oaktown’s 357 were one of hip-hop’s most exciting groups of the early 1990s. heir combination of catchy rhymes, dope fashions, and stunning choreography not only separated them from other groups like salt ‘n pepa and jj fad, who were garnering attention from top 40 radio, but 357 captivated a generation of black and brown queer boys like me and my childhood best friend robert, who often felt like the punchline in hip-hop songs. the attributes that oaktown 357 embodied would be a recipe for cross-over success. however, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, oaktown’s 357’s brand of danceable hip-hop, and unabashed sex appeal were seen as “soft” in an era that equated hip-hop credibility and talent to masculinity. 

tabatha zee king-brooks aka terrible t and suhayla sabir aka sweet LD got their start as backup dancers for mc hammer in the late 1980s. thanks in part to his spectacular live shows, terrible t and sweet LD began to stand out among fans after they were prominently featured in hammer’s “let’s get it started” (1988) and “turn this mutha out” (1989) music videos. it wasn’t long before hammer suggested the duo form a group.

dubbed oaktown’s 357 as a nod to their hometown, and the .357 magnum gun as a description of their explosive stage presence were thrust into hip-hop’s spotlight with the release “juicy gotcha krazy.” 

released in early 1990, “juicy gotcha crazy,” was accompanied by a music video that masterfully highlighted the song’s racy lyrics (by 1990 standards) and the group’s brand of high-energy dancing and dazzlingly gaudy fashion. with label-mate b angie b. on vocals.

“juicy gotcha krazy” peaked at #42 and #7 on the r&b and rap charts, respectively. an impressive showing on both charts especially during a time when women in hip-hop were still seen as novelty acts. oaktown’s 357 quickly followed up their breakthrough with the equally slammin’ “we like it,” the final single from their debut album “wild & loose.” 

by 1991, dance/pop oriented rap music had broken wide open across all radio formats thanks to the monstrous success of milli vanilli, c+c music factory, and mc hammer. this proved perfect timing for oaktown’s 357’s lead single “turn it up” from their sophomore album “fully loaded.”

released that summer, “turn it up” was accompanied by an extravagant music video that helped propel the single into the top 20 on the r&b chart. the infectious dance song also managed to reach a peak of #66 on billboard’s hot 100. this would be the last single to achieve this level of success.

sadly, by the end of 1991, with the combination of changing radio trends and the lack of adequate support from their label, the group’s sophomore album failed to produce additional hits. what proved even more disastrous for the group was their being tangled up in the backlash of mc hammer crossover success. as his popularity swiftly declined in late 1991, so did acts associated with him including all things that sounded remotely close to his dance/pop-rap sound.

much has changed since oaktown’s 357 quietly disbanded ways 30 years ago. women in hip-hop, who have always been an integral part of the genre since its inception, now dominate charts globally and command the same kind of hysteria and fan devotion often thought to be reserved for pop singers. in the last decade, hip-hop queens continue to prove that  unapologetic sexuality, femininity, and dance-oriented songs are hip-hip…peridot. 

oaktown’s 357 presence in the early 1990s may have been brief but they are an important part of hip-hop’s history. while they may not have achieved the crossover success of some of their peers, their appeal, sound, and look helped signal the dominance women in hip-hop would eventually have across all genres and mediums. 

TRUE STORY: as teens, my best friend robert and i memorized routines from most music videos that included choreography. baby, if TikTok had existed then, we’d have our own netflix show but i digress. we would perform routines at the drop of a dime at house parties, and even at a traffic stoplight. sometime in the summer of 1991, rob and i were standing on the corner waiting for the bus when a car drove up blasting “turn it up.” as the driver waited for the green light, robert and i did an impromptu performance as the driver watched and laughed.  before driving off, he said, “go ‘head” and gave us a five-dollar bill. that’s impact, baby!

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