Ameriie asked us a simple question 15 years ago.
In the late spring/early summer of 2002, the then-22-year-old wanted to know why we weren’t falling in love? As she sashayed down a street that could only be described as what gentrified Brooklyn looks like now, the 5 feet, 5 inch tall Army brat told us tomorrow ain’t really guaranteed, and to do anything less than sit in the rich broth of love was… well, asinine. Ameriie wasn’t lying either. As the one year anniversary of Aaliyah’s death along with the attacks of 9/11 were approaching, we knew first hand at any moment anything could happen, so Ameriie’s request and question were both wise as they were pertinent.
But if you remember, 2002 was an especially ripe year for rhythm and blues. In March, Brandy released her critically praised third album Full Moon which landed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. One month later on April 2, Ashanti and Tweet both delivered colossal debut records. Ashanti who had been crowned the Princess of R&B moved half a million copies of her self-titled freshman album in its first week, while Tweet’s Southern Hummingbird landed at No. 3 on Billboard’s 200 selling 195,000 copies. In May, Musiq Soulchild proved his winning streak was still going strong with Juslisen, which found cozy real estate at the top of the Billboard 200. So when it came time for Ameriie to present herself to the world, the competition was indeed stiff.
The Korean and African-American hybrid, however, had someone in her corner the others didn’t: producer Rich Harrison, who like her searched high and low to find that right person to work with. The two originally met at a McDonald’s parking lot. Humble beginnings for the singer-producer duo, but pure nonetheless. What came from this introduction would be Ameriie’s first album All I Have. Released on July 30, 2002, via Columbia Records, the 12-track LP was smooth enough to cater to women but had just enough knock to make men feel at ease.
“Rich and I loved adding different elements,” Ameriie says during a phone interview with VIBE. “We liked the idea of incorporating a soft touch to a more aggressive track, or a track that might be softer and taking a more vocally aggressive approach to it. We wanted to create and not bore ourselves. We didn’t want to be bored, which is why there’s a certain knock in pretty much everything.”
All I Have peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200, and stayed in the top 20 for about two weeks. Like we said, R&B was a game of steel sharpening steel in 2002, and despite Harrison and Ameriie’s best efforts, the support received didn’t translate to placement on the charts. But sometimes things take time, and Ameriie is okay with that.
“Rich and I felt like we were creating something special. We definitely talked about it but I think sometimes, things just take time to appreciate and I don’t mind that,” Ameriie says. “Some things people can appreciate right away and I think some things take time. Great artists in the past, whether they be musicians or composers or painters, sometimes things need to settle. Rich and I never created to fit in. We really wanted to create what we wanted to create.”
Ameriie’s scratchy alto on top of Harrison’s production, which was often laced with pronounced percussion was, if we’re being honest, taken for granted in 2002. Although the album sonically was cohesive running the romantic gamut of longing, lusting, loving and unfortunately leaving the one you love as described on the album’s title track, vocally Ameriie’s voice was hard to place. Some critics deemed the 46-minute LP Harrison’s debut as he penned the songs, but it was Ameriie’s tone that made listeners connect and feel.
There are moments on the record that make you think you’ve just parted the curtains on a bright Saturday morning, while there are other times you can almost feel the droplets of rain fall from trees as you walk down the street just before dusk. All I Have is one of R&B’s last reminders of a time where love meant effort, not being ashamed to feel feelings and doing more than sliding in someone’s DMs. It actually meant the excitement and nervousness of a first kiss, being intimate with someone for the first time, and those moments throughout a relationship when everything isn’t perfect, but everything is everything.
As Ameriie promoted the album, “Talkin To Me” (which was what the label wanted to be the lead single) would be the second song to receive the video treatment, and when she got done there, Ameriie flew to Maui with LL Cool J and Gabrielle Union for the gorgeous video “Paradise.” Ameriie was most definitely working, but it wouldn’t be until 2005 that her voice and Harrison’s production would finally get everyone to take notice.
Growing up with a military dad meant Ameriie and her family lived all over, but if she had to claim a special place it would be Washington, D.C. Harrison, a D.C. native and Howard University alum, reunited for Ameriie’s second record Touch and decided it was time to expose the rest of the world to the popular sounds of Go-Go, even if it meant just offering a morsel. The concoction created was the inescapable “1 Thing.” Years after Chuck Brown earned the title as The Godfather of the genre and just a decade shy of Wale putting The District on his back, Ameriie and Rich got together and left the door slightly open on a sound of music that couldn’t escape its Tri-State roots. But let Ameriie tell it, the label wasn’t totally on board.
“We didn’t want [“1 Thing”] to sound too pretty as far as the melody and be too singy. It still needed to move, the vocals still needed to move and punch, if that makes any sense,” Ameriie says of creating the song. “But when it was done we felt like we had something really great, and my manager felt like we had something really great. He felt it too, we all felt it, but the label they were just overthinking it. They were doing what they’re supposed to do which is listen, critique, but they weren’t getting it.”
Growth—personal, musical and professional—visited Ameriie and Harrison between the making of the first and second album. Mad with inspiration, Harrison displayed rhythmic turrets on the drums unheard of on mainstream radio at the time and Ameriie’s voice along with confidence hit new heights as seen from her come hither pose on the album cover and thigh-high boots and fur coat she donned for the video. “1 Thing” was the formula developed three years prior but now perfected and everyone finally understood it. Not only did the people get it, they f**ked with it heavy forcing many to say “This Ameriie? Word?”
Victory belonged to Ameriie and Harrison. “1 Thing” landed in the top 10 on the Billboard 100 charts where 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” was No. 1 followed by The Game’s “Hate It or Love It” featuring the G-Unit CEO was No. 2. In 2007 Ameriie returned to music with Because I Love It, and then in 2009 with a new album (and an extra “I” in her name to reflect positive energy) with In Love & War.
There’s no rhyme or reason why we take to some quicker than others, but we do. In the 15 years since All I Have, Ameriie has gotten married, released new music (in 2016 she dropped her EP Drive) and has since launched a lifestyle channel on YouTube that boasts 41,000 subscribers. A voracious reader herself, the 37-year-old joined an elite list by becoming a New York Times best-selling author of her book, Because You Love To Hate Me.
Ms. Ameriie revealed she’s working on new music that she hopes to release by the end of the year, and if there’s one thing All I Have taught us is let’s not wait another 15 years to appreciate what she does next.