I’m actually laughing while listening back to this interview as if I wasn’t a part of it. Shouts to mah man Merc80, Chris and Kim Lehman all of BlackIsOnline.com for allowing me to come into their house and clown out for a couple hours before my show in LA on March 2nd. What a fun time of COMPLETE “let-loosedness”…. Enjoy!!!
Zo! of Foreign Exchange Music coming to Minneapolis March 12 at The Pourhouse
From time to time, life will throw us a curveball or two.
Fans of soul, neosoul and organic hip-hop, are probably pretty thrilled that Zo! of Foreign Exchange Music wasn’t as good at hitting curveballs as he is at producing and creating timeless melodies and arrangements for the many artists who he’s featured on his three released projects. Now that’s not to say that Zo!, born Lorenzo Ferguson, was a slouch at hitting. The multi-talented producer was drafted out of high school in the 13th round of the MLB Amateur Draft to play center field for the Toronto Blue Jays. But Zo! passed on the offer, opting for college instead at Western Kentucky University, with dreams of securing a higher draft spot. While Zo!’s draft spot didn’t improve, his keyboard playing did.
“My first love was baseball,” said Zo!, who will be in the Twin Cities for a Wednesday, March 12 performance at The Pourhouse, 10 S. 5th St., downtown Minneapolis. “I’m a really passionate person and I was passionate about playing baseball. But I never let that get in the way of my music. I always kept playing music to keep my chops up.”
I specifically remember composing the foundation of this one on September 26, 2011… I don’t know WHY I remember that date (those who know me will tell you that I’m kind of a “rain man” when it comes to numbers and dates), but I do specifically remember there being a Redskins vs. Cowboys Monday Night Football game that was being tweeted about all night and I didn’t feel like watching it at the time, so I went into the studio clear of ideas… clean slate. Now, it may have been that DAY or within a week or so prior to that time that I saw Jody Watley on Twitter shouting Phonte and I for the song, “Greater Than The Sun” and to say that I was hyped up would be a bit of an understatement. I was a Shalamar fanatic growing up. Between Go For It, Big Fun, and more specifically Three For Love and Friends?! You couldn’t tell me much as a kid about Shalamar, Leon Sylvers III and that “SOLAR Sound” – I was HOOKED. So to have a former member of a group I grew up listening to publicly announce the fact that she’s riding around in her car with MY song playing was a bit inspirational. It was SO inspirational that I decided to use that energy in the studio this particular day by posing the question to myself, “If you were to compose a record for Jody Watley NOW…. What would it sound like?” Well, It would be uptempo and melodic…. But let me give it a change of pace by using some harder drums and I’ll play a hi-hat through the entire song live. Now let me explain something to y’all… The respect I have for drummers is through the roof. The ability to keep time while using your entire body is a TASK. I can’t remember the song’s tempo (BPM) off hand, but the original track for this joint was around 6 minutes long. I can vividly remember how tired my arms were after recording the hi-hat pattern for this… BUT as I prefer with all of my music, I love the “human” feel. This is what makes live music so appealing. If I’m able to capture a live, human elements in the song, I don’t hesitate to record a pass all the way through the entire duration of it.
Once the foundation of this song was recorded (drums, bass, synth pads and chord progression), it was kinda put to the side. I would ride around in the car with it during the creation of ManMade, which did nothing but help it because after months of listening to it, I would start to hear new parts… Suddenly I heard a Moog synth line (which was played over the hook and vamp), a year or so later I heard harmonizing guitar lines at the beginning of the song that when played together had an Earth, Wind & Fire feel to it. This is why making music is not a race, sometimes you have to sit with the stuff you create and allow it to grow. In the end, nobody gives a shit about how quickly you create music… They care about how the final result sounds and how it makes them feel. If you need to live with it while you create, make it happen. There’s nothing better that some slow-cooked, flavorful music anyway.
Fast forward to December 2012… We were starting to wrap up sessions for ManMade and Carmen Rodgers made the trip to Raleigh, NC to knock out the hook for “Show Me The Way”, The Foreign Exchange’s “If I Knew Then” for their Love In Flying Colors album…. and then she then also took care of the hook for this particular track, which at the time I had titled simply “Therapy”. Phonte who is the KAING of calling that good studio audible sent me the song along with a new title, “A Choice Of Weapons”. Interesting. At first, seeing the title damn near caused me to see red on some ole, “Choice of weapons?? WHO WE GOTTA GO TO WAR WITH??!?!?” But I managed to bring it down a few notches in order to take a listen to the song. I can remember hearing those hooks for the first time and thinking, “That sounds PERFECT… and DAMN Carmen sounds great on this!” Everything fit correctly…That crisp, rapid-fire cadence that came with that chord change had me open. Even the fact that it was 20 degrees outside matched the “wintry” feel of the record (pardon my synesthesia, but the colors I “saw” when hearing the music was always shades of blue and light orange). It was just RIGHT to me. But as right as it was, it just didn’t fit into the sequence of what was finished for the album up to that point so it remained on the back burner for a minute…. Then enter Nicholas Ryan Gant. After absolutely blacking out on our “Let It Go” cover for …just visiting three, Phonte reached back out to him to sing lead. And when we got that final vocal reference… Phonte just hit me with the simple, “GMAIL” text. When I get a text from Tay that simply says…. “GMAIL”?!? …That means something SERIOUS is in my inbox. I opened the attachment, hit “play” and proceeded to hear Nicholas Ryan Gant claim “A Choice Of Weapons” as his OWN. The way he came out of that second verse into the hook?!
“Sheeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiit” © Clayton Bartholomew Davis…
But what I enjoyed most was… the MESSAGE. I love it when kats feel inspired to write positivity over music that I have done and Nicholas was touching on some of that real. Seems like over the last 15+ years or so R&B has become the breakup, drama, you ain’t shit, I’ma fuck ya friend genre of music all of a sudden. Who wants to hear that when you’re at your job struggling to get through the day BECAUSE of some bullshit. Grown folks need uplifting music, man… we get hit with enough throughout a typical week.
“…daylight’s just ahead of you / Hold on to the joy within… ’cause in the end you can WIN”
That line alone would help me while in the gym steadily thinking of an excuse to cut my time short on the elliptical ……while also critiquing the song, of course. Then to hear Nicholas and Phonte trade off adlibs toward the end during the vamp was DOPE to me. I brought the pre-hook handclaps back on that section for an extra bit of (in my Pootie Tang silent voice) “!!!!!!!!!” on it. The last small piece that was added was Phonte’s background vocals on the second verse, which really added some nice dynamics to it and made it move a little bit better. Once that was in place, we had a successful B-Side……. remember those? I LOVE non-album B-Sides. They’re like wild cards. Some of our favorite songs were B-Sides!!! Prince’s “Erotic City”?? Gang Starr’s “DWYCK”???? Going to the record store to grab a handful of singles or 45’s JUST to get the remix or a B-Side that wasn’t included on an album used to be a mission of mine at one time. Now the mission has become to release them so that you all can relive the same feeling that I used to get in those record stores… Listen and purchase below. Enjoy!
featuring Carmen Rodgers
AND Sy Smith
At The Virgil in Los Angeles, CA
March 2, 2014
Photos by Dominique Easton for KÏNGDØM Photography
Zo! – Keys
Carmen Rodgers – Vocals
Sy Smith – Vocals
Tyler Croomes – Drums
Tarron Crayton – Bass
“We Are On The Move (Black Coffee Remix)” b/w “A Choice of Weapons” is the new single in promotion of Zo!’s ManMade album. The single bundle is available for purchase on iTunes now and includes the Black Coffee Remix of “We Are On The Move” feat. Eric Roberson & Phonte as well as non-album B-Side “A Choice of Weapons” feat. Nicholas Ryan Gant & Carmen Rodgers.
01. We Are On The Move (Black Coffee Remix)
featuring Eric Roberson
Background Vocals by Gwen Bunn, Sy Smith & Phonte
Remix Produced by Black Coffee
02. A Choice Of Weapons
featuring Nicholas Ryan Gant & Carmen Rodgers
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI) and Phonte for The Foreign Exchange Music, LLC
Written by Phonte Coleman for Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP) and Nicholas Ryan Gant for Ghetto Falsetto (ASCAP)
Lead Vocals by Nicolas Ryan Gant
Background Vocals by Carmen Rodgers & Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!