Platinum Pied Pipers

Detroit R&B'ers enlist an Abundance of collaborators and a Motown vibe for sophomore effort
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When Robert “Waajeed” O'Bryant began work on the new Platinum Pied Pipers album, he decided to move away from the booming hip-hop and electronic soul that first brought the group renown in 2004. For Abundance (Ubiquity, 2009), Waajeed sought to capture the musical history of his native Detroit, from its legendary Motown backbeat to its influential dance grooves.

“Living here in New York, I've been more inspired to do things that are native to my city,” Waajeed says. As a result, Abundance is warm and expansive whereas the group's freshman release, Triple P, was cool and stylized. There are no street raps this time — only earthy soul voices like the one from guest Karma Stewart, who blows through the handclapping, foot-stomping “On a Cloud.” Meanwhile, on “Go, Go, Go,” Jamila Raegan comes off like an early-'80s diva à la the S.O.S. Band's Mary Davis.

“The whole premise of PPP was to change the sound, change the cast members, change the whole vision on every album,” Waajeed says. Fellow producer Darnell “Saadiq” Bolden has also appeared on each project. “I started PPP off the heels of being around Slum Village,” Waajeed says. “And when they did their first European tour, I saw how the group got pigeonholed into them doing or being a certain thing based on the fans, label — all that stuff. So I decided that if I ever start a group, it's going to be like some Sergio Mendes shit: The lineup is going to change, and I'm always going to keep it new.”

In addition to Stewart and Raegan, Abundance features another soul singer, Coultrain, who wrote nearly all of the lyrics and produced all of the singers' vocal contributions. His shining moment is the lush, love-in-full-bloom longing of “Sanctuary.” “What he does as a vocalist and as a writer is undeniable,” Waajeed marvels. “I didn't expect him to take on the PPP moniker in the way that he did.”

For the string arrangements, Waajeed turned to Jonathan Powell, who wrote the parts using Sibelius music notation software. Powell played most of the horn parts; Waajeed chipped in with a few horn notes for “On a Cloud,” as well as some guitar parts. Other musical contributors included house legend Ron Trent (who added congas to the interlude “Lovers & Haters”) and electronic alchemist Dabrye (who co-produced “Goodbye”).

“We recorded over 60 tracks for the record,” Waajeed says. “In regard to our collaborators and people we worked with, I gave them a general idea and then got out of their way. If you believe in somebody and you trust what they do, those are the people you want to work with. You don't want to work with people that you have to supervise and breathe down their fuckin' necks every 24 hours.”

When it came time to weave Abundance's disparate parts together, Waajeed turned to Propellerhead Reason. “At least 90 percent of the things that were done programmingwise were done with Reason,” he explains, adding that he used the program to make drum sounds. In a few cases, Reason “didn't give me that swing that I wanted, so I had to go to my trusty [Akai] MPC,” he says. The tracks were then edited in Digidesign Pro Tools.

“While I was working on this album, I was also working with Daniel Merriweather and Mark Ronson,” Waajeed says. “And I remember [Ronson] saying [that for most of] the stuff that he's done, most of [his time] is spent editing, getting the parts right and making sure they have a swing. He told me that before I actually started editing [Abundance], and, God, was he right! It was painstaking.”

**Pictured above: Saadiq (left), Waajeed