Released 15 years ago, Touch marked the pinnacle of Amerie Roger’s creative partnership with producer Rich Harrison. We spoke with the singer about how the two crafted their go-go-influenced classic.
“Talkin’ About” is the third single from Amerie’s sophomore LP, Touch. The song is fueled by brash horns, funkdafied vocal sass, and the percussive rhythms of go-go. On the tracklist, “Talkin’ About,” track six, plays as the epicenter of the cosmo-chaotic, upbeat feeling that soundscapes Touch.
“There’s something about the aggression,” Amerie told Okayplayer over the phone. “There’s something about the excitement, the way it makes you want to move…There’s a certain confidence that’s in that song. A cockiness. There’s something about the way the song just punches you in your face — in a good way.”
Aligning with Marvin Gaye-styled party grooves of the ’70s, the song contains a series of “yeahs” that encourage the production’s ongoing jam sessions. If there was a song in Amerie’s discography that best described her, “Talkin’ About” would be that according to the singer. “Talkin’ About” and the other ten tracks on Touch were meant to display a more “energetic side” to Amerie’s public persona.
Released 15 years ago, on April 26, 2005, Touch marked the pinnacle of Amerie Roger’s creative partnership with producer Rich Harrison. It was a partnership that started when, three years prior, the duo broke ground in R&B with her debut album, All I Have.
“When Rich and I came out with All I Have, it was just the demo of what came to be the first album,” Amerie said about recording that project in her hometown of Washington DC. “We recorded it in the basement next to a laundry machine, me sitting on the back of a sofa.”
Those sofa recording sessions would end up helping All I Have peak at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart in August 2002. The lead single, “Why Don’t We Fall in Love,” reached the top 10 on the R&B and Hip Hop charts; while the follow-up single, “Talkin’ To Me,” hit the top 20. The release of All I Have contributed another successful chapter in the 2000s hip-hop soul renaissance and brought massive stateside and international attention to the little known DC natives.
“I think we had a little more pressure going into the studio a second time around to record Touch,” Amerie said. “During All I Have, no one knew who we were for the most part. Rich worked with people before, but he hadn’t blown up yet. People didn’t know how talented he was. It was just so low pressure. Us recording, trying to figure out what we wanted. But the second time around we had expectations.”
Amerie didn’t go into recording Touch, thinking it had to have a specific sound. But, what made the album a critical standout, and one of the best R&B albums of the decade, is its progressive incorporation of go-go, the staple genre of music coming from DC. All I Have already exhibited some of those undertones faintly on tracks such as “Why Don’t We Fall In Love, “Need You Tonight,” and “Hatin’ On You.” The goal for Touch was to expand upon that sound, but make it “more complete.”
On Touch’s second track, “All I Need,” Harrison flips a sample of Jean Carn’s “You Are All I Need” into a chipmunk soul loop backed by the jazzy side of go-go. Another Rich Harrison produced deep cut, “Like It Used To Be,” slows down the tempo, offering a more rocksteady spin on go-go elements.
“I wasn’t thinking we had to have a bunch of go-go records,” Amerie said. “I really wanted the album to flow naturally. You just never know in recording what you’re going to get. And if you stay conceptual, it can work sometimes but you can be boxed in too.”
Keeping in line with her album’s objective of contrasting the “mellow” personality of All I Have, Amerie recorded most of Touch in New York City. Despite moving to LA at the beginning of the process, she felt most in her element while on the East Coast, an experience she said was “intimidating and exciting.”
“There’s electricity in the air in New York City,” Amerie said. “I felt I really wanted that energy while recording. Recording in New York — and looking at the beautiful skyline — always gave me the energy of being in school and wanting to make it one day with a record deal.”
What makes Touch a unique player in Amerie’s discography is how it captures the New York City vibe, particularly in the album’s electronic makeup. While the go-go influences of some songs tied directly to DC homage, her appreciation for the influences of ’80s new wave represented what one would associate to the flashy alternative nightlife of the Big Apple.
“Come With Me” is a chilled out electro-bop that finds Amerie playing both a shoulder to cry on as well as a tempting vixen. There’s a brooding darkness underlying the chorus: “So hard to believe she left you alone, all alone/I know babe you can come with me though.” Trying to visualize the attitude of the deep cut, look no further than the album art which features Amerie sensually biting her finger while wearing a black romper, fishnet stockings, and heels.
While All I Have was entirely produced by Rich Harrison, Amerie decided to incorporate the work of other producers to further explore her own sound for Touch. The Buchanans’ “Not The Only One” would predate Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds post-disco, funk sonics that would rule the charts a year later. Amerie coos with bubblegum vocals wondering “I don’t know why I’m messing with ya!” in the hook. It’s the album’s fourth track but it ended up being the last recorded.
“Just Like Me” enlisted the production work of Dre & Vidal, who were fostering their own R&B legacy in the new millennium. The mid-tempo ballad is a blend of romantic quiet soul fused with the subtle dial tones and cellular sound effects of Y2K pop&B.
In the background, you can hear Sunshine Anderson, who helped co-write the track. In ways, Amerie’s vocals on “Just Like Me” — as well as the Red Spyda-produced “Falling” — exhibit the neo-soul nuances of her idol, Mary J. Blige.
Amerie also worked with another R&B vet who influenced her sound, Carl Thomas on “Can We Go.” She met the singer on the “Why Don’t We Fall In Love” set. Although Carl Thomas’s debut, Emotional, was released only two years prior to Amerie’s debut — making him more so her contemporary — she vouches for how that record shaped her start.
“An adlib on ‘Float’ from All I Have was a total nod to Carl Thomas,” Amerie said. “I listened to him so much while recording that album. Emotional is one of those very few albums that I say is a classic. To work with him I was very honored. It was humbling. You spend so much time dreaming about things, but when you actually end up working with artists that you look up to so much it’s like you can hardly believe it’s happening.”
“Can We Go” sounds like a rehashing of the melodic chiming found on All I Have’s “Float,” but with a louder inclusion of winding go-go drums. “Can we go back (to where love is)” Amerie asks to an otherwise stern Carl Thomas. Produced by Bink!, “Can We Go” samples Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “Evil,” adding to the ’70s funk aesthetics that grace Touch.
“Can We Go” was not going to be the only track from Bink! that was slated for the final cut. A version of “Paint Me Over,” from her 2007 album, Because I Love It, was supposed to make the cut but Amerie was never able to finish it in time.
“Bink! made the track but I had to think of the concept for what eventually became ‘Paint Me Over,’ Amerie said. “I had to rewrite it so many times and didn’t finalize it until after Touch was done.”
Out of all the outliers that exist on Touch, the most notable one is the title track. Although it captures the sensual mood that lays throughout the album, it’s crunk&B production from Lil Jon and naughtier pop writing from Sean Garrett and Amerie herself (on the track she sings “don’t be afraid to touch/I know you think I’m a good girl.”)
“That was very much the sound of the time … The label would always want me to work with all these different people,” Amerie said. “I’m always open to things. But I knew it was going to be different from what I had done before. But I like to play. I’m down to experiment. It’s definitely an experience to try different things.”
However, US radio and the charts weren’t so apt for that experimentation around the time “Touch” was released as the era’s second single. It didn’t chart on the Hot 100, and only landed at No. 95 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In Europe, the song fared much better, reaching the Top 10 in Ireland and the Netherlands and the Top 20 in the UK, respectively.
“I think at the time it was a lot harder for Black artists to get the same push as white artists,” Amerie said. “At the time radio was segregated. I mean it still is. But at the time if you were a white artist you got to go straight to pop radio. If you were Black, the first question was ‘how did this perform on urban radio?’ And that’s fine to answer: If you could fit on urban radio, it started doing well, and then you could go to pop. I didn’t like that extra hurdle.”
Amerie constantly found herself with this problem, as a majority of the songs on Touch toed the line of being pop, but also wasn’t readily accepted on Black stations looking for a singular mainstream sound. What propelled the success of Touch, helping it peak at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and closing out its year-end chart at No. 195, was the spinning power of DJs.
One of those songs that earned the street cred and buzz was “Rolling Down My Face.” “Right at the time the album came out people would request ‘we need a single for this!’” recalls Amerie about the love the song received without label interference.
She gives all the credit to Rich Harrison for coming up with the jazz melodies that fluttered around the sample of Roy Ayers’s “Searching.” Seen as an R&B classic on the mixtape circuit of the early 2000s, “Rolling Down My Face” is as universal as a story can get through lyrics. Amerie is found looking crazy by her friends who “demand” her to tell them what’s up because “tears keep rolling rolling rolling rolling” from the sadness of a break up.
Despite the lack of effort from her record label, Columbia, and the urban department at Sony, Amerie and her personal team managed to mold their own success, most notably with the defining track, and album opener, “1 Thing.”
Although she recorded most of the hit in New York City in June 2004, Amerie would find herself back in DC recording extra vocals and melodies for the song. She felt the moment brought back memories of “the beginning” of her recording career.
“When I first played it for the label some people got it, but many didn’t,” Amerie said about choosing “1 Thing” as the official single. At the same time, the singer was also faced with the knowledge that her budget wouldn’t be as large as her recording labelmates.
So, around Christmas 2004, Amerie and her team decided to go guerilla, sending out a mastered demo of “1 Thing” to a personally scouted list of DJs across the globe. (She names Trevor Nelson, a DJ for BBC radio in London, as one of the song’s first supporters.)
The week of Touch’s retail release, “1 Thing” would reach its peak of No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 — remaining her highest-charting song to date. The following week, it peaked at No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 3 on urban radio charts.
“Then, at that point, people were like, ‘OK, we’ll jump on board,’” Amerie said about Columbia’s sudden push for “1 Thing.” “People did put the effort into it afterwards but it was kind of too late. I definitely felt like ‘1 Thing’ did well in spite of the label, instead of because of the label.”
In the midst of Touch there was other brewing drama. Sony’s Epic also represented Jennifer Lopez, who was working with Rich Harrison, resulting in the release of “Get Right” in January 2005, just a few weeks after “1 Thing” leaked to the streets. Two years later, while Amerie was preparing to release her Because I Love It project, her Columbia labelmate Beyoncé unveiled a video anthology for her heavily go-go and funk-influenced B’Day, something one might ring as a sore thumb for Amerie, considering the slated music video for Touch’s third single, “Talkin’ About,” was shelved due to time constraints and lack of budget.
“As far as being compared to [Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez]: I really create just because I have something to get off my chest,” Amerie said. “I do it and then move on.” Amerie says she has no resentment or harsh feelings on the thought of who did what sound first, acknowledging that she wasn’t the first to incorporate go-go elements in her brand of R&B and pop.
Amerie was nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 2006 Grammys. She then released Because I Love It and 2009’s In Love & War. By the 2010s, Amerie left major industry labels in favor of going fully independent, with her own Feeniix Rising Entertainment (which accompanied a short-lived name change for the singer herself). Those new chapters resulted in a few EPs, most notably her double disced 4AM Mulholland/After 4AM released in fall 2018. Now, she’s recording new music and pushing for support for her book club.
Still, fifteen years after Touch made its impact, Amerie remains humble: “People that I meet — other artists, whether they’re producers or singers or writers — they’ll always show love. They’ll be able to break down me and Rich’s influence better than me. And I’ll just be in awe These are artists that I look up to. Artists that made their marks themselves,” Amerie said. “And I think as an artist the biggest compliment is really seeing or hearing your influence, whether you’re an artist that creates music or painting or whatever it is, seeing your influence and that it lives beyond yourself is probably the biggest compliment.”
Da’Shan Smith is a pop culture writer based out of New York City. You can follow him @nightshawn101