Angie Stone brings contemporary hip-hop to classic soul
After three successful solo LPs, Angie Stone continues to deconstruct R&B music. Having worked with the likes of D'Angelo, Lenny Kravitz, Mary J. Blige, Ali Shaheed Muhammed, and Raphael Saadiq, Stone knows soul.
"I think R&B music is the same as it was back in the '60s," Stone says. "It makes such an impact that everybody jumps on the bandwagon, then you gotta pull back in order to regroup. I think it's here to stay. I don't think it will ever die. I think as a result, other things are being birthed out of soul music."
Stone understands soul music at least partly because she played a peripheral role in its development during a long music-biz apprenticeship leading up to her first solo release. She first made noise as a member of Sugarhill Records trio the Sequence, with whom she recorded the minor hits "Funk You Up" and "I Don't Need Your Love (Part One)" under the watchful eye of R&B icon Sylvia Robinson. After the Sequence parted ways, Stone formed the trio Vertical Hold, which charted in '93 and '98 with the hits "Seems You're Much Too Busy" and "Summertime."
Angie credits her involvement with old school hip-hop for helping to shape her sensibilities as an artist. "I just think Sequence was the very beginning," she says. "Vertical Hold was the junior year. I think Angie Stone the solo artist, I'm a senior now, so it's growing pains. You grow up, you live, you learn. You grow and you never make the mistakes you did before and that's where I am in my life."
Black Diamond, Stone's striking solo debut, dropped in September 1999 and helped define the burgeoning , roots-conscious movement dubbed "neo-soul." The album was sparked by the ballad "No More Rain (In This Cloud)" and contained sonic homages to Marvin Gaye, Ramsey Lewis, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Gladys Knight and the Pips. For the Columbia, South Carolina native, the album also served as a vibrant bridge to the music of her father and her youth.
"I just think it's hereditary," she says. "I think my dad had a feel for gospel all his life. Me being an only child was exposed to his quartet. The next thing for me to do was to get into music and it's been a nice transition."
Stone's latest album is all about the heart. "The title, Stone Love, encapsulates everything about love. That term to me embodies love," she says. "I find that a title is as important as the album, it connects the project. There is motherly and sisterly love, man and woman love, but no love is stronger than Stone Love."
Stone's third disc is also about collaboration and represents her strongest effort to court mainstream America. Snoop Dogg clocks in on the breezy single "I Wanna Thank Ya," Brit-soulsters Floetry bless the bubbly "My Love," and Missy Elliott produces and co-pens "U-Haul," which sparkles with lines such as "This is tragic like when Michael left the Jacksons." Stone also features proto-feminist '70s soul rebel Betty Wright on "That Kind Of Love" and crooner Anthony Hamilton on "Stay For A While," which for Stone were natural partnerships.
"That was pretty easy because all hit records are samples of something else and I figure why not get the real thing," she says.
"I can work with anybody. If I'm working with Betty or whoever, I just think when you vibe, you vibe and you hit it off. You don't need a clique to survive."
For Stone, one of the album's highlights is an R&B nod to Dana Dane's old-school Cinderfella. "A love song can be anything, its open to interpretation. I try to make it universal, something that everybody can relate to at one time or another. I think 'Cinderella Ballin' is a perfect song that depicts someone. I took a character that everybody in the world could recognize and said, 'this is what you make me feel like.' I just think if you're gonna deal with it you gotta deal with that aspect of the real world as opposed to just a fairy tale."
Fairy tales aside, Stone's drive and ambition remain focused on family. "I try to see my kids as much as possible. I try talk to them on the phone. They stay in my prayers. As a single mom I have the duty of taking care of my household so it's not a problem for me. It's hard sometimes being away but the balance is in the fact that my daughter's in college and my son is making his way there, so somebody's gotta do the work." •
By M. Solis