Heard and Unseen: The Oral History of Ghost Town DJ’s ‘My Boo’
The short-lived group, Jermaine Dupri, and Lil Jon talk about making a club and viral hit
As 2016 has re-confirmed, the only time when an artist’s song reappears on the Hot 100 decades after its release is usually immediately after the artist’s death. But Atlanta label So So Def’s mid-’90s group Ghost Town DJ’s (singer Virgo, DJ and producer Greg Street, producer Rodney Terry, and DJ Demp) have lived to see their hit “My Boo” surpass its original chart peak more than 20 years after its release. Ciara breathed life into the hit with her 2013 smash “Body Party,” but it was two teenagers without a Jazze Pha production to their name who put the Atlanta track back on the map earlier this month.
Kevin Vincent and Jeremiah Hall, two New Jersey high schoolers, shot a video of themselves doing the Running Man — not the ’90s version, but the one birthed by the modern-day Jersey club scene — as “My Boo” played in the background. University of Maryland basketball players Jared Nickens and Jaylen Brantley responded with a running man challenge of their own back in April. Several athletes and civilians started doing the same, the #RunningManChallenge — and, by extension, “My Boo” — went viral, and soon enough, Vincent and Hall were appearing on Ellen.
But those who’ve frequented barbecues and pool parties for the last 20 years know that “My Boo” didn’t need the validation of viral success. Putting singer Virgo’s airy vocals over sweaty, high-BPM soundbeds might seem like an odd mix, but it was a classic blend in the group’s capable hands. The song immediately brings to mind images of glowing golden skin, sunhats, and dudes in Ray-Bans.
“My Boo,” which appeared on the So So Def Bass All-Stars Compilation, is also the only single that Ghost Town DJ’s have to their name. So So Def carried on with the likes of Jagged Edge, Lil Bow Wow, and Dem Franchize Boyz; Lil Jon — yes, that Lil Jon — went from A&R’ing the group to doing the A-Town stomp with Usher, and then went EDM; and the Ghost Town DJs, well, turned ghost.
But the artists involved with making “My Boo” a success are still around. Lil Jon, So So Def founder Jermaine Dupri, and members of Ghost Town DJ’s spoke to us over the phone about making “My Boo,” discussing the group’s mysterious name, who came up with the song title, and the lead singer’s inexplicable absence from the video.
The Founding of Ghost Town DJ’s
Lil Jon: I was working A&R at So So Def. This was my first project on So So Def — first project that was mine. I executive produced it and A&R’d the album.
Rodney [Terry] used to work at Def Jam at the time. He was the main promotions guy. If you were a Def Jam artist you came to Atlanta and Rodney was the guy who took you around and put you to radio. I knew Rodney because I was a DJ… We knew each other just from the record company s**t.
Rodney Terry: [Ghost Town DJ’s] were really a throw-off of Luther Campbell’s Ghetto Style DJs of Miami, which I was a part of back in the ‘80s with the 2 Live Crew and that kind of stuff. So that’s really where it kind of came [from]. I just wanted to emulate what they were doing in Miami with the Ghetto Style DJs so I came up with the name Ghost Town DJ’s. The words “ghost town” to me means heard and not seen. That’s why no one’s ever, ever seen us, but they are definitely feeling us.
[DJ] Demp came along when it was time to do stage shows, to put a group together to get on the road and do stage shows, and that’s when Demp came into the fold and he’s been there ever since.
Virgo: I was working on becoming a solo artist. I was working with a production company at that point and doing background vocals for them and their artists. At that time I was trying to find my sound and work on my stuff as well. So the young lady [Akema] that was actually enlisted to do the lead vocals, we worked with her at this production company as well, and she asked me — because she liked the way I did my background vocals — to help her with hers on that particular album.
Lil Jon: Back in the day, Atlanta DJs would take a bass track and then would take, say, Shai’s “If I Ever Fall In Love” and put it over a bass beat. Because it’s really double time. [Doing that] was really popular with all the DJs that were doing real mixtapes at the time.
Jermaine Dupri: In Atlanta, the DJs used to mix Whitney Houston records and put “Planet Rock” under a capella vocals. So [“My Boo”] was like its own version of that.
The Making of “My Boo”
Terry: Lil Jon was there the whole time. He couldn’t take production credit because he was an A&R director, but Lil Jon helped produce the record. Me and him mixed the record. There are people who have creative imaginations who dispute [this] story, but from my recollection, Lil Jon is the one who named it “My Boo,” ’cause originally we called the record, “I Wanna Be Your Lady.”
Lil Jon: I don’t f**king remember. I probably did, because, as a producer, you want something simple. I just always used to think about when people call in to request the song, what is the most memorable thing they’re gonna remember from the song? That’s what you gotta make the title.
When we recorded this song we originally wanted another girl to be the singer. So when she came in the studio, we had laid all of the backgrounds with Virgo already. But when the girl came in to sing it she just couldn’t do it. We were like, “Let’s just use Virgo,” because she sounded good. So Virgo kind of got in by accident because she was the background singer and then she ended up being the main singer. Everything kind of just happened.
Virgo: Many people don’t know that I actually come from a choral background. I also sang in a church as well. So, at first, being on that fast of a track was a little difficult. But once I found the pocket, it gelled.
Terry: I did the beat. The version of “My Boo” that you’re hearing now is actually the second version. Me and Lil Jon came up with the idea way before we did the record, and I even went to California for three or four days to just try and get the vibe. And I came back and we just wanted to do it [ourselves]. It really didn’t work out with the people we were producing it with. And then, one day, I was in Lil Jon’s office and I played the beat and [producer Carl Mo, who’s a credited songwriter on “My Boo”] was in there with his keyboard and he just fell right into the pocket.
Lil Jon: It’s crazy because Carl, the guy who wrote the lyrics and the music, he used to call me and leave voicemails of his music on my phone. Eventually I was like, “This guy’s got some dope s**t. We gotta have a meeting.” So he came to my office with a f**king Casio keyboard and played the s**t straight out the keyboard. There was no CD, there was no cassette. Straight out of a Casio keyboard.
Terry: I’m originally from a little town in California called Pasadena. And so growing up as a kid, Uncle Jamm’s Army, Egyptian Lover, they had been doing them kind of records on the West Coast forever. And then I got to Miami, f**king with [2 Live Crew’s Uncle Luke] and my homies — they’re actually from Riverside, too. So that’s why I tell people all the time, “My Boo” is not an Atlanta record; it’s the West Coast-meets-Miami.
Dupri: Not Miami, not West Coast. It’s Atlanta.
Lil Jon: I think the best thing about it was that we were doing something we had never done before. No one had taken the concept of the slow song over the fast beat and made that into an actual song. So doing that was great and also seeing the reaction. I think it was damn near immediate that people loved it.
Terry: [Greg] Street is responsible [for “My Boo” becoming a hit] because he played the record during Freaknik. He was the first person to ever play the record, and he played it during Freaknik, so there were a lot of people in the town who heard the record and one thing led to another. So without any sign of a doubt, Greg Street is the individual who broke the record. Period. I’m still paying for that today with his ass. [Laughs.]
Shooting the Video and Disbanding
Lil Jon: I think J.D. might have come up with that concept and basically the concept was, “This is every girl’s favorite song.” So we wanted to show in the video all the girls singing the song. Even though Virgo sang it, she wasn’t really the artist. So it made it easier to just show all of these different women singing.
Terry: There were other plans to kind of spin it off [into a continued project], but I was the one that was signed to So So Def so it somewhat became a dilemma for Columbia or what to do with the situation. Me and Virgo didn’t come together after the record because she was in a relationship with a bad manager and the manager wouldn’t allow it. [Ed. Note: Virgo wasn’t signed to Columbia, which was the distributor for So So Def.] So she wasn’t really a part of the situation — not by her choice.
Lil Jon: I have no idea [about any label politics]. I just know that since it was Rodney who was the main artist, we can’t have just him in the video. I have no idea what it was, bro.
Virgo: I didn’t even know the video was going on until it was being shot. I was actually called by a friend of mine at that point who also helped me with the background vocals for that track. And he’s like, “Do you guys have a video going on?” I was like, “Nope.” And he was like, “Well, there’s a video.”
It wasn’t necessarily about Ghost Town at the time. We were traveling. I think the concept was to put out the song and to push the album, and that’s why we don’t see anyone [from the group] actually in the video singing the song. It’s just a barbecue pool party in a nice summer day. It’s not really about Ghost Town, but the song.
Lil Jon: Everything kind of just happened. It wasn’t like a real group. We never did another record. Carl produced some stuff on some of the other albums, but yeah, it wasn’t a real group. Rodney just came up with the name after… We were just recording the s**t at first and it was like, “Uh, we need a name for the group.”
“My Boo” in 2016
Dupri: [I’m excited because of] the fact that it’s popping. It’s beyond popping, it [was], like, number four on iTunes. And then people ask me a question like, “Jermaine, are you excited?” F**k yeah, I’m excited. This has never happened before.
Virgo: I knew it would play continuously just because it is good music, but how this generation has adapted it and taken it in as its own and went off with it is amazing. I just love the fact that they’re loving it and enjoying it the same as we did in 1996.
We’re in the works of getting some shows together and stuff like that: a tour over the summer and also going to collaborate on some different things. And, personally, I’m working on my project that I’ve completed, so you’re going to get a double dose of all of us.
Lil Jon: I take my hat off to [Terry] and Carl. It’s 20 years since the song came out and not many people can say [a decades-later revival] happens to them. This only kind of happens when people die. Somebody dies and then their s**t gets back on the charts. We’re blessed to still be here and to see the resurgence of the song.