Lil Duval and Snoop Dogg's "Smile (Living My Best Life)" is — well — living it’s best proverbial life. It’s hard not to notice that the single has stayed in heavy urban radio rotation, charting in the No.1 hip-hop/R&B radio play position for about 21 days, until Ella Mai’s “Trip” garnered that slot. Yep, that’s the raw data, but we all know that real measures of a song’s saturation of the culture are less quantifiable.
For those, we take to “the Gram,” where the single has become a meme soundtrack, celebratory anthem and perhaps the most expedient manner for hip-hop violinists to go viral. Name another single that has simultaneously supplied timely inspiration for the clergy; illustrated the best strategy for non-Black identified individuals to navigate the N-word’s presence in top-40 music (Hint: Just don’t say it); and — in a moment of inarguable divine alignment — spurred a Halloween video capturing the Knowles family two-step, in which Jay-Z momentarily persuades Solange to bury her Met Ball, elevator-sharpened hatchet.
What many might not realize though, is that “Smile” generously samples from the melodic instrumentation of Midnight Star's 1984 single, "Curious." For this reason, among countless others, “Smile” functions as a cross-generational testament to the enduring resonance of uncle antics; among the lineup of original of Midnight Star members were men named Kenneth, Reggie, Bo and Melvin, so there’s no debate regarding the group’s certifiable uncle cred.
If “auntie” behavior proverbially favors a maternal-adjacent benevolence, then its “uncle” counterpart is firmly, for better or worse, committed to “mackin' on PYTs" and "showin' deez fools how it's done.” More wily than paternal, the uncle’s vernacular favors the “finer things in life,” as he is often resolutely untethered by parental responsibility, whether he has sired children or not.
Sonically, uncle music can sit anywhere from the slick, funk side of soul’s pocket to the often suave side of R&B’s groove. When it wants to, it can even get a little guttural and rough. Think of everything from The Temptations’ “Treat Her Like a Lady,” to The Gap Band’s “Burn Rubber on Me” and Stevie Wonder’s “Love Light in Flight." Regarding uncle music, one thing’s for sure: It’ll get you up on your feet. Whether you choose to body roll, rock steady or hit ’em with the shoulders is up to you. Upon further consideration, uncle jams, like Quincy Jones’ mahogany, star-studded “Secret Garden” may be prone to soliciting activities of a decidedly more horizontal nature — uncle behavior, nonetheless.
Both “Smile” and “Curious” before it flourish in the native environment of the uncle — the cookout. Within this space — along with the barbershop, those seats of a public transportation bus that face the aisle and, of course, the "corner" — the Stacy Adams, sandal-clad, guayabera shirt-sporting uncle holds court amid a host of his auxiliaries: The “youngin”, the “game-killer” and his prey of choice, the “fly honey”.
In an effort to better understand this distinctive brand of music that fuels the uncle’s mojo, we caught up with Brooklyn-based, Detroit reppin’ Rimarkable, a DJ and event producer known for dipping into the uncle’s sonic repertoire. She gave us her take on the popularity of “Smile” and the rich well of uncle inspiration from which it springs:
Blavity: So what made this song such an instant hit?
Rimarkable: It had a familiar feeling to it and became meme-worthy, which lead to it being on the radio. I heard it for the first time when I saw Future singing it on Instagram. I thought it was hilarious.
Blavity: Were you previously aware of Lil Duval?
Rimarkable: Yeah, I knew of him. I’m not down with some of the antiquated sexist stuff he says, but he’s kind of like your real uncle in that way. Your uncle will say some old-fashioned, problematic stuff.
Blavity: Problematic — but you can’t kick him out the family!
Blavity: Did you recognize the sample immediately?
Rimarkable: Of course I did. I mean, I expected that kind of sound from him. It does bring about the emotion and nostalgia of being at a barbecue. It’s a summertime song. I live for that soulful ’80s music; that Frankie Beverly and Maze, and Atlantic Starr, that Klymax s**t — I live for that.
Blavity: So in terms of the instrumentation, what do you feel makes these songs uncle music?
Rimarkable: It’s the bass line. It’s floating you. It feels almost like a Soul Train line itself. The drum and bass are working hand in hand, and the drum machine, as well. I listen to this kind of music and wonder, “How were y’all young and doing this?!” It’s very mature. I wonder about the artists: “Were you guys just born an uncle, with a Jheri Curl and a cigarette?” It’s very mature. It’s a groove.
Blavity: Vocally, who are the titans of uncle music?
Rimarkable: Frankie Beverly — that silky, sexy voice; Rick James; The LeVerts — from Eddie to any of his sons. The LeVerts are a perfect example of how mature some of these artists were at a young age. I could be wrong, but those guys had to be like 19 or 20 years old when they came out.
Blavity: That's interesting. ’Cause with Frankie, you’ve got the smooth side of uncle music, and with Gerald Levert, you have the more guttural, greasy side. Charlie Wilson is in there, too!
Rimarkable: There you go! There’s variations of the uncle also. Charlie is like that classy uncle that had the El Dorado. He’s that uncle that had some bread, and was trying to floss and bring grandmama flowers. There’s that nasty uncle that’s out in these streets, and has a different woman coming to every barbecue — that’s Rick! Then you have Frankie Beverly, who’s sexy, and fine, and velvety — but private. You don’t know what’s going on.
Blavity: Not a clue. He’s definitely the “Tommy from Martin” uncle that makes you wonder, “So what exactly do you do when you aren’t here?” Then you turn around to ask him, and lo and behold — he’s gone again.
Rimarkable: Marvin Gaye is the uncle music for dusk, when the uncle crew is sitting, talking, drinking and smoking. He’s also the one on the radio when you’re driving home late.
Blavity: Wow! He might be the granduncle of them all! He might the uncle who set up the whole uncle blueprint, ’cause “Sexual Healing” and “Let’s Get It On” are the penultimate uncle manuals.
Rimarkable: Exactly! Along with Marvin Gaye, you can [also] say Barry White.
Blavity: Now that you make us think about the variations, there’s the young flashy uncle, too. That’s Kool and the Gang. He’s like 22 with a 30" waist. He can move. He doesn’t have razor bumps.
Rimarkable: Right! He doesn’t have razor bumps, and…[innaudible]—
Blavity: Did you say he has “supple joints”?
Rimarkable: No, I said he’s smoking joints.
Blavity: Whoops! Thought you said “supple joints,” which makes sense, too.
Rimarkable: There’s also Luther Vandross! He was so buttery that the straightest uncle still messed with him.
Blavity: Yeah! He was so fly that they suspended their judgment. Who was in the next generation upstarts that inherited these R&B uncle thrones?
Rimarkable: The first person that comes to mind for me is Keith Sweat. He was already kind of grown when he came out.
Blavity: Bobby Brown leapt out for us.
Rimarkable: Yeah, he did get influenced by them, and now he’s giving it uncle for real. Oh, and Freddie Jackson, as well.
Blavity: Wow! Yeah, people that are just always pouring cognac in a condo.
Rimarkable: Always pouring cognac in a condo. I couldn’t tell you who the uncles of today are. The R&B uncle is an endangered species. That suave, cool, cookout-smoking, soul-music-listening-too uncle.The kids today aren’t gonna know him.
Blavity: Did the f**kboy crooner and the trap rapper kill the uncle?
Rimarkable: The popular music of this day has erased the uncle that we knew and loved. You see 50-year-old men with their pants sagging now.
Blavity: Or maybe in Fashionnova skinny joggers and Yeezy limited editions, with a cross-slung, Supreme fanny pack.
Rimarkable: Exactly! Know what I mean?!
We do know what she means, and along with Lil Duval and Snoop, we’re determined to keep the uncle alive — or at least resuscitate him. That’s why we tapped Rimarkable to curate the “Ode to Uncle” Spotify playlist, a collection of uncle music gems you can play to engage that cookout/corner/barbershop vibe anywhere you’d like.
We encourage you to (in this order):
- Live your best life. (Note: We won’t be going back and forth with y’all, regarding this one.)
**This interview has been condensed for space and clarity.
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