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


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!

Studio Campfire Stories: ‘ManMade’ Edition – “We Are On The Move” (feat. Eric Roberson, Gwen Bunn & Sy Smith)


Those who know me and my preferred musical tastes are fully aware of how much love the music catalog of the great Leon Sylvers III. As a kid, there were two albums that I would run REPEATEDLY… Shalamar’s “Three For Love” and “Friends” where Mr. Sylvers was the producer on both. Matter of fact, I used to love anything on that Solar Records label ….Why? Because not only was there some great music being released through them, but I used to get a kick out of how dope the vinyl label looked as it was spinning around on the turntable. That alone would fascinate me for at least a song or two… Once I got older, picked up the bass guitar and revisited some of these songs that I grew up with I noticed that the basslines within Leon Sylvers’ production work were pretty challenging. The bass is so noticeable that instead of playing a supportive role, it’s damn near carrying the entire tune. When I found out that he was also the one playing these lines?!… I got SUPER inspired. So much so that his work was added to my “go to” list in regards to shedding on the bass (Jamerson’s work, some disco jams, and various mid and up-tempo 70’s/80’s songs are my other “go tos”). So one day I was messing around on the bass and kinda thought to myself, “I don’t even have an uptempo ‘jheri curl jam’ in my catalog… It would at least be FUN to try and construct one.”

“We Are On The Move” began on the bass… It was actually the only song on ManMade that I wrote on the bass guitar. I wanted the bassline to move, be playful….but remain funky – I wanted it to “carry” the record. A good number of uptempo records from the late 70’s/early 80’s have very memorable basslines and I wanted this one to be no different… PLUS, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to show off my bass playing a little bit. A lot of folks aren’t aware that I play anything outside of the keys. ……Soooooo with that being said, I wanted to make sure to add in a guitar part in there as well. What it ended up becoming was 30 seconds of me playing two instruments that most of my listeners don’t even know I play… bass and guitar. Once the keys roll up into the first chord, that’s a clear indication of jheri curl juice beginning to be flung freely from that “yellow bottle” saturated moistness of a hairdo a/k/a …the official start of the party.

The original instrumental for this joint was titled “Eighty Three” as in the year 1983 for obvious reasons. The music for the joint literally took me back to that particular era. I can remember playing this one for everybody in The Foreign Exchange live collective at my house the night before we hit the Capital Jazz Fest stage last year and from their reactions to the just the music, I could tell that I had something pretty special on my hands. Once the crew and I returned hom from that early/mid June 2012 +FE run, Phonte and I got to work. Phonte was sent the instrumental and immediately sent me a vocal referenced version back. We had ideas…. We had HUGE ideas. And they seemed to come through for this one piece by piece….

First of all, I think I let out a clear, “OH SHIT!!” when I heard Gwen Bunn hit that “Get ready!!” on the hook because I didn’t tell Phonte exactly where I pulled inspiration from to create the music, yet he wrote an almost Shalamar-inspired hook for it providing me with further evidence as to why we work so well in that studio. We had a couple of challenges in getting a lead vocalist, that is until we turned to the brotha Eric Roberson. Now as busy as Erro remains with EVERYTHING, he always seems to have time for our music and it’s a blessing to have a kat that talented in your corner – especially since I was a fan of his before we started working together. Now he has appeared on my last THREE albums (ManMade, …just visiting three & SunStorm). Phonte hit Erro up with the reference and he turned it around in less than a week… I mean, the dude is a PROFESSIONAL and I love working with him for that very reason. He simply gets the music, walks in a studio, murders it, sends it back to you, and keeps it moving like nothing ever happened…. But right before the final lead vocal was done on it, Phonte said, “Ive got an idea for the ending… just give me a minute.” …..Ok, bet. Now, I admit I can be a bit impatient sometimes. So I created an ending of my own…. One that has a few percussion instruments on it and once the song is completely over, it breaks off into a SECOND part… and that was cool. But one morning at about 6am, I got one of those, “G MUTHAFUCKIN MAIL” texts from Phonte and I already KNEW what the deal was. I opened the email and there was a new version of the song. I played it through and didn’t notice anything different…..UNTIL

*chiiiiiimes* into……. *conga playing*

“Wait…… Hol’lup. Who?……. What the f…… YOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!”

Phonte had gotten Brevan Hampden to add some live percussion playing at the end of the song and it took on a whole new LIFE. I think I played that shit about 25 times in a row that morning. From there, I added a synth line and rhodes key chops at the very end of it so that the joint would in the words of Phonte, “go out in a blaze of glory”. We wanted the listener to be PARTYING by the end of the song. And then to hear Sy Smith, Erro and Phonte go back and forth as if all three of them are on stage together clowning out…. maaaaan, that was a treat for me. And when Erro says, “Come on, come ON, Come OWN, COME OWWWN!!!!” …That’s when the stage is set for a full out “dance as if you could give a damn about ANYthing else in your life right now.” Brotha was tryna bring some MJ to the table on this joint… We hear you brotha Erro, we hear you.

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