Monday, March 03, 2008

Stephen "Static" Garrett 1974-2008

Deaths like these are usually the hardest to take when the person is so young and it comes unexpectedly. I really feel for Garrett's family and the folks at Blackground, who had to deal with another tragic event with Aaliyah back in 2001. One look at Stephen "Static" Garrett's songwriting credits and there is no doubt that he left behind an impressive body of work which stands up there with some of the best the modern R&B era has seen. Here are some highlights.

Ginuwine - "Pony" (1996)

"Pony" is one of those songs that appear to be amazingly raunchy on the surface, but is clever in its wordplay. There is a fine line between sexy and silly when dealing with songs about about sex. They either make you giggle or want to gyrate your hips. For a song that uses a pony as a metaphor, it's lasciviousness is pretty powerful.

Aaliyah - "Are You That Somebody?" (1998)

The thing I love about this song that probably gets overlooked a lot is the speaker's desire to not give it up so easy. Even back in 1998, radio was still not a place for patience. "Are You That Somebody?" was so refreshing at the time because you had a young lady saying, "Hey, I dig you, but you gotta show me some respect first," which is a message that I've always found admirable.

Playa - "Don't Stop The Music" (1998)

I think that Timbaland's production steals the show on this one, but this was Playa's debut single and put them on the radar after years of being behind the scenes. Nonetheless, it's still one of my favorite R&B songs from that year.

Nicole - "Eyes Better Not Wander" (1999) (direct link)

I never got why this song didn't become a bigger hit, especially since it followed the smash, "Make It Hot". It's a slow burner that I'm sure a lot of women could have related to. This should have been the theme song of a million disgruntled ladies! It's always interesting when guys write this well from the perspective of a woman.

Aaliyah & DMX - "Come Back In One Piece" (1999)

Static already earned himself a place in the Aaliyah hall of fame with "Are You That Somebody?", but this underrated gem from the Romeo Must Die soundtrack proved it wasn't a fluke. Granted, when you have Timbaland and Aaliyah working on a record, the pieces for a good song are pretty much laid out. My 7-year old niece could probably write a hit song if Aaliyah sang it and Timbaland produced it, but a lot of credit goes to Static for understanding Aaliyah's voice as a young woman and making the lyrics sound natural for her.

Ginuwine - "So Anxious" (1999) (direct link)

Static's blueprints are all over this one. On a good deal of his songs, the vocal sustains almost mimic moaning. You usually expect the background harmonies in R&B to be in a higher register, but during the a capella sections of "So Anxious", the background vocals are awkward without ruining the song. This can be taken as a Timbaland attribute since many of his productions feature the same thing, but his collaborations with Missy usually deliver background vocals in a higher range. It's a very off-kilter approach, but I love the dreamy feeling that it emits. Also, this is my favorite Ginuwine song right behind "Pony".

Aaliyah - "Try Again" (1999)

Yep, Static was apart of this song too. He may not have gotten as much face time as Ne-Yo or The-Dream, but I'm sure his estate is collecting some pretty nice royalty checks. It's eerie how well Static understood the Aaliyah persona.

Truth Hurts - "Addictive" (2002)

Static once again uses the closed couplet approach that's seen in "So Anxious", "Try Again" and "Eyes Better Not Wander". Basically what that means is that the thought of one line isn't completed until the next one. Some examples:


He breaks
me down
He builds
me up

"So Anxious"

Nine o'clock
home alone
Paging you
wishing you'd come over
my place
after awhile

"Try Again"

What would you do
to get to me?
What would you say
to have your way?

It's nothing groundbreaking, but it's a technique that always makes the singer sound young. Truth Hurts was 30 at the time of this song, making her an enigma in the Top 10. It's even more amazing when you realize that it was her debut single.

Aaliyah - Aaliyah (2001)

I consider Static's work on Aaliyah's self-titled the artistic zenith of his career. The decision to make a more mature album was risky, but the results proved worthwhile. Aaliyah was the first of the R&B divas of the 90's to leave her youth behind and record an adult album. I think that what has stopped this album from gaining the attention that it deserves is that we never received a follow-up and therefore there is no comparison to the next steps in her evolution. Janet Jackson got a chance to record janet. and The Velvet Rope, two risqué albums that are about as far away from Dream Street as one can imagine. TLC's Crazysexycool forever etched in our minds that they could not only be fun, but a sensous force not to be taken lightly.

Static was Aaliyah's best collaborator and the body of work on this album shows it. The themes dealt with on Aaliyah are more timeless than on any of her previous records, which has moments between the both of them that sound dated. On Aaliyah, she's defiant, sexy, remniscent, sassy and overall, human. The album does have attitude, but it is always vulnerable, creating the template for future R&B divas looking to mature their sound (see: Ciara's The Evolution and Brandy's Afrodisiac).

I could have talked about any of the singles, but I felt that it was only right that I share with you "Loose Rap", a song that features Static on vocals. "Loose Rap" is the second track on the album and as soon as I heard it, I knew it would not be an ordinary album. Based on her previous two albums and the lead single, "We Need A Resolution", one might expect Aaliyah to deliver something with a more hard-edged groove. "Loose Rap" is so airy and relaxed in its sound that I can't really imagine dancing to this song, but moreso floating to it. It's perfect for Aaliyah's feathery voice and the unique atmosphere finds a fitting home for Static's trademark moaning/harmonizing. It's also one of my favorites on the album.

Aaliyah F/ Static - "Loose Rap"

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Another song that Static co-wrote and lent vocals to was Timbaland & Magoo's "I Am Music". It's more noted for being the song that Beck was supposed to appear on (I'm crossing my fingers that it will be on the Timbaland box set 15 years from now), but it's also one of the finer things to ever come from the Timbaland & Magoo project. The song sounds like Prince finally letting his guard down and allowing influences of the 21st century to seep into his music. It's a synth-showered ode to the love of music and its ubiquity.

Timbaland & Magoo F/ Static & Aaliyah - I Am Music

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