“wait….you “produce produce??”- me
“yes negro! im tryna get to yall level man!” -Heavy D
So im at my first Grammys. Radio City Music hall, feb 98. my label president Jay Boberg gave me his tickets so i can bask in the Grammy glory of one of the first non-Roots albums i helped produce that one big that night: Baduizm.
it was a surreal night: my tix were prime seats smack dab in the middle of royalty. Aretha Franklin just did a LAST MINUTE (!!!!)` fill in of “Ava Maria” for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti. this crazy “SOY BOMB” incident just went down with Bob Dylan, and of course Erykah shoutin me out for her winning album of the year (“we did it, Ahmir!”)
it was my first real “event.” i spent the entire past 5 years literally on the road, from 3 to a room, to fighting for pillows and blankets, to piss-fumed tour buses from the 80s, to empty houses, to “will it ever get better for us?” suddenly the stars aligning and now i get to hobknob with the gods i’ve worshipped for years. my suit was tight (as in i was clean) my date was right & it was gonna be a beautiful night.
this marks the night i met most of my hip-hop peers which was a great thing (Salt and Spinderella kept telling me how funny they thought this was…) and a not so great thing (Big’s manager Mark Pitts musta missed the memo the night this went down, for he was instantly on the horn like “yeah that Roots n***a here right now, what’s up? you coming down to handle this?” over the same video) —read that link thoroughly cause imma refer to this towards the end. of course i never stay where im not wanted and in light of both Pac and Big catching bad ones in the past year and a half i was not about to be a statistic cause someone missed their humor pills the morning they saw a humorous video not even personally aimed at them.
i debated on running to the bathroom at that very moment or waiting to get back to my hotel room while off the radar of any type of surprise attack. but this couldn’t wait. told her “3 mins”. seems like a flash but damn if that wasn’t long enough for her to be laughing like “damn the wolves are out tonight, 5 dudes just tried to gimme their business cards the instant you left.” we went through em amazed at how fast people operate when backs are turned. the most elaborate of the business cards read Dwight “Heavy D” Myers. i was like (playfully) “damn, even Hev tryna cock block” he was nowhere in sight, but then again i really wasn’t tryna look all that hard neither.
about 2 years later, things done changed.
after four attempts the Roots finally got their foothold inside the industry door. we formed a clique with like minded individuals and all made music together and suddenly our music and style didn’t seem like such a confusing hard sell as it was before. we now gained new fans in the established world because of our work with Erykah and D’Angelo and Jill Scott and Mos Def and Common and the like.
the strangest night of all occurred right before a 1am second show at LA’s house of blues. fall of 2000. my manager told me that superproducer/songwriter Babyface wanted a meeting with me. “Wow” i thought. “dude OWNED the charts in the 90s and just *poofed* disappeared.” the hell he wants with me? im the cat you call when you wanna make an art record or if you need some cred with critics. im not a hitmaker. i build albums. which is pretty much why all the artists i work with are new unheard of artists. not the established class. man i couldn’t take the pressure knowing i was the one responsible for blah blah blah’s string of hits coming to an end.
“so what type of meeting?”
i was explained that he is working on his comeback album (its been about 6 years) and he wants a new sound and is a fan of my work.
something aint right here.
all night on stage the thought was racking my brain. this guy had the ability to pull number one hits from tree bark
round 90 mins later we’re offstage and as i walk towards my backstage dressing room i see like 3 big burly bodyguard lookin dudes. dressed in all black with sunglasses.
like the kind of big dudes hollywood screenwriters cast as the bad guys on those Showtime/HBO series. they tell me they’re taking me to see “Face at the studio”. still tryna process that thought i was like expecting to see some Burt Bacharach looking manager with this bifocals dangling off his nose (well, based on Face’s pop output of the past few i thought his staff would reflect his music) as we walk to this large towncar someone hands me the phone. “its Hev”
“hello?……Hev? (who the hell is Hev?) sup?………oh……ok……sure…..”
someone named “Hev” said they at the studio right now and although face can’t make it, he wants me to hear some of the potential tracks.
so my mind is racing:
Hev? like Hev D? hell he doing on the phone as a proxy for Babyface?…why am i squeezed in the middle of this town car with clearly a collective 1000 lbs? (even the driver was burly. only other cat i know who rolls with a staff that can double as mutant giant navy seals is Em)
so suddenly im like…..wait….heavy d? the Grammys 96!, maybe he was rolling with Mark Pitts!!
(we turn into a back alley. real seedy like)
i mean…unless its some other Heavy i don’t know about
(these electronic gates open……crrrrrreeeeeeeeaaaaaakkk real real slow)
oh god….something aint right.
(we then enter a basement garage)
—i swear i heard the second part of Derek & the Dominoes “Layla” playing in the atmosphere.
its dark. greek columns is what i can make out as the 4 of us march in a desolate building in the middle of nowhere.
i really truly thought this was a wrap.
Puffy is finally gonna strike his overdue 4 year snowball in the freezer revenge on me in la.
gassing me up, making me think the most successful songwriter/producer franchise in the past decade wants my no track record having arse as a producer?
damn how could i be so gullible. now the soundtrack to Psycho is playing.
we walk up the last of the stairs and make a sharp left into a room when suddenly…..
“man, im stuck on these snare patches, i been stuck for like 2 hours tryna chop it right……whussup man! such a fan of yours man i was so nervous to meet you. Hev”
its hard to describe, but if you can imagine the exasperated “you are my density” look George McFly had on his face in Back to the Future. that just about sums it up.
i KNOW inside Hev was like “i know this cat is trippin on somethin”
but the 4 sec sigh of relief on my face man. i didn’t know if i was about to cry or piss on myself.
i had no clue Hev was a producer producer. at least the kind of producer that the man who won Producer Of The Year 3 years in a row would wanna work with. and what’s up with getting the Suge triplets to pick me up in that tiny ass town car?
and what the hell am i doing producing Babyface?!?!
kinda funny that once Face was conferenced on speakerphone i got my answer all at once:
he apologized for not being there but he had a business meeting in new york the next day and he had to prepare for it.
he explained was a big fan of the sound we gave Baduizm. the same album that edged him out for album of the year that night in radio city music hall. He met Heavy that same night (“….hey Face, did Heavy give you the elaborate 3d businesscard too?”—–”hahahahahahah how’d you’d know about that 3d card? NOONE had cards like that back in 97…” long story Hev. long story)
i guess you can say that Hev was the first adult contemporary rapper. which if you are a music snob you could almost write off with a scoff. but Hev always seemed to have a foot in the future quiet as it was kept, which was really admirable to me that a person “from the establishment” could sift out real talent:
it was Hev that included pre new jack godstatus Teddy Riley on his debut record. it was Hev that put his influential cousin Pete Rock on his first major hip hop production. it was Hev that gave bug-a-boo intern turned forbes mainstay Sean “Puffy” Combs his very first real job at Uptown records. it was Hev that first utilized the (now commonplace but then? a production quagmire) time compression production method for samples playing in the same bpms but using different keys (see “Love Sexy” on Blue Funk, historical hip hop 1st in production). not to mention using his influence to give an unsigned Notorious BIG his debut on the same album.
although i didn’t get a chance to contribute to Face2Face i did cement a great camaraderie with Mr. Myers. he taught me the value of maximizing your brand and leaving no stone unturned. he first put the idea in my head that older people haven’t given up on hip hop, but perhaps hip hop gave up on the older demographic (explaining to me why he was always perceived as “your aunt’s favorite rapper”) he always sought to balance out his career: make sure that he gave a good look to the younger audience, and a good look to the audience that was closer to his age with his forays into doing cameo spots on hit singles, theme songs for shows, and acting.
i last saw Hev as he did a cameo with The Roots in chicago and we went through a history of his hits. he was kinda nervous backstage and said he hasn’t done this in almost 8 years. i was about to ask him should we just stick to 1 or 2 joints instead of the 5 we planned on unleashing….cut to him leaping & jumping like it was 91 all over again. backstage i was like “what happened to all that nervous talk?!” he was like “man yall had me inspired! i was ready to do an entire album up there with yall, told you! i aint playin! im tryna get on yall level!”
thank you Hev. you were there all along.