Zo! – ‘SkyBreak’ (2016)

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The third +FE Music release from producer, multi-instrumentalist, and musical director of The Foreign Exchange, Zo!.

The 10 song collection features guest appearances from Eric Roberson, Phonte, Muhsinah, innovative UK soul wonder Dornik, and longtime Dungeon Family affiliate and funk/rock veteran Joi.

01. Lake Erie feat. Sy Smith
02. Starlight feat. Phonte
03. Packing For Chicago feat. Muhsinah
04. I Don’t Mind feat. Shana Tucker
05. Wishing You Well feat. Carmen Rodgers
06. A Season feat. Eric Roberson
07. Just Whatcha Like feat. Joi
08. Lifelines feat. Dornik
09. For Pops
10. Steal My Joy feat. Tamisha Waden

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Studio Campfire Stories: “Let It Go” (feat. Nicholas Ryan Gant)

I can remember being reintroduced to the original song by Pages back in the summer of 2009 when Questlove tweeted it one day saying that he currently had the joint on repeat. From there, hell… I had it on repeat. The joint is yet ANOTHER reason why I could give a damn about a “genre.” Because if you look at a picture of Pages, there’s no way you would think that they created the many soul-infused gems that they did. But I remember tweeting Questlove back and my man DJ Brainchild catching what I wrote and letting me know to check their albums out as well… So I ended up grabbing three of their albums including their self-titled joint that was released in 1978. Fast forward to 2011 to yet another phone conversation between Phonte and I where we were discussing song ideas… “Let It Go” came up. My first response came in the form of words spoken by the legendary Negro Physician, Dr. Dre, “HEY-ELL yeeeah.” 

As a listener, I felt it was gonna be VERY important to try and recapture the warmth of that 70’s recorded instrumentation from the original record. I could tell that the updating was going to begin with the drums… So once again, I started recording and programming the drums first, along with a live hi-hat and a cabasa pattern that mimicked the “Zimba-Ku” drum break. Once I heard the drums fully recorded, I couldn’t WAIT to lay the rest of the song. (I actually video recorded myself laying down the live bass on the record, which I’ll be sure to post later on…) The keys were the hardest to pick up on because I couldn’t hear them too well in certain places, Pages’ mix had those chords tucked real well in some spots. The FUN parts were the synth solos, particularly in the middle of the song where it breaks down… there are a few layering techniques I used to manipulate it sonically to where it is now. It was one of those solos where if I messed up while recording it, I wasn’t mad because it was fun as hell to play anyway!

Of course once the music was finished, we had to figure out who was going to sing in this high ass register provided to us by the Pages brothers… especially those hooks! At first we thought of two vocalists, one to sing the verses and the other to sing the hooks… but one of the vocalists we were going to ask to do it was on extended vocal rest. To make sure he remained healthy and continued to improve, Phonte brought up Nicholas Ryan Gant. Now, I met Nicholas right around the time I moved out to Maryland in 2006 as he was singing background for Muhsinah. The thing is, I didn’t realize how extremely vocally talented he was until maybe last year when he came on stage with us as The Foreign Exchange was performing “Maybe She’ll Dream Of Me” in NYC at BB King’s in October. Man look…. I don’t even think Nicholas understands how talented Nicholas is. He was killin’ on stage… We exchanged numbers very soon after that impromptu performance. lol Needless to say, when Phonte brought him up… I was all for it. He sent Nicholas the music and we waited…. In the meantime, Phonte hit me up with the “check your email” text… UH oh. I checked the joint…. and Tay has laid some background vocals on it, now the song is slowly starting to come to life. The part that was getting me was “Let cha!! …Love GO!!”  ……”Whoa-whooooa …whoaaaaawhooaaoooooo!!” I was like, “YO!! This shit is CRAZY!” With all that going on, I still wasn’t quite prepared for what was sent to me about one week later. When I finally got the demoed full vocal version from Nicholas,  I was sitting in my classroom at the end of the school day and was forced to grab some student headphones to plug into my phone just so I was able listen right then and there. When I heard all of what was going on vocally, my only response was, “The hell is this kat DOING?! …..DAMN!! (followed by an additional array of colorful curse words and phrases)” The harmonies were on point, the dude’s runs were precise and not overdone and the original was still in tact. I called Phonte after about three listens and didn’t say much at all.  Phonte responds to me by saying, “Man, he bodied that shit…” Uhh… Yeah, I agree. I actually sat in the studio and soloed a couple parts of his vocals so I could appreciate all of what he did to the song. There’s actually one vocal part that I didn’t even catch until later… The top of the third verse, listen closely to what happens… “There’s no need to explaaaaa-aaaaaa-aaaaa-aaaaaaain…” Nicholas takes the word “explain” and proceeds to drop the note  three times… I didn’t catch it for a month. It may not be a big deal to him or to other kats who can “saing”… But I tried it (while alone, of course), and I sounded like an idiot…. The brotha is talented and I’m glad he got down and did his thing on the album as there aren’t many who can do what he does. 


Sidenote: This was the first song completed for the album…


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With PPP In Chicago @ The Shrine – 07.02.09

Well… Hit the airport for our 45 minute flight to Chicago and got to O’Hare and found a limo pulling up for us. Oh word? We were in there taking pictures like we’ve never been anywhere before… Gotta enjoy yourself right? Hahahahaha.

Anyway, we pulled up to the hotel, checked in… got grub, and hit the soundcheck. The check was long as hell, but once they got the sound locked in, it was a wrap and it was sounding good. Toward the end, in walks Muhsinah and fellow ELs member SlimKat78 to set up and check as they were scheduled to go on before us.

We had a looong time of waiting around at the hotel before we were to return to the spot to perform, so I got a workout and a pre-show meal in before we had to jet up. Once we got to the Shrine, we were informed that the place was pretty much packed out, which is ALWAYS good news. Now, once the show started…it went smoothly, until the end when they cut our set a song short because the club was about to close in 10 minutes. Can you say horrible time management? Damn man, it didn’t feel good to leave the crowd hanging like that. On top of that, the after the show piece when I like to get out there, mingle, say ‘what up’ to everybody who came out was eliminated as security was wanting everybody to leave immediately. It was confusion… but a great show once again.