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Use to Be: Song Background

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In 2009 I was a business partner in the ‘1440 Collective Studios.’ The ‘1440 Collective Studios’ was a creative space located at 1440 Gratiot Detroit MI 48207 in Downtown Detroit. Conceptually the ‘1440’ could be compared to the maker space initiatives launched throughout Detroit today. The ‘1440’ mixed the creativity of public relations, music recording, music production, DJing, live band (music) rehearsals, and video production. It was innovative. The collective was founded by Nadir Omowale, Habiba Adams, Eric Campbell, DJ Major, DJ Man Power, and myself, in 2008. By 2009, Joey Spina and Davey G partnered. A host of artists, people, and tastemakers visited, supported, and conducted business at the ‘1440.’ In 2011 the ‘1440 Collective’ closed. Today it’s remembered for the parties, (musician) jam sessions, and music recordings.

the 1440 Collective, Joey Spina
the 1440 Collective, Joey Spina

In the Spring of 2009 ‘1440 Collective’ business partner, Joey Spina, purchased a Pro Tools recording module (Pro Tools is a music recording computer software and hardware brand). The day he bought the recording module he brought it to the ‘1440.’ Spina told me how excited he was about the purchase (I’ve always called Joey Spina ‘Spina’). I told him emphatically, “I’m going to be the first person to record on it!” We laughed about it. He agreed in one week we do a recording session.

Before that conversation with Spina, I had yet to record (music) in months. I spent the close of 2008, and start of 2009 performing, and promoting my first album ‘Preaching to the Choir.’ In that process I lost the drive to write, and record music. In a week of preparation I gathered my notebooks, and began writing.

Generally I write rap songs in three styles: premise, story, or slick. Premise is a style in which I brainstorm ideas to write the song. The brainstorming process is as important as the content.

In example: If I were to brainstorm the topic of Detroit Pistons, Isiah Thomas immediately comes to mind. Bringing more color to a reference, I would recall Terry Duerod. ‘In Detroit we on guard/ like the one that came town that kicked out Terry Duerod’ – example lyric unused. So for Piston fans (especially at my barbershop, Hawk’s off Schoolcraft and Southfield, what up Mike D!) it’s special. Isiah Thomas took Terry Duerod’s place on the Pistons. That fact makes the lyric clever. Duerod is one of the best U of D Titan basketball players ever. Mentioning him is symbolic to Detroit.

The story style engages the listener in a conversation as though we know one another. Finally the slick style is a culmination of lines that I wind together in rhyme schemes, patterns, consonant placement, and alliteration to give a rap character.

‘Use to Be,’ blends the style of premise and story. The recording session also featured two vocalists; Fee Graffiti, and Polka Dot. Fee Graffiti is a singer I knew for years. We met through her boyfriend Doug Greenwood who produced music for me. She graduated from MSU with a degree in communications. She was looking for vocal and studio experience. Polka Dot is a business partner to my friend Kaunn. We met upon Kaunn insisting that we should record together. When the opportunity opened up to record music, I called.

Fee Graffiti, Kaunn, Polka Dot
Fee Graffiti, Kaunn, Polka Dot

Recording was fun. Spina had the studio set up with three open microphones. The only headphones for the sessions were used by Joey Spina. I rapped short segments of songs. Spina played along finding chords to match. When we agreed upon matching chords, I’d arrange a hook with Fee Graffiti, or Polka Dot. In two hours we recorded seven songs. The most notable songs of the seven were ‘Teddy Bears Tied Up to Trees,” and “Use to Be.”

After the session was wrapped up we shared shots of Bourbon (Spina always drank Bourbon). Two weeks later Spina gave me the sessions. I placed the ‘Use to Be’ on my ‘Notes of an Artist and Activist I’ album.

The recording is very special to me. ‘Use to Be,’ has a blues feel and I LOVE BLUES. The characters, personal relationships, and essence of Keb Mo, John Lee Hooker, and a host of others capture my imagination. I’ve always felt the hip-hop experience is as interpersonal to me as Blues. I also appreciate the manner and style it changes dependent upon the mood of the artist. “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music,” Billie Holiday. That’s one of my favorite quotes from one of the most powerful voices to be recorded. RIP Lady Day.

Song Performed by Khary WAE Frazier
Music Played, Composed, Arranged and Produced by Joey Spina
Lyrics by Khary WAE Frazier
Song featured on the Notes of an Artist/ Activist I Album 2008
PRESS PLAY and HEAR THE MUSIC!

CLICK HERE TO BUY “USE TO BE” TODAY 

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