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Ye Ali Talks 'TrapHouse Jodeci,' Love For Toronto and Bryson Tiller Comparisons

Ye Ali is nothing like what you may assume.

Ye Ali is nothing like what you may assume.

Born and raised in a Muslim household in Hammond, Indiana, Ali first gained his affinity for music from his father. Though he was banned from listening to the genre he peppers now with his hazy cuts these days, back then, he drowned his young ears in ‘70s and ‘80s music. “My dad’s a country fellow from Chicago, who grew up on a farm, so he appreciated music,” he says of his first introductions to melodic tunes. “[I listened to] a lot of country and a lot of old soulful music. Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Sade, Anika Baker, George Jones, and a lot of Dolly Parton. I grew up listening to Garth Brooks and Shania Twain.”

As any normal child would, Ali eventually snuck to get his first taste of rap, copping Ludacris’ Back For The First Time, Word of Mouf and hitting a Lil Wayne show. From there, he was hooked.

Nowadays, an earful of the former English teacher’s Soundcloud-accessible R&B loosies, like “Cashin Out,” “Thigh Kisser” and “LateNightFlex”––which were eventually compiled into his 16–track effort Private Suite––could force any casual listener to draw hasty comparisons to the handful of artists situated neatly in the melancholy genre of rap-singing. (See: PartyNextDoor, Bryson Tiller and Tory Lanez.) But according to the self-proclaimed southern boy outta Indiana, he’s been carving out his piece of The Weeknd’s sonic frontier long before anyone else rode the subdued, vibey wave. “I’ve been making my brand of music since 2011,” he says. “You can trace that back to any artists’ timeline. See what they were doing then and then see what I was doing. I was TrapHouse Jodeci before anybody was anything else.”

With the release of his long-awaited 12-track project of the same name, TrapHouse Jodeci––a moniker birthed from his Kappa Alpha Psi party days––the now L.A.-based rap-singing songwriter offers more cuts best fit for drug-induced after-parties, bedroom foreplay or sunny days riding around in a drop-top but with added introspection. “As you listen to the project, I give you a real sense of who I am, where I am right now and where I’m headed.”

On the anniversary of Aaliyah’s death (R.I.P. Baby Girl), VIBE picked up the phone to rap with Ye Ali about Static Major’s influence on his life, his affiliation with The 6ix and how he shrugs off comparisons.

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VIBE: There’s this misconception that you’re from TO. Why do you think that is?
Ye Ali: I’ve always had a stronghold in Toronto in a weird way just because of certain artists I worked with early in their careers, producers I’ve worked with since 2011. Since Toronto’s boom, a lot of those artists and producers got bigger and we pretty much stayed cool. You wonder how somebody from Indiana could have so many people over there, but it’s kinda like extended family. My engineers are over there, my producers, my younger brother. So, I’ve always had a family thing in Toronto. They always showed me love early in my career when I was mainly doing songwriting and features here and there, so they just love me over there and I love ‘em back. I actually worked with some of these best producers from Toronto on this album.

Which producers?
Co-production for the intro track “Ammunition” was done by Neenyo. He did a lot of work on that Drake and Future collab album [What A Time To Be Alive]. He works mainly with the guys over at the OVO camp and he reached out to me on Twitter. He heard a snippet of a song I was previewing and he hit me up like, ‘Yo, I wanna add something to this.’ I was like, ‘Dude, definitely. You’re a legend.’ My homie G.RySls isn’t from Toronto, but he works really exclusively with those guys over there, and he did “Autograph” off my album. Then, my last homie’s name is Jordon Manswell. He produced “Songs About You.”

It’s just a small world. My name over there has a pretty good reputation so people don’t mind reaching out and working with me knowing that they’ll get fully credited and properly championed when the release is here.

You’re originally from Hammond, Indiana. How did your Midwest upbringing shape your sound?
My childhood was a fun one and my dad always challenged me to push myself and choose to understand what’s around me and what I listen to. He wouldn’t let me listen to rap until I essentially went to college, so I used to have to sneak and listen to rap. Rap had a lot of negative connotations to him and he didn’t see why I had to listen to music with cursing in it and why I couldn’t appreciate other forms of music. On many drives home, my dad wouldn’t let me listen to songs with words in it. He always expressed that I needed to appreciate instrumentation more than words, even from me watching Tom & Jerry or Looney Tunes, stuff that had classical music in it. He just made sure I was in band, choir and acting classes to get me familiar with the art and how to appreciate it.

Who were some of the first rap artists you listened to? You’ve been very vocal about being a Lil Wayne fan.
Yeah, Wayne is where I get my confidence. I freestyle a lot of my stuff after seeing Wayne freestyle, hearing how crazy he was with the bars and how creative he was. He didn’t limit himself by necessarily structurally writing everything out. He just said what he said. So I got my recording process from Wayne. I’ve watched every documentary and interview on him and how he records and how he can make so many songs. It’s just because of his recording process. My first concert I ever went to and one of my only concerts is a Lil Wayne concert. I stood out there for like six hours to see Lil Wayne when I was in high school. Tity Boi opened up for him before anybody knew who he was, when he was back with Playaz Circle. I became a huge 2 Chainz fan that day and I became a bigger Wayne fan.

Now, you were locked up at one point? How did catching a charge change your art and you as a person?
It put me in a tough position. I got kicked out of school and then I lost financial support from them. My dad wasn’t too pleased obviously ‘cause he was the one that bailed me out. That was the first time he ever told me that he thought I could do [music], but he just told me that it was the only choice I had. Either get a shitty job with a felony or just go to L.A. and figure it out. I opted for the latter. Even though I didn’t think I did that much wrong, it was a federal thing. It looked worse than the actual act, but there was no way for me to escape that just because it was a federal thing. Unfortunately, me and one of my friends got in trouble, but it just gave me a fork in the road.

Can you elaborate on what you were charged for?
Actually I cannot. When I did it, I didn’t know it was a federal thing, so it was one of those things that you don’t think about that much. But the Feds are watching, so kids, keep your nose clean.

You’ve mentioned making a song in 10 secs, 5 minutes — Is your songwriting process typically that rapid?
The way I write a song is I get into the booth and record for like 10 minutes. After so many takes, I have the engineer piece together the words that I want him to keep and delete. Now, the hook is the first thing I write. That usually takes about five to ten minutes at the most. I just go through melodies and usually the production is so good that it’s 50/50. The beat speaks to me. I talk back to it, and we meet in the middle. I never really think of it in the sense of time. I do like five or six songs a day. Of those five or six, there’s always one that I put in a folder and build on it the next week or next month. Ninety percent of the songs on TrapHouse Jodeci were started a year or before. It’s just stuff that I kept going back to and didn’t finish and finally realized I liked.

Since you’ve been working on these songs for some time, do any of them feel old to you?
Nah. Even though I wrote parts of the records earlier, it’s all new production. So it all sounds new to me.

Which was the easiest song to make on this album?
I would say “Ammunition.” It’s the first time I let just anybody play with me in the studio with their instruments and not knowing them too well, and we jammed out. First, the guitarist laid his part, then I laid the melody, Then the saxophonist came in and we blended it all together. It turned out to be one of my favorite songs. Just because the process and what I’m talking about is such a relatable topic to talk about on the first song.

On “Fulla Diamonds,” you mention your uncle’s death. Do you feel you’re being more vulnerable with this project?
“Fulla Diamonds” was just like three minutes of therapy for me. My uncle had just died so I just had to talk about it at least. I tried to pack [the song] full of the stuff I was going through in the past year. I don’t even tell my homies stuff like this, so it was just good to get it out. With this one, I was able to just let it all go and it was very therapeutic for me.

Is that something you want to do more of in the future?
It depends. For instance, the song “Dedication” is me opening up ‘cause I’ve never had an ode to someone. Usually I never really think about it because everything I say is about me in some way.

Now, some R&B purists would argue that this new wave of R&B is watering down the genre. What are your thoughts on the new sound?
Music as a whole is in a good place. There are purists in every genre. You have hip-hop purists, rock purists, so I don’t think about it too much. If people understood that they don’t have to like everything, they would feel better in life. I’m not a fan of polka music, but you’ll never hear me tryna push onto people that I don’t like polka music. I say that to say that if you like something, further understand it. If you don’t like something, you shouldn’t give it spotlight in the universe. They’re just saying, ‘Hey, I’m not sure what this is. I’m not sure if I like it, but I’m gonna say I don’t like it.' When people are uncertain of new things and they’re used to the norm, they’re a little hesitant. But to those people, I say listen to what you like and we’ll all be fine.

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death and her music still influences sounds today. That whole vibe, including Static Major, who you’ve credited as a major influence, continues to seep into today’s music. How are you still influenced in your music and your personal life?
First of all, his image was pretty cool. He looked thugged out, but he was a nice guy, well-spoken songwriter. That’s why I got the braids. I just liked his approach and how he could seem menacing to the unsuspecting eye but was just a songbird who people looked up to. On a personal level, when he made that Pretty Ricky album [Bluestars], that was the first time I could appreciate him because essentially he got me laid [laughs]. All those songs were so fun and raunchy but had that soul to it, which is the element he brought.

Hearing him and his camp gave me a sense that I did not just have to do one thing. You can look one way, sound another way, feel a different way and everybody in that camp rapped, sang, produced, wrote. And it’s not like they were skipping genres. They understood that music is music and it’s universal. Whether you’re rapping, singing, playing guitar, it’s pretty much the same thing. That is something that I adopted in my approach to songwriting.

The first singer I ever heard rap was Missy Elliott. A lot of people don’t know, but most of her earlier work was singing. She was in a group doing a lot of singing stuff. My dad’s girlfriend’s son worked for Coca-Cola doing jingles. He gave me this Missy CD one day––I guess they were working on a jingle or something––and it was a bunch of R&B stuff. It just sounded so wavy, and I saw Timbaland was making the beats. Mind you, I wasn’t making music then. It just sounded really cool to me. At the time, I was listening to Bone Thugs and Crucial Conflict and Twista, so I always heard rappers sing. To me, I didn’t know there was a difference between singing and rapping. All rappers do is sing faster and singers rap slower. That’s why Chris Brown raps so well. Trey Songz raps so well. Those guys can rap cause those guys can sing and write.

You said there may be an original track with Static coming soon. Is that still in the works?
This producer I work with produces for Beyoncé, J. Lo and Selena Gomez, and he happens to know Static Major’s family. He was able to obtain some unreleased vocals from his family, so I’ve heard it. He put it in a beat before and it sounds crazy. It’s one of those things that I’ll probably approach a little more when I’m established. Maybe [around] the second project, because I wanna make sure I do it right. When all eyes are on me and I create a Static Major feature, if that happens, I want to make sure it’s represented right. I wanna have the best producers, the best writers and the best engineering on the track before I give it to the world.

What’s the producer’s name?
I cannot say.

With more eyes on you with every release, how are you adjusting?
When I was in college, I dated a girl that used to work for Birdman. She was like a video model so I would always kind of be around certain people and situations. Tiara Thomas is one of my friends from college and she got famous and blew up. We did a lot of work together early in my career and she was the one who actually convinced me to not only rap but to incorporate singing and other aspects, so big shout out to her.

I like to just record and watch Seinfeld when I’m not recording. When I have to do something other than that, it’s an adjustment just because my intention isn’t just to be known. I just want to make good music. I think when the money comes and I start spending it and buying shit, maybe I’ll answer this question a little differently. But my life is still regular.

Are you tired of comparisons?
The reason people in Toronto fuck with me so heavy is because in their eyes, they realize I was one of the first artists post-The Weeknd who got into that sound pretty early. That’s why you’ll never hear a Toronto artist or person criticize me in that respect because they know I was in the trenches, doing this early before these guys were these guys. I can’t tell you how many DMs I would get from poppin’ producers telling me, ‘Yo, you’re the real guy.' I don’t know what would make them say that but people aren’t stupid. So, I don’t get mad at comparisons as long as the music’s good that you’re comparing me to, I have no problems. I’ve always been me and I leave it up to the audience to do their research and question if their favorite artist has always been who they are.

Okay, so I can’t end this interview without asking... Are you single?
I work so much that.. I don’t know. Somebody might be dating me, but I’m single. [Laughs]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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VIBE Vault: Jada Pinkett Smith Talks Motherhood, Marriage & Sexiness In May 2001 Issue

Ever since playing streetwise Lena James on the college-campus sitcom A Different World, Jada Pinkett Smith has portrayed many a sexy shortie with attitude, boast a tough-as-nails swagger with a dash of vulnerability. Her film career—highlighted by Menace II Society, A Low Down Dirty Shame, Set It Off, Jason’s Lyric, and Woo—has been dotted with every possible permutation of the strong ghetto girl in distress.

But with mature roles like Bamboozled’s socially conscious Sloan Hopkins tucked under her belt, the Baltimore native who once spit verse with a teenaged Tupac Shakur in high school is proving to be more than the stereotypical neck-swiveling drama queen. Pinkett Smith has taken on a roster of challenging characters: exploring family matters in Fox Searchlight’s April release Kingdom Come, as well as starring in the highly anticipated pictures Ali (with husband Will Smith) and The Matrix 2 and 3.

But don’t think this woman is strictly business. The 29-year-old feels the upside of growing pains in both her professional and personal lives. As the mother of two youngsters (Jaden Christopher Syre, 2, and Willow Camille Reign, 6 months) and stepmom to 6-year-old Trey, Pinkett Smith is macking the maternal lifestyle—juggling play circles, early morning call times, and a little conjugal nookie on the side with the talented Mr. Smith. This pint-size fireplug’s still got teeth-gritting edge.

VIBE: Tell me about your character Charisse in Kingdom Come. I hear she’s pretty headstrong.

Jada Pinkett Smith: Definitely, but she’s a fool. She’s really self centered and headstrong about all the wrong things; she can’t see outside of herself. The patriarch of the family has passed away, and her focus is still all about her. It’s like, Sis, it's not all about you right now.

Co-starring with LL Cool J, Whoopi Goldberg, Vivica A. Fox, Toni Braxton, et al, you’re doing another movie with a predominantly black cast. But you know what they say about working with our people…

It’s always been such a pleasure working with black directors and black casts, because you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining yourself. It’s the same reasons why white people do all white films. These are the people you can relate to, that have the same experiences as you. I’ve never had any drama, only love. Like in Set It Off: There was so much buzz that there was going to be some drama with four black women working together, but that was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a film.

You’re married to Anthony Anderson’s character in Kingdom Come. Can we expect any love scenes like you’ve done in the past? We all remember you rolling in the grass with Allen Payne in Jason’s Lyric.

None of that anymore. My older son is a little bit too old for me to be doing that if it’s not with his dad [laughter]! That part of my life is in the past. I’ve got sons now, and I’ve got a little girl. That was the other, younger Jada, who didn’t have any other responsibilities but to herself. Now I’ve got to think about my kids.

Of all the characters you’ve played—from manslaying Woo to stand-by-you-man Lyricto gangsta-boo Stoney to knucklehead Charisse—which of your roles is filled with the most Jada?

I really wasn’t in a space of maturity with that character to really fall into the depths of Lyric’s vulnerable space as I would’ve liked to. I think about it today, and I go, Wow, I could have done this and done this. That was another side of myself that I wasn’t comfortable showing yet. And from A Low Down Dirty Shame, Peaches was basically Jada at that time but to the third power. Set It Off was definitely Jada to another level. Stony was rah-rah but not that rah-rah [laughter]! That’s exactly how I would be—scared but [knowing I] gotta do my thing. Woo was truly the other side of Jada, like Honey, please talk to the hand [laughter].

If Woo was your alter ego, how did you deal with trifling men before you met Will? 

The best punishment is just to be out. There's so much you can take, I was definitely one of those chicks that would hang in there for a minute trying to week it out. But once I realized in my head that it just wasn't it, I rolled. Then niggas was was like, “Well, where you going?” I was like, Man. I told you. You saw me hanging in there with your crazy ass, trying to work this out. You know what I'm saying? Now you want to know where I am? I’m somewhere not with you.

Was there a specific incident? 

Nothing really, because when I was younger, I wasn't living right either. I can't really say that someone did anything so bad to me, because whatever they did, I deserved it.

Jada Pinkett Smith is a former playa-playa in repentance? 

You can say it however you want [laughter].. I was young in Hollywood. I didn't know about relationship and commitment. Unfortunately, that's something that we're not really taught, especially in our households. Most of us come from very dysfunctional places. Will is the first monogamous relationship I've had. I never knew what it took to have a healthy relationship or what commitment was all about.

How have the kids impacted your coochie-cooing sessions with Will?

HA HA [big laughter]!!! Well, shoot, kids are always going to put a little damper on that parade, but not so much that you can’t handle your business. They come, and, once again, you have that transition period where you have to find your groove within this new lifestyle you've been given. But it hasn't been drama. We've handled it very well [naughty laughter]. 

Inquiring minds want to know the real deal with Will Smith. Does he come correct in the boudoir? 

I'll just say this one absolute fact. For all the women who want to know, all the women in the VIBE world: Will puts it down! I could not be married or be monogamous with anybody who didn't. That's real [big laughter]! All I have to do is look at Will, and everything gets turned on from that. I'm pretty much an easy catch. He’s got beautiful eyes, and his physique now is out of control ‘cause of Ali. Yeaaahhh… It doesn’t take much for my buttons to get pushed. 

But Will is tall, maybe 6’2”, and you're so petite. 

It doesn't matter. Size doesn't matter. He says this all the time: I can't come at him in a bad way. And I’m like, Whatever, Daddy—just bring it. That's why we're such a happy couple. We can't be mad too long. 

It's great to have such a strong physical connection. 

And also the spiritual connection. The friendship even deepens sexual connection. When all of that is tied in together, it never gets tired. You have your times when you're kind of slow—if you're working, or during pregnancy. That's why it's important to have that friendship and that spiritual connection. That's what keeps it all together until the physical aspect of it booms back in, because everybody has their slow times.

Your children will grow up faster than you realize. What kind of relationship advice will you give them? 

You basically have to go with the flow. I know for my daughter, I probably won't put restrictions on her in a [harsh] way, because, being female myself. I understand the type of freedom a young girl needs. But when I talk about freedom, I mean you have to have a sense of responsibility. That's very difficult in our culture, because we're basically selling being a ho as what it is to be a woman today. If you're not a ho, then you're not really down or you're not really hip. I don't talk about freedom in that sense—basically just giving it away to whomever you want. There was a time when black women were very uptight about their sexuality. I think right now we're going through a space where we're finding our freedom as far as our sexuality, but I think we're going to our next extreme. We're going to find that middle ground. I hope by the time my daughter is of age we'll be at that space.

You're considered one of the sexiest people in Hollywood. What’s your definition of sexiness?

Really [laughter]? Well that is quite an honor. I'm learning as I get older, because I haven't always been this way. I'm gaining a better understanding as I mature that what people are attracted to most of all—and especially my husband, who's pretty much the only person I have to worry about these days—is beyond my physical. I'll be 30 this year. I'm moving into a whole other space of my womanhood! So I've kind of outgrown that whole, well let me go out with my short skirts on, with my stomach out or my bust up. I don't necessarily think that's something I have to do. I feel like I've been there like hardcore [laughter]. I might go back to feeling like that. Now I'm finally feeling like a woman, whereas before I was a little girl just trying to be a woman. Now I'm really feeling myself. Trust that with Kingdom Come, Matrix 2 and 3, and Ali, y'all will see a whole new Jada. Believe me. Y’all bouts to see it like y'all haven't seen it. 

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This article originally appeared in VIBE's May 2001 issue. Written by Brett Johnson | Photography by: Isabel Snyder and others.

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'The Old Guard' Celebrates Women On Both Sides Of The Lens, Says Director Gina Prince-Bythewood & Actress KiKi Layne

Gina Prince-Bythewood is not new to this. Her decades-long screenwriting credits go back as far as 1992 when she contributed to the Cosby Show spin-off, A Different World. Her directorial debut happened nearly 10 years later with her 2000 film, Love & Basketball which grossed over $27 million in the U.S. box office and went on to become a black cinematic classic. Since then, Bythewood directed more films like The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Beyond the Lights (2014). Today, Bythewood is stepping away from the dramatic and romantic films of yesteryear and making her mark in the genre of action films with the new Netflix movie, The Old Guard.

Based on the comic book by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard stars lead actresses Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road, Hancock) and KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Native Son). Theron plays Andy, an immortal mercenary recruited for a mission to protect the mortal world. Layne plays Nile, a U.S. Marine recruited to join the badass task force. Before her "rebirth" into her new eternal life as a soldier, she learns about life as an Old Guard, what she'll stand to gain and lose as undying warrior and more.

Upon receiving the script, Bythewood was "incredibly excited" and happy to have an opportunity where she could not only take on a different type of cinema but also bring a young Black female hero to life and into the spotlight. "I knew the type of action film I wanted to do, an action drama," she says in an interview with VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle. "And I knew absolutely when I got the opportunity, that I wanted us [Black people] to be in it." And that we are. With actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) taking on a supporting role, Layne holds her own in the action-packed feature film as she tests her body's limits in scene after scene. The rising star would be sure to let you know how physicalities set her and her character apart.

"I mean I love the opportunity to be that physical," she says. "Nile still has so much heart and, being led by Gina, being encouraged to dig deeper into that and to not be afraid of her vulnerability, which was exciting. So I kind of play that, but then still play that physical strength and being a Marine and all of that. So I would say that would actually be the biggest difference between us."

The Prince-Bythewood and Layne sat with Belle to discuss the limitations around the term "Black cinema," being a part of a film that has Black women in front and behind the lens, and what they hope for The Old Guard's impact 20 years from now.

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On how music inspires her screenwriting:

Prince-Bythewood: Music is everything to my process. When I start to write, I create soundtracks for myself too. If it's just songs that either speak to what I'm writing or open me up emotionally to what I'm about to write. I have soundtracks for myself for directing, and then I create soundtracks as I'm editing. It's everything and I love doing songs for score. I love the traditional score, but I also love songs for scores. And those are songs that just help elevate the scene, add a little bit more emotion. It doesn't take over the scene, but it absolutely aides it and songs tell such a story...I love soundtracks, it goes back to Purple Rain. Where you could listen to that soundtrack and then watch the movie again in your head because the songs were that distinct, that's what I love to do with my films.

On the Black women she pulled influence from when preparing for her role:

Layne: Black women who I find to be strong and just maybe haven't seen it represented that way on film. Honestly, just thinking about my mom. Angela Bassett was the biggest example of strength. Who else was I thinking of? Those are like the first students to kind of pop in my head of just like, especially with Angela, the way that she just carries herself. There's such pride and dignity and integrity to her that I just, I mean love. Period. But it was definitely something that, when thinking of Nile, trying to bring some of that in there as well.

On the limiting term "Black cinema" as it relates to Hollywood:

The term "Black cinema" is not a negative to me, nor to us. My issue with it is with Hollywood. In terms of Hollywood using that to describe any film that has a black person in it. So suddenly they feel like, "Oh, we've done our one black film." As opposed to, "We should be in every single genre. Sci-fi, Western, love stories, period pieces." That's who we are, that's the breadth of our humanity, that's what I want to see. I just don't want to limit us, but I revel and celebrate black cinema and black film.

On how they would like The Old Guard to be remembered 20 years from now:

Layne: In 20 years from now, I would hope that it would be, you won't necessarily remember, but as a, I don't know, a piece of getting Hollywood to tell more of these types of stories with women at the lead in front of and behind the camera. I'm hoping that it will be an opportunity that leads to more doors like this being opened. Just showing that we're just as capable and it's just as interesting when we do it.

Prince-Bythewood: And then I'll just add in 20 years, if people are still watching this film that says it all, that this film had longevity, it spoke to them and it was a world and it's characters that they wanted to see again and live with again. And as artists, I think that's a pretty incredible thing.

Interview's music bed provided by Gus.

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Watch: Rodney Jerkins Talks Producing On ‘The High Note’ Soundtrack, Andre Harrell And How His Dad Sparked His Career In ‘Billboard’

When you think of your favorite R&B and pop hits by Brandy, Destiny's Child, Mary J. Blige, and Michael Jackson, you can't help but think about the musical genius behind the tracks: Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. Since his start in the music industry at the young age of 14 (under the mentorship of legendary musician Teddy Riley and his father Pastor Fredrick Jerkins), the Grammy-winning producer has created songs across countries, genres, and mediums.  To date, Jerkins has contributed to over 115 movie and television series soundtracks with his first credit for Joe's "Don't Wanna Be a Player" (not be confused with Big Pun's hit) on the 1996 Booty Call soundtrack.

His latest accomplishment is serving as the executive music producer for the new video-on-demand film, The High Note, starring actress Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of the legendary Diana Ross. In the Nisha Ganatra-directed  film, Ross plays Grace Davis, a diva and iconic singer who has to "choose between playing it safe or listening to her heart in a decision that could change her life forever." Weeks prior to The High Note's premiere, Focus Features and Republic Records released "Love Myself," the lead single from the movie's soundtrack, which features Ross singing on her very first musical recording. As the film's executive music producer, Jerkins worked with her on another track, "Stop For A Minute," and helped Ross become comfortable with laying down tracks in a music recording studio, an experience she'd only witnessed second-hand while her mother worked on music.

"When we first started, that was Tracy's first time in the booths," says Jerkins about working with Ross. "That can become somewhat intimidating. I said, 'Tracy just trust me. I've worked with every artist. I've worked with actresses who had to sing before.' I said, 'This is what I do. Just have trust that we'll get through it.' As we started to work, her confidence started to build and she started to understand what it took."

VIBE and Cory Taylor of R&B Spotlight had a chance to sit down with Jerkins to talk about his extensive career, working on the official soundtrack for The High Note, his advice for upcoming producers, and more.

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On when he got the call to be a part of the film's soundtrack:

I was in Florida at home and Mike Knobloch, the head of music at Universal, he called me one day. He was just like, "Man, I got a prize that I think you would be perfect for. Would you mind reading the script?" I said, "Yes, send me the script." And this was crazy. I was actually working with an artist at the time. I have this artist named Jac Ross and I was just listening to Lee Moses because Jack has this super soulful voice. In the script, the first scene had a Lee Moses song. I called Mike before reading the rest of the script. I was like, "Yo, this is mine." I said, "The first song. I just studied Lee Moses two days ago." So the fact that the first song in the scene was a Lee Moses song called "Bad Girl," I was like, this is mine.

On how his Dad sparked his start in the music business:

I got started with Teddy Riley working in Virginia Beach. I was kind of this apprentice down there. I was 14 when I first met Teddy. Every summer I'd go down there and just kind of sit and learn. I would go back home and work on stuff and work on ideas. It wasn't really until I was probably 16 or 17 when I really got my first songs heard by record companies, and people started paying attention saying, "Yo, there's this kid in New Jersey." I think what really sparked that and my father, who was mentoring me at the time, I think I said to him one day, "I got all this good music, but nobody knows who I am, because I'm from South Jersey, Pleasantville." There's no outlet down there. My dad invested money out of his own pocket, and he bought this ad in Billboard.

At first, people thought he was crazy because there were no ads in Billboard. Like if you looked through Billboard, it was just charts. For some reason my dad, he bought this ad and in this ad it said: "Super producer." I was young and wasn't a super-producer yet. He put this ad in and 50% of the people laughing at it were saying, "Yo, this is crazy. This dude is crazy." You had the other 50% of people calling and saying, "Yo, we want to meet."

 

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Dad, Thanks for instilling in me Christ at an early age. It’s because of you I choose to lead my family in that same direction. You’ve given me so many great moments as a child growing up. Believing in me when others didn’t. Pushing me to greatness. Being unconventional with your approach is exactly the way I do things to this day. Demanding respect from my counterparts. Not being taken advantage of, and being prayerful about everything. These are the life lessons and qualities you have given me. By watching you apply all of these things in your life I’ve learned to do the same. I appreciate you and love you dearly! HAPPY FATHERS DAY DAD!

A post shared by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins (@rodneyjerkins) on Jun 21, 2020 at 4:51pm PDT

On his fondest memory of the late Andre Harrell:

He would call me up when I wasn't working with him. I remember when I did "Deja Vu" for Beyonce and Jay-Z. I was in New York City, the song was out, and Andre called and said, "Yo, where you at?" I said, "I'm in this old studio." "I'm coming to see you right now. I'm coming to see you right now." I ain't know what he wanted. He came up to the studio. He was like, "Playboy, playboy. Do you know what you just did? Do you know what you just gave this girl?" And I was like, "Nah," because I'm just keeping it moving.

He's like, "Man, you gave her Michael Jackson, 2005, like you gave her the Michael Jackson 'Don't Stop Til You Get Enough' for a female like this." I was like, "What you mean?" He was like, "The way you put the horns with the live bass and the drums, and still knocking with the 808, people aren't doing that." He was so animated when he spoke to you. He made you believe there's something much greater in yourself. That was my guy, man. He did that constantly with me. He would be like that all the time. I'm talking about even like three months ago, like in February, we had a similar conversation.

Advice to up and coming producers looking to get their foot in the music business:

First, I would say study all the greats that came before you. I'm not talking in the last 10, 20 years. I'm talking about going back, going back to Barry Gordy days, and study them. Study sound. Every sound and every genre possible. Don't be a one-trick pony. Be able to produce any type of genre. I would also say be different. What I mean by that, a lot of technology has allowed it for producers to become easy, but it's also become easy in the same sonic, in the same sound. All the tools are the same. You have everybody using the same tools right now. It all starts to sound the same. I would tell producers to challenge themselves to be different. Be unique, be different.

On his future plans to produce music for films: 

I'm going to continue to do movies. I've made it my thing. I can't say it right now, but it looks like I got another movie coming my way right now. With the same company, by the way. I'm going to continue to do it because I love it. I think it brings out a whole different side of emotion for me. It allows me to create differently. Sometimes we get caught up in what's popping at radio, what's popping streaming...I would love to do more in the TV and film realm because I just think that's the natural progression for me and my career.

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