Salaam Remi: Torch To The Track
Born in Queens, New York producer Salaam Remi has been the immaculate tour de force for popular artists for over a span of 20 years.
Salaam has produced hits for popular artists spanning various genres, such as Alicia Keys, Miguel, Kendrick Lamar, Nas, The Fugees, Jazmine Sullivan, Nelly Furtado, Cee-Lo Green and Usher. His collaborations with singer Amy Winehouse included “Me & Mr Jones,” “Some Unholy War,” and a few other songs that helped to put Winehouse in a production class by herself.
Salaam’s CD Salaam Remi One: In The Chamber features guest vocalists Akon, Ne-Yo, Corinne Bailey Rae, Jordin Sparks, Estelle, Stephen Marley, Lemar and CJ Hilton, in addition to orchestral songs composed by the producer. He scored the remake film Sparkle, the Mike Tyson documentary, TYSON, and was executive music producer on the both Sex and the City films and Rush Hour 3.
Louder Than Life is Salaam’s own label imprint through Sony Music.
The Grammy-nominated music producer performed “One in the Chamber” with Akon on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno earlier this week and recently chatted with me about music production, the late Amy Winehouse, hip-hop and his first CD.
Quassan: Often producers have a particular sound attached to their name. You can listen to that particular sound and say this individual produced that piece of music. You are constructing music that carries diversity with each sound. Alicia Keys’s “Girl on Fire” is so different than Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry On Their Own” and that sound is so different than Nas’s “Reach Out.” How do you do it?
Salaam Remi: I try not to actually create music based on a particular sound trend. I design the sound based on what the artist is trying to get across. Similar to a movie set design, I try to find the sound that goes best with the person’s voice and design that sound. I consider the emotion that needs to be evoked. I’m always trying to strike an emotion with each piece of music. I don’t have a typical sound the way many producers have, where people can recognize my beat. I create a different sound with each musical piece.
Quassan: You did some incredible work with singer Amy Winehouse and she died at the height of her career when her music became even more popularized. Describe your experience working with Amy and who she really was outside of the addictions?
SR: Amy was someone I met at 18 years old. She had enormous talent and she and I treated each other like brother and sister. The day when Amy died, I was on my way to her home because we were set to attend a wedding the following day. She was my good friend, more than a collaborator. Amy was caring, she could crack jokes yet still be passionate about her artistry. That was the Amy I knew. If she struggled with doubt, my job as her friend was to help her to realize her potential. [Pauses] Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday musically inspired Amy. She knew the work of music artists that passed way before she was born. Amy Winehouse is my sister. She’s missed.
Quassan: Listening to your CD, it’s obvious you have a really good ear for selecting music that has success potential. I know your dad is producer Van Gibbs. Growing up, what artists were you listening to as a young person?
SR: Growing up, I listened to gospel music. My grandfather was a pastor, so I grew up listening to all types of music connected to the church. My dad is from Trinidad, so I listened to West Indian music as well. Jazz and disco were also part of my music upbringing. When I became a music fanatic, it was at a time in the ’80s when the hip-hop generation was emerging. I was immersed in hip-hop.
Quassan: The birth of hip-hop conjures up so many memorable moments! What artists did you favor across the genre board?
SR: I grew up in New York, which is a melting pot of eclectic music. I jammed to Tom Browne’s “Jamaica Funk” all the way to records by Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie. I also jammed to Sugarhill Gang, Yellowman and Evelyn Champagne King.
Quassan: Have we narrowed our scope of originality and creativity as it relates to present day hip-hop music?
SR: Wow! Hi-hop is commercialized. We are in a place where people copy what happened yesterday. The current state of hip-hop is where there is a venue, there is music that plays and that music becomes what everyone listens to. The current Southern influence in hip-hop is because the South is where you find massive clubs where people go to party. The music in those clubs permeates in pop culture and on the radio. Any place where there is a live nightlife, music can become popular even before it hits the radio. Take what’s being created in hip-hop and move it to the next level.
Quassan: Your CD features new music from Akon, Ne-Yo, Corinne Bailey Rae, Jordin Sparks, Estelle, Stephen Marley, Lemar and CJ Hilton. When you reflect on the work of your album, what are you most proud of?
SR: It’s the soundtrack of where I been in my life. I’m proud of the musical element as well as my personal growth that is reflective on the CD. It’s a body of work that speaks to what my weekend music vibe consists of. [Laughs] The weekend vibe music consists of some chill out music, which can range from jazz to Ne-Yo or Akon.
Quassan Castro is an entertainment and news journalist. Vibe with Quassan on Twitter at @Quassan.