Studio Campfire Stories: “Playing Your Game, Baby” (feat. Anthony David)

Music is pretty funny….. Scratch that. Music is hilarious – Particularly when it comes to its creation. I’d like to consider myself a free thinker when it comes to making music mostly because it eliminates any boundaries, but also because music can be so unpredictable… ALL the time. Being that this is the last SCS for …just visiting three, it’s only right that this one is probably the most interesting. So with that being said, I will begin the story by saying that “Playing Your Game, Baby” was chosen and re-created for none other than one of my favorite emcees of all-time (in my “Top 5″ EASILY)… Tariq Trotter a/k/a Black Thought. Rewind back to 2009 when Phonte was working with The Roots on the How I Got Over album… He gave me a call after the work was finished and told me how big of a fan Black Thought was of our Zo! & Tigallo Love the 80′s album AND said that he was wanting to get on something in the future… I damn near dropped the phone. All I could manage to do or say was the brilliant, “WORD?!” But yeah, I was ready to run laps around Maryland… YES, the state. So, about a year or so later at the Roots Picnic in June of 2010, I was there with The Foreign Exchange relaxing, taking part in some good food and helluva jokes before going on stage to perform. Well, the next you know, Black Thought walked up to our table. We met and talked just a little bit after Phonte introduced everybody and after telling him that I was a huge fan he said, “I’ve gotta get up on one of your joints…”  *insert silence here* I was pretty proud of myself at the way I played it off… Because I FELT like saying, “OH SHIT! LET’S WORK TOMORROW THEN!!” …..But, I didn’t. We exchanged info and kept it moving…………. And I was hyped up about it, hell I can’t lie. Been listening to this brotha since ’93/’94 I had a right to be…!! Since SunStorm was already completed and manufactured by that time, the question then became, “Ok, HOW should we work? What would be the best situation?” 

Fast forward to the top of 2011….. …just visiting three was in the middle of production and Phonte put Black Thought’s name out there as someone we should work with on the album. BET! Let’s do that!! Phonte hit him up, he said he was down… It was looking great. The only issue was…. What the hell song are we gonna have him sing?!?!!! A month went by……….. Two months………. We would go back to the conversation every now and then to see if there were ANY new ideas. There were a couple of joints in mind including one by uhh…. J.B. (not James Brown). Finally, a week or so after that conversation.. Phonte and I got back on the phone to decide once and for all what Tariq would be singing. Once again, I went to my trusty laptop and started scrolling through my iTunes selections. To be honest with you, I cannot remember who suggested Barry White… But I do remember picking the song “Playing Your Game, Baby” out directly from my iTunes library. From that, Phonte gave me the, “I’m wit that” and we moved forward in sending it and the lyrics through to Thought… In the meantime, I went in the studio to attempt to recreate this damn masterpiece of a song. Let me tell y’all something… The bond that me and “Playing Your Game, Baby” have formed over the years going all the way back to my days as a child is unbreakable. When Black Moon sampled it for the “I Got Cha Opin (Remix)” in ’94, I LOVED the joint. I even felt it when Ill Al Skratch used it for “Where My Homiez?” It’s just something about the big orchestration over that simplistic GROOVE. And one thing that I never realized until Anthony David and I talked about it later on was how simple Barry’s writing and vocals were. There was ONE vocal track, no adlibs, no harmonies… Not saying that this formula works all the time, but for this song it was a perfect compliment to what was going on musically.

Being that this song is another one of my personal favorites, I took great pride in wanting to do it correctly and do it some justice. I knew that the first things I thought about when someone talks about “Playing Your Game, Baby” are how crispy and pronounced the drums are and that simple but nasty and well-placed bassline. So that’s what I recorded first… I made sure the drums that I programmed were close to the original and I played the hi-hat out live. Once that was laid, I grabbed the bass guitar and and recorded it keeping it close to the original but adding a couple of my own licks here and there. The rhodes piece followed and then…. The strings. Man, man, MAN. That was a piece that would make or break the song. If the strings weren’t right, I would have scrapped the entire song without hesitation. BUT, they actually met my own skeptic ass approval and that particular draft was sent over to Black Thought to record to. Soon after we sent the music off, the horns were added. When I heard those horns on the track for the first time, I damn near turned my own computer over. They sounded GREAT!!! Now, we ran into trouble at this point because the brotha Tariq Trotter is BUSY AS ALL HELL. I don’t know if the dude ever stops going… He’s on constantly on the road and appearing on the Jimmy Fallon Show with The Roots, in the studio recording, popping up at spots performing internationally…. With that type of schedule, I was patient and understanding. If he couldn’t record it, not a problem at all – There will be time to work on something else in the future, I was definitely sure of that. But as we inched closer to the end of production for the album and its deadline, we had to figure something out. Who out here is gonna sing…. No, no, no… who out here is gonna SAING Barry White?! I mentioned Anthony David one time… Phonte and I talked about it briefly and let it sit for about a week or more. Finally, Phonte hit up A.D. and put him on alert… “Ayo, we may need you to come through and knock this Barry White joint out for the new album, you down to do it just in case?” He said he was down… So the music and the lyrics were sent to him. If I remember correctly, I think he was on the road doing some shows on the East Coast when he received the files. He said that once he got back home, he’d take care of it. Aaaaand just a few days later, I had an email with a file labeled “Playing Your Game AD Vox” ready to be downloaded. I damn near jumped outta my seat because these vocals were the LAST things needed for the album. I downloaded it and quickly played it in iTunes… I wasn’t patient enough to listen through the minute and a half long instrumental piece in the beginning, I scrolled right to the vocals and waited………… As SOON as I heard that first bar I said to myself… but outloud, “Maaaaan THIS dude is WHYLIN!” Ok, ok, ok…. He’s got the verse part down. NOW, let’s see what it’s lookin’ like when this hook comes in when Barry raises his voice and really let’s the girl know what’s on his mind…. *the hook comes and I hear Anthony David say* “Ya PLAYIN’ A GAAAAAME!!! IT’S SO PLAAAAAIN!!” And then the END of the hook when he hit the, “Nobody but YOOOOOUUUUUUUU AAAAAND MEEEEEEEE!!” ….Maaaaaaaaaaan, you would have thought a Detroit team had won a World Championship the way I was acting after hearing that – because without even hearing the rest of the song, I knew he had nailed it. To have come through in such a huge way, the respect I already HAD for the brotha tripled… And to this day, he and I have never even met face-to-face. Crazy, right?

I think with this song being one of the more familiar selections on the album along with the fact that it vamped out a little longer at the end musically, it was the perfect closing track. As I said at the beginning, music is totally unpredictable, but I’m extremely happy with how things turned out in the long run as I couldn’t have asked for better performances. I can’t wait to get up with everyone again for the next album….