Studio Campfire Stories: “A Choice Of Weapons” featuring Nicholas Ryan Gant & Carmen Rodgers

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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.

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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!

Time Rewind: Zo! + Sy Smith performing “Greatest Weapon Of All Time” in Paris, France (March 5, 2011)

I’ll just start by saying that I love this clip. Rarely do I watch a performance of ours without heavily critiquing it, but this one I can actually sit and enjoy. This entire show was just… FUN. I wish there was more footage available on the net from it. The band that assembled to play with Sy Smith and I that night was incredible, the crowd was ridiculous and showed BIG love after the show. What better way to begin the “Time Rewind” series than with this particular video…. Love to Paris! I’m ready to go back…

Zo!’s Top Five Moments of 2011 – #4 First Videos Placed in Rotation

Valentine’s Day 2011 – I had just returned home from the school (or “that PLACE” as I would call it) after a typical day of working as a student bodyguard (a/k/a a teacher) and proceeded to send texts to numerous people in my phone letting them know that If they were close to home, pull up in front of the TV real quick and turn on VH1 Soul at 6pm EST… My video for “This Could Be the Night” was set to make its second television appearance (It was run at 10am earlier in the day). I was very promptly informed by my mother who called that morning and left a super excited voicemail, “It came on! Your video was on this morning!!” (To this DAY, she either emails or sends me a text whenever she happens to catch my video) Her voicemail was then accompanied by several texts and tweets that said the same thing. To me, this was pretty exciting being as though prior to the release of SunStorm, I had no videos. We shot footage for “This Could Be the Night” in June of last year. At the time of the shoot, I was told that the final product would be included in the MTV Networks rotation a/k/a VH1 Soul at a later date… after several steps were completed, so I thought to myself, “Just be patient, it’ll show up.” Hell, most times I would pretty much just put it out of my mind for long periods of time so I wouldn’t have to think about it. This was a fairly important accomplishment for me because a producer is normally more behind the scenes and not necessarily looked at as a “frontman.”As a matter of fact, there have been people who I have run into who had been listening to my music for some years, but barely knew what I looked like. So even just for visual’s sake, I felt that a video would be a great look… After seeing the final cut of the video, I was extremely satisfied with the result and couldn’t wait until folks would be able to see me, the crew, and hear my music on a channel that they were familiar with. When the video finally DID air, I stood up so that I was basically positioned in the middle of the living room floor, grabbed the Verizon cable remote and mashed my thumb on the “Volume +” button, which resulted in the TV blaring throughout my house. From there, I was just kinda staring motionless at the screen as if it was the first time I had ever seen my own video… I know that YouTube and other video-based sites are now almost as relevant as television, but there’s still something about seeing and hearing your work of art being displayed on TV that is still rather fascinating to me (you can tell this is my first televised video, huh?). I got on the phone with my parents and spoke with them while one of my cousins called me and screamed into the phone as if she saw me performing at the Super Bowl during halftime. If I remember correctly, the video ran right after The Foreign Exchange’s video for “Maybe She’ll Dream Of Me” – Definitely a surreal moment.

During the space of time that in which I was waiting for “This Could Be the Night” to air, I was contacted by some of vocalist Conya Doss’ people to meet with them about possibly co-starring in a video of hers (“All In You”) that they were set to shoot in November, 2010… Wow, word? Now that was something different and completely unexpected… I’m definitely no actor, nor had I ever been specifically asked to appear in someone’s video before. Regardless, I set up a meeting with them and talked about the “good guy” role I would be playing in the video and I agreed to do it. I ended up shooting the scenes for my part in a day… The next thing I knew, I had “This Could Be the Night” in rotation… and was simultaneously co-starring in another video that was also being run on television. NOW, I get texts and emails from moms that look something like this… “Both videos were on today… Your video came on at 20-after and your acting video came on at 45 after…” (She passes along the times because she knows that the video shows run the videos in the same order each time they air that particular day). That’s her all DAY… Super informative #1 fan.

“Greater Than the Sun” was a video that Phonte and I discussed shooting early on in the planning process of the album, simply because we knew how easy and stress-free it would probably be. When we eventually shot the video back in February, it was the easiest for kats to shoot… we were in Atlanta for a hot second, shot, and rolled out – AND I had some Zaxby’s while on the set!! BUT on the other hand, it has been the most difficult to get into rotation due to editing issues… The most interesting piece to me and my sense of humor is reading the comments made via YouTube as some think that Phonte is the one driving the car, somebody else thinks that Kareem Johnson produced the song and not the video… It kinda had me thinking, “Well shit… What do folks think I do anyway?” haha …Phonte isn’t driving to go and pick himself up from his house in the video! lol Maaaaan, a brovah can’t get credit for shit! LOL But I love how the bright video directly reflects the mood and the content of the song… Perhaps one day soon we’ll be able to enjoy the second video from SunStorm on TV as well…… Two outta three ain’t bad… That’s two more I had on TV this time last year!

Studio Campfire Stories: The ‘SunStorm’ Edition – “Greater Than The Sun” and “Greatest Weapon Of All Time” (SunStorm Week Day #2)


1. Greater Than the Sun (feat. Phonte)
For those of you who have listened to Little Brother’s Getbackalbum, the closing track “When Everything Is New” was initially supposed to be the intro joint for THIS album. After hearing the recorded hook sung by Phonte, Big Pooh requested that he call me and ask that I let the song go to them for their album… I remember answering that “no-brainer-question-of-the-year” before Phonte had even finished what he was gonna say.

Phonte: Ayo man, I’m sittin here with Pooh… he heard the joint and loved it. Wanted to know if we could use it for o……

Me: YEAH!

*end of story* lol

I remember writing the piano piece to this song primarily after messing around on the keys one sunny afternoon – I emphasize the weather because those of us who create know and understand that weather can be reflected within your art. In this piece I can ‘hear’ and feel the sun that was shining through my blinds that day. Just by the way that the chords moved I felt as though I had definitely found something. After recording the music, it was only right that I call my brovah in crime Phonte to hop on what I thought could be the NEW intro joint. As a matter of fact, the working title for the joint was something like ‘Zo_Phonte_Intro 2008.’ As usual, he turned it around within a day or two and ironically wrote a song specifically dealing with the sun, which wasn’t anything that I suggested.

Once it was recorded and finished, I got an email from him with the song attached that read, “I ain’t playin’ with these niggas man.”

Hell, neither am I….

 


2. Greatest Weapon Of All-Time (feat. Sy Smith)
I got familiar with the name Sy Smith and her talent via her appearances on Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s Shaheedullah and Stereotypes album back in 2004. A couple years later, I was introduced to her via my good friend up in Chicago, Duane Powell. Duane, who used to work at one of my favorite record stores, Dr. Wax Records in Hyde Park, Chicago (now closed…. dammit) was good for picking up the phone and giving me a call at any given time to say, “What’s up sir? Uhhh… *Insert name here* is in the store right now and I wanna introduce you.” And understanding his good taste in music, it was always someone who I was a fan of. This is the same kat who sold two copies of Freelance to one of the Kaaaings. The late, great Mr. Bernie Mac ……and gave me a call about it right afterward. I mean damn, who does that? So anyway, he had been telling me for months about Sy and how she really enjoyed the Freelance album… And in typical Duane fashion, he called me up one day outta the blue…”What’s up sir?… Uhhh… Sy Smith is here in the store, I wanted you to get a chance to talk to her.” Bet!! Put her on! She got on the phone and we chopped it up for a short while eventually discussing the fact that we really needed to do some work together – the conversation left me pretty excited and even more motivated to work with her.

I finally met Sy face-to-face at a show she was doing here in D.C. at Bohemian Caverns in March ’08 and that’s when I truly discovered her… She was murdering her set. Talk about a phenomenal vocal talent and such a genuinely sweet person, which is a rarity in the nignorant and wonderful world of music. We spoke once again about working and exchanged contacts. With her live show in mind, the first thing I sent her was the music for “The Greatest Weapon Of All-Time.” I felt as though the music was uplifting and fun – the same feelings I took in from her show. Once she recorded her vocals and sent the song back to me, upon listening I couldn’t WAIT to work with her again (and we did a year later in the form of a remade “Crazy You” for the …just visiting too album). Come to think of it, when I called her after first hearing how she showed no mercy on my song, she was on the phone like, “How do you like the song, is it alright?” Uhhhh…”Alright?!??!” Ole humble ass…

Zo! – SunStorm (2010) FULL Album Credits

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Zo!
SunStorm

PURCHASE ALBUM
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01. Greater Than The Sun featuring Phonte
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)
Written by Phonte Coleman for Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP)
Vocals recorded and mixed by Khrysis
All Instruments by Zo!
Mixed by Zo!
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and the Chopp Shopp, Durham, NC

02. Greatest Weapon Of All Time featuring Sy Smith
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)
Written by Sy Smith for Sybersong Publishing (ASCAP)
Vocals Arranged and Produced by Sy Smith
Vocals Recorded and Mixed by Grant Nochols
All Instruments by Zo!
Mixed by Zo!
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and Rumbo Studios, Winnetka, CA

03. Say How You Feel featuring Phonte & Carlitta Durand
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)
Written by Phonte Coleman for Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP) and Carlitta Durand for Durand Music Group (ASCAP)
Vocals by Phonte & Carlitta Durand
All Instruments by Zo!
Recorded and Mixed by Zo! at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD

04. For Leslie
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)
All Instruments by Zo!
Flute by Claudia Hayden
Recorded and Mixed by Zo! at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD

05. Be Your Man featuring Darien Brockington
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)
Written by Darien Brockington for Neidar Music Group (ASCAP) and Phonte Coleman for Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP)
Vocals by Darien Brockington
Background Vocals by Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Guitar Solo by Chris Boerner
Mixed by Zo!
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and The Peanut Gallery, Raleigh, NC

06. Free Your Mind featuring Lady Alma
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)
Written by A-Drenaline for Sopo Publishing (ASCAP)
Vocals by Lady Alma
Background Vocals by The Lady Alma Choral Ensemble (Lady Alma & Preston Branch)
Vocals Recorded by Roscoe “Plug-In”Murphy
All Instruments by Zo!
Mixed by Focus…
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and WHODUNIT Studios, Philadelphia, PA

07. SunStorm featuring YahZarah
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)
Written by Phonte Coleman for Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP) and YahZarah for She’s A Ladybug (ASCAP)
Vocals by YahZarah
Additional Vocals by Phonte, Darien Brockington & Jesse Boykins III
Vocals Recorded and Mixed by Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Mixed by Zo!
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and The Peanut Gallery, Raleigh, NC

08. If I Could Tell You No featuring Jesse Boykins III
Produced by Zo! and Phonte for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music/+FE Music LLC
Written by Phonte Coleman for Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP)
Vocals by Jesse Boykins III
All Instruments by Zo!
Trumpet by Stan Graham
Mixed by Zo!
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and The Peanut Gallery, Raleigh, NC

09. This Could Be The Night featuring Eric Roberson, Darien Brockington & Rapper Big Pooh
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)
Written by Eric Roberson for Blue Erro Soul/EMI Music Publishing (ASCAP), Darien Brockington for Neidar Music Group (ASCAP), Thomas Jones for Big Pooh Music (ASCAP) & Phonte Coleman for Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP)
Vocals by Eric Roberson, Darien Brockington & Rapper Big Pooh
Jive Talk by Scorpeze of Windimoto
Vocals Recorded and Mixed by Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Mixed by Zo!
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and The Peanut Gallery, Raleigh, NC

10. Flight Of The Blackbyrd featuring Phonte
Produced by Zo! and Phonte for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music/+FE Music LLC
Written by Phonte Coleman for Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP)
Vocals by Phonte
Vocals Recorded and Mixed by Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Trumpet by Stan Graham
Mixed by Zo!
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and The Peanut Gallery, Raleigh, NC

11. All Is Well With Love featuring Chantae Cann
Produced by Zo! and Phonte for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music/+FE Music LLC
Written by Phonte Coleman for Daddy’s New Bowtie (ASCAP)
Vocals by Chantae Cann
Keys, Bass Guitar, and Cabasa by Zo!
Flugelhorn by Al Strong IV
Flute by Tim Smith
Trombone by Andrew Kleindienst
Congas and Wind Chimes by Brevan Hampden
Maracas and Additional Percussion by El Tigallo
Acoustic Guitar by Omar Hunter-El
Wood and Skins by “Biscuit” Bynum
Vocals Recorded and Mixed by Phonte
Mixed by Zo!
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and The Peanut Gallery, Raleigh, NC

12. MakeLuv2Me featuring Monica Blaire
Produced by Zo! for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music (BMI)
Written by B. White for Vera’s Daughter (ASCAP)
Vocals by Monica Blaire
Vocals Recorded and Mixed by Shaphan “Maestro” Williams
All Instruments by Zo!
Mixed by Zo!
Recorded at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and Silent Riot Studios, Oak Park, MI

Mastered by Soiree Records

© 2010 Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive, LLC/+FE Music, LLC