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Weekly Success Story - Apr 16, 2001

Every week, HitQuarters presents a new story of music business success. This original feature will explain how an artist went from being unknown to becoming a major hit in the charts. Which route through the industry did the artist take? What is there to learn from the artist’s mistakes and achievements?

If you have comments or questions about this week’s featured artist or would like to suggest an artist that we should cover, please mail us.

To gather similar knowledge and to learn more about the music business in general, read our Advisory Text and the Weekly Interview with a business professional.

The week of Apr 16, 2001 features:

Musiq Soulchild

Musiq Soulchild ( real name Talib Johnson ) debuted in 2000 with the Gold-selling Soul/R&B album "Aijuswanaseing", accompanied by the radio-friendly hit single "Just Friends".

Talib Johnson spent his teenage years hanging out singing on South Street, Philadelphia, an area renowned for its artistic vibe. The oldest of nine children and a high-school dropout, some lucky coincidences and the backing of professionals intent on developing his potential led to the birth of Musiq Soulchild, one of the current stars of the Def Soul stable. Eager to show off his vocal prowess to whoever happened to be walking down the aforementioned street and anyone who cared to listen, he smooched his way through soul classics, poked fun at popular radio songs and "beatboxed" like the best of them. Soon dubbed The Music Boy, he often sang with a friend, who happened to share a flat with Jerome Hipps, manager of the Coconut record store and also partner, with Michael McArthur, in management company Mama’s Boys. This was the first, pivotal coincidence: a casual introduction at the record store in 1996 sparked interest in Jerome, who was impressed by Talib’s raw talent.

It must be said that although Talib was a keen singer, he didn’t seem, at this stage, to be particularly aware of his own potential as a recording artist. He nevertheless prepared a song for Jerome and Michael, which he performed in Jerome’s living room. It was when the two partners played back a videotape of the brief showcase that they were convinced that Talib could be a star. When they signed him to Mama’s Boys in 1998, they tried him out as a backing singer on a track by their new signings Aaries, but were quick to realise that, after years spent thinking up tunes and performing on the streets of Philadelphia, he was ready to work on his own project. When they set about recording some demos at the Touch of Jazz studios, Talib worked as he always had done, making mental notes of melodic structures and lyrics, and also, now that he had access to studio equipment, with the aid of some basic keyboard skills. After working with Aaries, he began an extremely fruitful collaboration with Carvin Haggins, in-house producer and songwriter at Touch Of Jazz, a collaboration set up by Mama’s Boys, who also busied themselves introducing Talib to musicians on the Philly circuit, getting him to perform at open mic gigs, such as those at The Five Spot and Wilhemina’s, and matching him up with producers who could capture his sound. They also devised a business plan, and took decisions, with Talib and Carvin, on what direction Musiq Soulchild’s incipient career should take.

Working in Talib’s favour was the fact that Michael had previously worked at Def Jam, which meant that he had no trouble getting the demo heard by Kevin Liles, president of the label. It wasn’t just a matter of convenience either, but part of their business strategy: they knew that Def Soul needed Musiq in order to venture into the "soft" black music market, and also that Def Soul was the right label for the Soulchild, with its reputation for breaking career artists - as opposed to one-hit-wonders - and their respect for artistic freedom, something which was extremely important to both Mama’s Boys and Musiq. The only possible rival to Def Soul was Hidden Beach, Jill Scott’s label, where Steve McKeever, who knew the producers of Musiq’s demo, expressed an interest in the project. So convinced were they that Def Soul was the label they needed, however, that they made no particular effort to shop Musiq to McKeever.

Time was pressing, so four well-produced but still unfinished songs were presented to Liles, followed a short while later by another four tracks which they’d had more time to work on. It was enough to get them the deal, and Musiq signed to Def Soul in 2000. Liles was particularly keen on one of the tracks, called "Just Friends", and seeing as Def Jam were, at that time, busy putting together the soundtrack for "The Nutty Professor 2", he pushed to have it featured.

This would prove to be Musiq’s breakthrough: spectators and soundtrack-buyers gravitated towards the song, and soon radio stations all over the US were playing it non-stop. In an obvious move, "Just Friends" was released as the debut single. Its spectacular success on the airwaves might not just be attributed to the poularity of Eddie Murphy’s film: Def Jam’s promotion department is, according to Jerome, "the best in the business". Musiq has also been putting all of his own efforts into promoting himself: he has just finished supporting Erykah Badu on her sell-out tour of the US, aswell as selling out his own shows, and is now playing all the major cities in Europe. Propelled out of Philly by a set of lucky coincidences and the hard work of those behind him, aswell as his own, Musiq Soulchild is, it seems, finally starting to realise his true potential.

"Aijuswanaseing" was recorded at the A Touch Of Jazz studios, the larger part of which was co-produced ( including "Just Friends" ) by Ivan "Orthodox" Barias and Carvin Haggins, although luminaries such as James Poyser ( Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo ), amongst others, also collaborated. Mama’s Boys, who, it can be fairly stated, orchestrated the whole Musiq Soulchild project, executive produced the album, Kevin Liles A&Red and oversaw the marketing of the album, as did Deidre Grahams and Julia Green at Def Jam. 6 of the the 19 original songs made it onto the album, where the majority of songs were co-written by Musiq Soulchild and Carvin Haggins.

Having waited to sign a publishing deal, Musiq Soulchild finally decided to work with Universal LA and their Creative Director, Donna Caseine. The deal went through in March 2001 and wasn’t hard to get, at that stage, due to the success of the album.

Contact information to all the major players in this story can be found in the HitTracker.

Written by Luci Vázquez - Research by Stefan Sörin & Kimbel Bouwman

Weekly Success Story Archive