The Ladies Of Rap Group J.J. Fad Are Still As Super-Sonic As Ever

When rap first came on the musical scene, the genre was mostly dominated by men. But that all changed when J.J. Fad entered the arena. The female rap group (consisting of members Juana Burns, Dana Birks, and later Michelle Franklin) were signed to Ruthless Records, where they became the first female artists to go platinum on the label as well as, ahem, snag a Grammy nomination. They re-recorded and released their single, “Supersonic” and the rest, they say, is musical history. Today, Juana, Dana, and Michelle are as busy as ever, having seen a resurgence in the popularity of their hit song (it’s been sampled in everything from the 2020 movie Sonic the Hedgehog to Fergie’s song “Fergalicious.”)

Now mothers (and grandmothers!), MC J.B., Baby-D, and Sassy C. are continuing to celebrate the success of “Supersonic” as it approaches its 35th anniversary. Still touring, the trio are as close as ever (they refer to each other as “sisters’), whether they’re performing at a sold-out show halfway across the world or just hanging out together at a backyard BBQ. (Just don’t ask them to sing at it, though.)

Ladies, is it true that the song “Supersonic” was on the B side of the record, “Anotha Ho”?

Juana: It started out on the B side, because when we first came on the scene, we thought that dissing other rappers would be a way for us to get noticed. “Oh my God, did you hear what she said about this one or that one?!” And that was the way to get ahead.

Baby D: Everybody was dissing everybody back then.

Juana: We had the brilliant idea of flipping it over at a club and the rest is history.

And you rerecorded it when Michelle came on, in 1988. Could you ever have imagined the longevity of Supersonic?

Juana: It’s crazy because people who weren’t even born yet know the song. It’s incredible because people our age are introducing it to their kids. We have people who come up to us and say, “My daughter loves your song!” and I’ll ask how old their child is, and they say, “Six!” [laughs]

Baby D: We do see some younger kids at our concerts.

Michelle: One thing that was amazing was when we went to the Philippines. There was this little girl who was so beautiful, and she knew every word. And she didn’t even speak English.

Does it ever get old performing “Supersonic”?

Michelle: Yes, in some cases, like at the family BBQs! [laughs] “For the 900th time, can you do it?” and I’m like, “Nooo.”

Juana: We’re off today; this is our family day.

Michelle: So no, it doesn’t get old when we’re performing, but for the family BBQs, sometimes yes. [laughs]

Baby D: There’s definitely a time and a place.

I’ve seen several J.J. Fad shows and it just looks like you guys are having fun. What do you attribute that spark on the stage to?

Juana: First of all, we enjoy the music, and we love our song, if we do say so ourselves! And we like being around each other, so the fact that we can be on the stage together and interact with each other as strong as our friendships are, makes it so much better and I think that translates.

That says a lot because you might have those moments where you’re like, “I don’t want to be next to you.”

Juana: Oh, we’ve had those times, too! It’ll be like, “I’m not even going to her side of the stage!” It hasn’t happened a lot, fortunately.

Now, who were your inspirations growing up? Who were you listening to?

Baby D: When I was growing up, my mom always said, “She’s going to be the jewel,” so when I was young, like 4-years-old, at the family get togethers, she would say, “Sing the song! Sing the song!” And it was always “Sara Smile.” My mom had me sing that for every family function there was! Growing up, we listened to everything and later on, I was like, “This is old music.” It started listening to Run-DMC, Master Flash, and I was able to hear my own stuff, the music that I loved. I was always into talent shows, so my love for music is here. I am hip hop; I am music.

Michelle: For me, it was a lot of R&B. I loved Jodeci and Keith Sweat.

Juana: I think the early influences for me were Run-DMC, Public Enemy, etc. The crazy thing was when we were first starting and we heard these artists and then about a year later, we were on tour with all of them which was crazy because those were our idols. And the fact that they took us under their wings — these newbies, these girls at 16 and 18— and protect us on tour and make sure that we were okay was really an amazing experience.

What was it like for you creating such groundbreaking music being females and being so young?

Baby D: At the time, it was all for fun. We weren’t thinking about 30, 40 years later. We just wanted to get up there and have fun.

As it should be. You’re not thinking about being Grammy-nominated — and you were!

All 3: Yes!

Juana: People would ask if we were thinking about the money and we said, “Nope.” It was the furthest thing from our heads. It was just an added perk. The main reason for us to do this was just the love of music, not to get rich.

Michelle: It’s always been about our friendship. Even now, when we have the opportunity to get together, we love it.

I’m assuming the industry has changed since when you guys started, so what would you say to up and coming artists?

Baby D: Just be original to yourself and don’t let anybody take control or take away what you have to say. It’s in your heart and if this is how you want to be, don’t do what someone else tells you to do.

Michelle: A lot of these young girls think, “Let me show my body and do this,” and if that’s you, then for sure, do you. I don’t want to come at you like that. But I don’t always feel like it’s sincere. I think a lot of times they’re doing that to be noticed. If you’re about something, when you enter the room, that speaks for itself. If not, you have to prance and say, “Hey, look at me.” But if you’re feeling your vibe, they’re already looking at you.

Yes, because in the “Supersonic” video, you’re not really wearing anything revealing.

Juana: Yes, we were fully dressed. And we did wear the athletic wear, like the crop tops, because it was more like working out wear, which was in at the time. But I don’t feel like it was sexy. We would wear legwarmers and scrunch them down. We were all about the 80s!

We were talking earlier about creating new music. How do you honor the roots of J.J. Fad and yet still stay true to yourselves and where you are in life now?

Juana: I think that’s why it’s taken us so long to put out new music. It’s very hard to come back and know where you fit in. Because your fan base wants one thing, but your new people want something different. So it’s hard to decipher where you fit in and what direction you want to go in. Do you want to stay the same, or do you want to move on? There are so many aspects to creating new music and we’ve talked about it. We do want to do new music but it’s just hard for us to decide where our lane is. We’d like to do a feature on someone else’s track first, to test the waters, and then take off from that point.

Now, you stepped away from music for a while to raise your families.

Juana: After 1991, we did our second album which didn’t fare as well as the first one. So we figured that was a good opportunity for us to step away. A lot of people thought that we broke up, but we never did. We stepped away to start our families and be home with our kids. I think that was smart of us and I’m glad we did take the time to do that because you never want to be away from your kids to go on tour especially during those formative years.

Baby D: They’ll say, “You were never there,” or “You didn’t come to this,” and you never want to hear that. And the thing is, you want to be there for those things. They are the priority.

Right, you don’t want them to feel like you were never around.

Juana: Oh shoot, my kids feel that way right now! My kid is having a big celebration and she’s like, “Mom, you should really be here,” and I’m like, “I have a show,” and she said, “But it’s a family thing.” So it happens even now — and she’s 30! I’m like, “Look girl, you’ll get over it.” [laughs] Kids always try to get that guilt on you.

Michelle: No matter what age they are. I have 4 kids, and they range in age from 23-38. They are spread out, but it works. My daughter has 3 boys.

So you’re a grandma!

Michelle: Yes, I am.

What about you, Juana?

Juana: Dana and I were just trying to figure out our kids’ ages. [laughs]

Michelle: I had to sit for a second and really think about it, too!

Juana: Baby D and I have kids the same age, and she couldn’t even tell me! I also have four kids, four girls. And they are 21-32. My oldest daughter has a son and she’s pregnant now.

Baby D: I have four as well. My oldest is…30? I want to say 30. [laughs] Then I have a 26, a 21, and my baby, my boy, is 19.

Are you also a grandma?

Baby D: Woo, girl, don’t!

Juana: She’s the super grandma.

Baby D: I’m a Noona. They call it Noona. I got the name Noona because growing up, my nickname was Noo, so Noonooh, Noona, so it’s a little twist on it. But I do have 7 grandchildren.

Juana: I think our kids and our grandkids keep us young.

Baby D: Yes, it was like, always running here, always running there, Momma This, Momma That, Momma Cab! Momma say mama sa mama coosa! All day! [laughs]

Michelle: But I want my kids and grandkids to know that they always have a place, that they have roots. They can come over — but only for a little bit.

Juana: Dana’s oldest child is my goddaughter, and my oldest daughter is her godchild. Since we were so young in our lives when we started, we grew up together. They are my sisters.

Michelle: And our kids feel like that.

Now that you’re grandmas (and a Noona), does performing take on a new meaning?

Michelle: My kids were around when we were out there. So when we started doing shows again, it was weird to them. Now that they’re older, it’s different. I was FaceTiming with them earlier and they were getting excited, too. It’s really come full circle.

Juana: They’re shocked when they come to our shows. They’re like, “My God, you have to take pictures for like an hour!” They’re surprised that their mom, who was a celebrity way back when, still can go onstage and have people want to take pictures with us. They don’t expect that.

Baby D: Yes, because when I’m at home, I’m Mom, but when we’re doing a show, they’re like, “That’s my mom right there!” Even my grandchildren are like, “There’s Noona!”

What would you say is the reason why it works with you guys, and it has sustained all these years?

Juana: This is the favorite thing I’ve said in an interview, so I’m going to say it in every single interview! [laughs] First and foremost, we’re all Christians. We feel that we were brought together for a reason. So how dare us tear apart what God put together? That’s the main thing; we don’t feel we have a right to destroy something that was divinely put together. And because we’re all believers, we stay true to that.

Michelle: We just like being together. When we’re on the stage, that’s our happy place. We get to travel and hang out together. And I love that we get to see people we haven’t seen in years.

Juana: We love these concerts because we love the music — it’s our music! It was our 35th anniversary of “Supersonic” coming out.

Baby D: It truly is a blessing. Sticking together and staying together through the trials and tribulations and right back there together.

Michelle: And it’s more than that. It’s all intertwined; it’s the music, the memories, and our families, too. And together, it’s pretty wonderful.

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