The beat came fairly easily. When I’m working with YZ, I basically describe the feeling I want to exude and he just brings it to life. It’s a very unique chemistry that we have. It’s been over 10 years, and to this day I still have no idea how he does it. It’s almost like I describe a color that doesn’t exist and he creates it.
He nailed the beat in just a few hours. Matter of fact, that was the easiest part of the song, by far. We created these spaces, or breaks, in the verses because I wanted to give the beat room to breathe and let the lyrics linger for the crowd. The whole song was created with liver performances in mind. Matter of fact, the whole album was created that way. Even the mellow songs.
As he was producing, I was working on the theme, hook and breaks. I wrote something that we both thought was pretty good. I wanted a “oh ooh oh” chant in the breaks. The hook was going to be anthem-like. I went in and recorded the idea myself.
I sent it over to my go-to singer Yendi to have her knock out the hook. She did an amzing job. Unfortunately, it lost something in translation. It just didn’t have the same, I dunno, energy once she did it. There was something about the way my voice sounded that gave it an appeal. Unfortunately, my voice wasn’t polished enough to be on the final song (in my opinion). We tried mixing it with my voice – no dice. We spent about two months trying to make this version work, to no avail.
My next idea was to bring in a rock singer to belt out something powerful and strong. I tried a few people out (never recorded any on the beat though) and that idea was quickly scrapped.
I then tried writing a chanty-type hook. I repeated “Lights Out” a bunch of times. Strike three.
Then there was my terrible “Ease Back” hook idea…
Then, one of my closest and most talented friends DJ Cinema came by to try and help out. By thtis point, the song had been collecting dust for nearly a year. John had recorded some verses, but it was hookless. He had an idea to use a sample from this 80’s singer Pat Benatar***. He went home and gave it a whirl and sent me the idea. I kinda liked it. I was also desperate at this point because I was on the verge of cutting the song from the album, even though I loved everything else about it. I was afraid that maybe I was just liking it because it was the best that we had, but still not good. I downloaded an acappella version and put it together. It was pretty good.
At the same time, my other good friend Meylin, who had already blessed the hook for Yesterday, asked if she could lay down an idea. She did, and again – it was good. It just wasn’t right. I couldn’t put my finger on it. In hip-hop, it’s fairly common to not put much thought into the hook. The first thing that comes out is usually what’s on the final product. Any one of these hooks could’ve went on the album and been fine probably. But that’s not how my mind works. It had to be perfect. If it wasn’t it’d end up on the cutting room floor. I gained a lot of respect for Meylin because, even though she’s not a hip-hop artist, per sey, she really came through big time on her ideas for the album.
Finally on the weekend when John came to the studio to record the majority of the album, I had an idea. John was already at the studio on that Sunday morning and I was driving to meet him there. I recorded it quickly on my iPhone on the way there and, well – it was perfect! It was going to be the second song on the album. We had cut a lot of features already because it felt too crowded, but there were still a lot of other artists throughout the album – especially on the hook. I knew the song was going to be second, so I didn’t want a feature on it so early. The title track was just John and I wanted this to be just John. I figured this would be the song he could really belt out at open mics, so I didn’t want him relying on another artist who probably wouldn’t be with him for the chorus. Also, the subject matter was blasting other emcees. It didn’t feel right having a girl singing the hook for a song like that. This worked.
The other battle we had was over the lyrics. We wrote the verses pretty much 50/50, with me writing the second verse and the first half of the third and John writing the rest. I have a lot of experience in performing so I knew how to write it in a way that it would really connect with the crowd. I was writing already anticipating the crowd’s reaction. You can hear the clarity. He had written a different third verse and we fought over those lyrics a bit. Same with the end of the first verse. In the end, though, we all agreed on the new lyrics and a great song was born. I re-wrote my part of the last verse a few times, as did he.
My biggest regret of the entire album was not ever hearing this song performed live.
Here’s the instrumental. If you record anything over it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach me via twitter @culturevi. I’ll post the best versions.