Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Decade of Amerie

Amerie Essence Magazine Photo Shoot, 2009
It was the summer of 2002 when D.C. native Amerie Mi Rogers scored her first hit "Why Don't We Fall In Love," and roped in every conceivable R&B listener. Ten years later, Amerie is one of the few, the finest, the (sadly) undervalued women in black music. Her initial recording home, Columbia Records, would release her first three albums: All I Have (2002), Touch (2005), and Because I Love It (2007). Because I Love It did not see an American release until the early fall of 2008.

Amerie currently rests her hat at Island/Def Jam. There, she unleashed her fourth long player In & Love War (2009). Her fifth album under the Island/Def Jam umbrella Cymatika Volume 1, to be preceded by The Prelude EP, are due to manifest sometime this year. Both projects are no doubt stalled due to label static. Said label problems are the undisputed factor that has held Amerie back from larger commercial gain and exposure. However, where her commercial clout has been lacking, creatively her abilities can't be questioned. At the beginning she was merely an extension of her mentor/producer Rich Harrison, and became the true lightning rod for the ongoing go-go music rediscovery of the 2000's.

With Touch, her second album, Amerie took control and wrote majority of that record. From Touch, Amerie has written, arranged, produced, selected the producers and guided the arc of her music. The Amerie sound is something undeniably joyful, artistic, and vibe-alicious. For women in popular R&B music, such a multi-layered creative conscience is unheard of. Amerie's mastery of the art of sampling also cannot go without mention, making her one of the best singers to reinterpret established material within her own work. In celebrating Amerie's four previous platters across 10 years, it's her integrity that's reason to cheer. As long as Amerie's compass is set to her truth, come what may, her legacy will be secure.

All I Have
Release Date: 7/30/02
Album Placements: U.S. R&B #2, U.S. Pop #9
Singles: "Why Don't We Fall In Love?" (U.S. R&B #9, U.S. Hot 100 #29, U.K. #40) "Talkin' to Me" (U.S. R&B #18, U.S. Hot 100 #51)
Notable Producer: Rich Harrison
Notable Samples Included: Miroslav Vitous "Synthesizers Dance," Emerson, Lake & Palmer "From the Beginning"
SynopsisAmerie started off with a sturdy set of friendly bangers and ballads, courtesy of producer Rich Harrison. Harrison had been an up-&-coming producer, but with Amerie as his canvas he finally managed to make a name for himself. Harrison making that name for himself was a major proponent to the weakness of All I Have, as the album spins as a production showcase for Harrison's fluid, if overtly perfumed soul. Amerie didn't have an identity outside of the being the crooner for the tasteful, but uninspired sonics. Amerie's voice, a lemon spritzed stunner, is an acquired taste. Heard here, it is in its rawest form. If one wades through the sleepier moments of All I Have, there are a clasp of classics available. The wispy lead single "Why Don't We Fall in Love" is sweet and genuine. "Talkin' to Me" has a familiar narrative (unrequited love), yet it isn't any less lush in its scope. "Need You Tonight," a humid seduction of the ear, rounds out the mentioned trio. Regardless, All I Have gave Amerie her springboard for future albums, those great moments were just around the bend.

"Why Don't We Fall In Love"
 Director: Benny Boom


Release Date: 4/26/05
Album Placements: U.S. R&B #3, U.S. Pop #5, U.K. #28
Singles: "1 Thing" (U.S. R&B #1, U.S. Hot 100 #8, U.K. #4), "Touch" (U.S. R&B #95, U.K. #19)
Notable Producers: Rich Harrison, The Buchanans, Dre & Vidal, Lil' Jon, Bink!, Bryce Wilson, Red Sypda
Notable Samples Included: The Meters "Oh, Calcutta!," Jean Carne "You Are All I Need," Roy Ayers "Searching," Earth, Wind & Fire "Evil"
SynopsisOut of nowhere in 2005, after what seemed like a miniature eternity, Amerie reintroduced herself. A feverish composition called "1 Thing," which Amerie wrote, made epic use of The Meters cut "Oh, Calcutta!". It became her biggest hit and epitomized the continual popular music obsession with the D.C. born style of go-go. It's surprising to know that her (then) label Columbia didn't see the commercial appeal of "1 Thing," and (at first) attempted to sully the release of the song. Where Columbia and Amerie were concerned, it was a sign of things to come. Rich Harrison was on board again, but it was Amerie who handled the heavy lifting in writing nearly every song on Touch

Additional production muscle also added to the curves of the record, so the issues of All I Have's sameness did not pop up. Touch banked a stronger set of songs, and though none of the uptempos matched "1 Thing" in its potency ("Talkin' About" worked up a good sweat) they still grooved. The ballads that drove Touch: "All I Need," "Falling," "Just Like Me," and her Carl Thomas duet "Can We Go" (whose usage of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Evil" flowed like water) saw Amerie using that unique voice in refreshing ways. Forgiving the obnoxious nod to the crunk'n'b tip in the title track, Amerie had arrived (officially) as the brave new voice in R&B in the 2000's.

"1 Thing"
 Director: Chris Robinson

Because I Love It
Release Date: 5/14/07 (U.K.), 9/30/08 (U.S.)
Album Placements: U.K. #17
Singles: "Take Control" (U.S R&B #66, U.K. #10), "Gotta Work" (U.K. #21, U.K. R&B #6)
Notable Producers: Amerie, Lenny Nicholson, Bryan Michael-Cox, The Buchanans, Cee-Lo, Quran Goodman, Destro, One Up, Chris & Drop, Bink!, Curtis "C-Note" Richardson, Mike Caren, Kore & Bellek
Notable Samples Included: Bob James "Farandole," Kool & the Gang "Give It Up," Malcolm McLaren "World's Famous," Curtis Mayfield "Make Me Believe," Hall & Oates "You Make My Dreams," Mighty Dog Haynes "Hold On, I'm Coming," Tom Zé "Jimi Renda-Se," Willie Hutch "Mother's Theme (Mama)," James Ingram & Patti Austin "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?," Khaled Hadj Brahim "Didi"
SynopsisNo Rich Harrison, no problem. At this juncture Amerie had an exact vision for where she wanted to guide her next musical journey. On Because I Love It, Amerie enlisted several of the producers from Touch, along with new faces to lay out the junior record. The most present member of the production crew was Amerie herself, who took to writing, production, and arranging tasks on several of the tunes. Her ascendancy was heard in her reworking of Curtis Mayfield's "Make Me Believe," (the title remained the same) with a new set of lyrics and plenty of her vocal flair. Because I Love It radiated with a natural confidence and sense of adventure, genres aside. 

Amerie had her own go-go get-ups this time around on the sassy salts of "Hate2loveu" and "Gotta Work," both great entries into the sound she helped put on the scene. Elsewhere, there were funky stabs at '80's freestyle ("Some Like It"), fresh neo-Quiet Storm ("That's What U R"), and just plain sexy, smart R&B treats ("Crazy Wonderful," "Take Control"). She reached a bit too far on "All Roads," which in the shadow of the astounding "Paint Me Over" paled, but the effort was applauded. The record did not get a chance to prove its mettle Stateside. Columbia Records inexplicably pushed back the release of the album by a year. By the time the record received its U.S.A. debut, Amerie had dissolved her brief partnership with Columbia Records. One of the stand out R&B recordings of the last decade, the record did find life in the United Kingdom, and notched up critical and fan acclaim in the U.S.A. 

"Take Control" 
Director: Scott Franklin

In Love & War
Release Date: 11/3/09
Album Placements: U.S. R&B #3, U.S. Pop #46, U.K. R&B #29
Singles: "Why R U" (U.S. R&B #55), "Heard 'Em All" (U.S. R&B #81) "More Than Love,"* "Dear John"*
Notable Producers: Amerie, Lenny Nicholson, The Buchanans, Warryn Campbell, Bryan Michael-Cox, Sean Garrett, Eric Hudson, Jim Jonsin, Jonas Jeberg, Karma, Rico Love, Teddy Riley, TrackNova, M-Phazes
Notable Samples Included: Kool & the Gang "Summer Madness," Ultramagnetic MCs "Ego Trippin'," Melvin Bliss "Synthetic Substitution," Mint Condition "Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)"
SynopsisAmerie's move to Island/Def Jam, a label at this time not renowned for viewing their roster as artists but commodities, worried fans. Along with the return of several Amerie production favorites, herself included, and a veteran (Teddy Riley), there were very specific producers along for the ride to bring that commercial sheen. On tracks such as "Swag Back" and "Dear John," Amerie worked to find herself in ordinary material, and even had a few uneven moments of her own ("The Flowers"). Yet somehow, In Love & War satisfied and surprised in equal measure. Removing the mentioned hiccups, In Love & War played well, in its best cuts it was downright spectacular. Live instrumentation abounded on "Higher" and "Dangerous," courtesy of the snarling guitarists Francesco Romano and Sean Windsor. These rich colors, among other musical layers, kept Amerie's music established as flavorful fun. 

Teddy Riley, the New Jack Swing superstar, co-stewed over the opener "Tell Me You Love Me," a popping number that saw Amerie in complete command of her vocal facilities. The rumbling "Heard 'Em All" rode a rougher terrain than her pleasant double duets "Pretty Brown" (with Trey Songz) and "More Than Love" (with Fabolous).  Ballads remained cornerstones, and whether heartrendingly honest ("Different People") or sensuous ("Red Eye"), Amerie hadn't lost her touch. Of course, muted commercial success (despite a resurgence at U.S. R&B) sank the album. Critically, it was another winner for her, a true victory considering its mentioned uneven portions. Her accruing such accolades in the music reviewing realm kept her apart from other urban starlets. In Love & War embodied its title by pushing back against label meddling, and letting her formula stay her own.

"Why R U" 
Director: Ray Kay

[Editor's Note: All of Amerie's recordings are in print, and available at most music retailers, physical or digitally. Apologies for the competing Youtube and Daily Motion clips, certain videos were only available on certain mediums. *Chart positions for those singles marked with the asterisk unable to be located. Visit Amerie at Ameriie Official which includes links to her Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr pages.-QH]


Rhythmic said...

yessssssssssssss finally Amerie gets the recognition thats due. She has always been an artist that i love and adore, but unfortunately the machine that has been behind her has always been one of ill choices and wavering support. Ive loved her evolution and it has been such an organic and natural growth, from the first album to the recent, which has always been something about her that i think sets her apart. Shes grown by leaps and bounds but its been nothing that has alienated, or been too contrived...my fav album definitely was her first, for me, it was everything...its was i always thought of as sweetheart summertime soul...something u can listen to on a nice warm evening day and just relax, zone out and appreciate...ive heard her new stuff from the EP..i appreciate the direction this is sounding like, i just hope that she keeps it consistent and cohesive all through out...for me thats been a slight issue with each album after her 1st one...7 great tracks then boom 1 clunker...3 more good tracks then boom 2 clunkers....i just need there to be editing this go round...tighter package for a better pay off...

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