Sports analogies run rampant when it comes to Atlanta vocal quartet 112, the underdog world champions of hip hop soul. From sexy club joints like "Only You," "Anywhere" and "Peaches & Cream" to the dreamiest of balladry like "Love Me," the pulsating heartbreaker "It's Over Now" and the Platinum "Cupid," 112 has been serving nothing less than top drawer versatility. Since 1996, 112 has proven to among be the most consistent multi-faceted hit-making groups in the game, with slam dunks at every turn. But in the face of three platinum-plus albums, Top 5 singles, a Grammy and satisfied audiences at their concerts, there's a lot more respect due this dynamic foursome. As manager Marcus Grant so eloquently puts it, "They've been here since `96 and never fell off. They're like a Fortune 500 company...consistent!"
What is the "next level" for a group that has accomplished all of this? It's an album that once and for all will showcase the complete 360 degrees of their writing, producing, singing and all around entertaining skills. That album is Hot & Wet, their fourth career album, their first in their new home of Def Jam Records, and one that's destined to be a scorcher for the summer of 2003. All of the elements that made them successful on their previous albums are here...in quadruplicate PLUS.
They've got an extra spicy reggae club joint called the "Na Na Na Song," featuring red hot special guest, Sean Paul. They've got an old school soul song placing women on a pedestal titled "Man's World" that plays like James Brown meets Marvin Gaye at the Apollo for a take-no- prisoners throw down. Another song, "I'll Be Right Here For You," is a mid-tempo shuffle that's like Prince's "Do Me Baby" sanctified with some Curtis Mayfield flourish. And then there's the ultra dramatic "You Said," which build to such a crescendo at the end, you'll want to applaud your Ipod! "That's one of my favorites,‚Äù says proud producer Daron. "Our signature sound is mostly Slim and Q on leads with Mike and I on the background, but that song really gets the idea across of all four of us as lead singers.
What follows is an introduction to the individual elements of 112:
Q is the smooth, cool laidback one with the voice that is the key element of 112's signature blend. "Everything about me from my vocals to my personality is smooth and mellow. Anytime something is lyrically sensitive and sexy, that's when I step in."
Daron is the group's primary in-house producer. In the beginning, it was just him, the piano and the fellas. Today, he brings them full-on tracks produced in his fully stocked home studio. "Once we get off the road and start to work on a new album, everything I bring to the first rehearsal lays the groundwork for where that album will start and where it will go."
Mike is the group's motivator/field general, the man who knows how to get the best vocal performance out of each individual. ‚ÄúI've been singing with these guys for so long, I understand precisely how we're supposed to sound on a record.‚Äù As for his voice, he brings the curveballs and sneak attacks. He's the Clark Kent/Superman personality - quiet until he hits the stage, then all hell breaks loose! "I bring that gritty, backwater Atlanta red clay thang!"
Slim is the most outgoing of the group, the flashy, meet-me-for-champagne-in-the-V.I.P.-room guy with the devilish but lovable playboy personality. While every member of 112 has a certain sex appeal, Slim works his overtime, making him a favorite of the ladies. Vocally, he hits all targets with precision accuracy.
To get a clear picture of the efficiency of 112, one only had to be up in Daddy's House, P. Diddy's Midtown Manhattan recording facility, on a rainy Saturday afternoon watching them go through their maneuvers effortlessly in the creation of the album's title track. First, producer Stevie J literally dances into the studio in his bright red sweat suit, handing off the track to engineer Steve Dent, who cleared his schedule to be a part of this session. Once the track is up and bumpin', everybody listens, then the specific rules for the song begin to take shape. Q comes up with the bridge, then goes into the studio and promptly lays it down all three harmonies with Mike coaching from the control room. Meanwhile, Slim has slipped off his spotless white Nikes (it was raining outside, too), grabbed a pen and notebook and goes to work writing the verses, all the while sipping water, munching candy and joking with Stevie. In less than an hour, he's got both verses done and ready to run them down under the supervision of Daron and Stevie. "Hot & Wet" is mixed and done before dinnertime.
Daron states, "This album reunites a lot of the hit elements. Plus now without the stress of the past, we're a lot looser. We're not afraid to say and do what we want to do. That's why a lot of stuff on the album is real musical. We have the support, the freedom, the confidence and the unity to go all the way."
The song "Hot & Wet" marks a reunion between 112 and Stevie J, the producer who played a major role in the quartet's very first album. Reflecting on their chemistry together and the creation just witnessed, Stevie states, "I remember the first time I saw them walk into Daddy's House. Me, the guys and the engineer locked ourselves in the studio for 20 hours a day and just made classics! These other guy groups have been playing around. It's time for them to get serious and recognize 112. They don't play! When we get together, we start from ground zero and build. That's where the magic comes in. We grew up together, so I'm like the fifth member. We belong together." Q co-signs on their chemistry. "It's one thing have a hot producer and a hot artist. It's another to have those things PLUS chemistry. As soon as we got together with Stevie in Atlanta, we came out with two songs that changed this whole project."
It's been a long road to this point for Q, Mike, Slim and Daron, a road that at its most jagged points found the group members managing themselves, breaking away from their original record company, licking their wounds in nearby Nashville but at all times remaining a united front. 112 is more than a singing group with flashy choreography and sexy song craft. 112 is an impenetrable brotherhood. "Our blessing came as a foursome," Mike states, "so that's how our blessings will continue to come. We've always had a lot to prove. Our first album (112 - 1996) was the introduction. On our second album (Room 112 - 1998) we eluded the sophomore jinx. On our third album (Part III - 2001), we let people know we can do this on our own. And with this fourth album (Hot & Wet - 2003), we will prove that we can switch companies and still keep on hittin'.! We are a living example that with unity, God on your side, and genuine love for one another, you can overcome anything."
One of the standout songs on Hot & Wet is "Everyday," straight up testimony to the trials 112 has faced layered over a sped-up sample of Ronald Isley crooning the refrain "everyday" from the Isley Brothers' classic, "Sensuality." Produced by a gentleman out of Atlanta named Saint, this track provided the members of 112 with a golden opportunity to share with their fans what their lives have really been like when all they were seeing were the bling-bling videos and magazine covers. "It's the realest song you'll hear all year," Mike says, "and folks will have to respect us for it." Within the song, they speak pointedly about "every record deal not being a good record deal" and how the well-known head of their previous record company, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, took too much credit for things the group was equally responsible for. From the pressures of providing for family to feeling the need to floss in public to keep up an image, 112 beats Behind The Music to the punch of revealing the truth behind their past facade.
Mike concludes, "It was important for us to gather our thoughts and let people know the real. The main thing we want known is that we're still cool with dude. The best way we knew to squash all the speculation was to do some recording here in his studio, plus we're cutting one of his songs...just to let people know it's still love. There was a time we were afraid to say something to dude about a record, but now we're grown in the game and if something ain't right, we're the captains of our ship. The way Def Jam did our deal, 112 is a company within their company. They told us, 'Do what y'all do!' We're battle-tested. We've been out here long enough to know what makes a hit."
piritually, musically (and financially) replenished, "The Twelve" now has everything they need to grab the glory that's been escaping them for the past eight years. "Imagine if Michael Jordan got hurt," Q hypothesizes, "and was on the disabled list for two years. When he finally gets cleared to play, you know he's gonna go out there and just DO them! That's how we feel. We haven't had a record out in almost two years. We love to sing, perform and please our fans. Now that all the business is squared away and we can just do what we do, you can hear our urgency on the record. We're ready to give the world 112 percent!"
Engineer Steve Dent, who has watched them grow from the beginning, shares, "In August of '95, my first day at Daddy's House was their very first session - a song called "Why Did You Leave Me" (which wound up being a b-side). They sounded like a group from day one. I knew they were destined for good things. I tracked a lot of their vocals on the first album which taught me a lot because they were so good. Now whenever I'm working with other people, I can always refer back to my early days with 112. Thanks to them, I know how easy the recording process SHOULD and CAN be with truly talented people."
Basking in the love, Q picks up the ball, "I would HATE it if I wasn't in this group and had to stand next to us! We're like the Chicago Bulls back in the day (Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr). Everybody plays their role, thus, we're world champions. When they saw the Bulls even come on the court, they were intimidated before the game even started. First of all, you're not going to look better than us. We're all just sexy! And we've got the hits. We can make you dance in the club, and when it's time to take your lady home, you know we've got the ballads. And we know just what the lady wants to hear. Our songs are like manuals for other guys. We try to touch on every aspect of love and relationships."
Bringing it all home with a graceful slam dunk, Slim surmises, "After three double platinum albums we still love each other just like we were back in elementary and middle school. That's what I thank God for. We're very self-contained and can adapt to any environment. We're righteous guys with a burning passion for life be it our career, our families or each other. We stand for class, excellence, positivity and longevity in whatever we do. We fought for the money and the power. Now we want the respect. We want to be known as the best hip hop R&B group of our era."
- A. Scott Galloway
--- from the official 112 website