meta-scriptReImagined At Home: Let Oxlade Calm Your Soul With Performance Of Skip Marley's "Slow Down" | GRAMMY.com
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ReImagined At Home: Let Oxlade Calm Your Soul With Performance Of Skip Marley's "Slow Down"

For the latest edition of GRAMMY.com's ReImagined At Home cover series, Nigerian singer Oxlade puts his heart and powerful vocals on full display in this performance of Skip Marley's "Slow Down"

GRAMMYs/Aug 24, 2021 - 09:45 pm

In the latest episode of the ReImagined At Home cover series, 24-year-old Nigerian singer Oxlade takes us to Lagos—the stunning steps of Shiro Lagos restaurant, to be exact—and right into his heart.

His warm rendition of Skip Marley's "Slow Down" offers just that, four sweet minutes to calm your mind and spirit.

Watch his performance in full below.

Marley's reggae-infused R&B track featuring H.E.R. was nominated for Best R&B Song at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards show earlier this year. It was also the fastest and biggest streaming song from the Marley family!

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Aaliyah in 2001
Aaliyah in 2001.

Photo: Sal Idriss/Redferns

list

8 Ways Aaliyah Empowered A Generation Of Female R&B Stars

More than 20 years after her untimely death and 30 since her debut album, 'Age Ain't Nothing But a Number,' Aaliyah's legacy lives on through female R&B artists of generations new and old. Dig into her impact, from her fearlessness to her fashion sense.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 02:39 pm

With worldwide sales of 32 million, five GRAMMY nominations, and more than a dozen Hot 100 hits to her name, Aaliyah achieved more in her tragically cut-short 22 years than most would several lifetimes over. And more than two decades after her untimely death, the female R&B scene is still very much indebted to her pioneering talents.

In the last few years alone, she's been namechecked by Beyoncé, sampled by SZA and Normani, and covered by Mariah the Scientist and Sinead Harnett. And that's only on a sonic level. Ella Mai and Mahalia also recreated her signature tomboyish look in their video for "What You Did," as did Jhené Aiko on " P*$$Y Fairy (OTW)." Justine Skye and Sevyn Streeter are just a few of the names who paid their respects in 2023 ABC tribute Superstar. And going further back, Aaliyah has also been cited as a major source of inspiration by Ciara, Tinashe, Nelly Furtado, and Rihanna, while Katy B and Jessie Ware even named their "Jolene"-esque duet after their musical icon.

And thanks to Aaliyah's innovative second and third studio efforts, 1996's One In A Million and 2001's Aaliyah, finally escaping from licensing limbo in 2021, those growing up in the streaming age are now discovering her supremely sultry voice, masterly interpretative skills, and array of forward-thinking hits, too. In the last three years, the likes of "Try Again" and "Are You That Somebody" have racked up more than 140 ad 170 million streams, respectively, on Spotify alone.

But why exactly does the singer nicknamed Baby Girl still have such a hold on contemporary artists, several of whom were barely out of diapers when she was busy tearing up the R&B rulebook? To coincide with the 30th anniversary of Aaliyah's debut album, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, here's a look at how the "street but sweet" star built up such an inspirational legacy.

She Knew How To Use Her Voice 

Aaliyah arrived at a time when powerhouses Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston were the dominant female singers. But the New Yorker quickly proved that lung-busting multiple octaves isn't the only way to vocally impress.

Aaliyah was still capable of such acrobatics. According to producer Daryl Simmons, she would often rely on opera runs before recording to warm up her voice; Diane Warren, who worked with the star on ballad "The One I Gave My Heart To," has spoken of how she was taken aback by her versatility. But Aaliyah's signature delivery was very much "less is more." You can hear her sensual, featherlight tones in the likes of Kelela, Rochelle Jordan, and The Internet's Syd, the latter of whom has specifically hailed Aaliyah as a formative influence on her own cooler-than-cool style.

She Retained An Air Of Mystery 

Aaliyah's less-is-more approach also applied to her public profile. Perhaps due to the controversy surrounding her relationship with debut album producer R. Kelly, the singer largely preferred to let her music do the talking.

Even when she did speak to the press, she kept her cards close to her chest. And she avoided giving the more salacious outlets any further ammunition by growing up away from the spotlight. If they were looking for celebrity beefs, love triangles or stumbling out of nightclubs, they had to look elsewhere.

In the social media era where oversharing is the norm, Aaliyah's desire to keep her private life entirely private now seems both admirable and practically impossible. But there are still several artists who've recognized there's a power in retaining a sense of mystery. Just look at Sault, the enigmatic collective said to be fronted by the Aaliyah-esque Cleo Sol, who've released 11 albums and evenperformed live without officially revealing their true identities.

She Was A Triple Threat 

Triple threats are par for the course these days. From Beyoncé and Rihanna to Brandy and Nicki Minaj, almost every female R&B star now seems determined to show they can pull off singing, dancing and acting — and, in the case of Jennifer Lopez's recent passion project, all at the same time. But Aaliyah was one of the first to showcase such impressive versatility.

In 2000 thriller Romeo Must Die, she stole the show from Jet Li as the daughter of a crime lord who refuses to get drawn into his dangerous underworld. And thanks to an inventive blend of wirework and futuristic choreography, she was equally spellbinding in the video for tie-in single "Try Again." 

Meanwhile, her slithery performance as the titular bloodsucker was by far the standout in 2001 horror Queen of the Damned. Having landed key roles in The Matrix Reloaded and Sparkle shortly before her untimely death, Aaliyah's movie career would undoubtedly have ascended to the same lofty heights as her musical.

She Wasn't Afraid To Take Control 

Don't be fooled by Aaliyah's softly spoken vocals and coy demeanor. The star was never afraid to tell it like it is. Just ask A&R executive Jeff Sledge, who guided her early days with Jive Records. "She was shy but when she would speak, you could tell she was a real artist," he told The Guardian in 2021. "She had her ideas of what she wanted to do and say — she wasn't a puppet."

Although her talents lay as a performer/interpreter rather than a songwriter/producer, Aaliyah continued to exert creative control throughout her discography. While promoting sophomore One In A Million, she told MTV, "I was very confident in my convictions and what I wanted this time around." 

It's a mindset reflected across her lyrical themes, too. On "If Your Girl Only Knew," she hits back at a player whose attention she's unwillingly caught, while on "Are You That Somebody," she insists on keeping her new beau a secret until he proves his worth.

She Helped Launch Missy Elliott's Career 

Although Missy Elliott had started to make waves in the music industry — firstly in short-lived girlband Sista, and then as writer/producer for Jodeci and Aaron Hall — it was her partnership with Timbaland and Aaliyah on 1996's One In A Million where she truly established herself as an R&B game-changer. Elliott co-penned nine tracks, including the singles "Hot Like Fire," "4 Page Letter" and "If Your Girl Only Knew," her sensual melodic hooks the perfect foil for Timbaland's innovative beats.

By the time their crowning glory, "Are You That Somebody," dropped in 1998, Elliott had become a star in her own right: maintaining the synergy, her debut album, 1997's Supa Dupa Fly, also boasted a guest appearance from Aaliyah. But as Elliott told Entertainment Weekly in a tribute to Aaliyah after her passing, their connection went far beyond the studio: "It was more of a family vibe than just work. We could tell each other anything." Over the next few years, both established (Whitney, Mariah) and emerging (702, Tweet) female talent would follow Aaliyah's lead by utilizing Elliott's production skills.

She Gave The Youth A Voice 

From SWV and En Vogue to Brownstone and Jade, the mid-'90s R&B scene was dominated by ladies well into adulthood. Aaliyah, however, was just 15 when debut Age Ain't Nothing But A Number hit the shelves. Subsequently, a generation of young girls immediately latched on to who they saw as a kindred spirit.

Although Aaliyah always sounded more mature than her years, her debut often reads like a schoolgirl's diary entry. (She even opens the title track by noting one: "May 5, 1993/ Aaliyah's diary/ Got it," goes the often-omitted intro.) Songs about crushes, hanging out with her friends, and partying on the weekend certainly reflected the teenage experience with authenticity (Aaliyah was still attending Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts).

What's more, "Young Nation" essentially finds her spearheading a new youth movement, "keeping it smooth with a jazz attitude.""There were so many messages in her songs that guided me and became the soundtrack to my childhood," British singer Kara Marni told The Guardian, proving that Aaliyah's generational influence extended far beyond her homeland.

She Had A Timeless Sense Of Style 

"There doesn't seem to be a current streetwear trend that Aaliyah didn't sport first," Vogue's fashion editor Janelle Okwodu recently claimed, no doubt referring to everything from bandanas and baggy jeans to sports jerseys and ski hats. From the moment she first graced MTV in overalls, a tracksuit and the chunkiest of leather vests in "Back & Forth," the New Yorker made it crystal clear she wasn't interested in appealing solely to the male gaze.

Aaliyah could dress up for the occasion; see the Roberto Cavalli ballgown she wore to the 2000 VMAs. But her sense of style always leaned more toward the casual and tomboyish end of the spectrum, empowering the next generation of R&B performers to wear exactly what they wanted. British singer Nao was one such follower of her fashion: "There was a part of Aaliyah that made me feel comfortable in rolling out in my denim trousers or in an oversized jumper and knowing that my music can be enough."

She Proved Female R&B Could Think Outside The Box 

TLC's "No Scrubs," Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On," Amerie's "1 Thing." Think of the most innovative R&B singles of the pre-streaming era and it's likely a female act is responsible. And thanks to a sonic palette that still sounds like it's been sent from the future, Aaliyah undeniably paved the way.

Age Ain't Nothing But A Number first established her innovative ways, her mellifluous vocals gliding across Timbaland's progressive beats and bank of avant-garde sound effects. But it was 2001's eponymous LP that truly pushed the genre into various weird and wonderful directions, from the snake-charming classical sample on "We Need A Resolution," to the warped Nine Inch Nails-esque guitars on "What If," to the squelchy sci-fi funk of "Try Again." 

Even when she went classic, as on gorgeous slow jam, "I Care 4 U," she practically invented alternative R&B. Musical boundaries might now be a thing of the past, but in the early '00s, Aaliyah was one of the few breaking them down.

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Tori Kelly
Tori Kelly

Photo: Sarah Morris/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

news

Tori Kelly Gets “Unwrapped” For 'TORI' At GRAMMY U Event Showcasing Production & Recording Techniques From Her New Album

The singer stepped out for GRAMMY U's first "Unwrapped" event to give fans a look deep inside her new record, TORI. Joined by producer and collaborator Tenroc, the pair walked guests through the making of several tracks including "missin u" and "oceans."

GRAMMYs/May 21, 2024 - 10:11 pm

GRAMMY U members got a special treat from Tori Kelly when the singer (and Sing-er) took the stage for the first ever GRAMMY U "Unwrapped" event on May 15. Held at The Novo in downtown Los Angeles, the event brought together fans, music industry professionals, and students for a night that dove deep into the creative process behind Kelly’s brand new record, TORI. Amazon Music and Mastercard were presenting sponsors for this event. 

Joined on stage by producer and collaborator Tenroc, Kelly took fans through a journey of several tracks from her new record, from inception to completion. Kelly discussed each track, aided by a video presentation and using stems to highlight special production techniques, musical intricacies, and cool little Easter eggs. The showcase was followed by a round of live questions from the audience, where Kelly dished about everything from her voiceover work to her pre-studio rituals, before grabbing a guitar and performing two new tracks: "High Water" and "Oceans." 

Here’s a glimpse into all the songs Kelly and Tenroc featured, from "Missin' U" to "Spruce."

"thing u do”

When it came time to make Tori, Kelly told the audience that she wanted to focus on "songs that make [you] wanna dance," and "songs that [anyone] can belt out in the car." Mainly collaborating just with Tenroc, Bellion, Clyde Lawrence, and Jordan Cohen, Kelly put together a record that's strongly influenced by late '90s and early '00s pop, with references to chirping Sidekick phones and plenty of nostalgic vocal effects. 

"missin u" in particular is interesting, not just because it was inspired by Craig David and the U.K. Garage sound — with Kelly taking special care to pronounce "garage" in true British fashion at the live event — but also because it was released in both its original form and as an R&B edit. The latter version is the one Kelly and Tenroc highlighted at the event, going through Kelly's vocal tracks, and really digging in on the remix's bridge, which Kelly wrote just for that track and recorded in her home studio.

Getting to see Tenroc's Logic Pro work on the big screen seemed to mesmerize everyone in attendance, with most marveling at the ease he seemed to have flicking through the dozens of stems, layers, and plug-ins. 

"missin u"

When it came time to make TORI, Kelly told the audience that she wanted to focus on "songs that make [you] wanna dance," and "songs that [anyone] can belt out in the car." Mainly collaborating just with Tenroc, Bellion, Clyde Lawrence, and Jordan Cohen, Kelly put together a record that's strongly influenced by late '90s and early '00s pop, with references to chirping Sidekick phones and plenty of nostalgic vocal effects.

In particular, "missin u" is interesting, not just because it was inspired by Craig David and the U.K. Garage sound — with Kelly taking special care to pronounce "garage" in true British fashion at the live event — but also because it was released in both its original form and as an R&B edit. The latter version is the one Kelly and Tenroc highlighted at the event, going through Kelly's vocal tracks, and really digging in on the remix's bridge, which Kelly wrote just for that track and recorded in her home studio.

Getting to see Tenroc's Logic Pro work on the big screen seemed to mesmerize everyone in attendance, with most marveling at the ease he seemed to have flicking through the dozens of stems, layers, and plug-ins. 

"shelter"

Talking about "shelter," Kelly described a sort of shorthand she'd developed with Tenroc, after working closely together over the past few years. She said they're at the point where they can communicate with "sounds" and "telepathy," a benefit she attributes to not switching producers throughout the making of her record.

Tenroc and Kelly used "shelter" to talk about the comping process, or the act of combining the best parts of different takes into a single track. Kelly said she typically does about five takes of a vocal track, all in different personas: one normal, one shyer, one wild, one with a lot of vocal runs, and one that's sort of a wild card. She can keep each take separate in her mind that way, remembering how she recorded a vowel slightly better in one take or gave a line a little grittier vocal texture in another. It's not something everyone can do, though, and Tenroc said it's truly amazing to witness in person — a fact the live audience could attest to. 

For Kelly, a lot of making TORI, was about exploring different tones and textures of her voice, she said. She'd sometimes start by doing an impression of a singer like Rihanna and Willow in one run, and then blend the inspired version with her own, stretching herself vocally. She demonstrated that kind of thing live at the show, doing off-the-cuff runs of bits of "Shelter" to talk about how they changed the way the word "plate" in the chorus. 

Tenroc also showed off how he used the Little Alterboy plug-in to alter Kelly's voice, turning the rap in "shelter," as well as the "you, you, you, you, you" bit into what sounds like a deep masculine voice, even though those lines were originally laid down by Kelly herself. 

"spruce"

When "spruce" was first being envisioned by Kelly and co-writer Casey Smith, it was a song called "truce" about making up with your loved one before going out on the town. Kelly had been wanting to make a "getting ready, girly song," though, and Bellion came into the studio one day with the idea of merging the two ideas in what became "spruce." 

Written over a loop made by Tenroc, "spruce" — featuring Kim Chaewon of K-Pop group LE SSERAFIM — is emblematic, Kelly said, of her effort to let go, change, and try new things in the studio. The production was inspired by Jai Paul and uses sidechain compression, which is when the level of one instrument or sound triggers a compressor to control the level of another sound. The crowd clearly seemed taken with the sound when Tenroc played examples of how it was used in the track, which he said he made in part with the Serum plugin. Kelly said the result feels fully "3-D," like you're "inside" the track rather than just listening along.

"same girl"

The last — and most personal —song on the record, "same girl," was mostly written by Kelly while she was on a plane. She wanted something that felt like it could close the record, and she recorded it live with Tenroc in her studio, where he also played piano. 

Kelly said the song was inspired by her love of various music styles and genres. She explained, "Coming up as an artist, I always felt a little insecure about trying to stay in one lane and be in one box. I love so many different genres. I'm inspired by so many different things." She continued, "And so finding my sound I always thought that was a bad thing... But I'm grateful for all these different genres I've been able to dabble in. This song was me being overwhelmed by people's opinions and letting it get to me a little bit while thinking of my career as a whole."

Kelly said that while she worried when she was writing that the lyrics would be too personal and too specific, she's had great feedback about the track, something that reminds her that, "Anytime you write about your own experience, someone else out there is going to be able to relate to it." 

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Usher Collaborator Pheelz Talks New EP
Pheelz

Photo: Williams Peters

interview

Meet Usher Collaborator Pheelz, The Nigerian Producer & Singer Who Wants You To 'Pheelz Good'

After working with Usher on two tracks for his latest album, 'Coming Home,' Lagos' Pheelz is looking inward. His new EP, 'Pheelz Good II' drops May 10 and promises to be an embrace of the artist's unabashed self.

GRAMMYs/May 9, 2024 - 01:15 pm

If you were online during the summer of 2022, chances are you’ve heard Pheelz’s viral hit single "Finesse." The swanky Afro-fusion track (featuring fellow Nigerian artist Bnxn) ushered in a world of crossover success for Pheelz, who began his career as a producer for the likes of Omah Lay, Davido, and Fireboy DML.

Born Phillip Kayode Moses, Pheelz’s religious upbringing in Lagos state contributed to his development as a musician. He manned the choir at his father’s church while actively working on his solo music. Those solo efforts garnered praise from his peers and music executives, culminating in Pheelz's debut EP in 2021. Hear Me Out saw Pheelz fully embrace his talent as a vocalist, songwriter, and producer. 

"I feel important, like I’m just molding clay, and I have control over each decision," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com about creating his own music. 

2022 saw the release of the first two tapes in his Pheelz Good trilogy: Pheelz Good I and Pheelz Good (Triibe Tape), which was almost entirely self-produced. The 29-year-old's consistency has paid off: he produced and sang on Usher’s "Ruin," the lead single from his latest album Coming Home, and also produced the album's title track featuring Burna Boy. But Pheelz isn't only about racking up big-name collaborators; the self-proclaimed African rockstar's forthcoming projects will center on profound vulnerability and interpersonal honesty. First up: Pheelz Good II EP, out May 10, followed by a studio album in late summer.

Both releases will see the multi-hyphenate "being unapologetically myself," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com. "It will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. And it’s going to be me embracing my "crayge" [crazy rage]...being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me."

Ahead of his new project, Pheelz spoke with GRAMMY.com about his transition from producer artist, designing all his own 3D cover art, his rockstar aesthetic, and what listeners can expect from Pheelz Good II.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What sparked your transition from singing in church to realizing your passion for creating music?

For me, it wasn’t really a transition. I just always loved making music so for me I felt like it was just wherever I go to make music, that’s where I wanna be. I would be in church and I was the choirmaster at some point in my life, so I would write songs for Sunday service as well. And then I would go to school as well and write in school, and people heard me and they would love it. And I would want to do more of that as well. 

A friend of my dad played some of my records for the biggest producers in Nigeria back then and took me on as an intern in his studio. I guess that’s the transition from church music into the industry. My brothers and sisters were in the choir, but that came with the job of being the children of the pastor, I guess. None of them really did music like me; I’m the only one who took music as a career and pursued it.

You made a name for yourself as a producer before ever releasing your music, earning Producer Of The Year at Nigeria’s Headies Awards numerous times. What finally pushed you to get into the booth?

I’ve always wanted to get into the booth. The reason why I actually started producing was to produce beats for songs that I had written. I’ve always been in the booth, but always had something holding me back. Like a kind of subconscious feeling over what my childhood has been. I wasn’t really outspoken as a child growing up, so I wouldn’t want people to really hear me and would shy away from the camera in a sense. I think that stuck with me and held me back. 

But then COVID happened and then I caught COVID and I’m like Oh my god and like that [snaps fingers] What I am doing? Why am I not going full steam? Like why do I have all this amazing awesomeness inside of me and no one gets to it because I’m scared of this or that?

There was this phrase that kept ringing in my head: You have to die empty. You can’t leave this earth with all of this gift that God has given you; you have to make sure you empty yourself. And since then, it’s just been back-to-back, which just gave me the courage.  

How did you react to " Finesse" in former President Barack Obama’s annual summer playlist in 2022?

Bro, I reacted crazy but my dad went bananas. [Laughs.] I was really grateful for that moment, but just watching my dad react like that to that experience was the highlight of that moment for me. He's such a fan of Barack Obama and to see that his son’s music is on the playlist, it just made his whole month. Literally. He still talks about it to this day. 

Experiences like that just make me feel very grateful to be here. Life has really been a movie, just watching a movie and just watching God work and being grateful for everything.

At first he [my dad] [didn’t support my career] because every parent wants their child to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. But when he saw the hunger [I have], and I was stubborn with [wanting] to do music, he just had to let me do it. And now he’s my number one fan. 

Your latest single, "Go Low" arrived just in time for festival season. What was it like exploring the live elements of your art at SXSW and your headlining show in London at the end of April?

I have always wanted to perform live. I’ve always loved performing; Pheelz on stage is the best Pheelz. Coming from church every Sunday, I would perform, lead prayers and worship, so I’ve always wanted to experience that again.

Having to perform live with my band around the world is incredible man. And I’ll forever raise the flag of amazing Afro live music because there’s a difference, you know? [Laughs.] There are so many elements and so many rhythms and so many grooves

I’ve noticed that much of your recent cover art for your singles and EPs is animated or digitally crafted. What’s the significance, if any, of this stylistic choice?

It still goes back to my childhood because I wasn’t expressive as a child; I wouldn’t really talk or say how I felt. I’d rather write about it, write a song about it, write a poem about it, or draw about it. I’d draw this mask and then put how I’m feeling into that character, so if I was angry, the mask would be raging and just angry.

The angry ones were the best ones, so that stuck with me even after I started coming out of my shell and talking and being expressive; that act of drawing a mask still stuck with me. And then I got into 3D, and I made a 3D version of the mask and I made a 3D character of the mask. So I made that the main character, and then I just started making my lyric videos, again post-COVID, and making them [lyric videos] to the characters and making the actual video mine as well.

In the future, I’m gonna get into fashion with the characters, I’m gonna get into animation and cartoons and video games, but I just wanna take it one step at a time with the music first. So, in all of my lyric videos, you get to experience the characters. There’s a fight [scene] among them in one of the lyric videos called "Ewele"; there is the lover boy in the lyric video for "Stand by You"; there are the bad boys in the lyric video for "Balling." They all have their own different characters so hopefully in the near future, I will get to make a feature film with them and just tell their story [and] build a world with them. I make sure I put extra energy into that, make most of them myself so the imprint of my energy is gonna be on it as well because it’s very important to me.

You and Usher have a lengthy working relationship. You first performed together in 2022 at the Global Citizen Festival, then produced/co-wrote "Coming Home" and "Ruin." Take us through the journey of how you two began collaborating.

It started through a meeting with [Epic Records CEO] L.A. Reid; he was telling me about the album that they were working on for Usher and I’m like, "Get me into the studio and lemme see what I can cook up." And they got me into the studio, [with Warner Records A&R] Marc Byers, and I wrote and produced "Coming Home." I already had "Ruin" a year before that. 

["Ruin"] was inspired by a breakup I just went through. Some of the greatest art comes from pain, I guess. That record was gonna be for my album but after I came home I saw how L.A. Reid and Usher reacted and how they loved it. I told them, "I have this other song, and I think you guys would like it for this album." And I played "Ruin," and the rest was history.

Before your upcoming EP, you’ve worked with Pharrell Williams, Kail Uchis, and the Chainsmokers in the studio. What do you consider when selecting potential collaborators?

To be honest, I did not look for these collabs. It was like life just brought them my way, because for me I’m open to any experience. I’m open to life; I do it the best I can at any moment, you understand? 

Having worked with Pharrell now, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, and the Chainsmokers, I’m still shocked at the fact that this is happening. But ultimately, I am grateful for the fact that this is happening. I am proud of myself as well for how far I’ve come. Someone like Timbaland — they are literally the reason why I started producing music; I would literally copy their beats, and try to sound like them growing up. 

[Now] I have them in the same room talking, and we’re teaching and learning, making music and feeding off of each others’ energy. It’s a dream come true, literally.

What's it like working with am electro-pop group like the Chainsmokers? How’d you keep your musical authenticity on "PTSD"?

That experiment ["PTSD"] was actually something I would play with back home. But the crazy thing is, it’s gonna be on the album now, not the EP. I would play it back home, like just trying to get the EDM and Afrohouse world to connect, cause I get in my Albert Einstein bag sometimes and just try and experiment. So when I met the Chainsmokers and like. "Okay, this is an opportunity to actually do it now," and we had a very lengthy conversation. 

We bonded first as friends before we went into the studio. We had an amazing conversation talking about music, [them] talking about pop and electronic music, and me talking about African music. So it was just a bunch of producers geeking out on what they love to do. And then we just talk through how we think the sound would be like really technical terms. Then we get into the studio and just bang it out. Hopefully, we get to make some more music because I think we can create something for the world together.

I’ve noticed you dress a bit eccentrically. Have you always had this aesthetic?

I’ve always dabbled in fashion. Even growing up, I would sketch for my sister and make this little clothing, so like I would kick up my uniform as well, make it baggy, make it flare pants, make it fly. 

I think that stuck with me until now, trying different things with fashion. And now I have like stylists I can talk to and throw ideas off of and create something together. So yeah, I want to get into the fashion space and see what the world has in store for me. 

What can fans expect as you’re putting the finishing touches on your upcoming EP Pheelz Good II and your album?

Pheelz Good II, [will be] a close to the Pheelz Good trilogy of Pheelz Good I, Pheelz Good Triibe Tape and Pheelz Good II. The album is going to be me being unapologetically myself still. But it will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. 

It’s going to be me embracing my crayge [crazy rage]. Like just embracing me unapologetically and being me, being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me, you get me. But I’m working on some really amazing music that I am so proud of. I’m so proud of the EP and the album.

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Coxsone Dodd in his studio circa 1980 color
Coxsone Dodd circa 1980

Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

list

Remembering Coxsone Dodd: 10 Essential Productions From The Architect Of Jamaican Music

Regarded as Jamaica’s Motown, Coxsone Dodd's Studio One helped launch the careers of legends such as Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, and the Wailers. In honor of the 20th anniversary of Dodd’s passing, learn about 10 of his greatest productions.

GRAMMYs/May 3, 2024 - 02:17 pm

On April 30, 2004, producer Clement Seymour "Sir Coxsone" Dodd — an architect in the construction of Jamaica’s recording industry — was honored at a festive street renaming ceremony on Brentford Road in Kingston, Jamaica. The bustling, commercial thoroughfare at the geographical center of Kingston was rechristened Studio One Blvd. in recognition of Coxsone’s recording studio and record label.

Dodd is said to have acquired a former nightclub at 13 Brentford Road in 1962; his father, a construction worker, helped him transform the building  into the landmark studio. In 1963 Dodd installed a one-track board and began recording and issuing records on the Studio One label. 

Dodd’s Studio One was Jamaica’s first Black-owned recording facility and is regarded as Jamaica’s Motown because of its consistent output of hit records. Studio One releases helped launch the careers of numerous ska, rocksteady and reggae legends including Bob Andy,  Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Alton Ellis, the Gladiators, the Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, Marcia Griffiths, Sugar Minott, Delroy Wilson and most notably, the Wailers.

At the street renaming ceremony, a jazz band played, speeches were given in tribute to Dodd’s immeasurable contributions to Jamaican music and many heartfelt memories from the studio’s heyday were shared. In the culmination of the late afternoon program, Dodd, his wife Norma, and Kingston’s then mayor Desmond McKenzie unveiled the first sign bearing the name Studio One Blvd. Four days later, on April 4, 2002, Coxsone Dodd suffered a fatal heart attack at Studio One. His productions, however, live on as benchmarks within the island’s voluminous and influential music canon.

Born Clement Seymour Dodd on Jan. 26, 1932, he was given the nickname Sir Coxsone after the star British cricketer whose batting skills Clement was said to match. As a teenager, Dodd developed a fondness for jazz and bebop that he heard beamed into Jamaica from stations in Miami and Nashville and the big band dances he attended in Kingston. Dodd launched Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat sound system around 1952 with the impressive collection of R&B and jazz discs he amassed while living in the U.S., working as a seasonal farm laborer.

Many sound system proprietors traveled to the U.S. to purchase R&B records — the preferred music among their dance patrons and key to a sound system’s following and trumping an opponent in a sound clash. With the birth of rock and roll in the mid-1950s, suitable R&B records became scarce. Jamaica’s ever-resourceful sound men ventured into Kingston studios to produce R&B shuffle recordings for sound system play. 

Recognizing there was a wider market for this music, Dodd pressed up a few hundred copies of two sound system favorites for general release, the instrumental "Shuffling Jug" by bassist Cluett Johnson and his Blues Blasters and singer/pianist Theophilus Beckford’s "Easy Snapping," both issued on Dodd’s first label, Worldisc. (Some historians recognize "Easy Snapping" as a bridge between R&B shuffle and the island’s Indigenous ska beat; others cite it as the first ska record.) When those discs sold out within a few days, other soundmen followed Dodd’s lead and Jamaica’s commercial recording industry began to flourish.

"Before then, the only stuff released commercially were mento records that were recorded here, but our sound really hit so we kept on recording. When I heard 'Easy Snapping,' I said 'Oh my gosh!'" Coxsone recalled in a 2002 interview for Air Jamaica's Skywritings at Kiingston’s Studio One. "I thank God for that moment." 

Dodd was the first producer to enlist a house band, pay them a weekly salary rather than per record. Together, they had an impressive run of hits in the ska era in the early ‘60s; during the rocksteady period later in the decade, Dodd ceded top ranking status to long standing sound system rival (but close family friend) turned producer Duke Reid. (Still, Studio One released the most enduring instrumentals or rhythm tracks, also known as riddims, of the period.)  As rocksteady morphed into reggae circa 1968, Dodd triumphed again with consistent releases of exceptional quality. 

In 1979 armed robbers targeted the Brentford Rd premises several times. Dodd left Jamaica and established Coxsone’s Music City record store/recording studio in Brooklyn, dividing his time between New York and Kingston. Reissues of Dodd’s music via Cambridge, MA based Heartbeat Records, beginning in the mid 1980s, followed by London’s Soul Jazz label in the 2000s, and most recently Yep Roc Records in Hillsborough, NC, have helped introduce Studio One’s masterful work to new generations of fans. 

"The best time I’ve ever had was when I acquired my studio at 13 Brentford Rd. because you can do as many takes until we figured that was it," Coxsone reflected in the 2002 interview. "God gave me a gift of having the musicians inside the studio to put the songs together. In the studio, I always thought about the fans, making the music more pleasing for listening or dancing. What really helped me was having the sound system, you play a record, and you weren’t guessing what you were doing, you saw what you were doing." 

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Coxsone Dodd’s passing, read on for a list of 10 of his greatest productions.

The Maytals - "Six and Seven Books of Moses" (1963)

In 1961 at the dawn of Jamaica’s ska era, Toots Hibbert met singers Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias and Henry "Raleigh" Gordon and they formed the Maytals. The trio released several hits for Dodd including the rousing, "Six and Seven Books of Moses," a gospel-drenched ska track that’s essentially a shout out of a few Old Testament chapters. 

Moses is credited with writing five chapters, as the lyrics state, "Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers Deuteronomy," but "the Six and Seven books" are in question. Many Biblical scholars say Moses wasn’t the scribe, believing those chapters, including phony spells and incantations to keep evil spirits away, were penned in the 18th or 19th century. 

Nevertheless, there’s a real magic formula in The Maytals’ "Six and Seven Books of Moses": Toots’ electrifying preacher at the pulpit delivery melds with elements of vintage soul, gritty R&B, and classic country; Jerry and Raleigh provide exuberant backing vocals and seminal ska outfit and Studio One’s first house band, the Skatalities deliver an irresistible, jaunty ska rhythm with a sophisticated jazz underpinning. 

The Wailers - "Simmer Down" (1964)

A flashback scene in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love depicts the Wailers (then a teenaged outfit called the Juveniles) approaching Dodd for a recording opportunity; Dodd inexplicably points a gun at them as they recoil in terror. Yet, there isn’t any mention of such an inappropriate and unprovoked action from the producer in the various books, documentaries, interviews and other accounts of the Wailers’ audition for Dodd. 

The Wailers’ first recording session with Dodd in July 1964, however, yielded the group’s first hit single "Simmer Down." At that time, the Wailers lineup consisted of founding members Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston (later Wailer) and Peter Tosh alongside singers Junior Braithwaite and (the sole surviving member) Beverley Kelso. When Junior left for the U.S., Dodd appointed Marley as the group’s lead singer.

The energetic "Simmer Down" cautions the impetuous rude boys to refrain from their hooligan exploits. The Skatalites’ spirited horn led intro, thumping jazz infused bass and fluttering sax solo, enhances Marley’s youthful lead and the backing vocalists’ effervescence. The Wailers would spend two years at Studio One and record over 100 songs there, including the first recording of "One Love" in 1965; by early 1966, they would have five songs produced by Dodd in the Jamaica Top 10. 

Alton Ellis -"I’m Still In Love" (1967)

Jamaica’s brief rocksteady lasted about two years between 1966-1968, but was an exceptionally rich and influential musical era. The rocksteady tempo maintained the accentuated offbeat of its ska predecessor, but its slower pace allowed vocal and musical arrangements, affixed in heavier, more melodic basslines.

Alton Ellis is considered the godfather of rocksteady because he had numerous hits during the era and released "Rock Steady," the first single to utilize the term for producer Duke Reid. Ellis initially worked with Dodd in the late 1950s then returned to him in 1967. The evergreen "I’m Still in Love" was penned by Alton as a plea to his wife as their marriage dissolved: "You don’t know how to love me, or even how to kiss me/I don’t know why."  Supporting Alton’s elegant, soulful rendering of heartbreak, Studio One house band the Soul Vendors, led by keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, provide an engaging horn-drenched rhythm, epitomizing what was so special about this short-lived time in Jamaican music.

"I’m Still In Love" has been covered by various artists including Sean Paul and Sasha, whose rendition reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2004. Beyoncé utilized Jamaican singer Marcia’s Aitken’s 1978 version of the tune in a TV ad announcing her 2018 On The Run II tour with Jay-Z. In February 2024, Jennifer Lopez sampled "I’m Still in Love" for her single "Can’t Get Enough."

Bob Andy - "I’ve Got to Go Back Home" (1967)

 The late Keith Anderson, known professionally as Bob Andy, arrived at Studio One in 1967. He quickly became a hit-making vocalist, and an invaluable writer for other artists on the label. He penned several hits for Marcia Griffiths including "Feel Like Jumping," "Melody Life" and "Always Together," the latter their first of many hit recordings as a duo. 

A founding member of the vocal trio the Paragons, "I’ve Got to go Back Home" was Andy’s first solo hit and it features sublime backing vocals by the Wailers (Bunny, Peter and Constantine "Vision" Walker; Bob Marley was living in the USA at the time.) Set to a sprightly rock steady beat featuring Bobby Ellis (trumpet), Roland Alphonso (saxophone) and Carlton Samuels’ (saxophone) harmonizing horns, Andy’s lyrics poignantly depict the challenges endured by Jamaica’s poor ("I can’t get no clothes to wear, can’t get no food to eat, I can’t get a job to get bread") while expressing a longing to return to Africa, a central theme within 1970s Rasta roots reggae. 

The depth of Andy’s lyrics expanded the considerations of Jamaican songwriters and one of his primary influences was Bob Dylan. "When I heard Bob Dylan, it occurred to me for the first time that you don’t have to write songs about heart and soul," Andy told Billboard in 2018. "Bob Dylan’s music introduced me to the world of social commentary and that set me on my way as a writer."  

Dawn Penn - "You Don’t Love Me" (1967)

Dawn Penn’s plaintive, almost trancelike vocals and the lilting rock steady arrangement by the Soul Vendors transformed Willie Cobbs’ early R&B hit "You Don’t Love Me," based on Bo Diddley’s 1955 gritty blues lament "She’s Fine, She’s Mine," into a Jamaican classic. The song’s shimmering guitar intro gives way to the forceful drum and bass with Mittoo’s keyboards providing an understated yet essential flourish.

In 1992 Jamaica’s Steely and Clevie remade the song, featuring Penn,  for their album Steely and Clevie Play Studio One Vintage. The dynamic musician/production duo brought their mastery (and 1990s technological innovations) to several Studio One classics with the original singers. Heartbeat released "You Don’t Love Me" as a single and it reached No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Several artists have reworked Penn’s rendition or sampled the Soul Vendors’ arrangement including rapper Eve on a collaboration with Stephen and Damian Marley. Rihanna recruited Vybz Kartel for an interpretation included on her 2005 debut album Music of the Sun, while Beyoncé performed the song on her I Am world tour in 2014 and recorded it in 2019 for her Homecoming: The Live Album. In 2013, Los Angeles-based Latin soul group the Boogaloo Assassins brought a salsa flavor to Penn's tune, creating a sought-after DJ single. 

The Heptones - "Equal Rights" (1968)

 

"Every man has an equal right to live and be free/no matter what color, class or race he may be," sings an impassioned Leroy Sibbles on "Equal Rights," the Heptones’ stirring plea for justice.

Harmony vocalist Earl Morgan formed the group with singer Barry Llewellyn in the early '60s and Sibbles joined them a few years later. The swinging bass line, played by Sibbles, anchors a stunning rock steady rhythm track awash in cascading horns, and blistering percussion patterns akin to the akete or buru drums heard at Rastafari Nyabinghi sessions.

Besides leading the Heptones’ numerous hit singles during their five-year stint at Studio One, Sibbles was a talent scout, backing vocalist, resident bassist and the primary arranger, alongside Jackie Mittoo. Sibbles’ progressive basslines are featured on numerous Studio One nuggets (many appearing on this list) and have been sampled or remade countless times over the decades on Jamaican and international hits.

In a December 2023 interview Sibbles echoed a complaint expressed by many who worked at Studio One: Dodd didn’t fairly compensate his artists and the (uncredited) musicians produced the songs while Dodd tended to business matters. "When we started out, we didn’t know about the business, and what happened, happened. But as you learn as you go along," he said. "I have registered what I could; I am living comfortably so I am grateful." 

 The Cables - "Baby Why" (1968)

Formed in 1962 by lead singer Keble Drummond and backing vocalists Vincent Stoddart and Elbert Stewart, the Cables — while not as well-known as the Wailers, the Maytals or the Heptones — recorded a few evergreen hits at Studio One, including the enchanting "Baby Why." 

Keble’s aching vocals lead this breakup tale as he warns the woman who left that she’ll soon regret it. The simple story line is delivered via a gorgeous melody that’s further embellished by Vincent and Elbert’s superb harmonizing, repeatedly cooing to hypnotic effect "why, why oh, why?" 

Coxsone is said to have kept the song for exclusive sound system play for several months; when he finally released it commercially, "Baby Why" stayed at No. 1 for four weeks. 

"Baby Why" is notable for another reason: although the Maytals’ "Do The Reggay" marks the initial use of the word reggae in a song, "Baby Why" is among a handful of songs cited as the first recorded with a reggae rhythm (reggae basslines are fuller and reggae’s tempo is a bit slower than its rocksteady forerunner.) Other contenders for that historic designation include Lee "Scratch Perry’s "People Funny Boy," the Beltones’ "No More Heartache," and Larry Marshall and Alvin Leslie’s delightful "Nanny Goat." 

Burning Spear - "Door Peeper" (1969)

Hailing from the parish of St. Ann, Jamaica, Burning Spear was referred to Studio One by another St. Ann native, Bob Marley. Spear’s first single for Studio One "Door Peeper" (also known as "Door Peep Shall Not Enter") recorded in 1969, sounded unlike any music released by Dodd and was critical in shaping the Rastafarian roots reggae movement of the next decade.

The song’s biblically laced lyrics caution informers who attempt to interfere with Rastafarians, considered societal outcasts at the time in Jamaica, while Spear’s intonation to "chant down Babylon" creates a haunting mystical effect, supported by Rupert Willington’s evocative, deep vocal pitch, a throbbing bass, mesmeric percussion and magnificent horn blasts. 

As Spear told GRAMMY.com in September 2023, "When Mr. Dodd first heard 'Door Peep' he was astonished; for a man who’d been in the music business for so long, he never heard anything like that." Dodd’s openness to recording Rasta music, and allowing ganja smoking on the premises (but not in the studio) when his competitors didn’t put him in the forefront at the threshold of the roots reggae era.

"Door Peeper" was included on Burning Spear’s debut album, Studio One Presents Burning Spear, released in 1973 and remains a popular selection in the legendary artist’s live sets.

Joseph Hill - "Behold The Land" (1972)

In the October 1946 address Behold The Land by W. E. B. DuBois at the closing session of the Southern Youth Legislature in Columbia, South Carolina, the then 78-year-old celebrated author and activist urges Black youth to fight for racial equality and the civil rights denied them in Southern states. The late Joseph Hill’s 1972 song of the same name, possibly influenced by Dubois’ words, is a powerful reggae missive exploring the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade from which descended the discriminations DuBois described.

Hill was just 23 when he wrote/recorded "Behold The Land," his debut single as a vocalist. Hill’s haunting timbre summons the harrowing experience with the wisdom and emotional rendering of an ancestor: "For we were brought here in captivity, bound in links and chains and we worked as slaves and they lashed us hard." Hill then gives praise and asks for repatriation to the African motherland, "let us behold the land where we belong."

The Soul Defenders — a self contained entity but also a Studio One house band with whom Hill made his initial recordings as a percussionist — provide a persistent, bass heavy rhythm that suitably frames Hill’s lyrical gravitas, as do the melancholy hi-pitched harmonies.

In 1976 Hill formed the reggae trio Culture and the next year they catapulted to international fame with their apocalyptic single "Two Sevens Clash," which prompted Dodd to finally release "Behold The Land." Culture would re-record "Behold The Land" over the years including for their 1978 album Africa Stand Alone and the song received a digital remastering in 2001.

Sugar Minott - "Oh Mr. DC" (1978)

In the mid-1970s singer Lincoln "Sugar" Minott began writing lyrics to classic 1960s Studio One riddims, an approach that launched his hitmaking solo career and further popularized the practice of riddim recycling — which is still a standard approach in dancehall production. Sugar, formerly with the vocal trio The African Brothers,  penned one of his earliest solo hits "Oh, Mr. DC" to the lively beat of the Tennors’ 1967 single "Pressure and Slide" (itself a riddim originally heard, at a faster pace, underpinning Prince Buster’s 1966 "Shaking Up Orange St.")

"Oh, Mr. DC" is an authentic tale of a ganja dealer returning from the country with his bag of collie (marijuana); the DC (district constable/policeman) says he’s going to arrest him and threatens to shoot if he attempts to run away. Sugar explains to the officer that selling herb is how he supports his family: "The children crying for hunger/ I man a suffer, so you’ve got to see/it’s just collie that feed me." To underscore his urgent plea, Sugar wails in an unforgettable melody, "Oh, oh DC, don’t take my collie." 

The irresistibly bubbling bassline of the riddim nearly obscures the song’s poignant depiction of Jamaica’s harsh economic realities and the potential risk of imprisonment, or worse, that the island’s ganja sellers faced at the time. Sugar’s revival of a Studio One riddim and reutilization of 10 Studio One riddims for each track of his 1977 album Live Loving brought renewed interest to the treasures that could be extracted from Mr. Dodd’s vaults.

Special thanks to Coxsone Dodd’s niece Maxine Stowe, former A&R at Sony/Columbia and Island Records, who started her career at Coxsone’s Music City, Brooklyn.

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