Studio Campfire Stories: The "SunStorm" Edition – "Be Your Man" and "Free Your Mind"

5. Be Your Man (feat Darien Brockington)
Musically, the instrumental for “Be Your Man” was one of those joints that just kinda came to me. I vividly remember arranging the drum track first because at the time my intention was to lay something slower and also very simple… So I laid a simple ‘one-two’ or ‘march’ pattern for the drums at first. But in playing around with the pattern a little more, I ended up bringing the rimshot in simply for the additional nod factor and purposely left the hi-hat out (I actually experimented with an eighth note hi-hat pattern but hated how it sounded, it didn’t work at all). The chord progression was something that I worked out through playing around on the keys, it wasn’t planned… It was definitely a feeling, and I liked how it moved – pretty, but contrastingly dark. Once the progression was found and practiced, I played the chord stabs and allowed them to act as the eighth-note hi-hat rhythm instead of using an actual hi-hat. The live bass served as the glue for the music and the spacey sounding pad was the additional ‘candy’ and it was to my liking… still simple and now more mysterious. Once I sent this piece to Phonte and we got on the phone about it, he already had in his head that D. Brock was the man for the job, which completely worked since at that point Brock didn’t have a feature on the album yet.

Now, I wasn’t there for the writing process and recording session that took place for “Be Your Man” but according to Phonte, he and Darien were able to return to their circa 2003-2004 writing form by locking themselves in the studio for a night and knocking out a masterpiece. I mean if you listen, the vocal arrangement and harmonies are vintage Darien and Phonte. When he told me that, my mind immediately went to their writing efforts for FE’s “Come Around.” Understanding how much I dig that song, it made me proud beyond words as a producer to have had a hand in bringing Phonte and Darien Brockington back to their co-writing comfort zone they had abandoned for a few years. Phonte sent the the joint attached to a message that simply read, “Hit me back when you check this.” Of course, once I got the song back with D’s vocals on it… I hit Phonte back with the ever-so-popular, “The-hell-were-y’all-DOING-in-the-studio?!-DAMN!!” phone call.

6. Free Your Mind (feat. Lady Alma)
Lady Alma and I have a history that dates back to the good ole MySpace days. We would correspond off and on as early as 2005, always saying that we should be getting together to work on something soon… Fast forward to September 2009, she happened to have a gig in D.C. and The ELs were the band that was set to back her up for it. We had a rehearsal scheduled up at Rock Creek Academy (the school where I teach music) and while we were getting set up and running through a couple of her joints, Alma happened to be running pretty late. Now, the primary reason why I knew we would get along so well was pretty simple. For the entire duration of our rehearsal, I was lacing her with direct and indirect jokes about being so late… Because in my slightly twisted opinion, if I can joke with you and on you at a rehearsal even when we first meet, then you’re alright with me – that is definitely a gauge that I utilize. And low and behold ever since that day of rehearsal, we’ve been good friends.

On top of being a great person… Lady Alma can SAING …YES… SAING, with an “I”. This was extremely evident once we hit that stage with her the following night at Station 9 in D.C. The band consisted of Biscuit on the drums, Omar Hunter on bass, myself on keys, and Lady A on vocals, jokes, ackkin a fool and entertainment. She was all over that space during her performance all while singing her ASS off. I remember calling Phonte sometime that week and telling him that I needed to get her to do something for the album. As a matter of fact, Alma and I talked that weekend and I told her that I would construct something especially for her that would be intended for SunStorm. Since I had a drum pattern in my head already at that time, it didn’t take too much longer to put the music together for her. After recording it, I sent it through to Phonte just to get another opinion on it, and sent it to Lady Alma – We actually started tweeting each other about my sending the song to her. I remember her calling me and saying that I was ADD because of all of the different changes contained in the piece. LOL Once she recorded the joint and sent is back to me, I was thoroughly satisfied and she was just as humble as anyone I’ve ever worked with. After sending the draft version of the song, she was texting me asking my opinion… almost nervously! I got her on the phone and assured her that she had absolutely NOTHING to worry about, I mean damn… vocally, she showed no mercy on that song. Another thing that I LOVE about her performance on the song is that the first time I heard it, I said to myself… “Welp, that’s Lady Alma.” Meaning, her personality is all spilling over in this joint… “Let me lay it back a lil bit…” <— THAT’S Alma. “Plus I know you wanna hear a little bit of this, Zo”…then she just starts scatting. Word? THAT’S Alma! I was able to vividly picture her performing this song live as I was listening to it – now that’s a great performance.

Once again, as a producer I felt accomplished because she stated that the track really made her work (hence the “Zo…. I’ma get you for this one” line in the song). It is an awesome feeling to be able to stretch artists’ abilities who are already experienced and extremely talented with my music…

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