I have put together a collection of SunStorm reviews via news publications and all things net… I am really excited with the way the album has gotten out here this time around. This is an entry that I will continue to update as I come upon more links. If you happen to see something that I have missed… feel free to let me know about it…
#62 on the Billboard New Artist Chart
#154 on the Billboard Independent Chart
11. All Is Well With Love (feat. Chantae Cann)
Before I even begin this story, just understand that there is always one… No matter what album you work on, there is always one joint that is just a pain in the ass to complete. Welp, ladies and gentlemen… Allow me to introduce you all to one of my most beloved tracks, “All Is Well With Love!”
I recorded the original chord progression for this song at the tail end of 2009, it was a couple of days after Christmas to be exact… December 28th, 2009 (I’m great with numbers and dates, what can I say). Upon hearing it and talking about it, the first idea that Phonte and I had was having someone sing the joint in a different language – in this case, Portuguese. Phonte threw a couple of names my way that I wasn’t quite familiar with, but in trusting his judgment I was like, “I’m widdit.” It turns out that a couple months later he discovered that he had a direct contact with one of the artists that we wanted to sing on the song. We reached out to the artist’s assistant who responded by saying that she was swamped and would not be able to record the song… BUT, they wanted a copy of the song to listen to. Ummm…. that would be a “hell” and a “no.” Not too long after that, another female vocalist was suggested to us and… uhhhh, quite simply just did not work out…. A month and a half later, a musical friend of Phonte’s suggested we check into a friend of hers who she thought would be perfect for the song. Phonte hit me up, told me about her and sent me an mp3 of her work and her vocal ability was absolutely ridiculous… she was saingin’ that damn song… in Spanish. We were both impressed and ended up reaching out to her via email. A few days went by, and there was no response at all and finally after a week, we pretty much considered that attempt to be a wash. A good friend of mine and talented vocalist suggested that I try his vocal coach – a jazz vocalist who he said occasionally sings in different languages. He put us in contact via the good ole message inbox on Facebook… Once again, a few days went by…. a week…. two weeks and I heard nothing back. So if my math is correct, that would make FOUR failed female vocalist attempts!! Y’all exhausted yet? Now at this point, we were damn near close to putting the APB out on Twitter like, “Who sings or know someone who can saing in Portuguese?!” Not sure what would have happened as a result, but we were at our wits end. The song was truly in jeopardy of either getting scrapped or just absolutely reworked into something totally different. Just when we thought it was the end of road in regards to finding vocalists, up steps Atlanta-based Chantae Cann. Phonte hit me up one day and told me about her and sent me an accompanying .mp3 so that I could hear what she sounded like. I opened the inbox to find the Jaspecs joint “Find My Way To Love” from their The Polkadotted Stripe album. Now I was familiar with Jaspects as my brova Asheru had worked with them in the past… But I did not know who Chantae was, until I double clicked that mp3……
That VOICE…. It was so different… commanding, full …and sexy. It was exactly what we needed for this joint (tentatively titled “6/4” because that is the time signature it’s written in… Matter of fact, there are some stores online who actually have this song listed as just that, “6/4”). But this time, I made sure not to fall too much in love with her voice just yet… she still had to agree to sing first! Phonte spoke to her and locked in a date for studio time…THAT’S when I started to get hyped up about it.
Since the vocalist was put in place, I had to rework the music piece. The problem I encountered was that for WHATEVER reason I did not record the original composition to a metronome or a click-track – meaning: I recorded it “free form,” which means my speed or tempo could have easily swayed fairly noticeably in some spots. So when I sent the track to my brovah Biscuit to record his live drums on, he had no luck in synching it up for his recording. Therefore, he had to record them “free form” as well. The first draft he did, he didn’t even let me hear… but the second time around, the drums were craziness. I was so excited about how good the drums sounded that I damn near forgot the direction we were trying to take the song into. So I had to re-record my key and bass parts all over again AND write a brand new hook… something that was more definitive and a tad bit stronger than the original draft. So one night after a long day of teaching and a four-hour rehearsal with Ab, I went home tired as all hell and re-recorded my parts… to a METRONOME this time (*applause*). I sent it on through to Phonte and he recorded a reference with the scratch vocals and we finally had a song!!!
Now for the fun part…
Someone put Phonte up on this Brazilian-jazz player who would be able to take the song that was written in English and translate it to Portuguese so that Chantae could sing it. Perfect!…. Well… Perfection on paper, I guess. Phonte was in correspondence with the gentleman via email and phone. He agreed to be a part of the process and received the lyrics typed out in an email along with the rough joint in English as an attachment… A couple of days went by with no response. He was reminded of the tight deadline that we were working with. Well, his response was that ‘love poems’ take time and should not be rushed…. But the song had already been written and referenced in English to be translated. We could understand if there were parts of the song that could not directly translate and would therefore throw off the cadence of the original lyrics, but at this rate, we felt that our only option was to abandon the original idea of recording the song in Portuguese altogether. So Chantae got into the studio with Phonte and held it DOWN – I don’t give a damn if the song was sung in English, Portuguese, German, or French…. She would have put out quality work in any circumstance. Once the vocals were laid, it was just a matter of getting the remaining players on the same page to complete the song, which at this point was the easy part. My man, “Biscuit” Bynum laid the drums (on TWO separate occasions), the horn and flutes were laid soon after (which Phonte did those arrangements), then the congas…and lastly the acoustic guitars were recorded by Omar Hunter-El. And dammit, we were FINALLY FINISHED.
This joint was actually the last song completed for the entire album, which made it even more of an accomplishment… Because “All Is Well With Love” ALMOST never happened.
12. MakeLuv2Me (feat. Monica Blaire)
Ahhhhh, the closer. The history behind the MUSIC of this track is involved enough for a blog series of its own… Please allow me to break that part down first (the condensed version) and then I’ll get into how it developed into what it ultimately became.
There was a time between 2005 through about 2008 where I spent a significant amount of valuable time working on an album with a female vocalist (no names) whose project never saw the light of day. There were no features on the album, just me on the music and she on vocals. As a matter of fact, this album was completed… I’m talking mixed AND mastered. The only thing that needed to be done was the artwork. But due to… well, I don’t know exactly WHAT it was due to. All I know is that in the summer of 2008, I started getting calls from her brand new manager (after we had been in direct contact for three years) saying that she didn’t want to put the album out anymore. Hmmm… Interesting. This particular music originally served as a remix for the unreleased album… Reason being, with one more song to finish for the album to be completed, the artist expressed to me that she wasn’t able to write anymore material… and we needed a strong closer for the project. So I ended up taking her vocals from another song on the album, started and completed the remix process and the next thing you know, we had a finished project. The vocal portion only covered about 3 minutes and I took the remaining 7.5 minutes as an opportunity to put my own personal musical ‘stamp’ on the song… yes, I wanted to ‘show off’ again (see the “Flight of the Blackbyrd” story). It seemed to have worked out nicely… BUT, things have their proper places in life and happen for reasons much bigger than our own reasoning… THIS song is a perfect example.
So after completely scrapping the aforementioned project and hitting the “mute” button on all vocal tracks in the Pro Tools sessions, there was one session in particular that I kept in mind for my next solo project… I had to keep that 10 minute joint for myself!!
But who the hell would I get to write to and MURDER a 10 minute track?!……..
….I’ve known Monica Blaire since maybe 2004 or 2005 – always been good people to me… and supportive (I can actually remember her buying Re:Definition from me at a show back in ’05 when it came out). I can even remember playing keys behind her once in late 2005 at Alvin’s (I think I still have a few pics from that show too). After I moved to the East Coast, we reconnected via Waajeed and PPP when we started performing with them in March of 2009. And I’ll say this about Blaire… If you ever meet her, she’s such a sweetheart. She’s a genuinely free-spirited, ole happy ass love-to-laugh type of person who is even pretty shy at times. NOW, if you have ever had the pleasure of witnessing her take over a stage?… That shy shit goes out the window, QUICKLY. The stage transforms her into something serious… she is a dynamic performer, someone who you can’t never seem to keep your eyes off of. Once we reconnected, we talked about working together on something… at that point I couldn’t put my finger on what we would do yet. BUT, I knew it wouldn’t be too hard putting something together with her because she is a multi-dimensional artist whose creativity can carry her in so many different directions. Knowledgeable about her passion for performing and understanding her natural ability to pull the listener into any song she does was what provoked me ask her to record this particular joint last summer. I remember telling her about the style of the song and warning her that it is in fact, over TEN minutes long…. I received the ‘O.K.’ and soon after, I emailed her the full instrumental….
Then in August of 2009, I was on the elevator going down, about to leave the apartment to head out to a midnight rehearsal. I received Blaire’s text while on the elevator….
As soon as my elevator TOUCHED the ground floor, I hit the button next to “15” and went RIGHT back upstairs to my apartment so that I could listen to this song as I was HIGHLY anticipating what she recorded… I damn near powerwalked to the apartment, opened my email and loaded the song up. What I heard come through those speakers was EXACTLY what I envisioned for the music. The joint was SEXY… From the lyrics, to her vocal presence, to the delivery…. all the way down to the reverb placed on her vocals. I KNEW we had something because first of all, when was the last time you heard a 10 minute slow grinding sexy song? This song was definitely ten-minutes for a REASON. Secondly, in the era of ‘slow’ songs that either a.) all sound like hip-hop joints or b.) contain straight-to-the-point-leaving-nothing-to-be-desired-type lyrics where the artists will simply tell you through the duration of the track, “I wanna fuck ya girrrrr-huuuurrrrrrl!” – even the title became significant with the use of the word “love.” I mean, who falls in love anymore? And the fact that she recorded to ALL 10 minutes of this song showed me how much of a pure artist Blaire is. She took my challenge, found her place, and completely conquered it… with intention AND purpose.
9. This Could Be the Night (feat. Eric Roberson, Darien Brockington & Rapper Big Pooh)
The funny thing about making music, or art for that matter is that you never know what you’re sitting on. I had been sitting on this drum pattern for about 2 or 3 years not knowing what to do with it… just the bare drums exactly how you hear them in the final song. It was something that I would listen to every quarter or so, mess around with it, get mad with what I recorded and scrap it altogether. I had even done a song where that drum pattern’s tempo was cut in HALF… It just still wasn’t there yet. FINALLY, one day during the recording of SunStorm, I finally came up with a chord progression that I was happy with and actually kept it! But the joint had been sitting for so long that even when I found the progression that worked, I was still skeptical. Even when I would include it on a CD with the rest of the album formulated around it as just an instrumental, I would think, “It will get life once vocals are recorded on it.” I ended up tracking it out and sending it through to Phonte so we could have the usual “who do you think would fit on this joint” talk. We talked about Erro (Eric Roberson) being a part of the album pretty much from the beginning… in fact, when I first met him back in December 2007 in Chicago, we spoke about working together, but it just never came together……
The first time I heard vocals on the joint, it was Phonte demoing the hook that he wrote for it. That is what changed my whole perspective… “WOW, this may become a JOINT!” The next version I heard was Darien’s verse and his re-singing of the hook…. Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. The NEXT version I heard was of Erro’s verse and hook. We then combined that with D. Brock’s and dammit we had a song!… It wasn’t done yet though… My two brothas FROM Little Brother decided to pull a ‘fast one’ on me… So after receiving the next draft of vocals, I heard the ‘announcer’ list the performers. Eric Roberson… check, Darien Brockington, check… The Rapper Big Pooh…. HOL’LUP, WORD?! I actually brought it back some so make sure I was hearing it correctly… NICE! At that point, I had know idea. So of course, once Big Pooh’s verse came on, I damn near started partying in the studio because the joint was RIGHT on time and was an excellent addition to the song. Eight bars of energy, where the music drops and it’s just he and the drums mainly… The change follows behind with D. Brock for four bars and right back into the closing hook and vamp… All of a sudden, this 2 to 3 year drum pattern had a promising pulse. Once again, you NEVER know what your music or art may become. I can never really explain it straight up… I can only continue to share these stories with you all and allow you to find out for yourselves.
Oh and make sure you read the story behind the making of the video for “This Could Be the Night” as well…
10. Flight Of the Blackbyrd (ft. Phonte)
The actual motivation behind this song is pretty interesting. Those who know me personally understand that I am pretty laid back for the most part, but that I am very competitive. It is part of my personality, it’s a motivator for me, and I guess it’s simply just the way I am wired. Hell, I played baseball through college so it was a NECESSARY trait if anything and I definitely have not “grown out of it”. The reason why I remember the exact date of my creating this song is because another one of my brothers and great friends in music, Nicolay released his excellent City Lights 2: Shibuya album. Where’s the connection? Well, I haven’t even told Nic this… But I remember sitting at the computer and logging on to Twitter and seeing everyone talking about the new City Lights 2 album. So I’m reading, retweeting the album link, checking out all the positive comments…. and it hit me. My competitive side began to talk shit to me…
“Uhhh… what the hell are YOU doing right now?! Your people are releasing dope albums and you’re sitting up on TWITTER. GET yo punk ass in the studio!!” © My Competitive Conscience
This is yet another advantage to working closely with kats who are so great at what they do, because it causes you to HAVE to be on point at all times. I put my computer to sleep and walked into the studio and a drum pattern just kinda came to me (higher power) that happened to be written in 3/4… Hmmmm, that’s kinda different already. The chord progression soon followed and not too long after that, a “B” part (a section where there is a change in the music – kind of a “part 2”). I laid the song out FULLY, the intro piece, main part, the piano solo, the percussion breakdown (where I used percussion instruments that I bought specifically for the “Perfect Angel” remake), and the B part. …I got Phonte on the phone and told him I would be sending a new one through. I sent him the instrumental and heard nothing back……………
…The next morning, I woke up to a text at about 6:55am……
Phonte: You at the crib?
M:Got it… putting it on the iPod and listening on the way to the craziness (a/k/a WORK)
P: Nigga, call/text/IM/two-way/smoke signal me as SOON as you finish that shit
Maaaan, look. There are some songs that you listen to the first minute or two of them and know you’re sitting on something special… THIS was that song. As soon as I heard Phonte’s vocals come in, I was like… “This is it, this shit is CRAZY.” I called him right back on the way to work and we were hyped up about this new joint… and the ideas started pouring. The next thing I know, here’s a final version of the song with trumpeter Stan Graham goin’ off on the joint with Phonte doing horn arrangements. DOPE. Overall, this joint took us the least amount of time to complete… Less than a day.
Musically, this was my “show off” joint all because my competitive side took over for a minute. Thanks to my FE family for pushing me to make music like this joint in particular and not even realizing it! lol