The Origin of a Sound

Best of Virginia 2016: Celebrating the music of the Swing Mob collective and Virginia’s pioneering hip hop artists.

Timbaland and Terrence Howard during the Empire series premiere event VIP party at the W Hotel in Hollywood.

In the early 1990s, a house full of transplants from Hampton Roads living just outside New York City in Hackensack, New Jersey, hatched a musical style that nearly 40 years later, still shapes the pop music industry, earning the artists a raft of Grammy’s and selling millions of records.

Their road to stardom started one night backstage at a 1991 Jodeci concert in Portsmouth. Famously, while the R&B group was touring through Virginia, several aspiring musicians, among them Melissa “Missy” Elliot and Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley, snuck backstage, where they performed a cappella versions of Jodeci songs for the group’s founder, DeVante Swing, himself a native of Hampton.

Swing signed them to his record label, Swing Mob, and moved them to Hackensack. There, a rotating cast of more than 20 writers, musicians and producers, many from the Hampton Roads area, lived in a two-story house, among them Missy Elliot (the all-time best-selling female rap artist), Timbaland (who, along with his own albums and music, has won Grammys for his production work with both Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé), R&B singer Ginuwine, rappers Tweet, Playa and more. In Dan Kimpel’s book How They Made It: True Stories of How Music’s Biggest Stars Went from Start to Stardom, Elliot remembers that though Swing used to keep the artists semi-secluded in the house, not allowing them to listen to the radio or other recent popular music, the isolation forced them to be original—the sound they created remains an important influence in music production today.

The Swing Mob label disbanded in 1995 as members moved on to pursue their own projects, but the collective is just one example of the star talent to come from Hampton Roads. The area is also home to star hip-hop artists like megastar Pharrell Williams (and his production group the Neptunes), Pusha T, D’Angelo and Chris Brown.

Below, click through the gallery for a playlist of songs from former Swing Mob members.


See all of our Best of Virginia 2016 winners here!

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