If you’ve ever sat in your room staring at your MPC or computer monitor waiting for inspiration and contemplated just tossing it out the window to get a “regular” job this story is for you. And if you’re confident in your sound, and have a hard drive full of heat ready to unleash on the world and want some insight into how the BUSINESS of beats really works, this story is for you…
Imagine that you’re a traditional musician and you take the first beat you make with soft synths, shop it to writers, get mixed results, get it in a session, have the beat slept on, add lyrics from some demo tapes in your stash, shop it some more and then wait…and wait…only to have even more cooks come into the kitchen adding words…then you win a Grammy for your work.
That is the quick and ugly story behind Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” produced by Chris “Deep” Henderson. The Hampton University graduate started out majoring in Physics and had his career plans derailed by his first beat.
Interview By Jerry L. Barrow
“When I first got into things I was writing and producing the entire song. But as time went on I saw that my network wasn’t growing with each placement. …” -Chris Henderson
Nodfactor.com: How does a Physics student at Hampton get involved in making music?
Chris Henderson: I guess it was always in me but it’s like there were clues there looking back. I used to fill up water glasses and play them. But they never took that as musical. I wasn’t even drawn to the piano until I saw Purple Rain. I always assumed people who played piano had lessons. But when I saw that scene of him playing the tape of the girl’s song and then played it on piano I turned to my brother and asked “What’s that?” and he said it’s called playing by ear. Some people can just listen to music and just play it. I started trying it and I was actually pretty good at it.
I treated [music] as a hobby, not a career option. It wasn’t until I got to school when everything got serious. Every freshman there seemed like they had it figured out. For me I was just going to the 13th grade. I didn’t have a plan. I was just someone who could test well. I had a class in first semester, we had electives, and my big elective was this thing called Audio Engineering. In that project, it was us being engineers learning the studio and at the end of the project we had to record and engineer a song. We weren’t required to produce it but I saw it as an opportunity to lay my first song down. I don’t remember what grade I got but it definitely broke me in. I realized I could make a song top to bottom.
Did you graduate with the degree in Physics?
No, I switched to business management. I knew that [physics] was a waste of time. I knew I was a creative person. I could pretty much do the work but I needed to be creative in something. I did consider music as a major but after trying that for a semester that wasn’t the move either. Musically educated people kind of scared me because they didn’t have imaginations. Because they are trained in the way things are supposed to blend together it almost kills their imaginative side. Those cats that were the deepest in music didn’t impress me with their original work. I didn’t want to be those guys. So when I switched to business I saw it as support for the music I wanted to pursue. I wanted to be smart about my business if I was going to be creative.
I started a production company with some friends and we were running a business in college. We had a studio and threw parties. We sold T-shirts. We were Hung-Lo productions. It was a play on H.U. This was from about ’94 to ’99.
When did the meeting with Teddy Riley Happen?
It happened at celebrity basketball game. He had a Hampton Celebrity Basketball game. Teddy heard one of my songs back stage and was boppin’ his head. One of my friends caught him listening and hit him with the sales pitch. Teddy started calling me to the studio for different things. Black Street had just finished one of their albums so they weren’t on heavy production. They were working more on the side acts for Teddy’s label. That’s where most of my work went. I did a remix for “Before I Let You Go” that was picked, but not credited. I felt that I was an asset there and I was working on the inside projects, but none of them saw the light of day.
Well, Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” definitely saw the light of day. What was your exact involvement in its creation?
I did the track, wrote both verses. I pretty much wrote the entire melody except for T-Pain’s part. Lyrically I did the verses, melodically I did verses and hook and produced the whole track.
“I’d start a song on soft synths but then I’d have to hit tambourines into the mic and throw some extra keys on it because I’m so used to having those assets available.”
When I first got into things I was writing and producing the entire song. But as time went on I saw that my network wasn’t growing with each placement. I felt like my growth was slowed so I made an effort to promote myself in Atlanta as a writer. So I received tracks to write to and shoot out to people. When I started doing tracks again I sent out tracks to the writers, so I became two entities. I was cross-promoting.
Somewhere in ’07 I decided that I’m going to tag my tracks with the “Deep” thing. “Blame It” was one of the first tracks I did when I got back on my production with a set of new equipment and went through a relearning process.
Blame it was my first experiment with the soft synths. Even then I wasn’t satisfied because the main synth that’s in there, I couldn’t find that in a software. I had to pull out the keyboard and created the patch by manipulating Pro Tools. I also couldn’t find the right vocal ethereal sound so I ended up singing it myself and adding effects. So I mix the two. What’s good about the soft synths is that there are so many sounds in one package, but coming from the world where we’d tweak stuff. I’d start a song on soft synths but then I’d have to hit tambourines into the mic and throw some extra keys on it because I’m so used to having those assets available.
So I sent it out to writers and didn’t like what I was getting back. I had a melody but I didn’t have a concept to bring it to its potential.
I finished the track in ’07 and I was in a writing session with Trey Songz for that track. The way Song Book is, they really try to work for their piece of the record. I saw where the song was going and tried to steer it back to that stutter in the synth track but they were ignoring me. What popped in my mind was a line I heard in someone’s rap demo. That’s why one of the co-writers on that song is the guy that provided that hook.
Weeks earlier I was playing someone’s demo and it had a different tempo and feel, but it said “blame it on the goose, got you feeling loose, blame it on patron, got you in the zone, blame it on the aaa-aa‹a-a alcohol.” It was a different cadence but when I said out loud “a-a-a-a alcohol” I sang the whole thing out and said we’ll screw it right there. And they must have been thinking like “no, leave it alone. You can’t get publishing on this.”
I was being very politically correct and let them keep working on it. They went to eat and didn’t return to the song. I waited about four days and called Trey’s manager and asked them if they ever finished the song and he hit me with the “aah, you know sometimes they don’t get the vibe. It is what it is.”
So I called the rapper kid and told him that I have a great idea for one of them songs you sent and if I could use the words from your hook and put it in this song I think it can really be big. He came and heard it and he liked it. But I guess he got writers block that day.
When I made up the first verse I was just singing into the mic, trying to get him started. That’s why it starts out so slow, with the pauses. I was throwing words out just to get him started. I later found out that another writer, this guy’s friend actually wrote that hook, but luckily I found out about him in time to get him on board as well.
I knew it was a hot idea and had my co-writer on board so I started to shop it with just the first verse to see if we could bait R.Kelly, Trey Songz or even a rapper. The song traveled with just the first verse and the hook. Young Joc had it, R.Kelly had it, but no one was committing. Jamie had the earliest release date so he had to commit sooner. Because it was traveling more writers were being added. There was another team that wrote the vamp “Poppin bottles with the Henny in the cup.” That was somebody else and T-Pain was added just before the mix because they were trying to figure out who to feature. For a while it was between Kanye and T-pain. Secondly they considered T-Pain and Lil Wayne. I think when T-Pain heard it he was like “I’ll do it but you can’t put nobody else on it.” It was the best choice to me. Jamie doing an Autotune song with T-Pain as a cosigner [made it ok]. But it did give the perception that T-Pain did the record.
Trey Songz must have been chomping at the bit for a song after that. Is that how “Be Where You Are” came about?
You know the rules with that one. People knew he’d missed out with “Blame It” the label put a little bit of pressure to go in with me. I saw it as a pop record with like Leona Lewis. Trey took notice of it and they did something to it. When I heard it it was semi done and they were like “Shop it.” I gotta couple of acts interested and then Trey was like “naw, we want it.”
Them pulling the trigger on the record was so late in the game that I was riding around with the demo for a minute. Then they come to me on a Thursday night saying we need to mix this record by Monday. So that Friday I went in and got a guitarist and added background vocals, layers. I built all that, the claps and guitar solo right before it was mixed. I like how it came out. I’m happy with my ‘09 because each record stood alone.
What’s it like being in Trey and R. Kelly’s camps and reading stories about them going at each other in the press?
It’s almost like you have money on both fighters. It wasn’t really affecting me. First of all it was really Trey going at R.Kelly. R. Kelly didn’t really defend himself. They are in different weight classes. Even if a young woman these days would say Trey is that sexy singing dude like R. Kelly was, but that was just one layer of R.Kelly that Trey is competing with. Kelly owned a couple of eras of music. He had his production eras where the radio was just saturated with his writing and production. Trey can’t compete with that on that level. Writing and producing for Celine Dione?
It’s like “C’mon Son…”
It’s good press for Trey to come at R.Kelly because they’re so not in the same weight class. It’s funny. If you look at R.Kelly as just a recording artist I see what you’re saying but it really wasn’t a good comparison for Trey.
When R.Kelly came out with the storytelling songs with Ron Isley that was significant because Hip-Hop was the only urban mainstream music providing story lines at that time. It breathed life back into the art form. When he got with Jay-Z and did the rap signing things now most R&B singers do that style. Every R&B writer and producer owes a lot to R.Kelly.