How Black Gay Clubs Saved Eve’s ‘Tambourine’

The single barely cracked the Top 40, but more than a dozen years later continues to ring off—a legacy fueled by the fandom of Black gay men

Craig Seymour
LEVEL
Published in
8 min readAug 7, 2020

--

Photo: Al Pereira/WireImage

Eve wanted back on the charts. It had been five years since the Philly rapper’s third album, Eve-Olution, topped Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop category. In the meantime, the multiplatinum music star — born Eve Jihan Jeffers — had taken an acting detour, doing a three-year bid on a self-titled sitcom and representing for apple juice fiends everywhere in the 2002 movie Barbershop.

But by 2007, she was itching to reclaim her place as hip-hop’s much-beloved “pitbull in a skirt.” When she linked up with longtime producer/friend Swizz Beatz for the album’s first single “Tambourine,” the result combined big-time boasts (“E-V-E come through in the Masera(ti)/ Doing it big like I live in the Taj Mahal”) with an urgent track that sampled “Blow Your Whistle,” a 1974 hit by the Soul Searchers, led by go-go legend Chuck Brown.

Her record label had big plans for the single. Though Eve had been with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records, distributed through Interscope, she moved to another Universal Music subsidiary, Geffen Records, for this particular project. Geffen chairperson Ron Fair planned to give Eve’s fourth album, titled Here I Am, special attention. “We put a new staff in place to handle records in the urban area, and Eve is the first of the new priorities,” Fair told Billboard.

Key to the song’s launch was the music video.

Geffen chose a relative newcomer to direct the clip—one who’d only done about a dozen videos, though four were with Beyoncé (“Green Light,” “Kitty Kat,” “Suga Mama,” and “Upgrade U”). Her name was Melina Matsoukas, and she’d go on to make Rihanna barf ribbons…

--

--