The three acts opening this year's event intended to nurture the family life of V100's listenership offered a glimpse of the city's R & B gospel and Christian hip hop talent.
The Latimore Brothas/Under5ive/The Rideout Brothers/The Cass Street School Steppers/DJ Dr. B
at the V100 Family Affair Expo
11 March 2017
If a radio station whose marketing indicates that it has its city's "only hip hop and R & B" puts on a family wellness expo, music probably numbers among the attractions. If soul gospel is going to be among the music, the likelihood that it will more or less comport with the sounds of current hip hop and R & B seems a given, too.
Milwaukee maintains a reputation as a haven for traditional-leaning soul gospel, with quartet performances held at inner city churches on what seems to be an at least biweekly basis. But announcements tend to be on stations other than WKKV AKA V100. The Sunday morning programming on the station sponsoring the Family Affair Expo tends toward elements it shares with the hip hop and R & B heard throughout the rest of the the station's schedule. The three acts opening this year's event intended to nurture the family life of V100's listenership offered a glimpse of the city's R & B gospel and Christian hip hop talent.
The headliners among that segment of the bill*, the Latimore Brothas, have a history extending back about a quarter century. It was in the mid-'90s when they became one of the few acts from Milwaukee's soul gospel community to net a national recording deal. Upon changing their name in the mid '90s from the Latimore Brothers to LaMore, they issued a solid album of swingbeat-flavored inspirational material for star choir director Kirk Franklin's label Gospo Centric. As the potentially greener terrain of R & B stardom beckoned,around the turn of the century, they switched identities to Jersey Ave and recorded a lone long-player for MCA; local airplay was a given, but a big, national break never quite came. Jacob Latimore's non-gospel solo career, which may still be an ongoing proposition since he was supposed to have played a Milwaukee coffee house earlier this year (canceled, alas), hasn't yet materialized widespread hits regardless of single releases on Jive, RCA and his own Jacob's Ink imprint.
Now on their fourth moniker, at the Expo the Brothas sang a smooth couple of numbers rife with tight harmonies and sunny smiles to backing tracks. What they seemed to announce as a focus track for radio, "24/7," speaks of loving the Almighty within the daily time frame of the title. Were mainstream R & B radio open to playing gospel crossover tracks, which seems to be the province of the adult R & B format** since about 2009, it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine this shining like a profanity & fornication-free gem amidst the field of filth that has become the thrust of so much of today's surban pop lyricism. Beyond the words, though, the Latimore Brothas' kind harmonizing would be a welcome balm for mainstream R & B, too;though it still has a presence in modern soul gospel via male groups such as Half Mile Home and GI, but lately only in its adult sub-sector does R & B radio sound like it has room for masculine harmony singing since Jagged Edge, Boys II Men, et al fell out of favor there several years ago.
While the Latimores represent a kind of musicality presently waning in R & B but still welcome in gospel circles, Under5ive is a rarity on either side of the sacred/secular side: a female rapper. Her name derives from her diminutive height. Though she's shorter than either Iggy Azalea and less statuesque rhyme slinger Nicki Minaj, her energetic, high-kicking demeanor towered over where he puffy black&blonde hair stopped. The two numbers she performed at the Expo's stage, sponsored by Milwaukee Public Schools, gave the impression that she may be out to blur the aforementioned pide, as God was more in the details than the forefront of her couplets. In that way, she reflects what can be called the "godly lifestyle" kind of songs that harken back to VeVe and CeCe Winans' '90s heyday and have manifested in recent months on soul gospel radio in popular songs including Tim Bowman, Jr.'s "I'm Good" and James Fortune & Fiya's "I Forgive Me." She has been more explicit about God on older tracks such as "Make Daddy Proud," so the album she's planning for 2018 may have a breadth of approaches. However she delivers her positivity, Under5ive's a spitfire for whom an elevation to a broader audience wouldn't surprising.
Another set of siblings began the bill MC'ed by 'KKV program director Bailey Coleman and the station's gospel announcer, Minister Melvin Hood, Unlike the quintet of Latimores, there are but two of the Rideout Brothers. They sang their singular opening salvo to a track of down tempo synth R & B, the sound of which could have emanated from anywhere between the mid-'90s and today. Were their braids (dreadlocks?) not so long, they could have reminded me more of chrome domed R & B gospeleers Dawkins and Dawkins. Musically solid stuff, but it would be good to hear more from them in a variety of beats per minute.
The Rideouts may have been where the singing started, but the music began as the Expo itself did, with veteran, internationally award-winning DJ Dr. B behind the decks to the side of the stage, keeping the sounds pretty clean for the all-ages event. My history with him goes back over 30 years, when I saw him walk into a Milwaukee record shop with his boxes of EPs by the rap group for which he was spinning and scratching, Royal Dynasty***, so it was gratifying to hear him give me a shout out as an "old school journalist."
More importantly for the expo, the nicely graying Doc's music made the background to the dancing of the Cass Street School Steppers. The group of purple & white track suit-clad youngsters looking to range from eight to 17 dancing fairly synchronized routines to rap tunes filled with dance instructions, like Silento's "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" and the GS Boyz' "Stanky Leg." Fun as it was to see kids move in the way I recall members of African-American fraternities doing in college, it got a bit troubling toward the end of the expo's gospel segment when B's V100 cohort, DJRC, played Soulja Boy's signature ditty, "Crank That," with its exhortations to "do the Superman." That move named for Clark Kent's alias is a most despicably humiliating sex act of which people the Steppers' ages are best kept unaware. Apart from that heinous association, the kids from Cass Street School had me wishing youngsters closer to my melanin level were brought up in a similar dance aesthetic.
In another unfortunate matter, my last walk through the numerous booths for health, education, motivational speaking and other enterprises, I spied in one corner a table bedecked with the logo of V100's corporate owner, IHeartRadio, but shared by by another vendor giving out pin-back buttons and stickers urging passers by to get tested. Since it was Planned Parenthood distributing the freebies, the reasonable assumption was that the testing would be for sexually transmitted diseases.
Yes, Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, has never really been in the business of promoting premarital chastity nor fidelity once someone's tied the matrimonial knot. All the better to maintain PP's main moneymaking, murderous business with a preponderance of, ahem, clinics in majority non-European-American neighborhoods, just as its eugenicist founder, Margaret Sanger, would have had it. So it remains. Disappointing as it is may be to see the largest chain of radio stations in the U.S. partnering with an organization so militantly committed to the culture of death, which isn't at all nurturing to family life, believers should expect those of the world to act in a worldly manner.
The question to gospel musicians playing an event where a business in good part responsible for more black children in New York City, and probably other metropolitan areas, being aborted than born alive in recent years is whether they're selling out what should be their Christianity and its value on the sanctity of life for what can be high-profile exposure under iHeart's auspices. My hope is that gospel music, maybe even gospel music that's even more explicit about the Gospel than what was heard at this year's Family Affair Expo, may remain while WKKV's parent company would disassociate itself from ties to a group that can rightly be nicknamed Klanned Barrenhood.
-Jamie Lee Rake
*LeCrae was the expo's marquee act later in the day, but I had to be elsewhere by the time he played. Though he may legitimately claim the title of the the biggest current name in Christian hip hop, his actions of his over the past few months including playing an ecumenical prayer event on the National Mall last summer featuring word-faith and New Apostolic Reformation/dominionist speakers and contributing a track to the soundtrack to the film adaptation of the theologically troubling novel The Shack have me less interested than ever in paying him mind. His presence at a free event such as this likely stems more from his label's fledgling association with mainstream giant Sony Music than his status as purportedly righteous rap's most recognizable name. Here's admiring his hustle, if not his discernment, I guess?
**Either by design or unfortunate timing for the audience it may share with V100, Milwaukee's station specializing in adult R & B hosted a ticketed event mainly for female listeners at another venue. Fun though it may have been to have hit both functions to catch the musical talent at each, so it went.
***Since most of my vinyl collection is in storage. Here's hoping someone will soon upload all four selections from that record onto YouTube, SoundCloud or another video and/or audio hosting website. B created some really funky distorted bass on one or two of those cuts.
The Latimore Brothas
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