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Canadian Music Month: Nelly Furtado is Hip-Hop

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Original Post Date: March 25, 2008It’s been close to two years since Nelly Furtado shocked the masses with the release of her 3rd LP Loose. Teaming up with Timbaland to create this Hip-Hop infused pop masterpiece, the result was a surprise only to those who assumed Furtado existed within her “I’m Like a Bird” parameters. The Canadian songstress has a long extensive history with Hip-Hop since her pre-teens. From dancing to singing and even a little rhyming, Nelly Furtado is that b-girl in a hoodie who can hang with the big boys even in motherhood. This past Fall, Nelly slithered on stage at the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors as an ode to her friend and collaborator Missy Elliott. With cosigns from Hip-Hop’s mainstream to underground, Nelly Furtado continues to push the boundaries of experimental pop music. As we wait in anticipation for her next project, Nelly recounts the making of some of her favorite Hip-Hop collaborations with a whole host of Hip-Hop artists including Missy, The Roots, Jurassic 5, and Swollen Members.“Get Your Freak On (remix)” – Missy ElliottAt the end of the day, [Missy] really gave me a good opportunity when she sort of stuck her neck out and said, “Hey I think you really need to be on this Hip-Hop record called ‘Get Your Freak On.’ You wanna do a remix?” And she had no idea that I even knew how to – not rap – but do any sort of rap/singing style or anything that I do. She didn’t know that, she didn’t know what I was gonna do. She just let me run free, run wild in the studio and do my thing. So I love when people take risks like that. I mean I try to do that too and reach out and collaborate with people no one’s every heard of and different things like that.Timbaland invited me to the studio because he sampled a piece of my song “Babygirl.” Yeah, and he sampled “Ching Ching,” and my label called me up and said Timbaland he’s used your sample and he wants you to come approve it. So he played me the song and said Missy really wants you on this remix, and he played me “Get Your Freak On.” And I heard it for the first time; I heard it on these huge speakers. And the next week I met Missy and she just let me do my thing. I recorded a verse, and she came in and listened to it and she said, “Cool I like it. Do another one,” and she left the room again I did the verse. She came back in and said, “Cool I like it. Do another one.” I just kept going, and she let me do my thing. She just kept everything I did, she kept all my choruses and all that stuff I did – she just really liked it. She finished it off and made it the way she liked. And it was a big hit.A lot of people when they heard that on the radio had never heard of Nelly Furtado the pop singer who sings “I’m Like A Bird” just because that remix was played on a lot of stations that don’t really play pop. There were a few of people who thought I was a young boy from Jamaica. They didn’t know who Nelly Furtado was and they assumed I was a boy on the record. Because if you listen I kinda sound like a boy if you erase everything you know about me and listen to it with fresh ears. And yeah I got that feedback from a lot of people. I went to go visit a friend’s relative in New York in Brooklyn, and she was saying that a lot of her friends had heard the record and thought I  was a Jamaican boy. That gave me confidence; alot of people are feeling my flow, and my energy and delivery and don’t even know what I look like.“Sacrifice” – The RootsThe Roots – I went to Philly for about three days, and I had met The Roots in Area One. Moby had the Area One Tour in the U.S. and I was on that tour – so was Outkast, Incubus, The Roots, Moby and Paul Oakenfold. I was really involved. I did my set and I was the only girl on tour. The Roots of course were going on the trail of their CD with “You Got Me ” on it, their Things Fall Apart album. So they asked me, “Hey can you cover Erykah’s part of ‘You Got Me’? Can you do this with us?” So I would perform with them everyday on stage on “You Got Me,” but it was nothing like the record. We would just jam and do this ten-minute version of “You Got Me.” So anyway they said, “Let’s collaborate. We’re doing another record and want you to come to Philly.” I had bumped into ?uest a lot over the years, and I respected him as a musician so I already knew him. He was a friend of mine. We went to Philly and just jammed. We just decided on “Sacrifice.” Black Thought had come up with that beat I believe…actually I’m not sure…maybe it was Scratch. So they played it for me, and we came up with lots of different things and that’s what we settled on. A lot of people are like, “Oh why is your voice so low on that record?” And I’m like, “That’s the whole thing; it’s a subtle thing. There’s actually a lot of harmony.” And a lot of times it’s more about the process than the finished product. What I gained from that experience was greater than whatever we ended up with. It’s not really about that when you make music, it’s about  being there for the process, being a part of the band’s energy while they’re making a record. I love being a fly on the wall. I learn so much.“Thin Line” – Jurassic FiveThat was really fun. I bumped into [Jurassic 5] a lot touring. They started coming to my shows and basically they would show up at my shows and concerts and we started talking. And I was a fan, I had their CD and I loved it. They said they were working on another one. Anyway they were working in L.A., a home studio. And their producer’s name is DJ Nu- Mark, and the other Cut Chemist. They told me the concept – I wanted it to be like this guy who’s friends with a girl and like he’s been friends for a while,and he has a crush on her and it’s a thin line between them getting together and not getting together – a topic anybody can relate to completely. And it was really inspired on that topic, so they had already come up with the chorus. I just sang that and I was like, “You know if I’m going to be a part of this, you know I want a verse. You’ve got to let me do a verse too.” They were like, “Ok, ok, alright alright, sure.” And then I did just that rhyme and they were like, “Whoa, crazy. We like that; we’re keeping that.” Just really organic. Just really fun. I perform it live sometimes. We’ve never got the chance to perform it live together. Who knows maybe one day.“Breath” – Swollen MembersSwollen Members and I have huge history. I grew up in a small town called Victoria, British Columbia, which is quite an Anglo-centered sort of place, and amongst us I had my Portuguese community to entertain me, and I did all the singing and dancing stuff. In high school when I was about twelve or thirteen, I discovered Hip-Hop music and all of my friends shared a common thread of a love for Hip-Hop and R&B. We used to hang out by the mall. We eventually met these friends who rapped. There were a bunch of little groups in the city. Hip-Hop was alive and well in the suburbs on the strength of groups like the Hieroglyphics movement and also De La Soul, The Pharcyde. All that stuff was alive and well in British Columbia, because most of it was West Coast so it extended up into British Columbia. I’ve known [Swollen Members] since we were twelve. And Prev [Prevail] and Moka used to rap on the streets, just on the corner. One day what happened – and this is really funny – my friends and I used to hang out at the mall and buy dollar rice with sauce from the Japanese restaurant, and so we’d just eat and drink a pop or something, and Prev was all…I was infatuated with Prev, because he was really cool and he was a vegetarian and wore wool sweaters. I was like, “Wow he’s so artsy and cool.” He was all into that whole backpacker phase. So we would all go down to the mall with our backpacks and wait around to see if Prev would show up. The day I met him, he sat down, and as I was eating my white rice with sauce, I said, “I sing ya know. I write songs. I sing. I sound really good.” He goes, “Oh really? I’m making an album.” Everyone was making an album at the time, right? He said, “Well I rap. If you rap and can write a rap verse, I’ll let you sing on my album. So tomorrow, come here with your verse.” I got all starry eyed like, “Wow I get to sing on an album.” I was literally like 13. I went home that night and pulled out paper and a pen, and I wrote a verse. I wrote a rap. It was like twelve bars or something, and I memorized it. I went downtown the next day and saw him at the corner and said, “Prev I wrote the rap!” And he was like, “Wow she actually did it.” So there I spit my verse on the corner outside of McDonald’s or something. And then we started writing raps together outside by the park. It was really a good time.And eventually [Swollen Members] started making records, and they really started taking off in Canada, the West Coast, and around the world. So we did “Breath” together; we did it in Vancouver. I love the beat they did. You know their DJ? He does all their beats he kind of leans to the darker sounding beats, which I really like. A lot of Vancouver sort of scenes are influenced by rave and electronic music. We did [“Breathe”] in Vancouver. I just went for this sort of like dark kind of cool, vibe and usual type harmonies  on the other parts. It’s cool the video was actually shot by Todd McFarlane of the Spawn fame. He did it for real cheap. He cut them a deal he didn’t even charge them because he liked them and he’s Canadian. He ended up dedicating his next Spawn comic book to me, and I have it at home. I had like a Spawn comic book dedicated to me of a character I wish I looked like that was maybe dedicated…I don’t know. Anyway it was a fun time, we perform that whenever we get a chance. When they toured in Canada we did it like every night.

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