
Toby: This album peaked at # 2 on the Billboard 200 and is listed on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of all time. Let’s take a listen to their first single, Rosa Parks.
Play Rosa Parks
Joe: This song made a lot of noise due to the fact that it’s named after Civil Rights Activist of the same name. Outkast was sued and eventually the case was settled out of court. This lawsuit didn’t stop the song from charting at #19 on the US Billboard Hot R&B /Hip Hop chart and #55 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Toby: Outkast’s foruth studio album, Stankonia, was released on Oct 31st, 2000 and featured production by Outkast’s own production team, Earthtone, as well as continued collaboration with Organized Noise. The album debut at #2 and sold over 530K copies in the first week. It also contains our 2nd featured song, Ms. Jackson. Let’s take another listen.
Play Ms. Jackson 2
Toby: I’ve listened to a lot of hip hop and I can’t remember too many songs that artistically speak to the mother of the love interest of an emcee. It really stood out to me more than this song. Both Patton and Benjamin basically tell their side of baby mama drama in a mostly respectful manner.
Joe: Great track and it wasn’t alone. There were plenty of other great songs on this album like this:
Toby: That was BOB aka Bombs over Baghdad. I see your great single and raise another. How about So Fresh, So Clean. Let’s take a listen to that:
Play So Fresh, So Clean
Joe: Tobe I’ve told you many times that I love when live instruments are used in music vs samples. Maybe that’s one reason why people appreciate Outkast as much as they do.
Toby: I agree, I don’t think there’s another hip hop group that uses real instruments as effectively and consistently as Outkast, outside of maybe the legendary Roots crew.
Joe: That definitely sounds like a great group to do an episode on. But back to Outkast. They continued to blaze trails with the release of Speakerboxx/The Love Below. This was to be their 5th studio album which was a double album with each artist having their own album to express their art.
Toby: For this album Outkast released two singles, one per artist. Patton’s I Like the Way You Move and Andre’s Hey Ya both blazed the charts. There’s no way we can pass up an opportunity to play them both. First, let’s hear a bit of I Like the Way You Move.
Play I Like
Joe: Now let’s take a listen to Hey Ya
Play Hey Ya
Joe: I also want to thank Outkast for introducing a new generation to Polaroid pictures and their shaking requirements.
Toby: Speaking of requirements, I think we are contractually obligated to move on to our bonus material. I thought it would be cool to examine how many people have sampled MS Jackson. Especially this line
Play Forever Ever
Toby: The list is long my friend. In fact, over it’s been sampled over 60 times, but let’s go thru a couple for fun. First we have Kanye West’s single Diamonds from Sierra Leonne.
Play Diamonds (1:20)
Joe: They you also have Fat Joe and Dre featuring Eminem and Mary j Blige with a track called Lord Above.
Play Lord Above
Toby: 50 Cent also samples it on his song Complicated
Joe: And for fun, why don’t we add the track Lights, Camera Action by the Lost Boys front man Mr Cheeks
Play Lights Camera Action
Toby: Recently, DJ Khaled sampled this track for his single Just Us featuring SZA. Let’s give that a listen.
Play Just Us
Joe: Well, I think that’s all the time we have my friend. Can you tell the listeners what we covered?
Toby: Our first featured artist was Shuggie Otis and his song Strawberry Letter 23, and our second featured artist was Outkast and their song Ms. Jackson. Our bonus material examined a few other tracks that have sampled Ms. Jackson.
Joe: And what do we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: We are going to pet some kitties, play with dolls, and hope they don’t turn out to be evil women.
Joe: That took a turn I wasn’t expecting. Don’t bring me down, Bruce. Alright, as always, thanks for listening and we’ll catch you next time for Riffs on Riffs.