Another interview with Static

Static electricity
Static plays some cuts from "Suppertime" while cruising around town in his pristine 2003 Bentley Armage R. His wide-ranging and velvety vocals melt over the tracks, which range from bouncy headnodders to sensual, soul-searching cuts. With lyrics that hearken back to old-school soul, one track plays out like a love letter set to music; another is laced with suggestive sexual innuendo. A few include well-placed rap verses. All of them make you think.
"I'm coming with some OG music," Static says. "I walk a thin line between hip-hop and R & B."
This music is an odd juxtaposition to "Jeepers Creepers 2," the movie playing on three screens of Static's in-car theater system. The murderous rampage of the film's gruesome monster somehow ceases to be revolting when set to Static's heartfelt words.

"My new step is to establish myself as an artist," says Static, who admits he's going after R. Kelly's musical crown. "I know that will bring my songwriting more to the forefront. It's gonna be beautiful because people are gonna think I just popped up. But when they look at my résumé, they'll be like, `We been listening to this dude's work for so many years and didn't even know it.'"

Talking with laid-back Static is comfortable and easy. He speaks slowly and deliberately, occasionally adjusting the position of two diamond-encrusted watches on his left wrist, or fiddling with the diamond and platinum bracelets on his right. The diamond-and-platinum theme carries over to the Kentucky-shaped medallion hanging around his neck. He's wearing sunglasses, but you can sense his eyes sparkling as he discusses his music.
"This could be a long interview," he says, sipping an amaretto sour with three shots of Crown Royal. "I've got a lot of eras to get through."


Along for the ride
Static has been singing in church since he was 3, but didn't decide on a career in music until he was a student at the University of Louisville. At the time, he was (and still is) in an R & B outfit called Playa, along with fellow Louisvillians Benjamin "Black" Bush and Juwan "Smokey" Peacock. One night, Black and Smokey went backstage at a Jodeci concert and sang. Jodeci's DeVante Swing, a singer/songwriter/producer, was so impressed that he returned to Louisville in 1991 to meet the whole group. "He decided to sign us," Static says.

In 1992, Static began staying at DeVante's home in Teaneck, N.J., a situation that lasted about six years.

"I picked up a lot of techniques," Static says. "I watched Jodeci put together two albums" — 1993's multi-platinum "Diary of a Mad Band" and 1995's platinum-selling "The Show, the After Party, the Hotel" — "and I went on tour with them."

The DeVante connection also meant Static was running with and working around music's up-and-coming artists at the time — hip-hopper Missy Elliott, R & B crooner Ginuwine, producer Timbaland and rapper Magoo — people who remain talented, relevant artists today.
"So when I got up there," Static says, "I was the least important. (The other artists) were already in the middle of their projects. I got to see Missy Elliott do her thing before anybody knew her. She's always been incredible. Between her and DeVante, they were the ones who pushed me to step my creative game up."

The on-ramp
Because so many artists were stretching DeVante's songwriting and production duties thin and Timbaland was only creating tracks for Elliott, Static and the members of Playa started doing those things for themselves.

"We had to kind of prove ourselves within the crew to start getting music," Static says. "To get DeVante's attention, you had to show up with something to play for him. It had to be dope, and you had to be playing it as he walked in the door."
It was during that time Static wrote what would later become his first No. 1 hit, "Pony" by Ginuwine.

"It was a trip," he says. "The day we did it and I played it for DeVante, he told me it was going to be a smash."

But while DeVante may have opened the door for Static, success was not guaranteed. Yes, he was staying with cats who drove Lamborghinis, who had elevators in their cribs and crafted a grip of hits. But it wasn't always a smooth ride. Everyone worked loads of hours — sometimes 24 straight — and Playa wasn't making any money yet.

"There was a starving period — I was fasting," Static says, laughing. He can joke about it now, but he's serious when he recalls the rough periods.

"You just kinda broke," Static says. "You just hope somebody orders a pizza. ... Or you'd wait until 7 or 8, eat that pack of noodles then drink water from then on. You'd go to sleep early so you forget about it. That's the worst feeling in the world, knowin' you don't have nothin' to eat."

Fork in the road
Eventually, there was a falling out with DeVante. Many of the artists associated with him, including Playa, left to pursue other recording deals, Static says.

Playa ended up with a Def Jam deal. But since the group was now minus DeVante's input, Def Jam stripped it of any creative control over the project.

"They knew we'd worked with DeVante, Missy and Timbaland for the last six years, but they wouldn't give us that credit," Static says, adding that "Pony" was also about to hit No. 1. "But that wasn't enough juice for them to let us have a say in our careers."

After a hot music showcase performance in front of then-Def Jam heads Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles, Playa regained enough control to put out "Cheers 2 U," an album the group felt satisfied with. But there would be more battles — losing battles — over which singles to release. The first song, "Don't Stop the Music," hit No. 26 on the R & B charts; the second, "Cheers 2 U" hit No. 10, while the album plateaued at No. 19.

The overall negative experience with Def Jam "left a bad taste in our mouths," Static says. So instead of sticking around to shoot a third video, Playa decided to leave on a high note — after the title song made the Top 10.

Highway to fame
Luckily, the group had an astute management team, Barry and Jomo Hankerson, who also owned Blackground Records (home to Timbaland, Tank and the late Aaliyah). The two Hankersons urged Static to earn some dough by "staying busy on the song-writing tip."

When Elliott was too busy with her own projects to write Aaliyah's song for the "Dr. Doolittle" soundtrack, Static swooped in with "Are You That Somebody?" Another hit was born.

"That was perfect for me," Static says. "From that point on, they thought of someone else besides Missy to write songs for Aaliyah. They just came straight to me."

That opened the door even wider. "From Aaliyah, I did a song with Jay-Z, Nas, DMX and Ginuwine," Static says. "I made sure every song I played was a hit."

When Static presents his songs to an artist, it's in his voice, using his harmonizing; then the singer re-records it. However, Douglass says, "I would always find that I liked Static's version better. It's the way he delivers a song. He's got such an ill-sounding voice."

While Static mostly works out of New York or L.A. these days, he lives just south of Louisville near Mt. Washington with his wife, Avonti; their three children — 10-year-olds Stephen Garrett Jr. and Donald Jackson Jr. and 3-year-old Makari Amil Garrett — and Static's niece, Alexis Garrett, a sophomore at duPont Manual High School.

Even if Static explodes as an artist, the family plans to stay put.

"It's my home," Static says. "I spent enough time away from here. I only missed one Derby in my whole life, and it was the worst weekend I ever had."

But as for "Suppertime" — well, Static hopes that goes global. "This is an album I truly have ownership of. People always say I give away all my best joints, but that's just because they ain't heard what I'm keeping for myself."

3 comments:

Yung Major said...

I hate how he was gona be so big & now...

B L said...

I remember readin this..was this in the Louisville "velocity" mag??

producer James Moore said...

^ yea, I remember I followed a link to their article on Black and that's how I found out he had done that first solo album (Memoirs of an R&B Thug), and then I found this article

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