About thirty-four months ago, an artist whom I had been working with for years, John Regan, approached me about A&R’ing an album for him. Seven years prior to that, he had similarly approached me about being part of Culture VI. He was fifteen and had never been out of Baltimore. During his first trip to New York, he got homesick and expressed how he had never written rhymes without the comfort of his red chair. That’s how long we’ve been working together.
I pondered my response for several days. Creating an album from the ground up is an incredibly difficult and draining task. Doing it properly – especially without a budget – is usually a multi-year commitment. Many artists think it’s picking beats, recording and uploading. I don’t consider those real albums. They don’t understand that 98% of the work is NOT recording music. In twenty months, there was probably a grand total of twenty hours spent recording vocals. The majority of our time would be spent building the foundation, so that when we do have amazing music ready to share, it can actually find people who will listen. This isn’t just creating an album – it’s breaking an artist. An entirely more daunting task.
If I was going to release another album, it would have to be done properly; be a step forward. I had already released three previously and each one showed growth. This is the reason I only choose to work on a few projects each year. My money is already good, so I need to have my heart in any piece of music I agree to put my name behind.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed quite a reputation for passing up more lucrative opportunities to work on long-shots with less established artists of which I’m a fan of. I had put off several writing opportunities to finish my own project. I had promised that after this album, I would finally start working with more successful musicians. Could I really go through this entire process again after spending nearly four years* crafting my final solo album “ninety-four”?
*note: during those four years, there was a year and a half period when my mom got sick – and subsequently passed – in which I didn’t touch music
I finally made my decision. It was January 2008 and I was planning for a summer release. I agreed to work with him on his album if he spent the next twelve months doing all the behind-the-scenes, grunt work for mine. This would accomplish two key things: it would teach him everything that goes into releasing an album independently and it would show me if he had the drive and determination to actually follow through on his own project without me wasting my time.
Creating an album is difficult enough. Breaking a new artist, in this era, is about as easy as picking winning lottery numbers. I was dug in for a long journey.
Little did I know, at the time, that this journey would afford me the opportunity to work with many of the artists who I admired most, as well as having the chance to sit down and talk about the intimate details of what created the personas that I had come to admire so deeply.