How I Did a Song with a Hip-Hop Legend During the Coronavirus Outbreak
I never really did a blog like this before, but I guess it’s time to try a lot of things that are brand new (blah). My name is Stephen Redhead. I’m a hiphop artist from Washington, D.C. I’ve toured across the country, performed from small to big venues, worked on Emmy winning TV shows, and have been profiled at publications such as Ebony Magazine, Huffington Post, Washington City Paper, AllHiphop, and others. I’m kinda cool out here.
I was in the process of making my second album, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. One day, I found this really dope ass beat. The type of beat that makes you feel like screaming over the top of a mountain to the heavens, but not in a freaky Midsommar kinda way. (Does that count as a spoiler?)
Anyway, I bought the beat from the guy off his website and kept it on my hard drive for months. I loved the sound but didn’t exactly know what to write about. Then one day, I looked on Facebook and saw that Masta Ace was performing in town in a matter of hours. Now I know some people in my circle never heard of him, but he’s been one of my favorites for over a decade. Even Eminem considers him as one of his influences.
I got to the show and saw familiar faces in the crowd, for better or worse. The energy was very inviting as Ace came to the stage and ran off of his classics. I was just awed at this man, who is 53 years old with multiple-sclerosis, could hop on this stage with just as much energy as a performer twice younger than him. My first show ever was opening for Masta Ace in Baltimore, MD at a place called Sonar (which doesn’t exist anymore). I was booked off fucking MySpace. Yup, that era.
Ace happens to still be the type of artist that performs for a crowd, goes backstage, grabs his suitcase and moves through said crowd to set up his own merch table. I was the first in line. I told him how much he’s influenced me. I told him about the show we did years ago, and presented my idea to get a verse from him. He was inquisitive, curious, but stern like what you expect from a byproduct of the “old Brooklyn”. I bought a sweatshirt from him, and he gave me his contact. I wrote to him that night, detailing my plans. His words “Ready when you are” sealed the deal for me. But then months passed, and ain’t shit got done…
I got a call about a business opportunity that I was willing to go for, but they turned me down for the job. Apparently, when you’re a skinny Black kid with glasses from a not-so-popular city in the field of Hiphop, it’s not an easy sell to some people. Being a rapper is a thankless job; you spend hours and hours creating compelling content that relates to you on a deeper level, but the mere mention of you being an artist is “Ehhh get a life”. I became annoyed, consumed by many thoughts. “I’m fucking great. What’s wrong with these people!? I mean he’s good, but….I’m ME, though!!!”.
Alas, my muse; Rejection.
I instantly got to work on that beat. I found a singer online through SoundBetter.com, wrote a hook for him, and he recorded it in his home studio and sent me the vocals. I recorded my vocals in my basement and sent it to Ace last February, days after he got home from his European tour. He dug the song and my concept — overcoming adversity despite societal obstacles, never taking no for an answer, and believing in yourself when seemingly no one that “matters” does. February 20th, 2020 became the happiest time ever for me as an artist when he accepted the song.
But that was February….
I got the verse from Masta Ace a couple of weeks later in my email inbox. I was ecstatic. I played the rough draft for a couple more weeks. Then it hit me….
This song needs some trumpets!
Yeah! Some motherfucking trumpets!!!!
Then that bitch Rona came. I was like “Oh it’s just a virus. It’ll be over by the summer. Everybody’s just panicking”. But the governor announced to stay home. I can’t perform at my next show. I can’t go to the club to test-market the music to the crowd. I can’t go to a recording studio to finalize it.
I searched online and found a gentleman — Danny Flam, an acclaimed horn player who’s credited for many classical works, but what really had me going is that he did the horns for one of the greatest hiphop records of my generation…
Uhh, yes please.
I contacted him and explained my vision, and he accepted. I paid him for the job and two days later, he sends me a message stating:
Bahhh so I have fever feels based on description like I have mild case of Corona. I think it will feel better in a few days and I’ll be able to resume recording. Is that ok?
I was shocked. I gave him well wishes and a few days. A few days turn into a week. He sends another message:
Star log 2020.3 been circling COVID-19 for a week and been abducted by a virus. I now have double pneumonia. this is not progressing well at all. I fee so bad — i don’t know what to do. Totally understand if you pull out, doctor said it’s usually about 2 weeks and now its been 1.5 weeks so hoping to feel better by end of this one
WHAT ELSE CAN HAPPEN WITH THIS ONE DAMN SONG??? LORD, WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME???
I did whatever I can to not think about the song. I danced to DJ D-Nice, had a happy hour via Zoom with friends, and even shared a couple movie script ideas in a group chat. Anything I can to forget the fact I’ve already spent lots of time and money to get this song finished.
Then it happened…the notification on my phone buzzed. The horns came in.
I looked at my screen like….
Danny was too exhausted from breathing through the horns for more, so I arranged the sections myself. I sent the song to be mixed and mastered by a gentleman I met on Instagram.
It hit me that Danny’s tenacity and strength was so commendable and inspirational, that it totally aligns with this song. At the risk of sounding corny, this needs to be said. No matter what you’re going through, or any obstacles you’re facing, you can achieve your goals and dreams. Everything will pass and we will be left standing, only more stronger, resilient, and fearless. Nothing can stop either one of us. When you’re living in your truth, you are never wrong. You are always right.
and got damnit…This is “Always Right”. Enjoy.