Theories of new leadership for the R&B female vanguard at the outset of the 2000’s rumble on today. After Aaliyah’s untimely death, a vacuum opened and many rushed to fill it―Beyoncé ascended quickly.
Though there have always been the zeitgeist figures of any genre, usually it’s those under the surface of said genre that carry its current along. Singers like Mrs. Carter look to those currents for inspiration―often they translate their breakthroughs to a wider audience. The politics of this exchange will invoke ire, but that’s a conversation for another time.
Amerie Rogers was, and is, a strong current in modern R&B’s ocean.
Amerie snuggled in between hip-hop and neo-soul with her first album All I Have (2002). But, a decade ago many questioned if the voice behind that record was just an extension of its producer Rich Harrison. It was a misconception Amerie refuted with her sophomore LP.
The biracial vocalist―Amerie is of Korean and African-American descent―was the requisite “army brat” due to her father’s vocation with the United States government. By the time Amerie was exiting her teens, she had traveled extensively and would secure her higher education (via Georgetown University). However, music, literature, art and fashion remained her passions; she placed herself in a position to meet music heads of industry to pursue her dream.
Neophyte producer Rich Harrison, fresh off assignments for Mary Blige―Mary (1999) and No More Drama (2001)―crossed paths with Amerie. The pairing had instant creative chemistry and Amerie’s debut All I Have (Columbia, 2002) was born. Held aloft by its single “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?” (U.S. R&B #9, U.S. Pop #23) in the summer of 2002, Amerie made a splash with urban radio and its record buyers.
All I Have was a good starting point for Amerie and work slowly began on its follow-up. In the interim between Amerie’s first and second albums, Harrison ventured out for more production job opportunities. Harrison’s take on “go-go music,” its roots owed to the clubby Washington, D.C. flavored go-go, had found another voice to wield it, Amerie’s Columbia label mate Beyoncé.
“Crazy in Love,” lifted from Beyoncé’s platinum busting Dangerously in Love (2003), made Harrison an overnight R&B knobtwirler hot property of the period. The reappropriated go-go vibe almost became cemented to Beyoncé’s sonic identity, despite Amerie fronting it just a year earlier.
Unmoved, Amerie reenlisted Harrison and set forth to achieve a sophomore strike.
Amerie quietly went about writing 10 of the 11 cuts that comprised her second LP, Touch―international versions boasted “Man Up” (with Nas) and an ambitious Diana Ross cover (“I’m Coming Out”).
This dramatic turn-around was a large leap of progression as Amerie had no writing input on Touch’s preceding record.
Amerie and Harrison steered Touch with additional production / writing from a wealth of mainstream and underground talent: Bink!, Lil’ Jon, The Buchanans, Red Sypda, Dre & Vidal, Cory Rooney, Sean Garrett and Bryce Wilson (formerly of Mantronix and Groove Theory). Touch split its sound across uptempos and downtempos.
The former batch were led by the gorgeous, but percussive “1 Thing”. Utilizing a brainy interpolation of “Oh, Calcutta!” by The Meters, Amerie took back the sound she put on the scene. Yet, “1 Thing’s” melodic femininity held a confidence and control (vocally) that heretofore she had not shown.
Subsequent shakers were meaty (the title song, “Not the Only One,” “Talkin’ ‘Bout”), but they lacked that sweet underpinning which made “1 Thing” addictive. Thankfully, later elevated excursions on her third and fourth records juggled production and performance energy evenly.
The latter category of ballads is where Touch highlighted Amerie’s refined taste in samples: “All I Need” (Jean Carne’s “You Are All I Need”), “Rolling Down My Face” (Roy Ayers’ “Searching”) and “Can We Go” (Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Evil). Amerie reinterpreted them all with a refreshing spin. In particular, “Can We Go” (the sole Harrison penned number) was a cascading duet with crooner Carl Thomas that captured Amerie’s sensitive side superbly.
With the stated 11 tracks, excusing an unnecessary “1 Thing” remix with Eve, Touch platformed Amerie’s own personality.
“1 Thing” ushered in the “new Amerie” to critics and record buyers. It was a hit: U.S. R&B #1, U.S. Pop #8, U.K. #4.
“1 Thing” became Amerie’s signature tune and netted a Grammy nomination for “Best Female R&B Vocal Performance” in 2006. Additionally, it was one of the inaugural digital singles to be awarded with a platinum certification by the RIAA.
It didn’t hurt that “1 Thing” was the theme to the Will Smith rom-com ‘Hitch’ giving it a larger pop audience. Its parent recording Touch landed on 4/26/15 to favor on the charts: U.S. Billboard 200 #2, U.S. Top R&B / Hip-Hop #1, U.K. #28.
Critically, Amerie’s maneuver to take hold of her artistic affairs paid off.
Vibe Magazine’s Angie Romero opined:
The brash soul samples, horns and hard club beats on the lead single, “1 Thing,” are an excellent preview of Touch’s sonic flair.
Rolling Stone writer Bill Werde elaborated further:
Currently booming from jeeps in a neighborhood near you, Amerie’s “1 Thing” is an early front-runner for “song-of-the-summer” status. Amerie is all grown up on her second effort. And in this case, growth is good.
The corresponding music video for “1 Thing” also announced a visually alert Amerie. Her love of high fashion and pop culture (notice the nod to the Elvis Presley ‘68 Comeback Special’ concert) were very much present. She wasn’t just a pretty face, her ideas for conception, creation and execution extended from the lyric notepad, to her closet and the director’s chair.
Directed By: Chris Robinson and Amerie
Touch reached gold certification in the United States with 406,000 copies moved as of it last certification in June 2009. It spun off two additional singles during its original lifespan in 2005: “Touch” (U.S. R&B #95, U.K. #19) and “Talkin’ ‘Bout” (U.S. R&B Bubbling Under #2). The LP garnered Amerie a “Best Contemporary R&B Album” Grammy bid in 2006 along with the aforementioned “1 Thing” nomination.
Amerie should have had an easy ride with Columbia Records because of Touch’s victory. Sadly, trouble had already appeared during the second record’s formative period .
The label wasn’t ready to cooperate with Amerie’s new outlook for her career; the singer later revealed that Columbia had fought her on the decision to move forward with “1 Thing” as the album’s first single. The other selections pulled from Touch received little-to-no push. The exquisite LPs that followed Touch had stalled sales because of major label indifference: Because I Love It (Columbia, 2007) and In Love & War (Island / Def Jam, 2009).
Since abdicating from A&R politics after her fourth record, the singer / songwriter / producer / arranger has been hard at work on her fifth LP, Cymatika. The long player’s title draws from the term cymatics, the scientific study of visible sound and vibrations. Various pieces have been shared by Amerie from the forthcoming effort since 2011; last year’s “What I Want” was the most exciting taster thus far.
Amerie scaled cerebral heights with her third and fourth albums, but it all began with Touch. Amerie’s chrysalis instituted there allowed her to be reborn as one of those mentioned driving currents in modern R&B. Her influence is very present in the women of that genre. Listen closely. Ranking: Semi-classic
[Editor’s Note: Touch is readily in print, digitally and physically. For current information on Amerie, visit her official website.-QH]