R.A.W., the debut album from Angela Hunte, is a project that is literally a lifetime in the making.
The “Party Done and “Mon Bon Ami” singer’s recent turn as a soca queen is just one incarnation in the eclectic career of this Brooklyn-born, Trinidad-raised polymath. A secret weapon for producers from Diplo to Diddy, she has written songs for artists from Jay-Z to Britney Spears; styled classic, era-defining videos by Bell Biv Devoe, Boyz II Men and Jodeci; and brought an international touch to reggae and soca through her work with Gyptian and Machel Montano, among others. She’s written and been featured on tracks across nearly a dozen genres, from hip-hop and R&B to dancehall, dubstep and drum and bass.
R.A.W., out this Friday, 9/22 via Therapist Music, brings everything full circle. After decades behind the scenes, Hunte unburdens herself over a set of reggae rhythms from longtime musical partner DJ Buddha, bringing her artistry front and center on her very first full-length project.
Listen to lead single “Runaway Love” here, and read on for the details of Hunte’s uniquely diverse career.
Angela Hunte began her recording career in the ‘90s, as a member of 7669, a Motown Records girl group whose style could be described as something like TLC or Salt N Pepa by way of Bone Thugs and Onyx. Following their sole album, 7669 East from a Bad Block, she took up apprenticeship with iconic hip-hop producers Easy Mo Bee (best known for his work with the Notorious B.I.G.) and Salaam Remi, with whom she learned the art of songwriting. Remi would later bring Hunte into the studio with Amy Winehouse and Nas. Fans of the latter will recall 2002’s “I Can” (from God’s Son) with its children’s chorus. Turns out there were no kids on the track… it was all Angela Hunte, putting her uniquely-pitched, high-register vocals to creative use through several multi tracks.
The Aughts saw Angela spread her wings abroad. She moved to Sweden, where she worked with producers Bloodshy & Avant on tracks for Britney Spears, and then to London. In the U.K., she found a home in the garage/2-step scene, a soulful fusion of house and R&B, adding her voice and songwriting touch to tracks by scene poster girl Ms. Dynamite and drum and bass kingpin DJ Zinc. She’s since maintained a presence in the U.K. dance world, appearing as a featured vocalist on dubstep tracks like Magnetic Man’s “I Need Air.”
As her most famous lyric goes, New York is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, and it’s where Angela truly proved herself as a songwriter. Back in NYC, she gained steady work with Bad Boy Records, penning Danity Kane’s debut single “Show Stopper,” and adding her touch (and voice) to Diddy’s Press Play (2007), one of the first mainstream rap albums to take influence from the then-burgeoning EDM movement in Europe. The capstone of her songwriting career came two years later when her song “Empire State of Mind” was recorded by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. The track, which Hunte also co-produced with Al Shux, became the first ever No. 1 for Jay-Z, spending five weeks atop the Hot 100, and winning the Best Song award at the 2010 Grammys. It’s still the only pop No. 1 in Jay’s illustrious career. Eight years on, “Empire State of Mind” sits next to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” among the most iconic NYC anthems, having soundtracked storied championships by the New York Yankees and Giants.
Working with Diddy and Jay-Z brought things full circle for Angela, as she knew both during her youth in Brooklyn. When Jay-Z mentions 560 State Street on “Empire State Of Mind,” he’s referencing an apartment building and artistic landmark of pre-gentrified Brooklyn where the CEO of the ROC and Hunte both resided in the 1990s.
While still a teen living in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Hunte literally walked into a job as a casting director and, later, stylist for Video Music Box creators Lionel Martin and Ralph McDaniels’ Classic Concepts, the original hip-hop production company. Among the videos she styled was Jodeci’s “Come and Talk To Me,” the remix to which established a young Puff Daddy as a producer with the Golden touch. (The two also knew each other through mutual friend, the Notorious B.I.G.) “Come and Talk To Me” was one of many iconic and era-defining videos Hunte styled in this period. She birthed many of the definitive looks of the 1990s, laying the foundation for hip-hop fashion as we know it in videos like Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” and Another Bad Creation’s “Iesha.” The latter helped to popularize Starter gear, one of the era’s definitive fashion statements, while her iconoclastic pairing of baseball caps, bowties and argyle sweaters in Boyz II Men’s early videos solidified the “urban preppie” look that defined so much ‘90s hip-hop and R&B.
“Back then, a stylist was an older lady who wore red glasses and walked around with a pin cushion and a tape measure over her shoulder,” she told Wax Poetics for a feature on the birth of hip-hop fashion.“They didn’t look like me: A young, Black girl who was fly wearing jeans hanging off her with two ropes hanging around her neck and a four finger ring.”
Hunte, who lived in Trinidad from age two to 14, was the only member of her immediate family born in the United States. The Caribbean is in her roots, and her time in NYC was spent largely in the West Indian melting pot of Flatbush, Brooklyn.
When Major Lazer were tapped to create a reggae album for Snoop Dogg’s transformation into “Snoop Lion,” Diplo (who also featured Angela on 2013’s “Keep It Gully”) recruited Hunte to join a team of songwriters and producers working out of Geejam studio in Jamaica. She wrote seven of the twelve songs on 2013’s Reincarnated, appearing as a featured vocalist on lead single “Here Comes the King,” among other tunes. The project was a fail for Snoop but Vice’s making-of documentary exposed Hunte’s touch behind the scenes. She was brought on by VP Records to help craft Gyptian’s Hold You followup, Love Sex Reggae, dueting with the Jamaican singjay on tracks like “Vixen.”
Next up was a return to Trinidad, where Angela has been redefining the sound of soca over the last few years with Machel Montano and her producer and musical director, DJ Buddha. “Party Done,” the trio’s first collaboration, was the runaway hit of the 2015 Trinidad Carnival season. Hunte’s return home to perform the song at Montano’s Machel Monday concert earned her front-page press in the island’s newspapers. The three have since collaborated on several additional projects including last year’s Ti’Punch riddim, which spawned Montano’s “Human” among other tracks. Doubtless, the standout track on the rhythm, which fuses soca with influences from the Latin and French Caribbean, is Hunte’s “Mon Bon Ami,” an ethereal soca ballad, was named one ofthe best songs of 2016 by NPR.
R.A.W. — the title is an abbreviation for Reasonings and Words — brings everything full circle. For an artist who has worked in so many genres — rap, R&B, pop, drum and bass, garage, electro, dubstep, soca, dancehall — the album is notably taut. It’s strictly reggae. Buddha, whose long resume includes work with artists from Pitbull to Sting to T.O.K., handles the majority of production, with assists from Jerry Wonda (The Fugees, Santana), Dready (Busta Rhymes, Vybz Kartel), house DJ Gregor Saito and reggaeton producer Nesty. “Rub A Dub” is a patois-heavy celebration of Caribbean sound system culture, with a cameo from Angela’s son Brooklyn; “King & Queen” is a triumphant duet with reggae royalty Tarrus Riley.
“Runaway Love” makes a sweet addition to the canon of reggae make-up tracks like Foxy Brown’s “Sorry” or Beres Hammond’s “Falling in Love All Over Again.” Hunte’s bubbly, effervescent vocals literally soar over the one-drop rhythm, as she pleads with her lover to “take a little vacay down in Haiti, maybe we can make up and have that baby.”
“‘Runaway Love’ is a about a girl who’s really like the guy — really hard to love,” she says. “She’s making it hard for the guy to love her, but she’s trying her best to do better. She’s asking him to give her some time alone, maybe if we run away to be together she can make it up to him, and it can get better.”
Look out for the “Runaway Love” video dropping this Friday, when R.A.W. also hits all online retailers. Pre-order via iTunes here.