Though Res performed with the Al Alberts Showcase and the Teddy Pendergrass youth choir, she didn’t think about being a professional artist.
“I knew a lot of black girls who could sing,” she shrugs.
Singing was just something else she did on top of squash, tennis and lacrosse when she wasn’t in school or ringing the register alongside her father, who passed away in 2008, at one of the family’s five convenience stores in North Philly—a job all the Ballard kids were assigned when they were about 8 years old.
No, Res had modest aspirations: go to college, become a money market manager or something like that, get married and have some kids. Maybe sing on the side at open mikes for fun.
Then the script flipped. During the summer of 1997 after sophomore year as a finance major at Temple University, Res called Ron White looking for an internship. White, who passed away last year, was a Ballard family friend and prominent Philadelphia attorney and fundraiser for John Street. (In 2004, White made headlines for his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal with former Philadelphia City Treasurer Corey Kemp. He died before going to trial.)
White encouraged Res to give his daughter, Santi, a call. Santi, now better known by her stage name Santigold, had moved from her hometown of Mt. Airy to Brooklyn and was working as an A&R rep for Epic Records and songwriter.
“I called her and she was like, ‘Yeah we should write songs together,’” Res says. “So that turned into my staying in Brooklyn every weekend that summer.”
Santi wrote songs and Res sang them. The duo recorded and circulated demos and Santi introduced her friend to industry folk.
“I pretty much did everything they said to get the deal. It was about being in the right place at the right time and working hard and not even knowing I was working that hard,” she says. “It was fun and it was easy.”
Next thing, Res inked a deal, left Temple and recorded her debut album How I Do with a professional production team at Electric Ladyland studios in NYC.
“I really wasn’t an artist at that point,” she says. “I was a singer that got an opportunity to make an album and through making the album, I got developed. It turned my whole life around.”
No one else knew she was an artist before How I Do either.
“[My father] was like, ‘What? Reesy can’t sing!’ Then when I signed my contract and they said they were going to give me X amount of dollars, he was like, ‘What? They’re going to give you what?!’”
How I Do was released on MCA Records in June 2001. On it, Res’ vocals sear through pop songs otherwise kept cool with bubbly blips and other ambient flourishes. The hit “They-Say Vision” ultimately charted No. 1 on the Billboard Dance chart. To date, more than 300,000 records have been sold.
Fans and insiders are quick to tell you that How I Do is a criminally underrated album that could and should have rocketed Res to superstardom.
WXPN Program Director Bruce Warren insider and fan, recalls when the album dropped.
“We played the shit out of that record,” says Warren. “Res is … a totally fantastic artist that deserves the success so many lesser-quality have had over the years since her debut.”
Most radio stations don’t function like WXPN, a bastion of commercial-free, free-form radio.
“It got no promo activity in our format. It was an R&B record, and marketing a cool sort of eclectic record like How I Do was probably not a thought of the label’s efforts to break her outside of the urban format.”
Res cuts to the point.
Tomorrow night, the inaugural BlackStar Film Festival presents the first look at "The Res Documentary," a forthcoming feature film profiling rock and soul singer Res, a Philly homegirl.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4