Studio Sessions | Adam Blackstone helped Chadwick Boseman's wife Simone pay tribute to her late husband
You can count on your hand the number of people in the music industry busier than Adam Blackstone. In 2022 alone, he was the music director for Super Bowl LVI, the NBA All-Star Game, ESPY Awards, BET Awards, Oscars, and the Soul Train Music Awards. He was also able to record and release his debut album, Legacy, in the midst of working on other superstar projects.
“[Eminem] told me, ‘We just landed in New York. Let’s talk about this VMAs thing.’ I remember going to Jill [Scott’s] crib, cutting the ‘Legacy’ record she’s on, getting back on a flight that night, and meeting with Eminem the next morning in New York,” Blackstone told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the Emmy Award-winning music virtuoso talks recording with Scott and Queen Latifah in their homes; working on a Chadwick Boseman tribute song with the late actor’s wife, Simone Boseman; and impressing JAY-Z during the Kanye West sessions in Hawaii.
Check out this rare chat with the hardest working man in music.
Last year, you were the musical director for so many major events. When did you have time to work on your album? When was the first session?
It was during the BET Awards. I met with Tina Davis; I was working with Fireboy DML. I told her my idea for a jazz album, and she wanted to explore it at Empire Records. The next day, she called me to talk about it. On the same BET Awards was Giveon, who asked me, “What’s up with the jazz album? Let’s figure something out.” So, around the end of June, top of July, I went hard just getting the sessions and the songs together. I did this record in 30 days, bro.
How did you balance recording an album with your millions of other obligations?
August was VMAs with Eminem and Snoop Dogg, and that was one of the last weeks of my sessions. I remember getting a call from Em as I was headed to Nashville to try to record Jill [Scott] for my album. He told me, “We just landed in New York. Let’s talk about this VMAs thing.” I remember going to Jill’s crib, cutting the “Legacy” record she’s on, getting back on a flight that night, and meeting with Eminem the next morning in New York.
That’s dedication. As for the “Legacy” record, Jill’s spitting bars on that joint. How’d that come about?
When I reached out to Jill, she told me, “I want to do something different. What you got?” I told her, “I got a hip hop record you could spit on.” She was like, “Bet. But how are we going to do it?” I told her I was on my way to her crib now. I cut a bunch of these artists in their homes and personal space. One of those was Queen Latifah, who was shooting “The Equalizer.” Before I got to Jill’s house, Jill sent me a voice note of her freestyling. She freestyled that thing in one take and wrote a couple of bars.
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As you mentioned, you also worked with Queen Latifah in her home.
I’ve been working with her for a long time. Everybody knows her for spitting, but those jazz albums she has are iconic and timeless. When I was presented the song she’s on called “Back On The Strip” by Dontae Winslow and his wife Mashica Winslow, they did the demo, and it was called something else. When I changed the city to Philly, I thought, “Jersey helped raise me too. Who is that Jersey person that can also know how to scat and do this jazz thing?” And Dana Owens was it for me. I gave her a call. She’s worked with Dontae Winslow before. When she heard it, she said, “I’m down. This is epic. The only problem is I’m in Jersey for the weekend.” I told her, “I’m on my way” (laughs). The next day, I drove to Jersey and set up in her mother’s beautiful home. We caught a vibe reminiscent of old jazz, bassy-type records, and I only had her do a couple of takes. She guided me so much because she was the actress and voiceover person that she is. So, even in some of those talking moments, she told me, “Hey, let me talk. Don’t put no music on, and I’ll let you cut this up.” Me setting up at her mom’s crib gave her a sense of comfort. We could vibe, laugh and sense what New Jersey meant to us.
What did you notice about Queen Latifah’s creative process?
She’s a perfectionist, which is why she’s so successful in business. She trusts herself. So, she goes with that first idea when she has an idea. Then, she’ll go, “Hey, let me change the word here. Let me do this off of the headphones to give it a little bit more ambiance.” She’s a student of music, so she knows that Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan kind of tone I was going for. And she was able to jump right in it and still be herself.
Being in artists’ homes affords you a level of convenience and comfort big studios can’t replicate. Did you notice that?
Oh yeah. Even the comfort of having their shoes off, or the comfort of Jill going to get her favorite candle, or Latifah having her favorite stuff in the fridge. It’ll be like, “Oh yeah, let me take you over here. We’ll get a better sound over here.” The comfortability matters. And what I always tried to do with these sessions was make it a family vibe between them and me. They won’t let random engineers work in their homes. But, because I deposited that relationship equity, they were like, “Come to the crib. You were going to come over anyway. Let’s just do it there.”
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I saw that vibe between you and Jazmine Sullivan in the videos you posted of her recording the album’s lead single, “Round Midnight.”
That’s brother and sister playing around (laughs).
When I interviewed one of Jazmine’s engineers, Benjamin Thomas, he said she was very hands-on. Was that how she was during your recording process?
Normally, she’s very hands-on. But, with our trust, she could relinquish some of that and just sing. You could hear the freedom in that vocal. No disrespect to any other record she’s ever done, she won R&B Album of the Year at the Grammys last year, and she’s going to win a couple more this year. But, there’s a different type of freedom that she sang this song with that allowed her to say, “I trust you, Adam. I’m vulnerable right now.” Jazz is something we both grew up listening to that people may not know. This is one of the songs that allow me to explore many facets of her voice. And this is why I chose this song to be the single.
What’s one of the most memorable sessions you had while making this album?
The one that stood out was the one with Simone Boseman, Chadwick’s wife. We did a record paying tribute to Chadwick called “I’ll Be Seeing You Again.” Seeing her vulnerability and what this song meant to her was beautiful. She did that in about two takes as well. We all had tears in our eyes. I captured the essence of that record as well. She and I played around with this record through the Stand Up to Cancer event, which was a telethon. But we finally solidified it at the top of August. She read through the lyrics. She let me know she believed those words. We had a moment where it was like how do we honor the song but also honor who she is as an up-and-coming artist, and who she is as a wife, and who I am as someone trying to honor another Black king? I didn’t just want to make it a rip-off or a karaoke of what the standard was. I wanted it to feel heartfelt.
Years before you put out Legacy, you helped produce Jill Scott’s big single “Hate On Me.” What do you remember from the making of that record?
“Hate On Me” is one of the first records she and I did together. I had this idea with the horn line, and I remember her singing, “If I could rule the world.” I was like, “Oh man, it’s about to be crazy.” So my production partner, Steve McKie, and I returned to the track while she was freestyling that joint. Then, we made that record, and those sessions were incredible. We did those sessions in Philadelphia at the world-famous Sigma Sound Studios.
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What was one of the most memorable studio sessions of your career?
I remember one of the sessions for JAY-Z’s “Thank You” record. I just remember the sample coming on, and I said, “Guru, let me get a baseline on that.” Then, I played, and JAY wasn’t there when I started playing. He walked in and said, “What is that?” (laughs). Then, he just went in. We were in Hawaii. Those were the Hawaii Kanye days (laughs).
What was the most star-studded session you’ve ever been in?
It was probably the mixing session for the Super Bowl LVI halftime show. It started with Dr. Dre, and then Snoop [Dogg] came in. Then, Eminem, then 50 [Cent], then Kendrick Lamar, and then Mary J. Blige. We were all standing there while they were listening to my edits, arrangements, and mixes. It was epic to get thumbs up from them about my mixes all at the same time. I noticed how much reverence they all had for Dr. Dre. They were there to support Dre and were thankful, but Dre also gave them their own moments.
What do you have coming up in 2023?
I’m super thankful for the Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance. We got the Grammys coming up. Right after that, I got the NBA All-Star Game, which I’m the musical director of for the sixth year. Right after that is the NAACP Image Awards. I’m hoping to be a nominee there. Then, we’ll take Legacy on the road.