I dropped my son off at school… Late. He’s late, I’m about to be late. It’s a Monday. Things are as relatively as bad as they could be for a non-life threatening scenario of first world problems. And for that reason I’m trying not to stress over something that in the big scheme of things, is less then trivial. Yet and still, life has its demands and demands cause stress and in one form or another, you feel it. I need to cope. I scroll through phone music library. I need something… something that takes my mind off my morning.
I thumb through my music choices until I land on Playa Fly, and suddenly all of my problems melt away.
My interactions with the music of the inexplicable Playa Fly begin like most impactful things do, in my childhood. When I was young a number of my older female cousins used to date drug dealers. As a result me and my other cousins my age would gravitate to these guys. They were independent male figures, mature enough to look up to, but not quite old enough to where they could be seen as father figures. They fit snuggly in the role of Big Brother, or better so named, Big Homies.
When I was about 10 years old me and my mother were living in Litton Apartments in East Nashville and a number of my older cousins lived in the same apartment complex. And one of my cousins was dating this street dude named Fruit Punch. Fruit Punch was cool, and he played the defacto big brother well. Me and my cousins use to look out the window and see him out in the street and we would yell out of the window. “Fruit Punch!!!” which entertained us to no end. But after doing this a couple of times Fruit Punch scolded us saying:
“Aye man, don’t be yelling my name out the window, ya’ll don’t know who out here looking for me and ya’ll out here running me hot.”
I remember we use to go to my cousin’s apartment and Fruit Punch would let us go through his CD books. For those who don’t remember before iPods and smartphones, you had to buy hard copies of your music and for my generation the physical form of choice were compact disc. For music lovers this could pose a problem considering your music library could contain well over 100 different albums. Enter the CD booklet. These were nylon covered binders that almost looked like photo albums but when you opened them up there were filled with pages and pages of music, all on compact discs that sat in slim sleeves behind the album booklets that the owner would take out of the original packaging and place in the CD holder.
Now CD’s were precious things because if the were mishandled or scratched, then they wouldn’t play correctly. So for Fruit Punch to allow us to come in and go through his CD collection was a big deal. I remember flipping through the books one time in particular, and I came across this album cover of nothing but a hand. It was folded up in the hang ten surfing sign, with the fingers bald into a tight fist with the exception of the thumb and the pinky finger. It was overlaid in a purple tint and had the words Funkytown superimposed over the hand. At the top Playa Fly was spelled out in silver and the album title “Just Getting it On” was written just beneath it.
“What’s this?” I asked. My cousin Darryl was there with me, he was a couple of years older and was usually always near by considering that me and my kind always traveled in packs. He was much more musically inclined than I and was usually familiar with the artist that I was not.
“Aw that’s that Playa Fly.” He answered. “He’s big in Memphis.”
I pulled the album booklet out of its sleeve and looked at the song list.
Getting it on, Getting it on (outro), F** a Wanna Be, Catch you Slippin’, Just Awaken Shaken and so on and so on for a total of 12 songs. Near the end of the album there were two songs that stood out Ode to the Triple Six Mafia, and Triple B*** Mafia. Okay. Fair enough.
“Put it in.” My cousin prompted.
The first track started with heavy piano and almost immediately, singing. Old man singing.
“Do you mind if we?”
My eyebrows go up in apprehension.
“You and me me me me me we be getting it onnnn”
“What I wanna do, what I wanna do is be, getting it on!”
“This is… what is this?”
“All night long long long long long”
The old man is not just singing, he is crooning. I mean singing hard and singing deeply from his soul. And its not good. Don’t get me wrong it’s not bad either, it’s just not what you would consider skillful singing in the traditional sense of music. But as he continues it becomes hauntingly intoxicating. It speaks to something inside you. And slowly you realize it’s actually amazing. The rapping starts. A voice monotone and low, the lyrics are simple, but they are perfectly in synch with the music, and play out almost like an additional instrument. This was the first Playa Fly song I’d ever heard and while it didn’t change my life at that moment, it had definitely set the framework for what would become a life long relationship.
I left Playa Fly in my cousins apartment never considering it would be years I would hear from him again, and that when I did, I wouldn’t even recognize him.
In Nashville we used to have this thing called the “Slamma Jamma”. It was a basketball thing. 3-point shoot out, Slam Dunk contest, cool stuff like that. And after the basketball there was always a concert. Nothing major or legendary but always a concert of sometime local and upcoming artist. Although one year I do believe that Destiny’s Child was there, and this is before they were really Destiny’s Child, which means I saw Beyoncé before she was Beyoncé which is a bit like staring into the open universe before the Big Bang occurred… its special. But I digress. Slamma Jamma is an annual basketball event, afterwards there is a concert of local and upcoming artist and one year in particular there is this group on stage. A very very large group, and while I didn’t pay any attention to a single song they performed I do clearly remember the tail end of their stage show. The had 15 to 20 people on stage, half of which were shirtless at this point. Everyone, shirts and skins were on stage bouncing, and in unison hey were chanting the same thing over and over.
“Minnie Mae Mafia! Minnie Mae Mafia! Minnie Mae Mafia!”
At first I thought they were saying Minute Maid Mafia, but later found out it was not the case. The chant sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. I carried the same cadence as a Triple-Six Mafia Chant, but they were obviously not Triple-Six. I would later come to find out that the act on stage was indeed none other then the infamous Playa Fly and that Minnie Mae Mafia was a record label/rap crew that he had created. He named it after his grandmother Minnie Mae. Playa Fly had a gang of people standing on stage screaming at the top of their lungs, pledging their undying loyalty, to a Mafia Family named after his grandmother. No one man should have all that power.
After the Slamma Jamma, Playa Fly and I parted ways once again, but our journey had yet to come to an end.
Fast forward to high school. I am a sophomore at Pearl-Cohn, and inner city school in North Nashville, it had a reputation for Football and drug dealers. Needless to say I never felt more at home. One day, I’m walking through the cafeteria during lunch, headed to my usual lunch table when by chance I happen to look down and see something very familiar. I guy sitting at another table was holding some CD’s in his hand, and one of them was purple with a hand folded into the Hang 10 surfing symbol. I stop.
“Is that a Play Fly CD?” I ask, mostly in disbelief. I had not seen or heard from Playa Fly in years.
The guy looks up at me. “Aw Mane, you mess with Playa Fly? I didn’t think nobody up here even knew who Fly was.”
The guy looking up at me was a kid named Hiram, he was originally from Memphis and had just very recently moved to Nashville. He was a freshmen and like me a member of the football team, but even more importantly he was a member of the highly elusive and incredibly secretive Fraternal Order of Playa Fly.
“Man, yeah I now about Fly, he got the song with the old man singing on it.”
“Yeah, “Hiram laughed “That’s Bill Chill. That’s his daddy.”
“His daddy? Singing on the hook?”
“Mane yeah.” Hiram laughed again.
“Nah I didn’t know that.” For some reason this astonished me beyond belief.
“Yeah mane, Fly the truth, I got some of his other stuff if you wanna hear it.”
It was Hiram that also revealed to me the revelation about Minnie Mae Mafia and it was then that I realized that I had seen Playa Fly in concert and hadn’t even known it. He explained how he had named the label/group after his grandmother and I reveled in the fact that a rap artist was naming gangs after his grandmother and having his father sing on his songs. Fly was a family man in every since of the word. I admired that. I still admire that. Me and Hiram connected over our similar interest in music and became cool. Our love for Fly spilled over into our larger group of friends and ur small Fraternal Order expanded. It even spread to the football field. There would be days at practice when the we would be running defense and one player would scream out.
“JUST AWAKEN SHAKEN ONCE AGAIN SO YOU KNOW IT’S ON!”
and in response, 3 to 4 other member of the team would yell out in response.
“JUST AWAKEN SHAKEN ONCE AGAIN HOE! YOU KNOW ITS ON!”
And that how we got amped up on the field or in the locker room.
In a way Playa Fly introduced me to Hiram, who is still one of my close friends to this day, and who I still refer to on occasion as Playa H.
My last Playa Fly incident occurred around my senior year in high school. Me and my friends were pretty mobile by this time and we would attend parties all over the city. At one particular party I bumped into my cousin Red. I hadn’t seen my cousin in years, and in between our last meeting there had been lots of growth spurts and growing up so the reunion was filled with smiles, laughs and catching up. Like me Red had always been pretty laid back, which he was still up until a song came on inside the party.
“Nobody” an old and familiar voice croons its way out of the speakers set up around the room. “Needs nobodddddy”
Over the crooning another familiar voice is chanting a simple and rather straight forward chorus. “Nobody needs nobody! All I need is me and my dogs niggas so f** all of ya’ll, nigga”
It was Fly, by now I would recognize that sound anywhere and as I am realizing there exist another Playa Fly song I have never heard, my cousin is going crazy. His whole crew is going crazy. Apparently they knew about something that I did not. They were up on to this unheard Fly, they too were apart of the Fraternal Order of Fly. Damn, it was like Playa Fly was always two steps ahead of me! The lyrics for “Nobody” filtered down into me as my cousin and his crew slowly took over the dance floor. Red moved with his head up and his eyes practically closed, he swung his arms recklessly in every direction and if you happened to be in his way then that was your problem, and if you had an issue with it, he and his crew were prepared to make it a bigger real problem. That was the effect of Play Fly’s music, it tapped into something visceral within you. It spoke to your primal self, that part of you that still felt the urge to hunt wild game and howl at the moon.
Twenty minutes after dropping my son off at school I was at work. Traffic had fell in my favor and I wasn’t as late as I was expecting. I got to my desk and settled in. It was Monday and I had a long week ahead. I powered on my computer and was politely greeted by what seemed like an endless number of emails patiently awaiting my arrival. I put my earbuds back in and hit play on my phone. Chill Bill begins to croon, and then Playa Fly comes in and immediately I know, everything gon be straight….
It is a natural occurring phenomenon that no matter where you are, how formal the event, how professional and or bougie the person may be, if a native of the city of Memphis hears a Playa Fly song…. they are going to act a fool. I’ve seen it at weddings, banquets and funerals (why they were playing Playa Fly at a funeral I have no idea). It can be somebodies grandmother but if you scream out “Just Awaken Shaken once again so you know its on!” Granny is gonna respond with “Just Awaken Shaken once again Hoe so you know it on!” Then she will just look at you an nod, because she knows and now you know, you both are members of the Fraternal Order of Fly… a very exclusive club.