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Herstory 37: The Unsung Legacy Of Lyn Collins

Herstory 37: The Unsung Legacy Of Lyn Collins


The Richness of The Golden Years

As someone who was born in what is referred to as “the golden era of Hip-Hop”, music sampling has never been a foreign concept to me. Sitting atop the shelf of my heart is a collection of music that belongs to the bloodline of a song my parents probably sang along too in their youth. Loud in the mirror whilst getting dressed or down in a cramped basement somewhere, among a group of strangers, in the thick of heat, burdened with sweat. If you’re a music nerd, coming across good samples is like having a winning streak in a game of poker. The more information you acquire, the wealthier you feel. Here’s an example:

The Spike Jonze-directed music video for Biggie’s “Sky’s The Limit”.

Ask me to make a list of things I can count on, to save me from drowning under the depths of living, and you’ll find this song. For two decades, the instrumental alone has kept me tethered to joy I’ve yet to fully comprehend. 

Producer DJ Clark Kent gave Complex a brief summary on the story behind the song:

“LL Cool J, Sauce Money, Jay-Z, you name it. If they were around at that time they all heard ‘Sky’s The Limit.’… B.I.G. heard it, while we were working on the Junior M.A.F.I.A. project, and said ‘Yo, I want this for my album. Clark, you gotta hold it for me.’But I was like, ‘Hold it for you? You’re not working on a new album. This has got to go. B.I.G. was like, ‘Fuck that. I’ll pay you now. I need that record.’ And just that enthusiasm alone made me give it him and I never played it for anyone else again. Then when it came time to mix the song, he said ‘This is the best song I’ve ever done. This is my favorite song.’ And he was super happy.

Below are the original samples incorporated in the song:

The melodic sample

  • My Flame is the 2nd track on Caldwell’s (1978) Self-titled debut album Bobby Caldwell.

  • In 1979, Billboard magazine named him the best new black artist of the year, despite the fact he was white. When the breakout lead single What You Won’t Do For Love was released to R&B radio, TK Records hid his racial identity to avoid alienating their predominantly black audience. Once Caldwell began making live appearances on stage, the reveal benefited his success.

The drum sample

  • Clarke is a bassist, film composer and member of Return To Forever, a band cited as a prominent figure in the early Jazz fusion movement.

  • Clarke has written scores and composed for a variety of television and movies [i.e. Boyz In The Hood, Passenger 57, What’s Love Got To Do With It (TV series) Soul Food] and music videos (Michael Jackson’s Remember The Time).

  • D-Train consisted of two core members, James D-Train Williams, (the lead vocalist/songwriter) and Hubert Eaves III (keyboardist).

  • Eaves spent a majority of the 1970's as a member of R&B band Mtume most recognized for their (1983) hit “Juicy Fruit”, another staple sample in Hip-Hop and R&B. Notably, it’s been used in Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy“ along with Teedra Moses’ “Be Your Girl”, “Warren G’s “This DJ”, and Keyshia Cole’s “Let It Go”.

In Defence Of Sampling

Over the past 70 years, American music genres have stood under the mainstream limelight, only to be shoved into the shadows within a decade, leaving behind a plethora of artists who couldn’t adapt to whatever became current.

Hip-Hop’s arrival turned a lot of heads, due to it being heavily sample-based. Some believed sampling was just an excuse to be lazy. How can one be original, if they manipulate someone else’s work? Isn’t that the premise for all music? To build upon what already exists until the nuances are somewhat familiar and appear completely anew?

Documentary about sampling made by an Aussie TV station in 1988 before the laws we're changed to regulate the practice

It’s easy to say, the question on whether music sampling is a genuine art form, shouldn’t still linger, when it has evidently contributed to the progression of music-making throughout the past 50 years. What’s important to pinpoint is how samples archive the works of those, who aren’t valued enough by history’s standards to be documented, and celebrates those who aren’t remembered.

The Female Preacher

Gloria Lavern Collins was born on June 12, 1948. Collins grew up singing in Abilene, Texas and began taking up singing seriously in her adolescence. She sang with Charles Pike & The Scholars and eventually married a local promoter for the James Brown Revue. When Brown heard Collins sing, he was blown away by her voice and invited her to join him on tour in 1970. She became the top voice in Brown’s touring group accrued the nickname “The Female Preacher” when she consistently demonstrated that her infectious stage presence could turn any show into a grand church service. Like Vicki Anderson and Marva Whitney before her, as a part of the Brown troupe, you could use the elevated status to release records. But the trouble was often that it was difficult to escape from under Brown’s shadow. When he produced and wrote everything you’ve released, its a lot like a puppeteer pulling the strings from behind the curtains.

In 1972, they recorded a duet “What My Baby Needs Now, Little More Lovin”. That same year, Brown wrote and produced her debut album Think (About It). A few covers floated around following its release, but nothing brought more attention to the song until it was re-purposed 16 years later by Harlem duo Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock for their career-defining hit “It Takes Two”.

It Took Two To Bring Lyn More Light

“First, we picked out the break beat, but when I listened to the whole song, I was like, ‘Yo, this song is dope. We realized it was one part, when she said, ‘It takes two to make a thing go right.’ I was like, ‘Wow, this could be a nice hook, too. But the record company wanted to bring in another singer to do it for copyright reasons”
— Rob Base

Profile Records chose Rhonda Paris in the end. However, Paris’s vocal rendition lead more artists to cover Think (About It). Among these were Dancehall artist Patra, who collaborated with Collins on her cover, which ushered in even more exposure for the original. So much so, that Collins album Think (About It) and Check Me Out If You Don’t Know Me by Now were re-released in England and the Netherlands.

It’s an age old narrative, spontaneity being responsible for great historic moments. Not only has “It Takes Two” culturally influenced Hip-Hop, R&B, Drum & Bass and Dance music, its also the reason why the track is the third most sampled song of all time.

Every Little Helps

It wasn’t until February 2005 that Lyn Collins embarked on her first-ever solo tour. She performed across Europe for three weeks in UK, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. After returning home, Collins died from cardiac arrhythmia in Pasadena, California, at the age of 56.

There isn’t much about her life that’s tangible, aside from her brief career and a desire to express herself on her own terms. Maybe it’s better that way. Maybe it’s better to be able to focus on her undeniable impact.

Have a listen at some of Lyn Collins body of work:

Thanks for reading! This blog series is brought to you by Solidarity in Sound, an educational platform for the global, music community.

For our Herstory Lessons blog series — we're retelling the stories of womxn in music that have been misheard, mislabeled, or erased completely from our history books.

If information looks incorrect, please let us know! When we're retelling stories that are left out of our history books, finding info can get tricky. We want to make sure we're portraying these stories as accurately as possible!

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