The joyous atmosphere of the 2010 holiday season was shattered amongst music aficionados yesterday (December 26), when news broke on the death of Teena Marie. Today, I take a look back on Teena’s legendary career, and her enduring influence in the world of Hip-Hop.
Born Mary Christine Brockert on March 5, 1956, Marie’s vocal stylings, even as a child, reflected a significant influence from her predominantly black neighborhood of Oakwood, located in westside Los Angeles, California. By her early 20s, she drew the attention of Berry Gordy, who signed her to Motown in 1976.
After floating around with several producers, she linked up with Rick James and guitarist Paul C. Saenz. James would become a lasting musical influence and mentor, and the popular funk singer picked young Teena over working with label superstar Diana Ross. Their early collaborations resulted in her debut Wild and Peaceful, which reached the Top 20 of Billboard’s then Black Albums Chart. The cover is notable for not including any pictures of Marie, for fears that black audiences would not be receptive of her music if it was discovered she was white.
Those fears proved unfounded on her 1980 follow-up Lady T. With her face displayed prominently on the cover, the LP was still a hit due to burning dance floor numbers like “Behind The Groove,” and other production contributions from Richard Rudolph, husband of the late Minnie Riperton. She dropped another well-received album in Irons in the Fire that same year, and struck on her own for the first time as lead producer. This album would also be the earliest LP to catch a Hip-Hop producer’s ears with the disco number “I Need Your Lovin'”. In 1981, early Hip-Hoppers Lovebug Starski and the Harlem World crew used the song for the jam session joint “Positive Life.” In 2008, Jadakiss and Ne-Yo used its template for “By My Side.”
TEENA MARIE “I NEED YOUR LOVIN'”
JADAKISS FEAT. NE-YO “BY MY SIDE”
LOVEBUG STARSKI & THE HARLEM WORLD CREW “POSITIVE LIFE”
In 1981, Marie would record her last album for Motown, It Must Be Magic. It turned out to be her highest-selling Motown offering, and a project that yielded her most enduring sample for Hip-Hop fans. “Square Biz” would become one of her signature hits, and receive mileage well into the 90’s courtesy of high-profile artists like The Firm and Mase. The song featured Marie rapping, something that showed foresight and a willingness to embrace the fledgling culture of Hip-Hop. That cannot be said of many early 80s R&B stars, who held the music in contempt.
Ludacris, a new millennium Hip-Hop star, found inspiration from another single on the album entitled “Portuguese Love.”
TEENA MARIE “SQUARE BIZ”
MASE FEAT. BILLY LAWRENCE “LOVE U SO”
THE FIRM “FIRM BIZ”
TEENA MARIE “PORTUGUESE LOVE” (VOCAL SAMPLE 5:55-6:00 MARK)
LUDACRIS FEAT. NATE DOGG “CHILD OF THE NIGHT”
In the mid-80’s, Marie delivered her most commercially successful album in Starchild. The project was fueled by the smash hit “Lovergirl.” But it wasn’t that chart-topper that caught the attention of Hip-Hop producers. It was the beginning melody on “Out On a Limb.”
TEENA MARIE “OUT ON A LIMB”
PASTOR TROY “LICENSE TO KILL”
MAX B FEAT. FRENCH MONTANA “SEEN IT ALL”
Teena Marie’s last big sample contribution to Hip-Hop came off her 1988 album Naked to the World. The soulful and whimsical “Ooo La La La” was one of her biggest singles, and the only one to hit #1 on the US Black Singles Chart. Those who grew up in the 90s will recall a young Lauryn Hill beautifully interpreting Teena’s chorus work for The Fugees’ own monster single “Fu-gee-la.” Grand Puba also tried his hand singing the chorus.
TEENA MARIE “OOO LA LA LA”
THE FUGEES “FU-GEE-LA”
GRAND PUBA “FAT RAT” (SAMPLE AT 1:08 MARK)
Teena never stopped making music. She dropped her last album, Congo Square, in 2009. Back in 2004, she had reintroduced herself to younger fans with the Cash Money album La Dona, which charted #6 on Billboard.
Known affectionately as the Ivory Queen of Soul, Teena Marie leaves behind a musical legacy that spans 30 years, and is a testament that music quality, not skin color, can determine an artist’s success.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem salutes the life and music of Teena Marie. Rest in peace…
TEENA MARIE DISCOGRAPHY
Wild and Peaceful (1979)
Lady T (1980)
Irons in the Fire (1980)
It Must Be Magic (1981)
Emerald City (1986)
Naked to the World (1988)
Passion Play (1994)
La Dona (2004)
Congo Square (2009)