In honour of cuffing season, we’re taking a look at the stories behind some of our favourite love songs of the ’90s and 2000s. So cozy up to that convenient cutie and some nostalgia, as we rewind three tracks by influential artists about the equally-influential artists they used to love.
Mary J. Blige “Be Happy” (1994)
Artist Connection: K-Ci Hailey, of K-Ci and JoJo and Jodeci
Lyrics: “Oh I cannot hide the way I feel inside
(No I don’t know why)
I don’t know why but every day I wanna cry
(Every day I wanna cry)
If I give you one more try
To these rules, will you abide
And if I mean anything to you
Would it make everything all right?”
“Be Happy,” the lead single off of Mary J. Blige’s critically-acclaimed album My Life, is as sonically sound as it is painfully self-aware.
Beneath that classic bounce and bop of a typical Mary joint — the sound that crowned her the queen of hip-hop soul in the early 90’s — is a reflection on her own abusive relationship with K-Ci Hailey, singer of both K-Ci and JoJo and Jodeci. She’s in love but totally unhappy, laying the foundation for My Life. The album was created while Blige was struggling with clinical depression and substance abuse, and it’s regarded as one of her best.
“Be Happy” is hopeful in one sense, and hopeless in another: outlining the want for things to right themselves, while knowing that with things as they are, they simply can’t. The song’s title is more of a wish than it is a reality. It’s a feeling that carries the entire project in fact, making it a no-brainer as to why Blige’s introspective My Life is listed as one of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
Erykah Badu “Other Side of the Game” (1997)
Artist Connection: Andre 3000, of OutKast
Lyrics: “He gave me the life that I came to live
Gave me the song that I came to give
Pressure on me
But the seed had grown
I can’t make it on my own
Summer came around and the flowers bloomed
He became the sun
I became the moon
Precious gifts that we both received
Or could this be make believe
Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”
“Other Side of the Game” is a jazzy, beautiful ode to the girlfriends of drug dealers and weed-men everywhere. The third single off of Erykah Badu’s debut album, Baduizm, explores the mind of a woman torn between what is right, and how her boyfriend makes his living — which is questionable, and likely illegal. Over silky-smooth instrumentals, Badu worries that the door could get kicked down at any moment.
She asks him what to do, and she asks herself what to — resulting in a song that’s highly relatable. You may not have been in this specific situation, but you’ve for damn sure been in a space where a vice felt too good to give up. Badu spins the story so well lyrically that it’s poetic, leaving you torn over a drug man you don’t even have.
Here, the artist connection is more in the visuals for the track, than in its lyrical content. The video features Andre 3000, then-boyfriend of Badu, as her love interest. The themes in the song play out on screen, when Andre 3000 accepts a couple stacks from dirty cops — as the camera pans between the two. A fun fact is that months after the video’s release, Badu would give birth to their son, Seven. But, an even funner fact is that that child would spark the inspiration for the next track on this list.
OutKast “Ms. Jackson” (2000)
Artist Connection: Erykah Badu
Lyrics: “Me and your daughter got a special thing going on
You say it’s puppy love, we say it’s full-grown
Hope that we feel this, feel this way forever
You can plan a pretty picnic
But you can’t predict the weather, Ms Jackson
Ten times out of nine, now if I’m lyin’, find
The quickest muzzle, throw it on my mouth and I’ll decline
King meets queen, then the puppy love thing
Together dream ’bout that crib with the Goodyear swing
On the oak tree, I hope we feel like this forever
Forever, forever ever, forever ever?”
Oh yes, OutKast’s unforgettable record from 2000’s Stankonia is about Erykah Badu — well, about her mom. And initially, Badu wasn’t too crazy about it either. The angrier bars that lead “Ms. Jackson” originally had Badu in her feelings. The song marries warped beats with soft piano keys, as Big Boi brings the rage and Andre 3000 brings that reflection. It’s part apology and part diary entry, spinning love and baby-mama drama from the male perspective in a simple way. There’s no surprise why OutKast nabbed a Grammy for “Ms. Jackson” in 2002.
In a recent interview with Rap Radar though, Erykah Badu opened up about how “Ms. Jackson” made her feel.
“I still had a kind of sore spot. I didn’t want to hear that,” Badu told Rap Radar. “Especially when I heard Big Boi’s verse. Then when I heard Andre’s verse, I felt very good because his verse was really, really inspiring.”
Badu’s mom loved it, she remembers, noting that her mom copped all the “Ms. Jackson” memorabilia she could get her hands on. It remains one of OutKast’s most iconic tracks, with both Andre 3000’s and Big Boi’s verses becoming undisputed classics of the new millennium.