Salaam Remi Interview


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Salaam Remi: From Kurtis Blow to Nas and Amy Winehouse - Strength in Roots Published Wednesday, August 08, 2007 2:01 AM


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By Fawn Renee
What you get when you cross a fraternal music executive with an All-Star Hip-Hop lineup and a keyboard is the essence of one of Hip-Hop’s most underrated producers. Salaam Gibbs, better known as Salaam Remi, crept onto the music scene in the mid ‘80s as a keyboardist for Kurtis Blow’s 1986 hit, Kingdom Blow. Soon after, Remi began mixing his own records and developed a unique style unparalleled in the Hip-Hop community.

Having such an early start in the game, it would amaze some to know that Remi has continued to be a trailblazer and show his strength as a force in Hip-Hop, as well as R&B. With production credits on one of the biggest Hip-Hop albums to-date The Score [The Fugees]; 2002’s platinum selling release of God’s Son, a joint venture with lyrical mastermind Nas; and collaborative work with the UK’s most sought after singer/songwriter, Amy Winehouse, on her platinum selling debut Frank; Remi is proving that pure talent and musicianship breeds longevity- even in Hip-Hop.

Years later, after catapulting several careers and solidifying his place in Hip-Hop, Remi is still making hits, lending his musical genius to classic artists and well as today’s promising talent. So what is the key to success and longevity in a genre that has experienced an extreme face lift over the past decade? caught up with the producer on the set of Rush Hour 3 to get the scoop. Oh yes, he does movies too. So, Los Angeles, movies…care to share?

Salaam Remi: Yeah. I’m in LA right now. They call me a…what do they call me? Oh, I am like the Executive Music Producer/Supervisor for Rush Hour 3, and I’m also working on the score. It’s been great! I worked with this same team on After the Sunset and they said when Rush Hour 3 comes out that they wanted me to work on it. So it’s a beautiful experience. That’s what’s up. I’m sure that’s a great experience. Congrats!

Salaam Remi: Thanks. Yeah it is. : I’ve been meaning to ask you, why the name change from Gibbs to Remi? Have you always gone by Salaam Remi? Does it have any significance?

Salaam Remi: My father was a music executive for most of my childhood. His name is Van Gibbs. My actual real name is Salaam Remi Gibbs. Remi comes from the music scale- do re mi. He didn’t want me to deal with having the Gibbs on my last name at the time so when I got into my craft, I just dropped the Gibbs. Also, it’s just kind of a dope name. I agree. You said your father was a music executive. How does his influence reflect in your music today?

Salaam Remi: Umm, I think a lot. Overall, my dad was a musician. My uncles are musicians, and I grew up in that environment. My mom and aunts sang in the church, and my grandfather was the pastor. I actually played drums in church for a while, and I played throughout high school. When I graduated high school and was attending LaGuardia Community, I moved with my dad, who was working with Kurtis Blow, Doug E. Fresh, Fab 5, and all of those cats. So I was fortunate to learn a lot about Hip-Hop and submerge into the core of what was going on in the movement at that time. I was able to benefit from just meeting everybody, and as I grew up, I created a relationship with Flex, and I saw first hand what drove the parties and the radio. So my dad’s influence pulled me into music, but there are a lot of other elements. You actually got your first break as a keyboardist for Kurtis Blow. Then, did you ever imagine that at that moment you would become a part of Hip-Hop greatness?

Salaam Remi: Yeah my dad was producing with his partner, so I was able to chime in here and there. I was able to do some work on Back by Popular Demand. I had a drum machine by age 13 so, by the time I was in high school and college, although I was studying business, I was able to run with the best of them. Okay, fast forward 16 years later to God’s Son-huge album with yet another great Hip-Hop artist. What was the driving force behind that project?

Salaam Remi: With Nas, I always liked Nas as an artist from “Live at the Barbeque,” [Main Source]. For me, the God’s Son album period was me wanting to hear him as I always wanted to hear him. We worked together on Stillmatic so we were able to sit down and talk, and he grew to trust me with the music, I’m guessing. So when the time came to work on God’s Son, I was able to offer things to him that he might be interested in doing. We came from similar backgrounds, Akenyele and I went to high school together, and that’s where “Live at the Barbeque” started. And [Nas and I] have a similar music background, both growing up in New York, so it was about me being able to work with him on that level and seeing what I could pull out of him. Your work with Nas has been your most noted, to date. Is that something you can appreciate, or are there other sides to you, musically, that you’d like people to acknowledge?

Salaam Remi: Well for me, I feel that I’ve been blessed with my career, being able to work with many great artists on many levels; Nas is at the top of his game in his class. But prior to that, I was into the reggae stuff, and I was called “record of the week,” because I had a hand in most of what you heard in the clubs. Then when Fugees blew up, I was “Fu-gee-la.” So I believe Nas was a pinnacle in my career, but I’m also very proud of my development of the Fugees and The Score. And I’m proud of the part I’ve played in Pras and Wyclef’s life in enabling them to create a sound for other artists coming up. But Nas was a high point and I’m proud of it all, and I’m looking for the next set of people that can give me that feeling. So it’s safe to say Nas was kind of like your Muse?

Salaam Remi: Yeah. My muse in ‘90s was something else. In 2000, Nas was definitely my muse because his vocal presence was and is phenomenal. Guys want those tracks, but they couldn’t have killed those tracks the way Nas did. So I am appreciative of Nas and his whole vibe, and helping me create a sound for him that was unlike any other at the time. You have some other inspiration behind you too. You played a large hand in Amy Winehouses’ debut album, Frank, and did some work on her U.S. debut Back to Black. What has it been like working with her?

Salaam Remi: For me, I’m really happy that in 2007 Amy [Winehouse] is finally getting people to like her across the board. But for me, the journey started in 2002, around the same time I was doing God’s Son. [It was] the same process of developing Fugees over time, and I’m happy that now she’s getting recognition and people are able to see what I saw in her when I met her five years ago.

I’m always trying to figure out how to find artists like that- the next Amy Winehouse, next Nas, next Lauryn [Hill]. My music I’m doing now is so diverse. Like with Rush Hour 3, the first thing you hear is my collabo with Lalo Schifrin, who is like 40 years older than me and has worked on Mission Impossible and Enter the Dragon. So my goal is to just keep progressing and keep moving forward, that’s all. There have been a lot of breakout artists in the UK over the past year, Corinne Bailey Rae, Amy Winehouse, Professor Green-the list goes on, that have really delved into soul music in a way that we seem to have forgotten how to do here in the states. What do you think contributes to that?

Salaam Remi: I think it’s a combination of a couple things. One, the UK has more of a concentration on playing instruments and people playing music period. So over there it’s not odd to find a 15 year-old that likes Aretha Franklin. You can wake up and hear “Say A Little Prayer” on the major radio stations, not just the older stations. People get offended but I’m not offended. I’m just happy that there’s a market for good music somewhere, whereas in America, it’s just been a repetition of what’s hot.

Lauryn, Maxwell and D’Angelo were the most recent examples of great R&B/Soul music. They stood out among their peers, so it kind of falls off when you don’t have an example. Just like when Jay Z took a break, all the New York artists bumped into a wall because they didn’t have anyone to follow anymore. Good point. Chrisette Michele seems to be one of the few new artists challenging that notion and getting heavy comparisons to Mrs. Jill Scott. You did some work on her debut album, right?

Salaam Remi: I understand why the comparison to Jill [Scott] might be there, but once I met her, it was like “oh you’re 24, I thought you were much older,” because of her sound. So my goal with the songs I did with Chrisette [Michele], like “Good Girl,” was to bring out the youth and Hip-Hop in her. She’s another one of those artists that is refreshing to work with because she is just a tremendous talent. Her voice is ridiculous. You seem to have a way of bringing out the best in the artists you work with. What are your goals when you go into the studio with a specific artist?

Salaam Remi: Honestly, my goal, throughout the whole process, it to make sure we are coming up with something great. So I make sure I work with great people, positive people. My goal is to be totally valuable to the artist. I’m going in to see what I can do differently to make it work, not like “this is my beat, my sound.” I try to give them something where people believe their voice, it’s not about me. That’s great. Your sound is often referred to as “broken bottle.” What exactly does that mean?

Salaam Remi: That came from the glass breaking in Nas’ “Made You Look.” Is that all that’s coming from?

Salaam Remi: Yeah. [Laughs] So it is the feeling, that “wow,” you know, it gives you that punch, that feeling. “Made You Look” sounded like raw Hip-Hop. And I guess that’s where that whole analogy came from. People want to categorize everything is all, just like with the reggae I was doing in the ‘90s. They’ll call me something else next year.

You can hear more at my label, Boom Tunes. It is a venture with iTunes where I put out a lot of straight to iTunes releases. I recently released a lot of pet projects of mine, and music that I think is right there at the level I want to hear it at, not necessarily the corporations. It’s just a lot of music coming from left and right that you’re not even going to expect to hear. I want it to be something a music lover can go in and listen to and say “Wow! I didn’t think I could get that.” That’s big. A lot people are looking into releasing things on the net these days. I almost forgot, you’re also working with Free from 106 & Park. The buzz about her skills was high for a while but has kind of fallen off due to some tracks released on the net. I know you were doing some work with her on her debut album. Can you tell us anything about that?

Salaam Remi: I mean, Free has talent across the boards. She can rap, sing, whatever. She has more music than I can possibly count, but she’s been working on a lot of stuff over the last month or two. You should definitely get some new music from her over the next week or two. And the album should be out before the end of the year. She just wants to work on the songs and I’m like “let them go so we can get this done.” Same with a lot of artists I work with- Miss Hill, her stuff is incredible from what I’ve heard of it. When you’ll hear it, I don’t know. Excited about that project. How much discretion do you use when choosing artists to work with?

Salaam Remi: I try to at least meet everyone I work with. But there is so much for me to do. I just try to go with what’s progressive and new, and I like to work with artists that inspire me and that are open. Like, not people like “Hey man, I want something like that ‘Made You Look’ track.” It’s cool, but it’s not going to happen. I like people that want to develop, not do a record from before, you know? Tell me, having worked with iconic Hip-Hop artists, if you could compose a modern day mixtape, combining old school Hip-Hop records with new school Hip-Hop records, what are some songs we might here?

Salaam Remi: Wow. That’s a good one. Umm. Wow. I mean, for me, it’s umm, wow. I go through phases so I’ll just touch on my play list. I’ve recently done some remixes for Marvin Gaye so “Soon I’ll Be Loving You” would be one, and “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You?” Stevie Wonder is another one of my favorites so “If It’s Magic.” “Rising To the Top,” by Kenny Burke-that song just reminds me of home, walking on the street with my knap sack. “La Di Da Di,” by Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick- Slick being one of my favorite MCs and Doug being one of my best friends. Umm, “NY State of Mind,” by Nas. “Back to Life,” by Soul II Soul. A lot of it would be old school, sorry to say. [Laughs] Dennis Brown’s “Silhouette,” “Once I Loved,” by Astrud Gilberto, and “Me and Mr. Jones,” by Amy Winehouse. That’s the lineup. I can think of more but… I imagine it would grow to be an exhaustive list. [Laughs] Before we wrap up, any word on that Fugees album that we have been waiting for, for what feels like an eternity?

Salaam Remi: I honestly couldn’t tell you that. I passed through a session and dropped off some stuff a while ago. I know they’re working on a lot of music, and I heard a lot of songs. It sounds like a lot of potential, but I can’t say exactly when it’ll be coming out. Chances are, you’ll hear a lot of stuff on Wyclef’s new album. So, leave us with something to look forward to.

Salaam Remi: Nas and I have been in the studio vibin’ on some new stuff for his greatest hits album. He should be ready to get that done soon. I think it’ll be something bigger and more different than anything that’s ever happened in Hip-Hop before. Ever?

Salaam Remi: Ever.