Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Algebra

Posted By on Sat, Mar 15, 2008 at 2:34 AM

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Just posted some videos from an artist named Algebra on The CLog. Here's an article I wrote about her a while ago for Creative Loafing Atlanta:

Bridging the gap

Crunk plus soul equals Algebra

When it comes to urban music, it sometimes appears that America still suffers from a bad case of segregation.

On one side of the tracks, the bumping rhythms of hip-hop (and all of its various offshoots) reign supreme. And on the other side, the eclectic sounds of soul (including stuff like funk, Afro-beat, and acid-jazz) rule. These opposing camps never drink out of the same water fountain when it comes to radio, music venues, and more. Mainstream R&B acts like Ciara may team up with rappers like Field Mob, but don't hold your breath waiting for Omar to cut a record with Dem Franchize Boyz.

With such a thick cloud of separation hovering about, you can probably look at the vocalist Algebra as kind of a musical Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. No, she won't be staging any sit-ins at Tower Records, but -- pumping a sound that combines the bounce of Bankhead with the sophisticated vibe of Apache Cafe -- she may represent the best hope for building a bridge between two sonically opposing sides.

"I'm not burning incense, and I'm not pop-locking on stage, either," says Algebra, who lists Young Jeezy and Nina Simone as her favorite artists. "I'm not creating another genre. I'm caught in between."

In recent months, Algebra has taken her composite sound on the road. She's toured (almost excessively) as an opening act for a divergent array of headliners: from the grown and sexy smooth-jazz melodies of Kem to the teen-targeted R&B of Keyshia Cole. And she's managed to win over the vastly different audiences without compromising herself.

"With Kem and Keyshia, I started with the same song, 'Nothing to Prove‚'" she says. "That's my intro. It's like, 'Look, I'm here. If you don't like me, chill out, listen and you'll get something you'll like.' I'm pleased with the response I got. It's God saying, 'You can do anything.'"

Born and raised in Atlanta, Algebra has been kicking around the local music scene for years. She signed to Dallas Austin's Rowdy Records while still a student at North Atlanta High School. She recorded "a lot of songs" with Austin and went on the road with Monica as a backup singer.

Hanging out with those pop/R&B big dogs, however, kept her sheltered from the growing soul scene that was bubbling over at the (now defunct) Yin Yang Cafe.

"I never got a chance to be with that crowd. I was too young and I didn't even know about it. I was in a whole mainstream mind-set then because I was signed with Dallas Austin. I was in the studio the whole time -- not even knowing about that side of the game," says Algebra, who didn't start singing soul-tinged songs until she started writing her own compositions.

After working with Austin for a year, before releasing any recordings, she chose to part ways with the hit-maker's label.

"I learned a lot [working with Dallas]. But there's a certain point in everybody's life when you realize you're stagnant. So you have to make a change or stay in that place," says Algebra. "As I was out on the road, I realized that I got to be doing me. This was not the plan I had for myself."

A few years later, Motown came knocking.

"There was an A&R rep [at Motown] that knew me. He had been trying to sign me for a year-and-a-half, but I would not do it," she says. "I didn't understand why he wanted to sign me, and he didn't have a plan. Me being in a deal prior, I wanted to talk to the head of the label before making any decisions. Once I talked to [then-Motown President] Kedar Massenburg [who gained fame by discovering acts like D'Angelo and Erykah Badu and coining the word "neo-soul"], I was like, 'OK, I can do this.' Kedar got me. He understood what Algebra was trying to do and the sound she could have."

She remained on Motown for one year, but opted to leave the label -- again without releasing a CD -- to sign up with Massenburg, who left his post at Motown to start his own company, Kedar Entertainment.

"I know the cycle with major labels. Somebody like India [Arie] or Erykah, where they have a fan base, it's promising for them to stay at Motown. But when Kedar left, they had no reason to keep me," says Algebra. "There were some VPs that were like, 'Algebra, we really, really want you to stay.' But, with me knowing the game, it didn't feel right."

Now Kedar's flagship artist, Algebra is gearing up to release her highly anticipated debut album. The CD is scheduled to drop in August -- a release date that has been adjusted numerous times. But, for Algebra, all good things come in time.

"I really wish the album was out now, but I think it's better to hold off and try to reach 1,000 vs. me rushing myself and only reaching 100," she says. "I mean, I can only get better -- like wine."

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