Amerigo Gazaway on His Sonic Mos Def & Marvin Gaye Marriage
Peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, bacon and everything. Some things are just a natural fit. Others, like say a legendary ‘70s soul singer from D.C and a rapper from Brooklyn may not seem like one in the same but, as it turns out, they couldn’t be more perfect for one another. That’s the beauty of Amerigo Gazaway‘s Yasiin Gaye project, where the Nashville producer, brings the two together like never before.
Gazaway’s two part project, blending Marvin Gaye and Yasiin Bey (AKA Mos Def) has been one of the biggest, dopest surprises of 2014 and has taken the internet by storm. You expect original projects from rappers to standout, but rarely do blended projects like this make such a splash. It really speaks to Gazaway’s ability to fuse the two so perfectly. Where most mash-ups are a easy way to grab YouTube views or ride the success of someone else’s song, Amerigo takes the work of two legends and creates something totally new and unique. Tackling Marvin Gaye and Mos Def is no easy task—do it wrong and the music lovers will hate you forever—but Gazaway manages to make something all his own, while still paying tribute to the two iconic artists.
With a seemingly endless amount of samples and beats, this project is a rap nerd’s dream. Rather than just sit around and enjoy songs like “Inner City Travellin’ Man” though, pontificating on just how he constructed and executed such an amazing concept, I thought it would be cool to hear it straight from the mixer’s mouth. So I sent Amergio a few questions to get some insight on the man behind the amazing Yasiin Gaye projects. Here’s what he had to say.
1.) What are the connections between Marvin Gaye and Mos that made them a good fit for the project?
I heard a fair amount of Marvin’s samples, references, quotes, etc. on Mos’ previous albums, so the seeds for a broader concept had sort of already been planted for me. That said, a lot of the connections reveal themselves over time during the research phase and creative process. I really like to play with call & response, whether it’s a melody or a phrase of a verse and there’s a lot of overlap in Marvin and Mos’ subject matter/lyrics to do that. Sometimes, I’m able to make the artists complete each others’ sentences which adds to the overall cohesiveness of the project. Both Mos and Marvin are really conversational and fluid as well so it wasn’t too difficult to present them as though they were in conversation with one another or collaborating on the same track.
2.) The Yasiin Gaye Projects might be the newest, and the most popular, but you have about a billion other mash-up albums. What is it about these kinds of projects appeals to you?
I’ve always been into narrative and storytelling, alternate universe type stuff. Not only with music but just in general, so when I do a “mashup” or conceptual collaboration, I like to build different scenarios in my head of the two artist creating and performing together. I see it as an exercise in sampling/beat-making as well. Each project challenges me in a new way and forces me to think outside the box within the limitations I impose on myself. I learn something new with each release, not just about the artist I sample but about myself, so my production style is constantly evolving as a result of that. For me, these projects make me a more well-rounded producer, more active as a listener and more appreciative as a fan.
3.) Can you describe your process? Did you make the beats around the Mos Def vocals or the other way around?
The vocals definitely dictate a lot of it but I also like to experiment with different tempos, keys, time signatures, etc. I want the songs to sound both familiar and new at the same time so I’m always really zoned in on the balancing act. I usually try not to pitch the vocals unless I really have to, but occasionally I’ll speed them up or slow them down to give the song a different vibe or groove. On “Anna’s Love Song” for example, I gave it sort of a triplet swing instead of the usual 4/4 hip-hop beat. “The Panties” (on side 1) is another good example as it features a really slowed down version of Marvin’s sexual healing, transforming it from an upbeat dance groove into a more sensual laid back R&B joint. The process changes from song to song depending on what I have to work so the variations keep it interesting.
4.) Mos Def or Marvin Gaye. You aren’t allowed to listen to both; the one you don’t choose is off limits. Pick one.
Damn. As much as I love and appreciate the one and only mighty Mos, I would have to go with Marvin on this one. I’m old-school like that.
5.) What are you currently listening to? Your own music doesn’t count…
Right now? Let’s see. Lots of Mello Music stuff…
L’Orange - The Orchid days
Oddisee - Tangible Dream
Apollo Brown - Thirty Eight
Also…lots of “zillas” lol
That Tek-zilla -Son of Sade beat tape
UGK’s “Pocket Full of Stones” has been getting a lot of play in the ride lately.
Oh, and Rick James. Lots of Rick James.
6.) What’s Next?
I have a few festival performances lined up this summer - Bragg Jam with This is ART in Macon, GA later this month and the Tribe-One festival in Tshwane, South Africa in September. We’re in the process of putting together a European tour for the Fall too so looking forward to that. I also want to start collaborating with more artists and begin working on a solo rap EP (I’m known to spit a few bars every now and then.) We’ve got some really awesome Soul Mates collaborations in the works so be sure to follow The Soul Mates Project on twitter (@SoulMatesRemix) for updates on that. And last but not least, I’m hoping the labels and publishers will start seeing the value and benefits of what artist like myself are doing with their back catalogs. There is a way for us, the sampled artist and the labels/publishers to work together in a scenario where everybody eats so I’ll be pushing for that as long as I’m doing this.
You can find both sides of the Yasiin Gaye project, as well as Amerigo’s other works (including a brand new James Brown blend) on his website and be sure to follow him on Twitter to stay up to date with all of his music. Of course, as always, you can also check back here at The DJBooth for the latest from this talented sample chef; fingers crossed for a “Pocket Full Of Stones” remix!
For now though, just enjoy the rap awesomeness that is Yasiin Gaye.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout”, but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]