n the three years since producing the entirety of Amerie’s debut album All I Have, Rich Harrison has been seemingly busier than Amerie herself. After turning heads with Beyonce’s monumental summer jam “Crazy In Love,” he quickly became one of the most in demand producers in R&B, racking up an all-star clientele. Meanwhile, Amerie Rogers took a small movie role, sang a few hooks, hosted a show on BET, and patiently waited for her principal collaborator’s schedule to open up.
Harrison’s rep makes Touch’s lead single, “1 Thing”, long and convoluted path to the top ten an even more curious story than it might have been otherwise. After having recorded the song and failing to convince her label of its potential for six months, Amerie leaked the song late last year. DJs and listeners immediately jumped on the song as it spread from coast to coast no matter how much Columbia Records tried to suppress it, first because it wasn’t an official release, and then because labelmate Jennifer Lopez wanted the song for herself. By that point, the Amerie version had taken on a life of its own, and J.Lo had to settle for one of Harrison’s leftovers, previously an Usher outtake, for her single “Get Right.”
An early contender for jam of the year, it’s easy to hear why “1 Thing” busted through every obstacle the industry put in front of it. Built on two 2-bar samples from the Meters’ recording of “Oh, Calcutta,” Harrison’s instrumental for “1 Thing” is barely anything but that: a recklessly tumbling drum fill, barely held into a steady tempo by percussive stabs of funk guitar. And it bangs harder than anything else on urban radio right now, R&B or hip-hop. But then there’s Amerie, bobbing and weaving around the beat in a range just high enough to pierce through the thunderous drums. Her vocals stuff every moment of the track full of mini-hooks, from “nananana-oh” to “woah-oh woah-oh ahhh” to the onomatopoeic “ding dong ding dong ding!”
Both Amerie and Rich Harrison hail from Washington D.C., and much has been made of Harrison’s background in D.C.’s indigenous Go-Go scene. Though he makes his beats largely from sampled and sequenced drum breaks, the live sound and loose feel he often achieves is surprisingly close to a live Go-Go band’s freewheeling funk workouts. But at 100 bpm’s, “1 Thing”’s tempo is downright brisk compared to most real Go-Go, which hovers around 80. Still, it’s a closer cousin than All I Have’s most overt trace of Go-Go influence, “Need You Tonight,” which had the tempo right while the programmed drums sounded far too sterile. And for a thriving regional phenomenon that hasn’t been on the national radar since EU’s “Da Butt” in 1988, it’s understandable for a pair of local stars to take every opportunity to openly credit Go-Go as the inspiration for their more up-tempo, modernized sound.
Truthfully, the way Harrison borrows the grit of classic funk is, both in process and in result, closer to the current crop of soul-sampling hip-hop producers led by Just Blaze and Kanye West than anything else. “All I Need” even features some of the chimpunk vocal samples they’re so fond of. And fittingly, the two strongest non-Harrison productions on Touch come from their peers in Roc-A-Fella’s production stable. Bink! laces “Can We Go,” a duet with Carl Thomas, with rolling, cascading percussion. And “Not The Only One,” co-produced by the Buchanans (best known for Jay-Z’s “What More Can I Say?”), is an early highlight of Touch with a squelchy synth sound worthy of the Neptunes circa 2001.
Although she’s been sporting short shorts since her very first video, Amerie’s always had a somewhat chaste image, at least compared to other nubile R&B divas. And on Touch she consciously distances herself from that image, nowhere more than on the title track, but “Touch” is perhaps the least sexy song on the album. Lil Jon’s ubiquitous handclaps and screeching synths have never sounded more brittle and uninviting than shuffled between Rich Harrison’s lush, reverb-heavy breakbeats. And Amerie’s growls of “I know you think I’m a good girrrl” sound more like a desperate plea for a PR makeover than a passionate come-on.
After steadily building buzz for his outside productions, Touch would seem like the perfect occasion for Rich Harrison to reunite with his original collaborator and cement his status by handling production duties for her whole album once again. But Harrison only helms six of the album’s eleven original songs. And though his contributions are consistently the highlights, especially the dark, ominous “Come With Me,” the remainder placed in the hands of other producers yield mixed results. That Harrison was evidently too busy to produce the entirety of Touch suggests a missed opportunity for a more cohesive and potentially even better album.
Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2005-05-13