Yesterday feat. Joell Ortiz & Meylin
Considering Yesterday has literally been covered more times than any song in history, it isn’t surprising that John Regan, the Baltimore emcee who impressed us with his DJBooth debut Paint the World, has chosen to use The Beatles classic…wait, what’s that? Producer YZ didn’t use the original Yesterday at all in crafting his melancholy, piano driven and eventually explosive beat? Fair enough, but whether intentional or not, Regan’s record does share a sense of longing and regret with McCartney’s version, especially with vocalist Meylin providing some soaring, rock-tinged vocals on the hook. Impressively, John paints a vivid lyrical picture of a hard lived life on his verse, touching on his thoughts of suicide and a non-existent relationship with his father, with Slaughterhouse alum Joell Ortiz (yaowa!) backing him up with yet another impressive guest verse. Like B.o.B.’s Airplanes, this one has rap/rock crossover hit written all over it to me. If he keeps releasing music like this, the buzz surrounding Regan’s upcoming project, Sorry I’m Late, should be more than significant when it drops “soon” right now.
In 2008, I released my second solo album “ninety-four”. I had a song on it called “If Y’all Don’t”. I got in touch with Dennis Wynn and Mike Heron, Joell’s managers, through Juganot, who had done a great song with him already called En Why Cee. We came to an agreement for Joell to do a verse on the record. I’m a huge Joell fan, so this was fantastic for me. Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t work out. Joell was on tour in Mexico and then Europe and couldn’t commit to doing the verse for at least another month. I begrudgingly decided to move forward without him. That was my only regret of that album.
Well, over the next couple years, I began building a relationship with Joell and Mike. I interviewed Joell several times, sat in studio sessions with him while he was recording Free Agent. I recorded Joell and Slaughterhouse’s XXL photo shoot. So when the opportunity to work with Joell came around again, I jumped on it.
John had recorded the original record. He found the beat on SoundClick, produced by Sinima. I loved the potential of the song, but wanted to overhaul the beat. I found the original sample and YZ went to work. The drums were really dry, and drums happen to be YZ’s specialty. They needed to really drive. I wanted to add some live instrumentation. I wanted the song to be big! I wanted the ending, after the second chorus, to be epic. Mission accomplished.
I reached out to the original producer, Sinima, to talk about the song. I sent him the version we did and asked if he wanted a production or writing credit, but he declined. Since we didn’t use any part of his beat, only some of the arrangement ideas, he felt it wasn’t necessary. Still, he gets a ton of credit from me for sparking the idea.
Joell was the first feature we were using for the album (not including John first wanting to use the Royce assisted Never Had A Clue record from my ninety-four).
At the time, this song and feature were going to be the centerpiece of the album. Remember, we were using mostly free or very inexpensive beats. We were having a friend Live P engineer and mix it for us. Our budget for the entire album was about $1,500. We’d need to be prepared to compensate Joell if he had asked. I wanted YZ to go in and produce the track. I’d want YZ to mix the record. We planned on it being a single, so we’d need to master it. I wanted to shoot a video, which Joell agreed to do. This was going to dramatically expand the budget. It was a lot of heated debates between John and I. I actually told him I’d walk away from the project if we didn’t move forward because it would be difficult to invest myself fully into something that I knew could’ve been much better. He finally relented and agreed.
There were other records that John felt we should give to Joell. Something harder, perhaps. That was just it. When I work with someone, I like to push the boundaries. Give them a song that’s a challenge. If we did a hard song, it would blend in with all the other hard songs Joell has done. I wanted to do something that would stand out. I wanted to expand his comfort zone. I wanted to feel Joell’s emotions. Mission accomplished.
Lyrically, this was difficult. John used one of the verses that he had written for the original. Joell didn’t want any lyrics when he was writing – he wanted to go in fresh. Once we got his verse back, I started showing the song to people who I trust. I kept getting the same response: “Joell KILLED it”. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Sure, I wanted a great Joell verse, but the purpose of a feature is to get another artist’s fans to listen to you and to hopefully make them a fan. If everybody feels that Joell skated all over John, then the feature would be pointless, and actually counterproductive. A re-write was in order.
John didn’t like that idea because he really felt his verse. It was from the heart. Unfortunately, that’s irrelevant to me. If I’m putting my name and my company’s brand behind something, I have to be 100% confident in it. He re-wrote the verse, recorded it, and we got the same exact response. It was as if people were listening to John’s verse just so they could get to Joell and the epic ending. Another re-write would be in order.
After about a year of working on the song, we finally figured it out. I took the best parts of John’s three verses and put a great eight bars together. I then took over and wrote the second eight bars. I used lyrics from a song that I had written for myself called ‘I Don’t Know Why”. All of a sudden, the responses became “DAMN that was a dope song!”, which was the goal. There was no more talk about who outshined who. It was just a dope song.
“Either we’re at the bottom of the sky or the top of the planet
It depends how you’re looking at it (it’s all perspective).”
“even though me and my uncle had our ups and downs
It was love. That see-saw never touched the ground.”
The sample was incredibly dope. We were gonna leave it alone at first, then completely re-sing it. I finally decided on having Meylin come in and lay vocals on top of it, to give it more oomph. Originally, Meylin only wanted to lay vocals on the first two hooks and nothing on the bridge and outro. My idea was completely opposite. I wanted her to leave the first verse pretty bare, build a little on the second, and really let loose on the bridge and outro. Completely different views.
This is what I respect most about Meylin. Despite having a different opinion, she went in with my idea and sang her ass off. A lot of artists would’ve half-assed it, convinced that it wasn’t gonna work anyway. Meylin went off and laid some of the best vocals of the album. She completely took the hook to another level. I couldn’t have been prouder. Her vocals provided such an epic feeling to the song that just didn’t exist before. She had so many contributions to the album that aren’t necessarily in the forefront that I could focus an entire chapter on just what she meant to the project.
I then wanted the bridge leading to the outro to have a huge impact. The multi-talented YZ grabbed his electric guitar and played some hard ass chords to help drive the ending of the song. It’s some stuff you can only pick out if you really listen. It just sets such a mood. Meylin and him had created a moment. They created the type of emotion that only exists in those rare, special songs. The song, at that point, was complete. It was an amazing feeling.
Here’s the instrumental to the Yesterday. If anybody records anything over it, please email a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org or reach me on twitter @culturevi. I’ll post or tweet the best ones.