What Ever Happened to: Playa

I’ve never been a man to hold back my opinions and I’ll gladly unleash another:

Playa is the most underrated collection of R&B talent in the modern era. Bar none. And I’m not just saying that because their name happens to be my catchphrase.

I’m sure you remember “Cheers 2 U,” but what else did they contribute? I’m glad you asked – they helped craft some of the best songs of the late 90s-early 00s. I’ll be happy to remind you.

Jawaan Peacock (Smokey), Benjamin Bush (Black) and Stephen Garrett (Static) met in the late 1980s and it didn’t take long to realize that they shared a common musical bond. The boys from Louisville, Ky., originally called their collaboration A Touch of Class. Thankfully that didn’t last long, probably because it sounds like windshield cleaner.

The trio eventually met up with DeVante from Jodeci, who saw dollar signs and signed them to his Swing Mob label. The story of Swing Mob continues to baffle me to this day – DeVante was sitting on a gold mind. Look at this lineup: Missy Elliott, Timbaland & Magoo, Ginuwine, Tweet – DeVante could have had milked that golden cow for years. Even though Playa contributed to Jodeci’s 1995 album The Show, The After Party, The Hotel, they soon headed off to greener pastures with the remaining all-stars.

When Missy and Timbaland began to conquer both hip-hop and R&B in the latter half of the 90s, Playa was right there, contributing to the success. Ginuwine’s first hit, “Pony,” for instance, was the brainchild of Static.

Of course, the boys weren’t content with just racking up production credits on other folks’ albums. They lent their vocals to many of Timbaland’s early hits, including “Luv 2 Luv U,” Nicole Wray’s “Eyes Better Not Wander” and “Raise Your Frown” and, oh yes, even my man Keith Sweat’s “Love Jones.”

Probably their most promising early track was the haunting “Birthday” on Timbaland’s 1998 Tim’s Bio: Life from Da Bassment. Their harmonizing will put chills down your spine.

1998 was also the year of Playa’s debut, Cheers 2 U. The first singles “Don’t Stop The Music” and album teaser “I Gotta Know” were solid but didn’t really catch fire. The title track, however, turned heads, becoming a top 10 R&B hit and reaching gold status. I’ll never forget being in the campus bowling alley when that song came over the speakers – the crowd went NUTS. This song is still in frequent rotation in the Eddmobile.

The success of the single and glowing album reviews all but guaranteed a long and successful career for the trio. Sadly, Playa quickly vanished from the limelight. The planned follow-up album, Never Too Later, was shelved in 2003 and let me tell you, that’s a travesty. I lived in Louisville around that time and the title track received frequent radio play. Do yourself a favor and listen to it right now. It might be the best song they ever recorded. A few years ago, a compilation of unreleased Playa tracks was released, including cuts from the shelved album. “Don’t Be A Stranger” was one of the standouts. The trio embarked on solo careers soon after the Never Too Later disappointment.

Smokey, now known as Smoke E. Digglera, has been extremely prolific, dropping albums left and right since 2006. His voice is as polished as ever. Drake even sampled one of his tracks on his latest album. Black, aka, Digital Black, has been a bit more low-key, but still releases material. The R&Street mixtape produced “If You Don’t Call,” my favorite post-Playa song from Black. And about a year ago, there was talk about an album of ballads.

Static Major tragically died in 2008 following a medical procedure but not before leaving an indelible mark on R&B music. Static had a hand in nearly all of Aaliyah’s hits late in her career, including “Try Again,” “Rock The Boat,” and practically the entirety of her final, self-titled album. He also was featured on Lil Wayne’s blockbuster Grammy-winning single “Lollipop.” I have no doubt that Static would be a huge solo star today simply from the success of that song. Tons of tracks from Static’s solo album Suppertime have been floating around for years but we’ve yet to see an official release. The most notable is probably “4 A Long Time,” but I’m probably just saying that because it sounds like an old Keith Sweat cut.

A few years ago, my wife wrote a fantastic career retrospective on Static Major’s life, told from the mouths of his family and friends. She says it’s the hardest story she’s ever written. I also think it’s the best thing she’s ever written.

Should They Come Back?: It would be really hard to replicate Playa’s magic without Static. Still, I wouldn’t mind major-label solo albums from Smoke and Black. Team ’em with Timbaland and we could relive 1998 all over again. They’re too good to be lost in the waves of time.



  1. Thanks for the shout out, babe. I completely agree with you. Playa is truly underrated and Static would be a superstar right now if he were still alive. After writing that story about him I felt like I knew him, even though we never met. I still get sad when I hear his voice or anything he produced.

    • Thank you so much for this i have loved Static for so long and i have these songs stuck in my head way in 2021 from the album that dropped my graduating year of 98′! I miss Static so much and im glad I now have some new music of his i haven’t heard and a new article to read on him! Yall made my entire year with this God bought me here for a reason THANKS A BUNCH

  2. Greetings,
    Thank you for writing such a great article, about one of many overlooked R&B talents. This group came out when I was finishing high school, and there vibe was “right on time” without being over the top. The feel of their compositions could easily grab the attention of a few generations with the melodies, soulful/gospel influenced tones and riffs, lyrical content, and the many artistic contributions to be identified. I learned more in this article about the group, then I had in all of my ranting and raving with fellow Playa fans from MD to GA!

    Much Respect for putting together an article that does this group some justice, and edu-tains the People!

  3. I knew all the group members very well, went to Central High with J.Peacock, Ben was always around and played high school football against Lil Steve as he attended Waggner High yeah most underrated group ever that 1998 album is a classic and when I worked as a manager for Kroger I would see them a lot also in the clubs from 1998 to 2004 before I moved to Miami. STEVE was a great producer,I would like to see the others hook up with Timberland maybe make appearances on hit show Empire I’m proud of my KY homeboys Louisville raised.

  4. Thank you for this incredible article. Playa was a major influence to me growing up. As I was singing in groups and choirs…I learned harmony from these 3 guys and basically learned the art of vocals, and they continue to be heard in my music because they are there right with me when I’m singing. I pray for these guys and for static’s family. I had the opportunity to chop it up with Smokey years ago, and gave him some encouragement as well. I support Black and Smoke and everything they put out I purchase cause this kind of harmony and respect for the spiritual elements of singing is unheard of. Playa “Cheers 2 U” album cannot be touched or replicated. Static lives on through people like me who have learned from what he taught us…songwriting, production, and harmony…word up

  5. Oh i loved Playa,i had cd.I liked all the collabo. on that album.Was lookn around on the internet for the group and discovered what happened to Static ,i was so heartbroken,can they come up something to bring that sound back please.Rest in peace Static ,so underrated.We love you Playa.

  6. Came across your article because this album is Still on rotation (listening to it right now actually) and I just google “what happened to playa” šŸ™‚ Soooo underrated. I have a hard time listening to just one song – it’s always the whole album all the way through. thanks for featuring them!

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