*Producer Christopher “Deep” Henderson has something to smile about today. The songwriter’s collaboration with singer Jamie Foxx, “Blame It” took home the Grammy for Best R&B by a duo or group last night during the 52nd Grammy Awards.
The music man, who got his nickname “Deep” because his lyrics were so often described that way, talked to EUR’s Lee Bailey about the track and his willingness to create with a crew.
The track for “Blame It” was actually laid in 2007, just as Henderson made Atlanta his home. The song itself was a bit of patchwork from an unknown rapper, Henderson, and later rapper/producer T-Pain.
“There was a period for me where I wondered about the whole production thing,” Henderson said thinking back at the beginnings of the track. “I’d actually stopped doing tracks when I moved to Atlanta and just stuck to writing. I’d almost got a track on Jamie Foxx’s album back then, “Unpredictable,” just for writing, but the producers messed that up. That’s why I got back to producing.”
Henderson explained that as he made his way in Atlanta, he refrained from revealing that he was also a producer, as well as a songwriter, so that he didn’t appear as a threat to the production teams he was meeting with.
“I figured I was in a new area, so if I stick with the production flag now with limited power, limited resources, limited new hits, then the ‘clickish’ nature of that city wouldn’t allow me to gain a lot of resources and take advantage of that city. I’d be new competition,” he said.
So, he let songwriting take the lead and along the way he learned what these popular production teams were doing. He said that under that guise, most of ’07 was creating a new sound.
“It was the first year that I didn’t have any placements,” he said referring to actually selling a song, but he continued that he was able to take that time off, and when he returned to the production scene, he came with one for rapper Nelly, a hit with Jamie Foxx, and another one with Trey Songz.
“All of those were done in that period – ’07. The songs are out now, but none of these are ’09-10 tracks. But the reason they can be so significant now is that when I did them, I wasn’t following the radio. I was taking what the radio was and adding my older school sensibilities of chord progressions,” Henderson said.
“If you think about ‘Blame It,’ it’s one of those records that, now as it’s imitated, sounds like it has the basic club beat, but the beauty of the track is that in the middle of the club beat and those hard drums comes this change that nobody saw,” he described. “And then the harmonies in the background are me. It was really a lot of older school arranging behind a ‘clubish’ record that went over well. Even though I did it in ’07 it sounded new.”
In explaining his employment of his “older school” sensibilities, Henderson referred to the playlist he’s created from downloads.
“I made a collection of my favorite songs and have them grouped into these playlists. I could take a song like ‘Groove Line’ from Heatwave or ‘Living for the Love of You’ by the Isley Brothers and figure out what I it is I loved about those songs,” he said.
As it turns out, it was the chords changes of “Groove Line,” which the songwriter said made him “feel good,” the lead keyboard of “Living for the Love of You,” and the sliding keyboard of DeVante Swing/Jodeci are what inspired the hit song “Blame It.”
“Something from the ’70s, something from the ’80s, something from the ’90s and stuck it behind that snap cadence everybody seems to be digging, and that was the track,” he said.
A completed track in 2007, Henderson said that he really believed in it and really wanted the right song for it. He’d passed the beat to other songwriters and attempted to lay down his own lyrics with it, too, but to no avail.
“Then one day I was collaborating with this kid that’s a rapper. He played some of his stuff for me and he had this one song that was … well, was going to stay in his basement,” Henderson said modestly. “But his hook said, ‘Blame it on the Goose, gotcha feeling loose; blame it on the ‘Tron, gotcha in the zone, blame it on the a-a-a-alcohol. It was a different cadence, it was different melody, a different tempo and everything [from ‘Blame It], but whenever someone plays something for me I tell them what to work on rather than what is bad. I said, ‘That’s a hit hook.'”
Just a couple of weeks later, Henderson was in another writing session, looking for words for the track, but he just didn’t like where it was going.
“I said, ‘You guys should do something that it has a stutter with it like a-a-a-a-a-ah.’ And then I said, ‘Wait! I know this song.'”
Henderson contacted the young rapper with the hit hook, had him take a listen to the proposed collabo.
“He heard it; it met his approval,” Henderson said. “I said, ‘Hooks are worth 20% and you’re a co-writer on this song, but I said, ‘You don’t have to stop at 20, you can go ahead and write the rest of the song.’ He sat there frozen.”
As it turns out, Henderson sat with the young man attempting to squeeze out more lyrics for the magical hook. He even tried to motivate him by coming up with the first verses and even started laying down some harmonies, but the rapper couldn’t really take it much further, so Henderson, wisely left the second verse open and shopped the demo as is.
“Artists are very guarded. I (leave) the second verse open of a song for a Trey Songz or an R. Kelly to want to finish the song. So it was actually a marketing tactic,” Henderson said.
He also revealed that the auto-tune on (‘Blame It’) wasn’t necessarily a choice. Because neither he nor the rapper were particularly good singers, they used the vocal tool to stay in tune. The auto-tune sound was actually the reason R. Kelly passed on the track before it came to Foxx who wanted to sound just like the demo. Apparently another man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
T-Pain got on the remix session for the song and laid down his verse.
“When I heard T Pain’s voice, it almost made me want to go in and write another voice. I almost wanted to outdo him then,” Henderson said. But now the song was complete, packaged, and released.
The song topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for 14 consecutive weeks making it the second longest running number 1 song on that chart and “Blame It” has sold over one million downloads, and helped send Foxx’s third studio album, “Intuition,” into platinum status.
From the song, Henderson said that he’s become a very strategic, but unselfish producer. After all, “Blame It” was a quite positive production of patchwork.
“I didn’t just do the record my way or the highway. It was such a big traveling collaboration of a record. I learned that I do what’s good for the song,” he said. “I’ve written songs that I haven’t done tracks to; I’ve done tracks to songs I haven’t written; and I’ve written and produced songs in their entirety. I don’t have anything to prove to myself as a songwriter. I just want a great song. If you give me that magic word, you’ll be in the parentheses with me. I’m not selfish about the parentheses.”
More on Chris “Deep” Henderson in Part 2. You can also get more info on Christopher Henderson via his MySpace page.
This story waqs written by Kenya M. Yarbrough