Studio Campfire Stories: ‘ManMade’ Edition – “The Train” (feat. Sy Smith)

Me and Sy just before hitting the stage for the first show at Blues Alley in DC. (June 2012)

Me and Sy just before hitting the stage for the first show at Blues Alley in DC. (June 2012)

I’ll just say this, first and foremost so that I can go ahead and make it very clear… Sy Smith is one of my favorite people to work with. PERIOD. And I don’t have to run down her mile-long resumé for you to understand why she is head and shoulders above everyone else. Beyond sitting kats down with her vocal ability, the woman is about her business. Both of us are very experimental and free when it comes to recording material as well as the live presentation of it. I think it’s just a matter of not wanting to miss out on coming up with dope musical arrangements by becoming too “scripted” because that’s not what great artists allow themselves to do. And she is just that… A great artist and an even greater person for those who know her up close.

Anyway, let me wrap that on up before y’all start droppin’ streams of thug tears and shit…

Instead, allow me to drop this fun fact of the day… Take a guess at who completed the very first song for each of these four releases: …just visiting too, SunStorm, …just visiting three, and NOW ManMade. If you guessed “Sy Smith”, you sir or ma’am are smarter than the average person who posts and misspells shit regularly via Twitter! (Weeell, technically she AND Phonte were on the first joint completed for JV3 (“Black Cow”), but it still counts).

I can remember very clearly how I came up with the music for this one. I was messing around with different drum sets or “patches” and came up on a set that reminded me of some Ghettotech or Electronic sounding music from back home. Being as though I had never really gone that route musically before, it then became a “self-dare” to create a Ghettotech/Electronic-inspired drum pattern JUST to see if I could come up with anything that would make it work. So instead of using thick, gritty basslines to define the song’s concept, I decided to dress it up with a piano line, a pad that continues throughout the piece and a sparse, yet kinetic bassline that moves in and out of the drum pattern itself – Pretty electronic music. Once I finished, I sent it to Phonte and when the “Who’s gonna be on this one” conversation took place, we said almost simultaneously, “Sy…” It was very much a no-brainer. The bright and quirky feel of the song fit her perfectly.

I’m sure I have said this before, but Sy is one of those artists who I can send some music to with NO instructions outside of, “check it out” and she’ll send something back to me laced fully… The same thing happened to set the tone for SunStorm when she sent me back “Greatest Weapon Of All Time.” I get Sy the music and keep it moving onto something else without any worries whatsoever. At the end of May 2012, I remember getting a text from Sy saying that she had sent the new joint through – Checked my email and sure enough, there was a new one from her engineer Grant Nichols and the typed out lyrics from her… DOPE. The subject heading of Grant’s email read, “Hashtags & Do-Rags.” At first glance, I was like, “The hell does that mean?”… After realizing that was part of the hook for the sont, I kinda shook my head laughing while thinking, “Man, that line is Sy as hell.” Even with a short wait, the anticipation was killing me while the attachment downloaded and iTunes opened up and run it. She had already told me how much she loved the music, but I was completely on the edge of my seat to see what she ended up creating with it. So finally, the song started…. Immediately Sy opened up with a bit of vocal gymnastics, almost a quick ‘warm up’ to tease the listener before the music kicks in fully. They way she phrased and enunciated words like,

“DIZ-zy,”

“desti-NA-tion,”

and “in-spi-RA-tion,”

I heard her personality come to life in that first verse and prehook. As a producer, that is priceless recording in my book because now listening to this song you know off the break that it’s nobody but Sy and it was your music that brought it out. But once that hook came in… the only thing I could think was, “Oh…. She done made this a jam.” I placed a synth line in the hook that she followed perfectly:

“Let’s….take….this….train…as far as it will go”

Joint was just…. catchy and exactly what this fun ass song needed…. a FUN ass chorus. Of course, later in the song she manages to jump through more vocal hoops and harmonies that usually welcomes a small bit of jealously into the hearts of the singing-challenged *clears throat* …such as myself. I ended up calling her after a few listens and the the thing that got me was, she was just as hyped up about the new joint as I was! The first thing I told her was… “Hashtags & Do-Rags?! That’s so damn YOU!” I remember her telling me, “I knew I couldn’t write anything ‘regular’ over that music, kinda like when I heard “Aquarius Rising” The randomness of “Hashtags…” was semi-inspired by the way that Sheila E. used to give her songs these titles that when you would check out the back of the album, you were kinda just left scratching your head with sheer confusion – “The Belle Of St. Mark” and “Merci For the Speed Of A Mad Clown In Summer,” are pretty solid examples. We later shortened the title to a more simple, “The Train”. …I mean, it’s not like it’s gonna stop people from calling the song “Hashtags and Do-Rags” ANYWAY. If I know my people the way that I know my people… I am fully aware that we could give not a damn about a song or a movie title. For example, can you please tell me the last time you heard someone refer to the Tina Turner biopic as What’s Love Got To Do With It and NOT “The Ike and Tina Movie”…….. I’ll wait.

*crickets*

…………I rest my case.

Seriously though, when I really think about it this song kind of embodies our “Sy Smith + Zo!” live performances. The joint is upbeat, fun, and randomness always equates to good music being made. Being as though we were making appearances in different cities cuttin’ up on stage throughout the majority of 2012, this was the perfect joint to set off ManMade with. Sy has now hit lead-off for my FOURTH consecutive album… Talk about consistency!!

Purchase ManMade HERE • Or on iTunes

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