Sound Check: November 2009


    Tabi Bonney is still surprised when people know his name

    Anyone who thinks all rappers are talking about the same topics hasn’t heard Tabi Bonney. The West African-born, Washington, D.C.-raised rapper and video director uses D.C. slang but rides in his own lane. His unique style reached more ears than ever this year when he held down a coveted spot on the Rock the Bells summer tour, which featured Nas, The Roots, Common, Big Boi from OutKast and several other respected rappers.
    “I met Pete Rock, who’s a legend,” Tabi said. “I went up and introduced myself and he already knew who I was and said he was a fan. And he gave me his number and said he wanted to do some beats for me.” Tabi calls those experiences amazing, even though his own videos have appeared on VH1 Soul, BET J and MTV Jams. He was amazed when Lil’ Jon invited him into the studio after they met at the BET Awards earlier this year.
    “He was one of the first celebrities when I was out in L.A. that actually knew who I was, and I was just shocked.”
    Tabi believes this could be his breakout year. “I think this is that paying dues process, where once this is under your belt you’re on the next level.”
    Tabi is following up his 2006 debut album, A Fly Guy’s Theme, with a three-album series: Dope, Fresh (his most recent release) and Super Star (which arrives in early 2010). “Fresh is starting to press the envelope, as far as sound and creativity. It’s more of a soulful, feel-good album,” Tabi explained. His melodic single “Fever,” featuring Raheem DeVaughn, defines the album’s sound.
    At press time, Tabi was negotiating a contract with a major label as a member of The Cry Babies. He compares the group to Black Eyed Peas. “It’s electronic hip-hop/a little bit of pop,” he said. His bandmates are Niki Jean, a singer from New York, and Poet, a guy who co-produced “Boom Boom Pow” for the Peas.
    When Tabi’s not in the studio or performing, he’s shooting music videos for himself or others, or he’s working on his Bonney Runway clothing line.
    —Sabrina M. Parker



    All-4-One swears they haven’t gone anywhere


    Jamie Jones, Tony Borowiak, Delious Kennedy and Alfred Nevarez were a breath of fresh air in the 1990s as All-4-One. They’ve returned to the music industry with some Motown flair mixed with a little contemporary urban production.
    After seven years out of the game, the “I Swear” male quartet has released its sixth studio album, No Regrets, and the guys have their fingers crossed that their old fans still like their work.
    “In this market it’s really hard to sell albums, so I’m not really worried about that; I think I’m more excited to see the feedback from the fans. I want it to be received well,” Delious said.
    But will their 20th century fan base remember them? “I know this seems like a comeback, but believe it or not we haven’t broken up,” Jamie said. “We have been going overseas every year, doing a lot of different things. We haven’t released an album here in the States in seven years, but we have still been very busy.”
    The Grammy Award winners re-released their last three albums overseas and sold double what they sold here in the U.S. Delious said, “With the dramatic shift in the music here in the States, sometimes you have to be like Will Smith and know when to step away and when to come back into that scene.”
    The guys said they’ve done a lot of self-reflecting since the 2004 release of Split Personality and have really developed into grown men.
    In their quest to become better individuals, they teamed up with the nonprofit organization Donate Life America to help educate individuals on the need for organ, eye and tissue donations. “I have become a very mature person and learned to take life as it comes,” said Delious. “I try to make every day count.”
    —Marcus A. Williams



    Sam & Ruby live in the here and now

    Sam & Ruby have a sound that is difficult to define. On a first listen we thought we heard strong currents of country. Since the duo is based in Nashville, that’s a logical conclusion. But they say their music is equal parts folk, soul, acoustic and R&B. The sound is as eclectic as Sam Brooker and Ruby Amanfu’s personal pasts.
    Ruby hails from Ghana, by way of Nashville. Her family moved there for better job opportunities when she was just 3 years old. Growing up, Ruby mostly heard a mix of gospel, opera and Ghanaian music. She envisioned a career for herself as an opera singer. She joined the National Symphony Choir at just 15 years old and was well on her way.
    Let’s rewind, though. Ruby got her first taste of mainstream music when a friend slipped her a copy of Madonna’s Like a Prayer. That’s when she began writing music and singing, which is a talent she shares with her family in Ghana.
    “We all sing,” Ruby said, recalling a recent trip she took to the country for her grandmother’s birthday. “The minute we went to her house in the village and we got out of the car, we were surrounded by all of my relatives. All of them were singing and dancing and clapping, and there was music the entire time. When you are sitting around together on the porch, somebody starts a song and somebody takes over a harmony and somebody else will take a harmony.”
    Music was also a family affair for Sam, who grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “In my household, my dad played guitar and piano, and my mom would sing to me every night when I went to bed,” he told us. “It was just a big part of our family life.”
    His family exposed him to jazz, Grand Master Flash, ’70s folk music and Parliament Funkadelic. Prince was another huge influence.
    When Sam met Ruby he’d just returned to Nashville from New York, where he’d been trying to develop a following for his disco-funk sound. But even after meeting and writing and performing together, it took Sam and Ruby, who are not a couple, years to become Sam & Ruby, the musical duo.
    Since they started recording together, their song “Heaven’s My Home” was featured on the soundtrack to The Secret Life of Bees. Sam and Ruby liked the track so much that they decided to include it on their new album, The Here and The Now, which is in stores.
    —Sonya Eskridge


     Watch Tabi Bonney’s “Jet Setter” video,  All 4 One’s “My Child” video and a live performance of “Heaven’s My Home” by Sam & Ruby in the media player below…


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