“They definitely marketed me more on the fact that I was a black woman from Philadelphia coming out in the year 2001 when this neo-soul thing was hot,” she says. “I think they pushed that card a lot more than they should have, because my music was not even close to any of the artists I was being compared to, like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and Alicia Keys.”
But the racial fault line in American radio runs deep.
“You’d think if you’re putting me in with Maxwell and Musiq Soulchild, you could get me on R&B radio, but my songs weren’t R&B enough,” she says. Meanwhile, it wasn’t peddled to pop and rock stations.
“They have statistics like, how do females do in rock radio? A song won’t get added to rock radio if you’re a female because they say it doesn’t work, that people don’t like women rock songs. People break it down to numbers. It’s a business. How many black female artists who don’t do R&B win? You can count them on your hand. Therefore how many labels are going to pay for you to go there?”
Res’ former collaborator Santigold hit a similar wall performing her own material. “It’s totally racist,” Santi notoriously told Lipster in 2008 about press calling her work R&B. “Everyone is just so shocked that I don’t like R&B. Why does R&B keep coming into my interviews? It’s pissing me off.”
In reality, How I Do is much closer in style and sound to Gwen Stefani: Top 40-friendly pop pinned down by diverse beats and bass lines, drawing from a patchwork of styles.
“I always felt like a neo-soul fraud,” says Res.
Res was determined to come even back harder on a follow-up record.
“In the big picture, 300,000 is great for a new artist but for being on a major label, it isn’t so great. It’s not even gold yet,” says Res. “So I felt I could improve.”
This time out, the singer had to learn to write her own songs.
“When I came into the industry, I was like, ‘I’m a singer, I just want to sing.’ The singers I like…Aretha, Etta James, Lena Horne, they don’t really write. That was my angle,” she says.
Writing her own songs made Res less beholden to specific producers and writers and, feeling the tremors of the incipient industry quakes, it was wise to whittle down the number of people you had to rely on. It was tough to write her first song with everyone watching, waiting. The spotlight was trained on a skill Res wasn’t even sure she possessed yet.
“It was very intimidating because I really love Santi’s songwriting,” Res says. “I wanted my songs to be as good, if not better.”
As Res had her head down working on her sophomore effort, MCA Records was absorbed by Geffen Records. She was one of about 100 artists who were spared, and was assured that despite label politics and industry changes she was still a priority.
“I still felt good about my situation. I had Mick Gzowski mixing [my record]. He mixed Michael Jackson’s Thriller, OK?”
Meanwhile, head honches were whizzing in and out the door. Then came Ron Fair.
“It wasn’t until I was done with my album and mixing it and realized they weren’t doing the necessary steps into putting this album out.”
Fair is a music-industry Midas known for flipping acts—mostly glam-bot girls and saccharine girl groups—into mainstream superstars. He’s done it with Christina Aguilera, Fergie and Keyshia Cole.
“[Fair] was like, ‘I’ve got a list of people I need to put out before you. Black Eyed Peas, Will.i.am, Christina,” says Res. “All these projects! I [thought,] that equals four years of shit you need to put out before mine.”
It had been five long years since her debut. The sophomore album was finished but just sitting there, stalled.
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 Summer Guide 2014