In an industry where styles are copied and images are duplicated on a daily basis, its hard to find the originator of anything. In the last few months, Atlanta-based singer Tori Alamaze (pronounced al-lah-MAH-zay) has witnessed fellow newcomers the Pussycat Dolls pilfer her song Dont Cha, a sassy adaptation of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Swass.
Tori initially recorded the song with multi-talented artist/producer Cee-Lo, and released it through Universal Records in preparation for a complete album project. The Detroit native says the label never shot a video for her single, nor did she receive proper marketing. According to industry chatter, Toris version of Dont Cha was intended as the labels next big thing, but then Universal decided the single wasnt the right move. Tori was subsequently dropped from the label just as her song was beginning to get some positive attention.
Not surprisingly, Tori is less than delighted with the Dolls version. The multicultural female posse imitates Toris vocal inflections and adlibs to a tee, while adding Busta Rhymes to the mix and keeping Cee-Lo on production. Tori now tells her side of this intriguing tale to AllHipHop.com Alternatives, and keeps her dream moving.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Before we get into your story, can you give some background on your history in the music industry?
Tori Alamaze: I used to be a makeup artist for about 10 years. Ive worked with everyone from Faith to Erykah [Badu], TLC, Xscape, Monica, Outkast, Busta [Rhymes]. Most recently, I made the transition from makeup into singing when I started going on tour with Outkast on Hey Ya in 2003-2004.
AHHA: So basically your music career just started around two years?
Tori: I would say Ive been kind of behind the scenes quietly creating and dreaming and wanting to do music. However, I was still involved in the industry. [With] traveling and the clients, of course, comes A&R and labels and all that type of stuff. So I was still in it, but I wasnt necessarily considered a recording artist. In the last three years, Ive been more vocal, and its been more out there.
AHHA: Right. So what do you want people to know about the situation with this song, Dont Cha?
Tori: Its just interesting at the moment because I am in transition, and of course this was all unexpected. This wasnt included in what we initially started, so of course we have to shift everything that we have been doing and just come up with a whole nother plan. Basically, Ive been seeing on the Internet and just hearing what people say, but they have no idea. Consumers just come up with their own conclusion, which is the only thing that kind of prompted me to get it out. I dont want to focus on it because Im so focused on moving forward, but I just gotta speak because I hear all kinds of stuffthat the Pussycat Dolls are cuter, thats why the label did it, or just all kinds of assumptions out there, but its dead wrong.
AHHA: Okay, what is your explanation?
Tori: I personally feel like I was caught up in the middle of favors and egos, and it had nothing to do with me. Its not personal against Tori. But at some point, the guy who signed me decided not to do anything with the project, and that includes not letting go of any of my music. So [Universal President] Doug Morris [and the label] werent gonna release me, they werent gonna let go of any of the music. I would have just been in a standstill and not [been able to] move forward to another situation or do anything for that matter. So Doug Morris spoke to Cee-Lo personally, who wrote the song. And Im also, by the way, signed to his production company.
AHHA: Okay, I was going to ask if you were signed to Universal.
Tori: I was signed to Cee-Los production company [Radiculture Records] on Universal. Basically he and I were and are still a team. People assume that theres animosity between us, that he sold the song for more profit. None of that is true. Basically, we were put between a rock and a hard place, in that [Universal] wasnt gonna get rid of me or get rid of my music. So they basically were like, Okay, we can continue this legal battle or we can give the song to someone else.
AHHA: So you knew they were giving it away, it didnt come as a surprise?
Tori: No, it was a surprise because it was [already] done. They didnt need my consent. [Laughs] It was done. I found out in April. It definitely took the light out from me. Its just like, youre ready to fly and somebody attempts to clip your wings. But at the same time, Ive endured so much. This isnt the first situation and definitely wont be the last, so its nothing to me. I mean, my faith is grounded, I gotta keep going. I have more than one hit. They can have it.
AHHA: And what was your contribution to the song. Did you just sing it or ?
Tori: Cee-Lo produced the song. I was working on a demo before I met him. We met in January 2004 I believe and just started creating. And then once he and I got together, he was the only person that seemed to get itthe it that was probably missing before. Weve known each other for about ten years – hes known me as a dancer, and he got my demo. It got into his hands a couple of years ago. And from there we just started creating. Hes an amazing writer and producer, and he seems to get who I amwho Tori Alamaze is and what I wanna say and how I wanna say it.
AHHA: So is your main concern basically not being credited for the original song?
Tori: I think what really gets up under my skin is the fact thatbefore I get into that, I have to say that its still possible that I may be able to do a video for Dont Cha. So were kind of entertaining that at the moment. So with that said, I think it just bothers me that Im a [solo] artist, Im an African-American artist, but my music just so happens to transcend race, time, age, gender, whatever. It transcends that – and it just bothers me that you have these six girls, not really artists, just some Burlesque cabaret group. It just seems like, from what Cee-Lo told me, they attempted to study my voice with such reverence, they looked at me with such reverence, like, Oh, Miss Tori. They attempted to study my voice, copy every breath, every sigh, every ad lib that I did, and it still lacks the original soul.
AHHA: What you think gets lost in their version?
Tori: Whats missing is me. To me, the record companies tend to think consumers are ignorant. You throw some formula out there, which is this pop group, and expect them to just ride along like nothing happened. Some people do that and some people are like, Wait a minute; that doesnt sound like the same version I heard. And there is more than one example of beauty.
AHHA: You mentioned that the girls emulated your voice and everything. So they knew about the whole thing.
Tori: Of course, of course. And I dont wish them any ill will. But I just have a feeling that at some pointyeah, it may look grand right now, but I think at some point it will backfire. Cause seriously this song has been out almost a year. I got at 3100 spins, with very little marketing and promotion. I got this song on Beauty Shop twice. I have a feature in VIBE Magazines April Hollywood issue. Its not like Im some chick who just crawled from under some rug from some little town in Georgia. My name is Tori Alamaze. I have a lot of respect; I respect a lot of people. I have a lot of love and I have a lot of people who have my back.
AHHA: What type of public reaction have you seen? Are people generally surprised, outraged?
Tori: I think people have a lot of questions from what Ive observed. People are just like, Whats going on? Ive even read an email that said Dont buy it. All kinds of stuff. People are saying, Tori Alamaze had more emotion, more feeling. To [the Pussycat Dolls] its a song. To me its something Cee-Lo and I created in the basement.
AHHA: So its really like your baby?
Tori: Exactly. Because its an introduction to the album, and the album is a Tori Alamaze movement, particularly for women. Its a movement. Its not just a song so that the labels can make money off fake Spice Girls. Its not like that. But because its just a song to them, thats exactly what it sounds like.
AHHA: Have you spoken to any of the girls about it or what would you tell them if you could speak with them?
Tori: I would be extremely graceful and wish them well cause I dont blame them personally. But it is a little foolish to justI think they expect me to just disappear or [they] wish that I would just disappear or that version would disappear. Because Im sure that any radio station they go to, any interview, that somebodys gonna bring it up. But theyre like, Oh, we just did a remix, and were cool and theres no problem. Because the less controversy on their side, the [better].
AHHA: This type of situation seems like it would happen a lot in the music industry, but artists dont usually talk about it.
Tori: I know a lot of bullcrap happens in the industrybut from what I hear from people whove been in the industry longer, this particular situation is rare because this isnt a song that was out five years ago, ten years ago. This song is currently and still in rotation – still on the Billboard [charts]my version. So its like, its an obvious corporate jack move. I didnt even get a chance. They didnt even give me a chance.
AHHA: It seems like, to the label, maybe the Pussycat Dolls are more marketable.
Tori: I dont think it had anything to do with marketing at all. I dont think it has nothing to do with marketing because theres absolutely nothing wrong with me. I mean nothing. Im not overweight. I mean, I could understandI remember when I was younger I heard about the whole Martha Wash thing, the Weather Girls, and that whole thing about whether she was really singing. And then they gave [the song] to this group [because] she was overweight, that was their issue. Im not even any of that. Im very marketable.
AHHA: Some people might look at it like youre envious of the groups success with your song.
Tori: Theyre riding off of my success. Thats what it is. Theyre riding off of what I got started. [Laughs] People were already going bananas over that song, like last August, September when it started in Los Angeles.
AHHA: Alright, I understand. Can you talk about your album?
Tori: The album is done and its fantastic. As I said before, were in the middle of a transition so Im looking at a late July [release]. I actually have a follow-up song called Miss Everythang, letting people know Ive been through enough. Even going through this situation currently, Im staying faithful and keeping my head up and keeping moving. My grandmother has passed away, my aunt has passed away, and my mother just had surgery for cancer, so Im dealing with a host of things at the same time.
Theres nothingthey cant take anything away from me. Absolutely nothing. I mean, singing, performing, recording, writing has always been a dream of mine. And Ive come this far. Im not gonna come this far and just fall into oblivion. Thats not how Im made up. Im a Black woman.