July 13 in Hip-Hop History: Gerald Levert Is Born, Run-DMC Rocks Live Aid + More
On July 13 in hip-hop history, we're celebrating two R&B legends' birthdays, Run-DMC makes history, another member of Junior M.A.F.I.A. goes solo and more.
Gerald Levert, the son of Eddie Levert from the iconic soul group The O’Jays, was born in Philadelphia, Pa., and grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. As a teenager, he would go on tour with the band to stay close to his father. Although Gerald’s voice was less gruff than his father’s, his raw and seductive baritone was smooth enough to make women swoon and earned him the nickname “the Teddy Bear.”
In 1986, Gerald formed the group LeVert, which also included his younger brother Sean, and childhood friend Marc Gordon. Together, they garnered chart-topping hits like “(Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop) Goes My Mind,” “Casanova,” and “Baby I’m Ready.” Gerald would embark upon a successful solo career in 1991, and later join Johnny Gill and Keith Sweat to form the supergroup LSG. He also did an album with his father called Father and Son.
Sadly, on Nov. 10, 2006, Gerald died from what was initially diagnosed as a heart attack. He was 40 years old. In February 2007, an autopsy report concluded that Levert’s death was caused by a fatal combination of prescription narcotics as well as over-the-counter drugs. The official cause of death was acute intoxication, and the death was ruled accidental.
Veteran R&B songbird Mikki Howard, who collaborated with Gerald musically and romantically in the 1990s, praised the late singer for his big voice and big heart. “He always pumped me up, making me feel like I was the best entertainer in the world,” she told Billboard in 2016. “We later outgrew the romance, but he remained my champion. I really miss [him].”
Deborah Cox was born in Toronto, Canada to Afro-Guyanese parents and grew up in the city of Scarborough. Cox had a natural talent for singing. By age 12, she was appearing in television commercials and performing in talent shows.
In the 1990s, Cox was a backup singer for Celine Dion in her Las Vegas revue, where music mogul Clive Davis first discovered her. Enamored by her talent, Davis signed her to Arista Records and began grooming her to become the next R&B star.
Under Davis tutelage, the Canadian singer-songwriter and actress has had an enviable career that consists of several chart-topping dance tracks and arguably her most famous No. 1 R&B hit, "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here.”
Cox's voice is often compared to the late pop icon Whitney Houston, so much so that she sang all of Whitney's music for the singer's Lifetime biopic. And ironically, she is currently touring with the traveling musical The Bodyguard, which is an adaptation from the 1992 film starring Houston and Kevin Costner. She plays Houston’s character Rachel Marron in the production and sings several of the singer’s tunes like "Run to You" and, of course, “I Will Always Love You.”
Cox was a dear friend of Houston before her untimely death, so she wasn't afraid to step in late pop star's shoes. "Her style and her gift were incredible," Cox told Tampa Bay Times. "When I do the show, I go back to some of those old lessons, things that helped get me through certain songs."
Throughout the 1980s, Run-DMC used rock elements with their boastful rhymes, so it was only right they get called to perform at the heavily rock-curated Live Aid event in Philadelphia. The global charity concert was put together by musician-activist Bob Geldof to benefit the people of Ethiopia who were suffering through large-scale starvation, malnutrition and death in East Africa.
The rap trio had no idea what to expect going into the event. Run-DMC was the first and only rap act scheduled to perform at the concert. “That was another instance where we didn’t know what we were doing here,” DMC told Whomag.com. “We have the DJ’s and MC’s, but by the looks of Mick Jagger and all these superstars and Madonna, this must be big.
"We went out there and looked out in the audience like, ‘Wow! There are 80,000 people out there! This isn’t like the show we did in the hood last night!’" he continued. "We knew this was something big over here, but we didn’t know of the impact until afterwards.”
Although their set was brief, Run-DMC delivered a memorable performance. "We have no band, just Jam Master Jay," DMC told the cheering crowd during their rendition of “King of Rock.”
Following the success of Junior M.A.F.I.A., and Lil' Kim's solo career, Lil’ Cease became the second member of the hip-hop collective to branch out on his own as a solo artist. His debut album The Wonderful World of Cease a Leo boasted production from The Hitmen and guest appearances from Bad Boy artists G.Dep, Carl Thomas, 112, Total and Diddy, himself. The set’s first single, “Play Around,” featured Lil’ Kim, Mr. Bristal, and Joe Hooker.
The album was moderately successful but didn’t push Lil’ Cease’s solo career any further. Also, Cease’s relationship with Lil’ Kim became estranged over the years and hit the breaking point after he testified in Lil’ Kim’s infamous perjury trial.
For years, Cease has tried to extend an olive branch to Kim to no avail. In a 2010 interview with MTV News, Cease said that a Junior M.A.F.I.A. reunion needs to happen in honor of the late Notorious B.I.G. who put the group together.
"I been swallowed my pride. Because as a family, when you know somebody for so long, you go through things. I didn't think our situation would go this long and this far," he said. "I know Big would want us all eating together in one room. I'mma do my best to make that happen."
Gang Starr, the legendary rap duo of DJ Premier and the late and great lyricist Guru, is one of the most influential hip-hop groups of all time. To celebrate their ten-year musical partnership (from 1989 to 1999), the rap tandem released a greatest hits project, Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr.
The LP features 21 banging tracks curated from their previous five classic albums and three new songs (“Full Clip,” “Discipline” and “All 4 the Ca$h”). If you have never heard of Gang Starr before, Full Clip is the perfect introduction to the duo’s rap foundation.
On the title track, Guru sets the tone by telling wack MCs that Gang Starr is here to stay. "Fresh out the gate again, time to raise the stakes again / Fatten my plate again / Y'all cats know we always play to win," he raps, adding, "G-A-N-G to the Starr, son / Haters took this s--- too far, son / So that's all for you, I'm wipin' out your whole team."
The Roots’ sixth album, The Tipping Point, was their last album on Geffen Records and was inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book of the same name. According to Questlove, the project was a mid-life crisis for the group.
“12 years and no dance hit, but we're still here, and you know, I was just having one of those ‘whys?'” Questo explained in a 2005 interview with Blagmagazine.com. “I'm just like, 'Why are we still here?', 'Why do we still matter?’... because we’re against everything.”
“We're fundamentally against what hip-hop says that you're supposed to do,” he continued. “And that's when my manager hipped me to Malcolm Gladwell's book in which he said, 'You guys sort of spread like a germ without major hype, without a label cramming it down your throat, without the radio stations playing you umpteen times. So, that's the theory behind The Tipping Point."
The album also marked the first time all the Roots members were actually in the studio together for the recording process. The result was a jam session reminiscent of their early projects. Standout tracks include “Star,” “Somebody's Gotta Do It” (featuring Jean Grae and Devin the Dude) and "Don't Say Nuthin’."
In a 2017 Rolling Stone interview, Black Thought proclaimed that he invented mumble rap with the song "Don't Say Nuthin'."
"If we go back —that’s something I invented. I invented rapping without actually using the words," he explained. "With songs like “Don’t Say Nuthin’,” freestyles like “New Year’s At Jay Dee’s,” I essentially invented mumble rap, where you go for many bars without saying any words. And when I did it, it came from a place of being inspired by scatting."
Devin the Dude is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper (Andre 3000 and Dr. Dre are notable fans). A fixture in the Houston rap scene, the veteran rhymer, was slowly making his mark in the rap game with his third album, To tha X-Treme.
On the album, Devin continues his laid-back vibe rapping about smoking weed and partying, but also tackle serious topics like police brutality on "Go Fight Some Other Crime." On “Cooter Brown,” which samples Willie Hutch’s soulful song, “Now That It's All Over,” Devin talks about his battle with alcoholism.
"I want to quit drinkin’ this s--- but no luck / No bucks at the end of the night and I'm drunk / The Crown Royal, Hennessy, and Budweiser's no punk / Nobody to save me with the proper technique / But I can't point the finger at nobody but me,” he spits on the introspective track.