By the mid-1990s, hip-hop was firmly a part of popular music. So, too, was the idea to combine hip-hop with pop and R&B. But in 1995, only one artist dared to be both halves of the same whole - and Montell Jordan earned a No. 1 hit for his trouble, the party anthem "This is How We Do It."
Born and raised in South Central L.A., the towering Jordan (six feet, eight inches) came up in the same scene as hip-hop stars like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. But his path was different - rather than succumb to inner city pressures, he stayed on the straight and narrow, earning a pre-law degree from Pepperdine University. But he loved and respected what the neighborhood meant, not only to him but his old friends.
"I had some good times growing up here," he told Extra. "And if people get a chance to see that, maybe they can see South Central Los Angeles for more than just riots."
While hip-hop guest verses were commonplace on R&B records - that same year, Mariah Carey remixed her chart-topper "Fantasy" with an appearance from Ol' Dirty Bastard of Wu-Tang Clan - Jordan was keen to do both. His smooth, clear voice fit well over rhythmic verses as well as catchy melodies, and "This is How We Do It" - an ode to the upbeat, party life of the 'hood based on the beat from Slick Rick's "Children's Story" - featured both in equal measure.
”People have said, ‘Why don’t you save that singing s—. That’s not really hip-hop,”’ he told Entertainment Weekly. ”And some say adding rap lyrics to a song isn’t really R&B. If that’s the case, then what the hell was Lionel [Richie] doing when he was talking over tracks like ‘Easy’?”
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Critics quickly shut up when "This is How We Do It" became hip-hop label Def Jam's first straight-up R&B hit. The track quickly rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1995, staying at No. 1 for seven consecutive weeks. It also ranked No. 10 on the magazine's year-end list of top singles and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
Jordan kept notching pop hits, including the Top 10s "Let's Ride" in 1998 and "Get It On Tonite" in 1999. But his most important work was to come: in 2010, he transitioned from full-time musician to ministry. Seven years later, he emerged with two new books: a memoir, Becoming Unfamous, and a spiritual self-help marriage guide with his wife Kristen titled - what else? - This is How We Do It! Making Your Marriage a Masterpeace.