To say the Ghost Town DJs 1996 classic (and sole release) “My Boo” is “back” would be misstating the situation — for hip-hop and R&B fans, the hugely-influential song never left. It’s been sampled by everyone from Ciara to The Diplomats in the 20 years since its release, but its most impactful cosign (at least post-Jermaine Dupri) came from two previously-anonymous New Jersey high schoolers, who used the song as the theme for their #RunningManChallenge.
In the very first episode of Billboard‘s newest podcast Ballin’ Out — where music and sports meet — we spoke to two of the three Ghost Town DJs, DJ Demp and Virgo (the song’s singer), as well as Jaylen Brantley and Jared Nickens, the University of Maryland basketball players whose take on the Running Man Challenge (yes, naysayers, we know this is not technically the Running Man) make it go viral, and brought the song to its highest-ever position on the Hot 100.
Listen to the first episode (and read an interview with Rodney Terry, the manager and founder of the Ghost Town DJs) below, and subscribe and download on iTunes here.
How did the song first come together?
It was originally an idea that Lil Jon and I had three months before we made the record. I come from a background of dance music, in California. From Uncle Jamm’s Army to Luther Campbell and 2 Live Crew to Ghetto Style DJs…Mr. Mixx from 2 Live Crew, one of their producers, is my homeboy — he’s a great friend of mine. I’d produced bass records in the past, as well — I was always into dance music.
We thought about the idea, and I think we tried it once before we got to “My Boo.” Then, I was in his office one day, and we were trying to figure it out. Carl Moe was there, and he had his keyboard. I’d never met Carl Moe before, but when I played a beat, he fell exactly into the pocket. The whole key with the record was it was an R&B record over a fast beat. The music and the vocals couldn’t have anything to do with the beat — it was like a separate situation.
We got it written up and recorded it — there was another girl, named Akima, who sang the record at first. But she couldn’t really sing it, because Carl Moe had written it for his voice. It was too low for her to sing, so I fired her in the studio. Virgo was there. Originally, a guy sang “My Boo” — it was so low that Virgo needed to follow somebody in that key.
This was all over the course of two days. Then, Lil Jon and I mixed it, and the rest is history. It was definitely more Lil Jon than it was Jermaine. My great friend [DJ and producer] Greg Street in Atlanta played it during Freaknik. It was just off to the races from there.
My concept was soft on the top and hard on the bottom. Me being originally from the West Coast, the pop kids had been making those kinds of records [there] forever. The Latin kids had been making those kinds of records that were pop records — but nobody had approached it on an R&B side, like we did. We were the first to do it, and I think that’s why it caught on with everybody pretty much. It just fit — I don’t know man, it just fit. A guy in New York said to me, “It’s a great sing-a-long record,” and I guess that’s what it is.
What’s your favorite revival of the song?
I’m cool with the Running Man Challenge, but the Ciara thing [“Body Party”] was a little different for me because I worked for Jive Records for 15 years. I was there when she got there, and I worked her records — to this day, I don’t think she knows that it’s me. It was a little more special to me when Ciara did it.
I’m trying to reach out to the Running Man kids now, because if we do shows, I want to try to get them there and reap the benefits of what’s going on here. The funny thing is, we’re doing more press now than we did in 1996.
Why did you guys just have one song?
Politics. Business. Record company politics. I’ve been in the music business for over 30 years — worked for Def Jam for 15 years, worked for Jive for 15 years. In the 90’s I made records with Luke [Luther Campell] — some of my mentors are Luther Campbell, Russell Simmons, people like that. I wasn’t going to be a whore, it’s just that simple. They made an offer, but the offer was ridiculously retarded. Nothing against Jermaine Dupri — I love Jermaine Dupri — but it was just the business. Even he was caught up in the politics of it at the time — not being able to do certain things that he wanted to do with the record, or whatever. So I just said, “No, that’s it. That’s the end of the conversation, I’m done.” I wouldn’t play golf.
I was the individual that was signed to So So Def — I think that’s the dilemma that Columbia had when the record came out. Like he’s signed, but he’s not singing? That’s why in the video, none of us are there. At the time, Virgo had a bad manager who would not allow her to be a part of it. They figured if we couldn’t have Virgo, we wouldn’t have anybody. That’s why I’m very, very happy that Virgo is finally getting her just due on this record. That’s the most important thing to me. Her manager told me, “Virgo has other things going on, she doesn’t need y’all.”
I went to work for Jive Records, and got back into the music business part of it. I see everybody trying to hustle and come back to life, and like, I’m not excitable. I’ve been around the biggest in the world — I’m grateful and I’m blessed, but it is what it is. I’m going to try to make the best that I can out of the situation, especially for Virgo. I’m definitely planning a 20th anniversary edition of “My Boo,” with a young lady by the name of Cameron Davis, and probably with Virgo as well. This is something Greg Street and I are putting together — it will be a totally different record, but it will be “My Boo.” This would be sometime in June.
How did you guys come up with the name Ghost Town DJs?
“Ghost town” means heard and not seen. Felt, and not seen. I’m not one of those ones to take selfies and be in front of cameras — you understand what I’m saying? I’m comfortable being behind the scenes. So I came up the name, “Ghost Town DJs.” It was really playing off what Luther Campbell had in Miami, the Ghetto Style DJs — which I was part of back in the ’80’s.
You said you’re from California originally — where in California?
Pasedena, Calif., the city of the Rose Bowl Parade. I came to Atlanta in the ’90’s. I will say — people are going to get mad — but “My Boo” is not an Atlanta record. It is not. “My Boo” is California meets Florida.
Yeah, I know it’s referred to as Miami bass — but people love it in Atlanta!
Yes, because it broke in Atlanta! People love it all over the world, man — I’m just amazed. I don’t understand it, personally. They say I made history! And actually, I hate the snare in “My Boo” — I hate parts of that record! I don’t know if Virgo told you — she hated her voice on the record, she thought it was a demo!
I love stories like that.
If you talk to Freak Nasty, he’ll tell you he was drunk on cognac, sitting in a chair in his kitchen with a microphone in his hand when he did the vocals on “Da Dip” — he didn’t even realize until the next morning what he had done. People don’t understand, man. It’s magic. Two plus two does not equal four in the record business. It equals whatever you want it to equal.
Look at Future, and look at Desiigner. I know Future’s like, “Man, I didn’t know I made that record!” When he heard [“Panda”], he probably thought it was him! Who knows out here? Who has the answers to the questions? I surely don’t.