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.

CR photo (2)

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!

Zo! “We Are On The Move (Black Coffee Remix)” b/w “A Choice Of Weapons”

WE ARE ON THE MOVE-final-hi-res

“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.

ManMade is available now on +FE Music.

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!

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…

Download …just visiting three for FREE here

Zo! – …just visiting three (2011) | FREE DOWNLOAD + Full Credits

…just visiting three

**Click the song titles to read the stories behind the making of each**
01. Black Cow featuring Phonte Sy Smith
Lead Vocal by Phonte
Background Vocals by Sy Smith & Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Guitar by Chris Boerner
Trumpet by Stan Graham
Trombone by Andrew Kleindienst
Saxophone by Matt Douglas
02. Let It Go featuring Nicholas Ryan Gant
Lead Vocal by Nicholas Ryan Gant
Background Vocals by Nicholas Ryan Gant & Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
03. Driving featuring Sy Smith
Lead Vocal by Sy Smith
Background Vocals by Sy Smith & Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Flute by Claudia Hayden
04.Marzipan featuring Eric Roberson & Phonte
Lead Vocal by Eric Roberson
Background Vocals by Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Guitar by Chris Boerner
Trumpet by Stan Graham
05. Everything She Wants featuring Phonte
All Vocals by Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
06. Same Ole Love featuring Jeanne Jolly
Lead Vocal by Jeanne Jolly
Background Vocals by Jeanne Jolly and Phonte
All Instruments by Zo!
Acoustic Guitar by Chris Boerner
Pedal Steel by Allyn Love
07. Playing Your Game, Baby featuring Anthony David
Lead Vocal by Anthony David
All Instruments by Zo!
Trumpet by Stan Graham
Trombone by Andrew Kleindienst
Saxophone by Matt Douglas

Produced by Zo! and Phonte for Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music, LLC/The Foreign Exchange Music, LLC
Recorded and Mixed by Zo! at East Wing Studios, Silver Spring, MD and by Phonte at The Peanut Gallery, Raleigh, NC

Additional Recording and Mixing by Chris Boerner at The Burlap Palace, Raleigh, NC
Mastering by Soiree Records
Cover Photography by Keith Estep of Keith Estep Photography
…just visiting three: THE ORIGINALS
01. Black Cow
Written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen
Originally Performed by Steely Dan
From the Album “Aja” (ABC, 1977) 
02. Let It Go
Written by John Lang, Richard Page, and Steve George
Originally Performed by Pages
From the Album “Pages” (Epic, 1978)
03. Driving
Written by Ben Watt
Originally Performed by Everything But The Girl
From the Album “The Language Of Life” (Atlantic, 1990)
04. Marzipan
Written and Originally Performed by Eric Tagg
From the Album “Dreamwalkin'” (EMI, 1982)
05. Everything She Wants
Written by George Michael
Originally Performed by Wham!
From the Album “Make It Big” (CBS, 1985)
06. Same Ole Love
Written by Marilyn McLeod and Darryl K. Roberts
Originally Performed by Anita Baker
From the Album “Rapture” (Elektra, 1986)
07. Playing Your Game, Baby
Written and Originally Performed by Barry White
From the Album “Barry White Sings For Someone You Love” (20th Century, 1977)
© 2011 Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music, LLC/The Foreign Exchange Music, LLC