• Bryon Harris

Coast 2 Coast Feat The Fantastic Gems - 'What's Going On' (Marvin Gaye)

Review by Abby Kenna & Staff


Coast 2 Coast feat. The Fantastic Gems’ cover of What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye is a poignant, powerful statement. Building upon the roots of a pivotal song, this musical group has created a rousing work of art, bound to open listener’s eyes to the unfortunate relevance and weight of What’s Going On.


This version of What’s Going On mirrors the form of the original, but there is a newfound sense of determination and emotion in the colorful arrangement and soaring vocals of Coast 2 Coast and The Fantastic Gems. The expressive ad libs and richness of the vocal delivery have a tangible edge of motivation, that motive of which becoming clear as the musical group begins to add their own spin on this classic.


Although most prominently known for its iconic Motown sound and influence on popular music in the 1970s, What’s Going On was inspired by an incident of police brutality. Obie Benson of the Four Tops witnessed this violent act in Berkeley, CA, and relayed his dismay for the injustice to his friend, songwriter Al Cleveland, who then composed What’s Going On. Eventually it fell in the lap of Marvin Gaye, who tailored the song to his own musical style and experiences with similar social injustices. Coast 2 Coast feat. The Fantastic Gems expanded on the roots of What’s Going On in their version, drawing necessary attention to the Black Americans whose lives were taken in recent incidents of police brutality. It demands acknowledgement of these horrors, emphasizing the message of the song.


Layering over the first post-chorus, a poignant and purposeful voice begins to read the names of Black Americans whose lives have been stolen by police brutality. The voice resonates with a multitude of emotions, flickering with determination, grief, exhaustion, and frustration all at once as it contrasts the bright textures of the arrangement. This juxtaposition further emphasizes the weight of the song’s message, letting the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, George Floyd, and more ring out and sink into the hearts of listeners.

This interpretation of What’s Going On is not an anthem for strength, nor the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole: it’s a wake up call. It, quite literally, forces you to question the world we live in and think: “What is going on?” Coast 2 Coast and The Fantastic Gems have encapsulated the heart of a movement in this piece, both encouraging listeners to rethink their perspectives and motivating allies to continue fighting for change.

About Coast 2 Coast Back in 1968, at Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, a music group called The Fantastic Gems was born. After graduation, the talented musicians went off to college, the military, and new careers. Years later, two of the original members reformed in Washington D.C. as "Coast2Coast" and began recording and performing from 1986 to 1990. In 2016, The Fantastic Gems got back together to fulfill a promise they made to each other when they were young students in New Jersey. The result of their reunion was the release of The New Old Skool. The project took three years from conception to completion. The album is a tribute to their musical roots, and was made in recognition of the community who encouraged, supported and shaped their musical spirit. The New Old Skool features 11 great songs that fans of R & B,Gospel, Pop, and Jazz will love. Coast 2 Coast rerecorded the Donny Hathaway version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" in hopes that we inspire a new generation to use our music and create their own positive video asking the question, "What's Going On" ?


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