Horace Brown is an indefatigable man. During his two day long P.R. visit to Stockholm in April, his intense schedule included giving numerous interviews, a live TV performance from Gilbeyís Dance Music Awards -96 (in front of an audience consisting of a virtual whoís who in the Swedish dance-music industry ) and to top it off some heavy-duty-all-night partying after the show. Consequently, he hadnít slept much and was in addition hungry like a wolf when it finally was my turn to interview him. The time was almost five thirty in the afternoon, heíd talked to journalists all day and had not even eaten! Who said being an artist is an easy job?
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Despite all this, Horace was enthusiastic, spontaneous and funny.
-I love this place! Itís so different! So clean and nice! What an experience! he exclaimed. I asked what specific Swedish things he had liked the most and his response, "The women!" came instantly. In fact, the very thought of the Swedish honeys he had met the night before, triggered him to perform a series of smacking noises as he kissed an imaginary woman, before letting out a delightful moan: "Aww, I wish I could take Ďem all home." Referring to the myth that all Swedish women have fair hair I insinuated that perhaps Mr. Brown had a weakness for blondes. Horace giggled while announcing:
-No, girl! I got this thing for beautiful women! It donít matter, their hair could be blue and theyíd still be beautiful!
Charlotte, North Carolina-born (now a resident of Staten Island, New York) Horace Brown doesnít like talking about his age, ("Iím twenty something") but was only happy to share how being the son of a minister naturally exposed him to gospel music from an early age and how come heís a musical omnivore.
-Well, my big brother introduced me to all types and styles of music from Steely Dan to Sting, from The Gap Band to Genesis, Bobby Caldwell, Level 42, Stevie Wonder... I was listening to things that friends of mine werenít into but I didnít sing at the time, I just loved music. I played baritone sax and trombone in the marching band in high school, but my main interest was basketball. I didnít focus on singing until I suffered a critical knee injury.
His tone of voice changed as he talked about his beloved brother.
-He died three years ago and I miss him dearly. I wish he was around to see what his little brother has accomplished. Thatís the only thing I regret. I wish he was here. He was my brother and I always looked up to him, always wanted to make him proud. And he didnít get to see the world, you know? I feel like I carry him everywhere I go, so heíll get to see it through my eyes.
After seeing and hearing Horace live (no playback, he sang for real) I found it hard to believe that he hadnít honed his vocal skills for more than a few years, as his press bio suggested.
-Itís the truth. I never sang and never thought I would.. It was a gift and I realized, in fact a lot of people made me realize, that I could sing. Like I said, I was into basketball and when me and my friends were driving home from the courts I used to sing along to my favorite songs on the radio and they always said I sounded like Aaron Hall . Anyway, six or seven years ago, thatís when I began putting demos together. About for years ago, DeVante Swing (of Jodeci), who happens to be from my hometown, got a hold of one of my demo tapes and he liked what he was hearing. He was like "yo man youíre dope!". This was before Jodeciís first album came out. Whenever DeVante was in town he called me and we got together. Anyway, eventually he flew me out to L.A. where I did background vocals and co-wrote "All I See" with DeVante for Christopher Williams. I was just so excited. There I was, working in the studio with this guy that my women used to scream over. And Christopher even liked my voice enough to ask for a copy of the reference track where I sang lead. I was trying really hard to keep my cool, though!
Horace smiles at the memory.
-Andre Harrell (then president of his own Uptown label, launched in 1986, introducing hip-hop soul to the world with artists like Mary J. Blige, Heavy D and Jodeci) was there as well and he wanted a copy of the reference tape too. Fact is, I didnít even know who he was at the time, I just thought he was some A&R person. Andre told me repeatedly to come see him whenever I would go to New York. And I did. We became friends and he signed me with the Uptown label.
Those with a good memory may recall reading about Horace in the April '95 issue of Vibe Magazine. So whatever happened with the album mentioned in that article? -It was never released. All that came out was the single "Taste Your Love". The album was supposed to come out, but it never dropped. Vibe heard some of the songs from the album so thatís how they could write about them. Things happened and Andre was making his move to Motown (where he now is president and CEO) and he took me with him. It gave me confidence that he really did believe in me, because I had been signed with Uptown for like three years and was always put on the shelf, Horace explained without sounding bitter. As he continued to talk about what must have been a poised situation, it became apparent that the delay probably had been planned from the beginning by Andre Harrell.
-I learned so much from being around such great talented performers like Jodeci and Mary (J. Blige). I watched them go on stage during those years on Uptown and I think thatís where I got a lot of experience. Andreís very smart. He wants you to have that experience. He will take you through the channels, so that you find yourself, the artist that you are, before you get out there.
Vibe described the single "Taste Your Love" as "a soft-porn salute to the simple, oral pleasures of life" and "makes 'Sexual Healing' sound like a nursery rhyme".
-Yes, I am nasty! I admit it! I love women and I feel like if youíre with somebody that you care about that way and thatís love then you should get everything you want from your man. You shouldnít have to go anywhere else to get anything. I mean, if you were with me, weíd be doing everything we could think of. I wanna be your fantasy, you know? It makes better relations. There shouldnít be no shame, no fear and you must be able to be very open with your partner and be allowed to be yourself.
Horace the Lover left, enter Horace the Comedian who pretended to be insulted when I pointed out that some of the lines in the song wasn't what one might expect from the son of a preacher man.
-You know very well that I come from a respectable family! I didnít go overboard. I think it was tasteful and I definitely meant good things by it. I canít help myself Ďcause Iím a Scorpio so I got that sexual vibe in me. But I wasnít thinking about radio when I wrote it!
As could have been expected, the juicy "Taste Your Love" was banned in the Bible Belt. (For those who missed it the first time around, it's included on Horace's debut album, released in June 1996). And now the man behind it is eager to prove that he isnít all about bumpiní and grindiní.
-No, no. I write songs about how I feel about things that happen in life, he stresses. -"Taste Your Love" isnít a total picture of me. People who listen to the whole album will see that there are other sides to my personality, not just the sexual.
Because of the combination of his father being a minister and the sexy image, the before-mentioned magazine named him "the Marvin Gaye of the nineties". It sounded like Horace didnít feel quite comfortable with that epithet.
-Well, people are gonna say all kinds of things and I donít take it to heart. I mean, I take them as compliments and then I move on. Maybe later when they know more about me they will find other names or whatever. I just wanna continue to give my best and be myself. Marvin never did feel quite comfortable playing the role of the sex symbol I hinted, assuming Horace wouldnít mind being in that position. To my surprise he didnít seem to like the idea. "I donít know.. I havenít thought about me like that", was all he said. What he did agree to sharing with Marvin was stage fright.
-Oh, yeah, but I think everyone does. Iím still nervous about touring and performing in front of all those people. Whoís gonna accept me and whoís not.. I care about bad reviews, but Iím my own worst critic. I give myself a hard time. I love what I do and I wanna do what I do so I strive to get better, do better because I donít wanna miss out and I work hard. Iíll do whatever it takes. Being an artist takes a lot out of you. Thereís so much demand and time is not yours anymore. You really belong to the audience and to the label, so there isnít very much time left for yourself. But allín all I wouldnít trade it for the world. This is something I have to do. I wanted to find my place and I did. This is what I was supposed to do in my life and I thank God for blessing me.
The first single lifted from Horace's self-titled debut album is entitled "One For The Money" and in it Horace sings about the reasons artists do what they do. The first verse goes:
"I remember in the day mama had to work so hard, just to pay the rent, all the money spent, have to get another job. But now weíre living in a eight room mansion on the hill and weíre sipping on champagne when we chill. And weíre riding the Lex Coups, Bimaz and the Benz, all over the world, from the east to the west coast, weíre making ends".
I asked whether he lived the life of luxury yet.
-Nah, Itís just a fun song. I didnít intend for it to be taken so seriously, but I believe those are the goals of most artists, was Horaceís comment. But as he continued, it became clear that it had a deeper message after all.
-We do it for the money, for the show (the energy you get from performing) and for getting the honeys. These are certain things that you dream of when youíre growing up in ghettos, in different pressures of life. I grew up in the ghetto, but my family always took good care of us, I mean, we lived in the ghetto but we didn't strive to stay there for the rest of our lives. Itís sad, but there are a lot of people that arenít gonna come out of the ghetto or out of the ghetto state of mind. Theyíre just gonna stay there and be content and I donít get that because thereís so much more that life has to offer. Places to see, things to do.. Life is what you make it. Life is short and I want to make all my dreams come true, thatís what the song is about. You want those things not just so much for yourself, but for your family whoíve suffered for so long.
Talking about the people involved with the album:
-I work with producers like Dave "Jam" Hall (Mary J. Blige), Kevin Deane (who produced the single "One For The Money") and Big Bub (a.k.a. Frederick Lee Drakeford from the group Today. Anyone remember "Him or Me"?). Bub did two songs for me. And I worked with Sean "Puffy" Combs (Notorious B.I.G., Craig Mack, Total) in his Trinidad studio. The whole album isnít finished yet, but I will most likely be doing one more song, a duet with Faith Evans, produced by "Puffy" as well. And one of Teddy Rileyís protťgťs, Rodney Jerkins, did a track for me.. I donít know if it will eventually end up on the album or not at this point. Furthermore I did some producing myself with Chad Elliot (Total). We did "Why Why Why" together, which is also the title of the album.. I wrote most of the material, wrote all of the lyrics. (Note: The album was re-named simply "Horace Brown" when released in June 1996. The Faith Evans duet, which Horace mentions above, is entitled "How Can We Stop" and is included on the album. Additional producers and songwriters on the CD include "Eddie F" Ferrell, The Characters (Troy Taylor & Charles Farrar) and DeVante Swing. The Rodney Jerkins material (an uptempo number entitled "Nuttin' But A Party") does not appear at all on the set, neither does the Redhead Kingpin songs. "Gotta Find A Way" is one of the few tracks, intended for release on the Uptown debut in 1995, that can be found on Horace's long-awaited Motown album.)
Moving into songwriting is a conscious step on Horaceís behalf. Even though he claims to love being an artist, he knows all too well that his days in the spotlight may be numbered.
-Yeah, I donít think Iím gonna be the kind of artist that makes album after album. So Iíve begun, in fact, Iím already writing for other artists out there now. Me and a woman named Felicia Jefferson did "Now That Iíve Lost You" for Silk on their new album, Iíve worked with Terri & Monica and Iím writing for Jason Weaver. Heís coming out on Motown, and Iím supposed to go into the studio with The Whitehead Brothers as well. Itís fun, Iím having a ball. A lot of other artists who are not on the (Motown) label are giving me phonecalls and asking me to write or sing or produce a song with them. Youíre gonna hear a lot about my writing and producing.
So how does it sound?
-Well, I hope it will be the kind of album that you want to listen to from beginning to end and wanna play over and over. I hope the listeners will really feel the songs Iím singing.
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