I’m trying to recall what triggered it. It may have been Dave Chappelle’s public resurgence that kept his name trending through 2020 and 2021. It may have also been that since COVID’s arrival, I, like so many others, have been consumed with a bottomless appetence for nostalgia: the 2001 NBA All-Star Game and Finals series, Verzuz 1.0 when it was still just a nascent Instagram Live cookout that you had to know about to know about; French Toast Crunch. I’ve gotten a fix from all of these at different points.
But no vestige of the past has gripped my attention more firmly since the pandemic hit than MTV’s once-beloved reality series Making The Band 2, particularly season 2. This is the season that gifted us Babs, Sara, Dylan, Freddy P, Ness, and Choppa–Da Band collectively. This is the season that conceived so many indelible reality TV moments that they spilled into sketch comedy’s orbit. Something prompted me to spin the block and revisit this scrumptiously gauche experiment on YouTube during the apex of the Pandemic.
Now – 20 years after Bad Boy’s Da Band’s lone album release, Too Hot For T.V. – I’d like to spin the block once again and go back to a special moment in time for Millennials, where we still played manhunt outside and bartered CDs and reality TV still harbored a glint of reality.
There wasn’t a single Wednesday night throughout 2003 when my sister and I failed to catch arguments over waking Babs up when her friends called the house to see what kind of weave she wanted, or Fred head-locking Ness while his pants were down, or Dylan using his probation as a back door to get out of his group responsibilities, or Puff sending the group on some frivolous excursion because he wanted them to “appreciate Hip-Hop” but also because, frankly, he was new to this and was likely just freestyling from episode to episode because this was an experiment. Put plainly, I loved Making The Band 2. Re-watching season two as a grown-ass adult, I realized that this whole idea won with the same hand it lost with.
There is a scene in the second episode where the group is standing lined up against the wall in a narrow corridor of Daddy’s House in Manhattan, a recording studio owned by Bad Boy Records. Everyone was palpably exhausted after having trudged across the Williamsburg Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn on foot the day before to fetch Puff a slice of cheesecake as part of a now-infamous hazing mandate. In this scene, Puff is marching up and down the hallway in a business suit, prodding everyone on their knowledge of classic Hip-Hop records. The whole thing looked like it was carved out of some rap-flavored sequel to Major Payne.
After realizing no one knew the lyrics to Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 landmark “Rapper’s Delight”, he moves on to a more contemporary example and asks the group if they know the lyrics to Biggie’s 1994 classic “Juicy”. Naturally, most were familiar with this song and proceeded to rap the lyrics in unison. Sara – the only singer of the collective, selected as the melodic relief to balance the rigidity of five emcees – was the only member who wasn’t familiar with either song. She stood at the far-left edge of the line, and while everyone bellowed, it was all a dream! Sara nodded her head quietly, hoping a hollow smile would mask her angst.
This moment resonated much more the second time around. I felt it because I recognized that strand of angst. It’s the kind that simmers when you meet someone in a bar or on the train or a date, and you make some mild reference to football or Harry Potter or Azawakh dogs, and the other person immediately lights up and begins pontificating on said subject because they clearly have a genuine interest in it and you’re clearly just cappin’ to posture as a cool, well-rounded person for two minutes. So, you sit there nodding, smiling, praying the conversation exhausts itself before the other person realizes they’re talking to a friendly fraud.
I tend to sweat during such moments. And I don’t mean the clammy palms sweating that you can bury into the pockets of your jeans. I mean Kevin Garnett in game 7 type of sweat; I mean Bobby Brown mid-concert circa ‘89 type of sweat. I mean Keith type of sweat … sorry I had to. But my point is I be sweating sweating. Just thinking about it can make my pores emotional. The medical term is Hyperhidrosis [hahy-per-hi-droh-sis] – abnormally excessive sweating. It’s been a big part of my life and has played a bigger role in my daily micro-decision-making than I would like to admit. I used to drown in the embarrassment my sweating would bestow: it’s never fun to be the only sweaty person in an un-sweaty environment, say, a work meeting. But as I’ve grown older and cozier in my slippery skin, I’ve learned to nullify that embarrassment by embracing it.
Sweat itself actually bears a unique cultural history in this part of the world. Native Americans throughout the Great Plains have engaged in ritualistic sweat ceremonies for hundreds of years. These ceremonies are held in sweat lodges, small dome-shaped log houses constructed of pliable saplings (often willow) with a single entrance facing a specific cardinal direction. They dig a pit in the center to serve as a receptacle for stones heated in a fire just outside the lodge. The premise behind these sacred gatherings is to communicate with the spiritual realm as a means to seek out moral or physical purification and self-healing through sweat. It’s all centered on this idea of returning to the beginning; purified by the lodge’s stuffy steam, those who participate can emerge from the ceremony reborn.
The value exchange was clear.
Strategically – on paper at least – Making the Band 2 was not only a brilliant venture on Puff and Bad Boy’s behalf, it was vital. At the onset of the early aughts, the blue flame that turned Bad Boy Records into Hip-Hop’s Motown during the ‘90s was fading red. Puff was coming off of a critically and [by Bad Boy’s standards at that time] commercially flat follow-up to his prodigious 1997 debut album No Way Out. By 2002, many of the artists that shouldered Bad Boy to dominance in the ‘90s had either died tragically, retreated to their respective corners of God, or left the label much less happy than when they joined because they fell on the wrong side of wildly imbalanced contracts which have grown into the stuff of legend. And lest we forget, Puff had also just narrowly squiggled out of a serious legal stumble.
So when MTV came calling, I’m sure he lit up like Club New York on New Year’s Eve in 1999. Partnering with MTV sat Puff’s empire in the front seat of Viacom’s vast and influential media machine. The value exchange was clear: as long as Puff delivered on a hit TV show that drove ratings, his ventures would enjoy all the visibility he wanted.
As America witnessed his hand-picked group put together their debut album in real time – we had an incessant buffet of Sean John placements and classic Bad Boy songs as background music shoved down our throats. The path to success for Bad Boy’s Da Band was also clear: put their inspirational journey on full display for the world to fall in love with and come album time, Circuit City’s cashiers would be scrubbing eager fans’ drool off of their registers.
It’s during this time that the now famous video of Puff on the phone in his office negotiating a deal with someone from MTV took place. In the clip, he dons a navy blue Von Dutch t-shirt with the brand’s logo stretched across his chest in yellow letters. Met with seemingly little resistance, he urges the person on the other line to “bump” someone to make space for a Bad Boys 2 soundtrack promotion, which Puff executive produced. Once the other person abides, they conclude the call, and before he can properly hang up the landline telephone sitting on his desk, Puff rises to his feet like a triumphant warrior, screaming: “I’m a savage! I’m a savage! Ooooooooo! Whatever I want I am going to get!!”
Okay, now I remember what triggered this whole thing: Instagram. My thumb was doing that thing where it wades far beyond the content posted from the accounts I follow into the woods of “related content”. Eventually, I came across a random old clip someone posted of Dylan & co. pissed off outside of Daddy’s House about the aforementioned orders they had just received to walk to Brooklyn and grab Mr. Combs a slice of cheesecake. “If I walk to Brooklyn, I’m going home! That’s where I live yo,” Babs laments as everyone begrudgingly embarks on the journey. Stumbling over this nugget of gold prompted me to start digging into where everyone is today.
Between jail stints for domestic issues, burgeoning DJ careers, running alleged sex trafficking rings, and founding popular battle rap leagues, things have been up and down for Da Band’s members in the years following the show’s conclusion. But the member that has appeared to have fallen upon some of the hardest times is Freddy P – the Dirty South spitter with the gritty, slurred delivery hailing from Miami’s Liberty City. I came across a video that has since gone viral-ish, featuring an emotionally depleted Freddy airing out his grievances. In the iPhone-shot clip, Fred sits with his shirt off and essentially unloads what sounds like 20 years of pent-up stress and tension. For 15 minutes, he talks openly about suicidal ideation creeping into his thoughts, having to “sell dope for twenty years” due to his struggles in finding financial stability, and generally just hating life at this point. It’s painful to watch. More painful than listening to the clean version of a DMX album. What I saw was a man that was sweating his ass off, and I sincerely hope, if even for just that day, his spirit felt anew after bleeding into that camera.
It’s worth noting that the music on Too Hot for T.V. was actually quite decent. Freddy – who drags listeners through the gravel with his gritty voice and ground-level street bars – renders the most unique delivery out of all the members in the group. He offers some of the album’s best moments via records like “Why” and the Choppa-led “They Know”. These songs still sound crisp 20 years later. “Why” also features contributions from Sara, Ness, Dylan, and Choppa, along with a signature Puff-talking-Puff Shit closeout. It opens with Dylan delivering a chilling sermon-like dialogue, “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, with a key to the bottomless pit…” bolstered by dark cathedral church bells, then dense drums that beat the shit out of your ears. “They Know” is just straight-up hard [pause]. It’s an anthemic dirty south banger that tugs at you with flailing horns and a catchy ass hook that puts Choppa’s New Orleans drawl on the perfect stage, “You can ask my niggas cause they know (they know) / I’m a hustla that’s bout them pesos (pesos) / throw ‘em up and let ya nuts hang low (naaaaa).”
Bad Boy’s Da Band feels the most harmonious and complete on records like the Wyclef-produced “Do You Know”, which serves as the inspirational summation of their collective journey. Each member uses their verse to highlight the hood from which they arose. The production, of course, hinges on an electric guitar riff from Wyclef that feels just as invigorating as Sara’s uplifting chorus. “My Life”, which opens the album, also stands as a sharp collective effort and lyrically exhibits the most emotional depth. Sara delivers a reflective chorus over a beat carried by dark piano loops and snappy snares while Ness, Freddy P, and Babs offer up the lessons they learned from the struggles they’d endured up to that point in their lives.
Now, I’m not calling Too Hot For T.V. a classic or anything, but it wasn’t trash. All of these aforementioned songs have aged pretty well and demonstrate that this group had real potential beyond all the gimmicky reality TV stuff. Hip-hop itself has a weird way of sweating, though it tends to manifest more perversely. I believe the same reason Bad Boy’s Da Band didn’t work out is the same reason it was supposed to. The group was plugged into Viacom’s media motherboard: they fought, created, and grew together in front of the entire country every Wednesday night. They enjoyed major visibility during their album’s promo run across popular music programs such as Total Request Live (TRL) on MTV and 106 & Park and Rap City on BET. They even got a spotlight on MTV’s Making The Video program that took us behind the scenes of their first video shoot. From a marketing standpoint, I would call that a blessing. And one would logically expect the audience to follow Bad Boy’s Da Band from their living rooms to Sam Goody, which they sort of did to the tune of 500k albums sold, a moderate effort by Bad Boy’s standards back then.
But the broader issue was the group couldn’t develop a unique musical identity beyond Puff and the show – everything had been shaped around that ecosystem. Even their official name – Bad Boy’s Da Band – had the label baked into it; the album was called Too Hot For T.V. So when the cameras cut and the dust cleared, The Culture largely forgot about Bad Boy’s Da Band. That’s not to say absolutely no one remembers any of them to this day because I can’t be the only one who still has that CD sitting in my closet, but Hip-Hop is a monster, and it feeds off its young and sweats out its expired goods.