The term “legend” is thrown around far too often. Rihanna tweets a picture of her nearly-naked behind, it’s “legendary”. Justin Bieber takes a leak in a mop bucket, and according to his 41 million Twitter followers, he’s a “legend”. But Stokley Williams has undoubtedly earned his status, worked for his remembrance. He’s one of the few breathing musicians who truly deserve the sobriquet. The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and front man of multi-platinum R&B group Mint Condition, boasts a massively impressive catalog; he has worked with Prince, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Usher and Luther Vandross.
In fact, he is no stranger to the Billboard Charts. His latest production credits include Wale‘s chart-topping album, The Gifted, on which he co-produced a plethora of tracks. From the ‘70s soul throwbacks to the skilfully constructed hooks, Wale truly delivered one of the most memorable gifts of 2013. In an effort to shed some light on the making of this critically acclaimed LP, RESPECT. spoke with the hitmaker about working with Wale, and the amount of time it takes him to compose a hit.
RESPECT:. I am curious as to how you’ve managed to co-produce one of the biggest hip hop albums of 2013. How does an R&B/Soul veteran put himself into the mind of a 28-year-old rapper?
The common denominator is the word “soul”. That’s what Wale was looking for, he’s from a place that embodies that sensibility. Having said that, it was a natural progression and fit for everybody in the room.
In your wildest dreams, did you ever think The Gifted would sell 151,871 units in its first week and land Wale his first ever number one album?
We just did what we felt was dope! That feeling resonated through all the sessions we did together.
You have long been composing music that almost everyone likes. Do you have a way in knowing if a song is going to be a hit?
You know it gets kind of tricky because yes, you feel something is good but sometimes it will be the opposite song on a CD that everybody is feeling. So you think you know sometimes. Again though, you do what you feel and hope it resonates with everybody the same as you feel it.
I’m assuming you probably had a feeling “LoveHate Thing” was going to be a hit?
The day we put it together was just magic! What was funny was when I first met with Wale, he kept talking about Mint Condition and the feel that he wanted playing some of our stuff in the meetings we had. Talking about the sounds, the mixes, the titles, etc…I knew what he was talking about. It all had to do with soul, that organic approach to music you know? It’s no wonder that it has a Marvin Gaye feel to it. That whole era was all about soul.
The song has made a speedy impact on urban radio as the No. 1 most added record to playlists. The 70s-soul throwback vibe you’ve incorporated on there. It sounds like something that wouldn’t work on paper.
Yeah, but we ain’t talking bout paper, we talking bout’ music! Unless you write it down, you can’t see it but when it hits you, you feel it’s infinite power. Now having said that, this song is a vehicle to make some paper!
How did you and Wale hook up?
Through my management, I was in Los Angeles and Wale wanted to have a meeting with me and the team he was putting together. That ended up being me, Sam Dew, and ToneP. There were other folks in the room that contributed in other ways as well. Again he spoke about old music and the way it has influenced the generations after, played much Mint music as well as others…just conceptual stuff. Then we set the dates for the first sessions in Atlanta.
Does there need to be good chemistry between you and an artist when working together?
Absolutely, it’s all about vibe to me. We all got electricity running through us so we all gotta be connected. As a producer, it’s up to me to try and bring the best out of an artist, or inspire them to want to do better reach higher, dig deeper and wider.
How did you go about finding that gifted atmosphere with Wale?
I believe that something about me resonated with him, and that same thing was in him too. Gift recognized gift!
Is there a range in how long it takes you to produce a song?
It’s different all the time. Some songs take 10 minutes…literally, they kind of write themselves. Others you might want to massage for a while so you don’t miss anything. Generally, in hip-hop, things move pretty quickly. I guess I can say that about a few different genres though. It really depends on the artist.
Were you selective about having exactly the right beats and sounds to work with when you started building, “Gullible” featuring Cee Lo Green?
Absolutely. I listened to Wale‘s earlier stuff. I wanted to hear what worked and what I thought didn’t from a production standpoint. The thing is he was much more on his game than his previous CD’s which really helps my job. The clearer the artist is, the better for me. We just had to have the right sounds and textures for everything.
You provide the background vocals on the introductory song, “The Curse of The Gifted” and “Sunshine”. Does singing and producing come from the same creative place for you?
They are two different lanes for me most times. Sometimes they merge.
Two other standout tracks are “Heaven’s Afternoon” and “Black Heroes / Outro About Nothing”. Did you already have a master plan in mind for these two tracks?
Well on those songs, the basic parts were already done. What Wale wanted me to do was to help create some dynamics…more peaks and valleys. In a lot of hip-hop, there’s only one section all the way through. We just created different doors for him to walk through and paint the room up.
What song took the longest?
Well overall, we massaged this whole project for about a year and a half. Wale‘s live show dates, my show dates, and Sam‘s show’s had to all be scheduled. Also, Wale wasn’t gonna’ release it until it was ready. He really wanted to perfect everything, record with other producers and see how everything stacked up.
Based on the success of this album, will you also be working on Wale’s next album, The Album About Nothing?
Not sure, if he wants that then cool. Although I think that may be a more mixtape vibe, something he started out doing in the beginning that was maybe grittier.
Aside from producing, you’re currently on tour, right?
Yes, check the MintConditionMusic.com site to find dates.
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