Getting there is one thing. Gallons of blood, sweat and tears plus countless thoughts have been poured into the production of material designed for mass consumption, only to get halted abruptly in a mailroom, never meeting the powers who could change a music maker’s life.
For the selected few who make it past that process and get the opportunity, there’s a next-level angst. They want to remain. Unfortunately, with the path they choose, for draftsmen of Black music, their days in the spotlight come with an expiration date. Moments not careers appear to be the agenda by the industry’s gatekeepers.
Singer, songwriter, producer Steven Russell knows of this practice firsthand and shares his coping mechanisms. “I can’t front,” he said. “I became disenchanted with the way the music business has switched up on those that gave our life to it. Fortunately I was able to step into other arenas to express my creativity and generate income.”
In addition to being a Grammy Award-winning songwriter for artists such as Chris Brown, Jordin Sparks, Jennifer Hudson and Charlie Wilson, Russell has two endeavors he identifies with pride. “I totally re-educated myself to the point where I’m called to do speaking engagements in understanding the laws of the Universe and self-awakening,” he said. “And I have a radio show called ‘The Heart of R&B’ that airs in Boston.”
Despite such success, he’s still an artist at heart, as a member of an immensely successful quintet that, some 20-plus years since their last full-length album, yearns to share their gift as a unit. “With social media what it is, being able to interact directly with fans revealed people want to hear and see us together,” he said. “But it’s something about this Troop thing that keeps me going and remains a driving force to create.”
Troop, consisting of childhood friends Russell, Allen McNeil, John Harreld, Rodney Benford and Reggie Warren, had a vision that would set themselves apart from their inception. “Our intention was to be the first R&B/hip-hop group,” Russell shared.
It was through their choreography that the hybrid was crystallized. “We did modern dance jazz, hip-hop and a few things that we made up, and mixed it into a gumbo,” he stated, “but it had to be street totally. Period!”
After winning a televised talent competition show called “Puttin’ on the Hits,” they were actively sought by record labels and soon thereafter were signed to Atlantic Records and for a span between the years 1987 and 1994. Troop lived up to their acronym of Total Respect of Other People, as they had groups such as New Edition and the Force MD’s constantly over their collective shoulders. Their debut single, “Mamacita,” produced by Gerald Levert from their self-titled album in 1988, reached No. 2 on Billboard’s R&B Charts and they were off to the races. With huge radio hits littered throughout their discography, having three top charting classics under their belts has solidified their presence for generations of R&B music lovers. Taking a page from the great Luther Vandross, Troop, with two remakes, have achieved that rare accomplishment of making their version the definitive version as displayed through the songs “All I Do Is Think of You” and “Sweet November,” originally performed by The Jackson 5 and The Deele, respectively.
Of those recordings Russell said, “We’ve been performing those songs before we had a deal, so when it was time to record them, we treated them like they were our songs. So, having the utmost respect for the artist that did them first, we had to have utmost respect for the songs. That’s the key. If you don’t have that respect, integrity is lost and no one is going to resonate with it.”
The third of their three No.1 records, “Spread My Wings,” although special, has a deeper meaning to the hip-hop community. The remix version displayed just how deep their history of music ran. In 1990, with rappers such as Big Daddy Kane, The D.O.C, MC Lyte, LL Cool J, et al at their disposal, the MC chosen to elevate the track was a pioneer, albeit underrated and as a soloist unproved, the Devastating Tito of the Fearless 4.
“It was a genius stroke by Clark Kent [producer/DJ] to bring together what was at that time a throwback and what we represented at that present moment,” said Russell. “Then with him delivering on our record like that, we knew we were about to kill the game, and we did. You can’t pay for moments like that.”
The home of hip-hop will get a chance to say thanks in the flesh Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, at 8 p.m. as the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts (on the campus of Lehman College/CUNY at 250 Bedford Park Blvd. West, Bronx, N.Y.) presents Rhythm of the Night, a special concert featuring El DeBarge, Tank and Troop.
Tickets for Rhythm of the Night are $100 VIP, $85, $75 and $50 and can be purchased by calling the Lehman Center box office at 718-960-8833, Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and beginning at noon on the day of the concert, or through online access at www.LehmanCenter.org.
Also of note, tickets for the engagement of the legendary Ben Vereen, Nov. 21-26 at Feinstein’s/54 Below, Broadway’s supper club, are available. For tickets or for more information, visit www.54Below.com/Feinsteins or call 646-476-3551, and look to us next week as we got a few words from the man himself.
Over and out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife.