Many producers will tell you that you’ve got to put your soul into everything you do, lest you leave your music hollow and bare. Some have even told me that if you feel pain while you’re producing something, you’ve made something special. Something magical. Something heavy, but uplifting at the same time, mostly because you’ve finally gotten it out of you.
The most painful beat I ever made, oddly, is a track that I put together recently for True.
A bit of backstory: As you probably know by now, I’m one-half of the main duo of #TeamDAR, and I handle a pretty huge portion of production. Now, since True’s last album DOA, there’s been a slew of shit that’s happened that he’s supposed to talk about on Soul Revival 2. When he came to me for the aforementioned beat, I was taken aback a bit.
“I want you to flip a Marvin Gaye song to finish up the beats for the album,” True said one day a few weeks back. Fittingly, it was a bit rainy. On the music side, we just finished up work on “Piece of Me,” and I’d been playing around with some simple flips for “emotional” songs on the album. Honestly, I thought nothing of it. I’d done Marvin flips before, and I’d probably do them again. I had a framework down for this “last Marvin song,” but I knew that something was still missing from it.
It lacked a soul.
“A’ight, that’s easy,” I, almost cockily, told him, playing off my worries.
“But I need it to be cinematic. I know you got some in the works, but I need you to mesh them together and make it a three-parter, something that I can spill my soul over about some of the things that’ve happened. Since Soul REvival 2 is what it is, I need to speak on my feelings about everything that’s gone on.” True was unusually cryptic, but I didn’t want to pull everything out of him; I was busy myself, working on Songs For…, and getting the blog back off the ground.
“Again, easy,” I texted him as I rummaged through work later that day.
“I’ve a few ideas, but one that sticks out the most is this. You know how we usually do vocal samples over the tracks? I want to use one that hits close to home for me.”
“I want you to look at my Making of Soul Revival Part 3 video, from the first album’s production [in late 2011], and tell me what you see.”
So I went through it. At first, it didn’t hit me. I saw True talking about “Destined” and other tracks, I saw Steve [True’s engineer] talking about how unwilling True was to bite his tongue, I even saw myself–pre-Unhinged Speed–and Jovanni talking about our hands in the proverbial pot. I thought to myself “why does he want me to watch through this?” I thought it was a waste of time, and began to inch my mouse over to the “x” to close out.
And then I saw it. My heart skipped as a chill came over my body.
“Hey punk,” said a young woman starting her well wishes to True. I couldn’t believe what I heard. This voice–it was so loving, so full of life. It belonged to Erica, True’s ex-fiancee and the focus of many of his songs, including “Modern Day Woman.” And it hit me. To make this beat speak, to give it a soul, I needed to reach deep and pull something that I’d never done.
I never liked using samples of people I knew, even if they knew I did it. That’s why I used a MPJ soundalike on “Truthful Revelations…” from RAQUEL RELOADED/One Year Later–even if the song wasn’t actually about Ms. Pink Jacket. It was just something about it that, at times, felt cheap. I was never really sure why, but I think it had something to do with that weird set of morals I have from time to time. You know, the one that allows me to talk about a woman’s fails with me, but doesn’t allow me to let another talk for me in a song. The one that let me, a few years ago when I was going through a mini-unhinged moment and wanted unneeded vengeance on the world, randomly post nudes of my homeboy’s friend/fuck buddy because I felt he dicked me over for her. But, here, I knew. This had to be the soul of the beat. This needed to be the voice that spoke from the song–other than Marvin’s, other than True’s.
As I went back into the “lab” that afternoon, I began dealing with a few issues of my own making. Because I’d become so wrapped up with the music, and the blogs, and the beats, Raquel–who, by this time, I’d reconciled with by “Owning Up” among other things–stated she felt neglected by me. I constantly tried to tell her “it’s not like that,” as I shut down the computer so we could “talk.”
“But it is, Johnthan. Every time you get so focused in this music, you forget about me and the family that you helped create,” she told me later that night as we laid in our bed. “Now, I don’t want this to go how it went in ’11, so get it together. Learn to focus on everything, not just one or two things–or I’m gone.”
The next morning, a Sunday, feeling the rush of having several important pieces of me potentially yanked away from me, I went to work. I pulled everything I had into this six-minute composition. But, I didn’t use the vocal sample. I still felt hesitant. I sent the beat over to True for “inspection,” and the first thing he asked me was simple.
“Where’s the soul?”
I knew what he meant, but I still felt weird about it. After a while, I went back to that video. I listened to it again.
“Heyyy, punk…I know I’m not supposed to be doing this, but I just want to say I’m really proud of you,” Erica said in her moment frozen in time. Knowing everything I knew about their relationship, from her reactions to his vents, from her moving on to his moving on, I knew that it’d never be complete without it. So, I went to work on this beat. This soulful, pounding monstrosity. This amazing, “epic beat.”
Now, I’ve done some pretty soulful tracks, ranging from David Ruffin flips on songs talking about strippers that strip because of their jobs being outsourced to homages to music saving me and pretty much everything else under the sun. But, the end result of this track, after everything it took out me, I had to sit there for a second to collect myself to keep from losing it. I don’t know, maybe it was that I went through something similar in 2012 with Raquel. Maybe it was a sadness for my friend and his family. Maybe it was just that the beat was beautiful and just that. Whatever the cause, this beat spoke to me and it legitimately kept all of my strength to keep from bawling like a nursing child told that he had enough before he was full. And reading some of the lyrics that True wrote for this song, I know that this song will probably not leave a dry eye in the house when it comes on during a listen to Soul REvival 2.
As for me, I have learned to focus more on everything. I’m young, so I still make mistakes aplenty.