brian peoples garcia

Views From The Studio: Meet Producer Brian "Peoples" Garcia

To learn how Fetty's self-titled debut album came together, read what producer Peoples had to say on the studio process.

In the music realm, it's hard to stumble upon a songwriter/producer/artist partnership that you know will create replay-worthy songs. There was Aaliyah mixed with Static Major, Timbaland and Missy Elliott in the old school, The Clipse and The Neptunes' otherworldly melodies, and within this age, you might look to Drake and Noah "40" Shebib to give you a cohesive body of tunes. Now, newcomer Fetty Wap has found a home within the charts and everyone's playlists with his bangers, and along for the successful ride is producer Brian "Peoples" Garcia.

The New Jersey native knew producing was a passion of his since his days at Passaic High School. His determination to make it in that realm prompted Garcia to intern "everywhere" and cement connections with those around him, a few being Vinylz, Spinkings and Alan Ritter. He eventually met Fetty one day in a studio through frequent collaborator Monty. From there, the pair crafted hits that live on the radio like "679," "Again," and the Grammy nominated "Trap Queen."

To learn how Fetty's self-titled debut album came together, read what Peoples had to say on creating a few of the tracks in the latest edition of "Views From the Studio."

VIBE: What was the studio process like putting together Fetty Wap's debut?
Every song was a different vibe. “Trap Queen” was just me and him and two other people in the studio when he recorded it. I mixed it in my house. It took me three days to mix that song. I did it in my bedroom and the other songs I did in two other studios. I only had two weeks to mix it because our process in the studio is he comes in and I present him the beat or he has a beat. He either sits down and writes it or he already has it. Like “679” he just went in the booth, I think that was his fourth take, the whole hook, everything was freestyle. It really depends on his feeling when he hears the beat. Sometimes he’ll call me and say, ‘I have this song,’ like “Again.” He had that written and I was already in a studio session. He said, ‘Please I need to record this song now, I think this is the best song I ever wrote,’ and then my boy Shy Boogs recorded him downstairs. Then they finished it and he leaked it. That leak ended up getting 70 million clicks on SoundCloud. Then I mixed it and I think it broke Top 40 records. On Rap/Urban I think it debuted at number 7.

We did “Time” from scratch, that’s the one everybody likes. We asked him ‘What kind of song don’t you have?’ He said, “I don’t know, we have everything.’ I said, ‘You know you don’t have any Drake-type of stuff,’ like that vibe. He wrote it, went in the booth, he did his first verse, the hook, and then he did the little breakdown. He left, and we did the rest of the song like the guitar part, added more drums, then he came back and heard it and said, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ We added another part to the bridge and then Monty jumped on it. It’s not all at once, a lot of people think we do everything in one take, but it’s a long process.

What was the brainstorming session like when you guys were mapping out the sound or vibe of the album?
I wanted you to go through a roller coaster of feelings, that’s why I ended it with “Rewind,” that really sad song with the guitar at the end. I know it was a lot of songs but there was so much content already out. I just felt why not already give them the content mixed, that way they can enjoy it and give them a little bit of extra stuff. I really wanted the fancy stuff like “Trap Queen” first and then go into serious and street stuff like “No Days Off” which puts you in that thinking mode. I wanted to hit you with all of the feelings on the album. Every song gives you a different feeling. I know a lot of people probably think, ‘He’s in his comfort zone,’ but why not be in your comfort zone? If you’re comfortable with something why try something different? I think it gives you a bunch of different feelings. You start off with “Trap Queen” and it’s so amped up, “How We Do Things” is amped up, “679” is the party thing and it just keeps going. Then “Time” comes and it’s a break, then it starts up again. I don’t think albums nowadays have that balance anymore. I think all the songs on albums nowadays sound the same. They give you that same turn up feeling, that’s it. There’s no other feeling other than turn up, it doesn’t make you think. I’m from a different era of hip-hop. I used to listen to albums totally different than how these young kids listen to albums.

Do you have a memorable moment in the studio with Fetty?
The best time I think was when we did “Time” because it was the first time we ever made a record from the beginning. He usually comes in with an MP3 or says, ‘Peoples make me a beat,’ or ‘Send me a beat,' 'What beat you got this week?’ I’d play him some beats, and it’s usually the first or the second beat and he’s like, ‘Alright, let me get that one.’ “679” I was making that beat over when they walked into the studio. I was making it over, my boy Velous, he made “All Day” and he’s signed to Coke Boys, I made that beat for him, but I don’t think he paid attention to it so I wasn’t happy with the way he didn’t take heed to the beat when I played it. I thought maybe I need to change it around. The next day I went to the studio and I was changing it around and that’s when they walked in and Fetty said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘Oh just some beat I was making.’ He f**ked with it and I kept messing with it. When I got to the breakdown, the part that sounds like a little kid playing on a table, that’s when he said, ‘Just load it up.’ The beat wasn’t done. I loaded it up, he went in and by the fourth take that’s when we did that. He’s pretty cool in his process because I’m used to people writing. I’m in deep sessions where it’s 10 or 12 hours and there’s just one song. Eight hours with Fetty is like 10 songs, it’s crazy. He doesn’t have the same process as a lot of people do.

"Trap Queen" remains his crowning single. Share the background story behind that melody.
They brought me a different record to mix. I finished that record a little bit earlier and I knew I was going to mix the other songs so I was being nosey. I looked and I saw “Trap Queen” by Fetty Cash, that used to be his name. I opened it up, and I heard it. He didn’t have the “1738” in it yet. After I heard it, I called his manager Nit The Grit at the time, and I said, ‘He should record this sh*t with me.’ It was a Monday or Tuesday, I remember it vividly. By Saturday we were in the studio recording “Trap Queen.” That day he put it out, that’s why it said “Trap Queen (Rough).” I told them give me a couple of days to mix it so they can sell it on iTunes. I mixed it, and by the time I finished, it had about 100,000 plays. It grew instantly. We did it on March 28, by the end of June, early July he was already at 350,000. I think by mid-July or August, it was not even half a million, so that song really blew over. By like September it was by 2 million. That’s when he got the deal. Then when he got the deal he blew up bigger than life. If that Fast & Furious song ["See You Again"] wasn’t out, “Trap Queen” would’ve definitely been number one on the Top 100.

Did you think this song was going to catapult Fetty into the spotlight?
I didn’t know it would be this big, but I knew it would be a hit. I have a thing when you can make fun of a song that sh*t is dope. I was doing so much dumb sh*t to it that I thought this was a f**king hit. After mixing it and I didn’t have to listen to the record anymore, my son kept singing the song for like two weeks. I had to play it in the car for him. He was like six years old at the time. He said, ‘Dad, play the “Trap Queen” song.’ I’m like, 'This motherf**ker might have a hit on his hand.' I knew the record was big, the way it sounded coming through those studio speakers, and when he said, ‘I’m like hey, what’s up, hello,’ there were goosebumps. I still get goosebumps talking about it. I remember it, so dope. I didn’t have to do sh*t to his voice. It was just natural. I could’ve fixed the “hello” part, but that sh*t was fire. That little mistake made him, because you know that’s what catches you on the record. I feel like if I would’ve fixed it, I would’ve took away character on that part. There’s ways to fix it and I could’ve fixed it. I could make anybody sound like a singer, but not him. That’s his natural voice. If you’ve seen him live, that’s exactly how he sounds.

It’s a song that any type of listener kind of gravitates to.
I call it the “Weird Al” methods. He used to flip the songs back in the day. All the songs he used to flip were the really dope songs. You can even go back to the 80s, early 90s, Mobb Deep sh*t. All their songs that were dope, like “It’s the G.O.D. Father Pt. III.” You can make fun of all of those songs. I think I’m on to something (laughs).

You said there was something captivating about the original version of “Trap Queen.” What exactly do you look for when you’re producing an instrumental that’ll not only capture your attention but also the listener's?
I think drums are the main part of everything. If the drums aren’t hot, the beat isn’t hot. You can have the dopest melody, but if the drums aren’t hot I don’t think it’ll work. I think drums are the driver, the main thing to me. I tend to start my beats with sound, so I would say the main sound is trying to find that melody that'll catch people’s attention. I don’t try to bite other people’s sh*t so I don’t go into the studio like, ‘I’m going to find a song that sounds like Future.’ I just go in there and whatever my vibes are that day, that’s what I do. “Again” I was trying to make an up-tempo “Try Me.” It worked in a good way because it’s Top 40, but to me the sound and the drums have to be dope. The drums that Vinylz did on “Blessed,” that sh*t is… you can’t even catch them that’s how dope they are. It’s so weird, and people like weird stuff now. They’re more open to the weirdness, not like 10 years ago when everybody had the down South flute in their song with the same 909 or 808’s in their sh*t. I just think now people are way more open because of people like The Weeknd, PartyNextDoor, Drake, Travis Scott, so much different sh*t going on right now it’s so cool. A lot of old school people are like, ‘Where’s hip hop?’ There are so many sub-genres now it’s crazy. I think that’s dope that hip-hop is evolving that way because at one point we thought it wasn’t going to go anywhere like, ‘What are we going to do without big rope chains?’ Then Mobb Deep came out talking about shooting n***as. It’s like Rock N’ Roll that has punk, heavy metal and we have down South crunk music, Bay music, Chicago shoot-em-up music. Now we have New Jersey music that we can finally say we have a sound. I think that’s pretty dope.

How’d you describe New Jersey sound?
It’s like party music, I can’t explain it any other way than that. Every time someone comes to the studio, it’s party time, turn up. We got our own sh*t. We make you want to dance when we play our sh*t. It’s always been like that with our music, even with that club music. It was always dance. We know who’s partying over here. People have hoods and sh*t, but at the end of the day we’re trying to make party records. We’re trying to have the clubs rocking. We do it for the street, don’t get it twisted. Personally for me, I don’t. I make R&B music. When I make my beats, if you noticed with the “679” and “Again” have those little old school R&B nods with the new wave. That’s what I do. That’s why I try to incorporate street with R&B with Fetty. That’s why he started saying Trap N’ B because it’s trap, but R&B too.

What makes a song stand the test of time?
I think it’s the uniqueness of it. It’s not like anything else. “679” it sounds like a Mustard beat, but it has that East Coast bounce to it. I think that’s why people like it so much because it can feel West Coast-y, but it still has that East Coast feel. “My Way” is the same thing too. I think it’s about the originality of the record. It all boils down to originality. Nobody sound like Fetty. It really boils down to his voice, the beats he picks for his voice. He knows what range to go and not go, like ‘I know I can’t sing this way so I’m not going to go ahead and get that beat.’ I think he chooses his beats wisely and that’s what makes him so original. He picks the beats that match his voice and then his voice is already so unique that it’s like an instrument itself, it’s so melodic.

You’ve also received shout outs from industry heavyweights like Young Jeezy or Timbaland giving you your props. I wanted to know what is that feeling like?
It’s like I finally made it. I’m 35 years old and it’s crazy. That just smacked me as you asked me that question. I think that’s the first time I thought about it. I don’t let that sh*t get to me. I’m really humble. I don’t really care about the money. As long as my family is happy, my kids and my wife that’s what I give a f**k about. That’s what keeps me moving everyday. That’s what makes me go to the studio and make some dope sh*t that Timbaland is going to post on Instagram and say, ‘This is so f**king hard.’ That sh*t was amazing. That was dope as hell. That’s a person that I looked up to my whole career coming up and it’s like you just said my sh*t is dope. This the first time I actually smiled about that, thank you.

How do you balance family and industry life?
My wife is very supportive and that’s the way I was able to balance it. There’s no other way. It’s a 50/50 relationship. If she wasn’t supportive I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it because we struggled a lot. There was a point where it was bad, lights were getting shut off. We never got evicted, our parents never allowed that to happen, but it was bad. Now, to get all of these rewards, I guess God was like you struggled enough. She worked, and I was in the studio every day. I would make a little bit of money here and there. Vinylz would get some sessions and he was a nobody either at the time when I was working with him. He blew up with “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt," and the studio shut down six months later because the hurricane flooded us. You have to never give up, and my wife never gave up. We just had another baby and everything just started going good. Fetty came along and he was like, ‘I’m going to make you rich one day,’ and I said, ‘Everybody says that,’ and he made me rich (laughs). Thank you Fetty.

Do you think the lack of balance on some artist’s albums is due to the fact that they want to give their fans music right away, a quick turn around?
It’s definitely, ‘I’m hot right now I have to put it out.’ Ten years ago, they used to sit in a studio for like a year and record an album. These rock and pop dudes, they don’t sit in a studio for a month and then drop an album. That’s not what we do. We had a whole year to do it. Now people spend one or two months in the studio and say, ‘We have 10 songs, let’s put out an album.’ I’m more of the traditional method, sit back and make an amazing album that people are going to listen to for a long time and not just for the next six months. I want you to still listen to my album next year.

That element is gone. You don’t really get those albums like that. Those classics like the Magna Carta Holy Grail sh*t. You see how Jay Z sat in the studio and did everything. Everything was a process and that album came out later. I think the value of music at some point, people need to appreciate it or it’s going to depreciate. You can’t take the time out anymore, you have to come in the game with a body of stuff already made so they can say this is dope, sounding like you sat in the music studio for a long time making it. People make one hit record and say, ‘I want to put this whole album out. The label signed me so I have to recoup this money and I have two weeks to do it because my records are falling on the charts.’ That’s why everybody thought Fetty was a one-hit-wonder and then “My Way” came out, “679,” and then “Again” came out, then the album, and some people on that Billboard only have one hit.

Are you working with any other artists in the future?
I’m working with Red Café. I think I have some A$AP Ferg things going on. I want to work with Kehlani, Drake. I’m more of an R&B dude. I would love to be on a Beyonce record. I think that would be dope as hell. I can hear her on the stuff we do now. There’s a bunch of stuff that people haven’t heard, a lot of “Time” stuff, that R&B new wave stuff I think she’d sound amazing on. I would love to work with Alicia Keys. I just think I’m an R&B head. I think I’m supposed to work with Marsha Ambrosious next week, Trey Songz, a lot of R&B. I guess they want that Fetty sound.

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Then & Now: The O'Jays Highlight Their Rich Discography, Trump And New Album 'The Last Word'

Soul legends The O'Jays have seen a lot throughout their time in the game and displayed the state of the world through 31 albums. Their latest and final album The Last Word is no different as the trio dedicates tracks like "Above the Law" towards social injustice and callings of a love movement on "Enjoy Yourself."

For this session of VIBE's Then & Now series, group co-founders Gerald Levert and Walter Williams take a trip down memory lane with their biggest hits. It wasn't easy as the group has a slew of Top 20 Billboard hits like "Love Train," "Used Ta Be My Girl" and the stirring "Backstabbers," but the duo made sure to share how the tracks were made with spiritual undertones thanks to Philadelphia songwriting icons Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

"That song had a big fat message of love, the bible speaks of love throughout it," Williams says about their 1974 hit "Love Train." "It was an idea when we went in the studio. They had the track and we recorded the background but no verses. But [Kenny] Gamble wrote the first and second verses and we went in the studio and tried it out and went on to do the adlibs. Because of the lyrical content, you can feel where it was going."

The two also showed love for those who have sampled their work like Angie Stone and Drake. The rapper cleverly interpolated 1972's "Backstabbers" in his 2016 hit, "Fake Love" while Stone lifted the track for her 2002 single "Wish I Didn't Miss You."

"I like him, I like his message and I liked his delivery," Levert said about Drake's approach to the sample. "I like where he's going in his music. There's not a lot of profanity and cursing and saying a lot of negative words. There's a message in his music."

Often praised for their political undertones, Williams and Levert say their ability to stay consistent allowed them to make some of the most timeless music in R&B.

"It's tough to get around but you have to be persistent," Williams said. "You have to go after what you want today. You have to stay relentless and then you get action."

Levert notes that today's artists are holding back when it comes to speaking up against the political machine. "I think the younger artists are too afraid to hurt their fanbase by taking a stand," he said. "They're too afraid to offend or think, 'It's not my fight. Things have changed, we don't need to address that.' Things are not gonna change as long as you don't speak out on it. If you just keep letting things go on and you never have anything to say, they will continue to go that way."

Watch Then & Now with The O'Jays up top.

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Scott Harrison

Music Sermon: The Divinity Of Luther Vandross

“There are voices in this world and once they sing, it’s a stamp on everybody.” Bravo producer and personality Andy Cohen was asking Patti Labelle about her dear friend Luther Vandross on talk show Watch What Happens Live. “Luther’s done that.”

Luther Ronzoni Vandross, Jr. was the preeminent urban pop singer; the essence of ‘80s quiet storm R&B. He was called “the velvet voice” and “the Black Pavarotti,” but there’s not really a male predecessor he compares to because he didn’t pattern himself after the soul men like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, or Teddy Pendergrass. He studied the divas. Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Patti Labelle were the voices that fascinated and inspired a young Luther. Seeing Dionne Warwick live at the Brooklyn Fox Theater made him realize he wanted to sing. “She came on stage and just killed me; the music was more serious, the song value was more serious. 'Anyone Who Has a Heart' was a masterpiece,” he told The Washington Post. “I decided at that point that I wanted to do something in music."

The difference informs the distinction between him and most other men of R&B. Luther sang from a softer space, topically and tonally. He usually sang from a gentle, easy place. Not urgent. Not aggressive. Never suggestive. His first greatest hits compilation was titled The Best of Luther, The Best of Love because his entire catalog was love. Romantic and devoted love, not sex or lust. Adoration. And while his voice is appreciated–he’s featured on every greatest vocalist list of note–the full range and depth of Luther’s vocal craftsmanship are not. He was a writer, producer, and one of the greatest vocal manipulators in the game, as well-known and sought-after from early in his career for his vocal arrangements as his singing. The New York Times once described Luther as having an “obsession with the human voice, bordering on clinical.” Some people’s gifts are leagues beyond the old talent-plus-preparation-equals-opportunity equation. Some are truly called, anointed even. Luther was divinely appointed.

The world was officially introduced to Luther in 1981, but he was already an established singer’s singer on the professional circuit. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, teenaged Luther was part of youth performing arts group sponsored by the Apollo Theater called Listen My Brother. Their music was largely social commentary, and they performed in and around New York, including on the very first episode of Sesame Street.

In 1974, Luther accidentally landed a gig as a background singer and arranger for David Bowie. He visiting a friend in Bowie’s band at the studio, and talking about an idea to improve the hook for “Young Americans,” unaware that the singer was standing within earshot. Bowie loved the idea, hired Luther, and quickly became a champion for the young singer’s budding career. Luther handled vocal arrangements for the entire Young Americans album, and additionally wrote the album cut “Infatuation.” He also performed a 45-minute opening set of his own material each night on tour, at Bowie’s insistence.

Luther’s singing here on the far left.

Bowie then introduced the crooner to Bette Midler, who took him on tour, and Luther’s career as an in-demand background singer and arranger was underway. His study of great female vocalists helped him develop an ear that set him apart. “One of the contexts you have to understand was that the background singing has always been a female-dominated area,” Luther explained in an early interview. “I was bringing stuff on my own to the sessions that was kind of unique in terms of how to do background vocals. And later I learned never to give away anything you can sell, so I started charging for this extra bit of approach, which was fine, because by this time everyone wanted it so bad that they were willing to pay for it.”

Over the years, Luther sang with Carley Simon, Chic (“Everybody Dance”), Average White Band, Chaka Khan, and Roberta Flack, who chided him for getting too comfortable as a background singer and encouraged him to finally put a demo together. Due to his own intimate relationship with excellence in backing vocals, Luther was famously known to always use the top talent in the business for his albums. A read through the personnel of his catalogue will reveal names including Cissy Houston, James Ingram, Darlene Love, Tawatha Agee (lead singer of Mtume), premiere professional backing vocalists like Fonzi Thornton, and Lisa Fischer, who Luther pushed to get out of her comfort zone and record as Flack did with him.

During a recording session for Quincy Jones, Luther was introduced to a commercial producer, who then helped him break into the jingle-writing business. He’s always been credited with his ability to write an infectious hook–that talent was honed with jingles.

Before Luther took the solo leap, he tried the group route. He briefly had a deal as part of a group called, appropriately, Luther. They recorded two albums, but neither made any noise. Then, he joined disco group Change as their frontman and had two hits, including one of my favorite mood-boosting, make everything right anthems.

Luther had a little money in his pocket from commercials and background singing, and from writing and producing a song for the Broadway musical-turned-major motion picture The Wiz.

Oh, you didn’t know Luther wrote “A Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice)”?

He had the means to record and produce his demo himself, and assembled what became his career dream team. While in the group Listen My Brother, Luther met pianist Nat Adderly, Jr., son of jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley and nephew of saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. As a session singer, he met bassist Marcus Miller and recommended him to Gladys Knight, and the two bonded while on tour. He recruited them both to put together the songs that eventually became Never Too Much, and they were key contributing architects to Luther’s signature sound.

Miller is responsible for those slappin’ basslines that were prevalent in Luther’s early work, and for most of Luther’s uptempo cuts. “I never had any official responsibilities with Luther because we used to just work,“ Marcus shared in an interview, “but I felt like one of my (unspoken) responsibilities was to make sure Luther had tracks on his album that could be played on the radio during the day time.”

Adderley’s genius came through in Luther’s trademark covers. In Luther’s case, “remake” is a more apt description than “cover,” because he and Nat would take the original songs apart, stretch them out, invert them, slow parts down, add sections, reverse some sh*t… it was a whole different composition when they were done. The lush string and woodwind arrangements in Luther ballads are Nat’s handiwork. Incredible piano flourishes and solos, also Nat.

When both Miller and Adderley worked on the track, magic ensued, starting with Luther’s forever-a-bop solo debut “Never Too Much.” Coming out of the funk band driven ‘70s landscape, labels were doubtful of Luther’s smooth solo style. Epic finally took a chance, and it hit just as popular urban music went through its next evolution, which happened to be right in Luther’s sonic pocket.

“Luther, Marcus Miller and I had a real musical connection,” Nat has said. “We saw stuff the same way. We thought of things in the same way. When we came together, we really learned about each other and fed off of each other.”

Luther knew who he was as a singer and an artist. He wrote and produced the majority of his early material, and continued to co-write and co-produce through most of his career. He was clear on what worked for him both vocally and formulaically. Marcus Miller shared, “One of the things I used to hear him say was ‘I don’t need to compete with any other singers. Other singers sing hard, high, and with a lot of riffs. That’s not me. That’s not my thing. I’m just going to style these people to death.’” And he styled us to death, honey. Luther was the king of melisma and dramatic effect, but without oversinging. Where most vocalists would build towards a climax in the song, Luther’s structure was often reversed. He’d start easy, build during the middle, and come back to a soft, light, but emotional close.

This careful, deliberate singing was part of his genius. There’s a reason Black folks yell “Take your time,” to soloists when they’re in their bag–mastery isn’t rushed.

As I mentioned before, Luther was also a transformative cover artist. Would straight Deebo your song – that was his song, now. And artists didn’t even mind, because he elevated it so incredibly. Some of Luther’s biggest hits are covers: “Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me” (The Carpenters and Aretha Franklin), “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (Dionne Warwick), “Since I Lost My Baby” (The Temptations), “Bad Boy/Having a Party” (an interpolation of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party”), “If Only for One Night” (Brenda Russell), “Creepin’” (Stevie Wonder). He was a repeat offender with Dionne Warwick’s material from Burt Bacharach and Hal David, jacking not just “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” the song that blew him away at a young age, but also “A House is Not a Home”–on the same album. And she didn’t even care, look at her.

Luther’s capabilities as Mr. Steal-Your-Song also translated to his strength as a duet partner. He knew how to blend voices so perfectly, he was outstanding when paired with another strong vocalist. Luther produced Cheryl Lynn’s 1982 album Instant Love, and took the opportunity to use a Tammi and Marvin classic to showcase the singer’s strength beyond uptempo dance hits.

One of my favorite Luther duets and covers is an album cut with the tragically uncelebrated Martha Wash. Their version of the torch song standard “I Who Have Nothing,” is a little heavy on production in some places, especially the early ‘90s R&B sax, but their voices are perfect together. And the breakdown at the end? Whew. All the feels. All of them.

But Luther could also do very sweet and simple arrangements, like his duet with Gregory Hines. This song always makes me wish Gregory had done more professional singing after he left musical theater.

Don’t get it twisted, though, Luther specialized in controlled vocals, but he could act a fool when he wanted to. Especially when playing off the energy of another singer, like his dear friend and my favorite Auntie, queen of extra just because she can, Patti Labelle.

Jenifer Holliday and Luther messed around and pushed poor Paul Simon out of his own damn song.

Luther was a balladeer of elite caliber, but he’ll also get an uptempo jumpin’, literally. When Aretha’s career was in a lengthy lull and facing the challenges of a new musical era, Clive Davis called Luther to write and produce for her. Luther, who once called himself an "Arethacologist," was thrilled to work with one of his biggest idols and inspirations. But Luther was a very exacting producer; he would tell vocalists specifically what and how to sing. Auntie Re wasn’t playing that at first, and even stormed out of the studio at one point, but the end result was her biggest hit in seven years.

Luther himself has several cookout and red cup party classics. Tunes that me, you, your mama and your cousin can dance to. That’s part of the beauty in Luther’s music; there’s no content too mature–or too immature–for anyone. While recalling Luther, Marcus Miller remarked, “There is no greater feeling in the world than walking down the street in New York City and hearing a Luther song blasting in the street.” I can personally confirm, as someone who’s heard Luther blasting while in these New York City streets.

What I don’t believe is acknowledged enough is Luther’s longevity. A 20-year career is a rare feat for any artist, but especially for a core R&B singer who started in the ‘80s. Luther did have pop hits–“Here and Now” was one of the biggest wedding songs of the ‘90s–but he was always a core R&B artist, and always stayed on brand and on topic. He was somewhat inactive in the latter ‘90s after ending his contract with Epic Records; he released one album with Virgin records in 1996, but it’s not usually included in his definitive material. Whispers and speculation about his health began, as he’d spent much of the ‘90s going up and down dramatically with his weight. But he made a fierce return in the early aughts. His final two albums, with Clive Davis’ J. Records, were two of the biggest in his career, with material that was relevant and contemporary without sounding contrived.

This song makes me want to put on some white linen and go on somebody’s boat ride.

As secure as Luther had always been in his artistry, he still felt overlooked as a writer and producer and longed for critical recognition beyond R&B. Out of 33 career Grammy nominations with eight wins, only two were in the Pop category. It wasn’t until his final album, 2003’s Dance With my Father, that Luther earned the elusive Song of the Year nomination and subsequent win he’d been longing for, for the album’s title track. But he also suffered a debilitating stroke in April 2003, before the project’s release. Since he was unable to shoot a video, artists who loved him stepped in with their children or parents as a tribute. Warning: this video may cause severe allergy flareups.

I have no doubt that barring health issues, Luther would at minimum still be touring. He was one of the most thorough live performers I’ve ever seen, with production simple enough to keep the vocals as the centerpiece, but extra enough so you were visually entertained as well (lots of sequins). Luther was touring in 2003 until his stroke (do yourself a favor and listen to his Live at Radio City Music Hall album, his last live appearance), and was scheduled to perform at Essence Festival that year. Can you imagine Luther at Essence Fest?

When news of Luther’s death broke, my mother and I–both huge fans–were driving to a family reunion, and we played and sang along to his music for about four states. I still play Luther when I need a boost, or when I want to burrow deep down into my feelings. When I want to go into chill mode, or when I want to dance around the house. Luther is all-purpose. He is all-emotion. He is everything. He was a gift.


#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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Issa Vibe: The Best Songs To Fit Your Different 4/20 Sessions

April 20th isn’t a national holiday, but it might as well be.

Although recreational marijuana use is only legal in 10 states, the U.S. is home to approximately 35 million regular users of cannabis, according to a survey done by Yahoo News and Marist University. That's 10.6 percent of the American population and while that may seem minuscule, the numbers are growing daily and it's understandable.

Weed has now become a staple of American culture; it's become a legitimate business in the states where it's legal, it's now part of the way people socialize, and better yet it's a theme in some of the hottest music out today. "Kush" has been included in some of the hardest verses that millennials and generation-z kids have heard in their lifetime.

Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg, amazing emcees in their own right, are also widely known for their love of the green plant. Wiz's biggest album, Rolling Papers is clearly influenced by weed and along with the Snoop Dogg-assisted "Young, Wild & Free" is all about that green positivity.

There's an endless list of hits about rolling up a joint, hitting it and passing it, but what about moods? Whether it's a bowl, a blunt or an edible weed, can leave people feeling a variety of ways and that all can be traced to a certain strand of weed someone's inhaling, or the mood they're already.

Regardless, it's important to be prepared and have music ready to match whatever feelings marijuana concocts; and that's why VIBE compiled an adequate list of songs for each of the main pot moods.

So on this 4/20, sit back, relax, smoke and find the songs that suit the vibe.


The "Let Me Chill Out" Mood 

Sometimes the best way to come down from an over the top high is to play some tunes with a soft beat and a light voice. The best artists in the game right now, like Jhené Aiko for instance, have created that sound that's perfect for when relaxation is needed, so of course, she made the list.  These are the top four songs that can help anyone kick back and relax if a pull from a joint just isn't hitting the right way.

"Blue Dream" by Jhené Aiko "Muse" by Afro Nostalgia "Summer Games" by Drake "LOVE." by Kendrick Lamar (feat. Zacari) The Bad B*tch Hours or "Top Two and I'm Not Two" Mood 

You look around the room and realize: you're top two and you're not two in it. All it took was one or a couple of puffs and then a pass to make you feel pretty good about yourself. One of the main upsides to smoking that's constantly mentioned in the media is that it can help alleviate chronic pain, well, another positive to it is that it can leave you feeling sexy, sensual and everything in between.

This is that high that can make you feel that you're significant other is lucky to have you, and subsequently makes you hit them up, that tells you: you're single and ready to mingle. It's a smoking session that lets you know: if you shoot your shot now, you'll score and it's a session that you want music playing that only affirms how sultry and seductive you feel. If this is how 4/20 leaves you feeling, putting on some RiRi or even Young Thug can effectively get you 'in your bag.'

"Same Ol' Mistakes" by Rihanna "Tyrant" by Kali Uchis (feat. Jorja Smith) "Worth It" by Young Thug "Smoke Break" by Chance the Rapper (feat. Future) The "Head in the Clouds" Mood 

More often than not, edibles have the power of leaving people spaced out and speaking slowly, after consuming them. Sometimes smoking weed, or hotboxing with friends is a silent event. Either everyone's consumed by their phones, or every other person has been looking at a nonexistent spot on the wall for the past 15 minutes.

Regardless this isn't the high where people want to hear "Act Up" by City Girls, no matter how much they love them. No, this is the high where people need music that takes them on a journey. Songs where the production is out of this world and it seems like the artist specifically made the song for a smoke session like no other. Travis Scott's ASTROWORLD is full of tracks with that vibe, and Lil' Wayne, a weed connoisseur of his own, has songs that fulfill that need too. Smoke a bit and let the weed do its thing.

"ASTROTHUNDER" by Travis Scott "I Feel Like Dying" by Lil' Wayne "Hyyer" by Kid Cudi "St. Tropez" by J. Cole The "Got the Giggles" Mood 

This is when the blunt hits perfectly and there's nothing wrong in the world or when the bowl did its' job and leaves everyone feeling silly. A "feel good high" is the best way to describe and the best way to live through that kind of smoke session is to listen to some "feel good music." These are the songs that can have people swaying unknowingly to its' beat, or the tracks that leave people smiling from ear to ear. This is the session that lets people know that "this is it chief," and here are the best songs to go along with it.

"Pass the Vibes" by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment "Dreamcatcher" by Metro Boomin' (feat. Swae Lee & Travis Scott) "It's a Vibe" by 2 Chainz (feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz & Jhené Aiko) "Binz" by Solange
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