We have all experienced moments in our lives that have seemed to the culmination points of many decisions, events, and meetings. This is definitely one of those times for Voice Monet, an independent hip-hop artist, MC and teaching artist who calls New Orleans her home. A little over one year since the release of Voice Presents CuTZ, an eleven track CD that explores “relationships and personal accountability” in Ms. Monet’s own words, she is slated to appear at the Montreal Jazz Festival with Wax Tailor (French DJ Jean-Christophe Le Saoût), with whom she collaborated on the certified silver 2007 release Hope and Sorrow.
Speaking to me from her home in New Orleans, Voice shared both her gratitude and her philosophy as an artist. Montreal is “my biggest show to date, and I’m really excited about it,” she said. “I’m really appreciative of it, too – work just comes to me.” I’m not someone who’s always hustling – not that I think that doing so is beneath me. My time is limited, and when I do have time I like to put my energy into the art, believing that the recognition will come. When I don't have solo projects coming up, you can usually hear me on a collaborative project."
While the idea of simply focusing on one's work may seem enigmatic in our world of social media and the constant pressure to promote one's work that it has produced, Voice's philosophy has proven true: in addition to her award-winning work with Wax Tailor, NOLA Redux (a collaboration with Malkovich Music) made the top of Gilles Peterson’s BBC World Wide Best Hip-Hop of 2009 list, and Voice has also collaborated with artists including BBE, Ninja Tune (London), Public Transit Recordings (Canada) and Twisted Funk Records (United Kingdom), the results being Voice Monet's presence on over a quarter million records worldwide. These are all in addition to her four-CD discography, which includes GUMBO (released in 2006), NOLA, the aforementioned CuTZ and CuTZ Remixed (2013).
Wax Tailor: "The Games You Play"
Coincidentally, it is through our virtually-connected world that Voice's collaboration with Wax Tailor came about, as Tailor ("they used to call him the 'French DJ Shadow'," she said, "but he's much different.") bought a copy of GUMBO, and found Voice through MySpace and asked her to collaborate on “The Games You Play”, which appears on the album Hope and Sorrow. Both Hope and Sorrow and
"The Games You Play" were hugely successful: not only was the record nominated for an award from Les Victoires de la Musique (the "French Grammy") and the single went certified gold. Voice was later invited to Paris to perform with Tailor, and that snowballed into " (2009) which was certified silver within a matter of months following its release.
"Wax Tailor: This Train"
"The beauty of the feature work is that I can lend my art to another artist’s project in a truly creative fashion," Voice shared. Undoubtedly, the opportunity to collaborate with a multitude of artists does prove to be influential: "When I started working with Wax, I started seeing myself as a visionary, able to apply all of my gifts to the process of creation, and that has been a really cool experience. The music game is bigger than the internet, and for me it's not about proving to the world how 'fresh' I am."
Voice Monet's very genuine self-assuredness - which is refreshingly absent of any trace of arrogance - is clear when listening to Voice Presents CuTZ, the eleven-track 2012 release that speaks of relationships and personal accountability. "Personal accountability is a big thing for me," she said. "We all get to a space, time and place with ourselves where we just stop BS'ing ourselves. Recording CuTZ was both a comfortable and uncomfortable process. We started recording it in January 2012, and that was followed by release in March, and promotion that included both time at SXSW and a seven-week European tour. The process of personal accountability continued during all of that, and that has all created a very interesting space where the new music is coming from."
Listening to CuTZ, one can hear a great deal of thoughtfulness over beats and sounds that can only be called a breath of fresh air: The fast-paced, energetic “How Can I Luv U?” explores the dynamics of establishing and deepening relationships, while “Worry Her” – a slow, dark and bass-laden number – explores one’s relationship with one’s self. “That song (“Worry Her”) is very special to me because I could tell that it was the makings of a new phase and a new me,” Voice said. “When I listen to it I can hear the new phase, and it does set the tone for the rest of the record. It’s not a finger pointing song, it’s actually about me, and a lot of people appreciate it.”
Going further, Voice shared more of her philosophical leanings: “This is where most people fall on the spectrum: you want to be devoted to being your best self, but we fall short, and it’s okay to fall short sometimes.”
CuTZ features a group of fantastic and multifaceted artists, including longtime collaborators Tondrae Kemp, Saddi Khali (internationally acclaimed New York-born New Orleans-bred photographer, performance artist, and poet who appears on "How Can I Luv U?"), P.U.D.G.E. (New York based DJ with whom Voice has performed throughout the United States and Europe), and Voice’s two sons, Ori and Yusef. “They collaborate with me, too – we’re a very musical family, and creativity is a way of life in our house,” she says with great joy.
CuTZ was mixed and mastered by Kevin Moon, aka Moonstarr of Toronto’s Public Transit Recordings, and Voice Monet’s trip to Canada will include a reunion with the man to whom she refers as “My wizard, my earth angel. Moon was the first person in a position of gatekeeping who let me know that he believed in me and saw something. We recorded two songs when we first met: one of them was released in Japan, the other in England.”
Their working relationship has continued now for over a decade: “Moon has always been in my work: he masters every record and he taught me everything that I know about audio engineering, music business, publishing, royalties. I am very grateful that my introduction to the music business was through a collective of artists who were already operating at a high level. Wax Tailor, for example, is VERY meticulous, and both he and Moonstarr have very devout followings despite not being represented on major labels.”
Immersion in and adherence to high standards has been a major part of Voice’s life experience. “I grew up in a family involved in media and the performing arts, and they very thankfully made Black arts, culture and tradition the way of life in our house. It was not until GUMBO was released, however – and when I had to start explaining the intention behind certain songs – that I started realizing the magnitude of being a recording artist. Additionally, I also come from an era during which you did not step up to the mic unless you were real: Queen Latifah, Big Daddy Kane, and KRS-ONE.” “The mic”, of course, does not only include that used by singers and hip-hop artists. As we spoke about influences and “north stars”, Voice also mentioned the late Abbey Lincoln and writers Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez and Nzotake Shange.
“At one time my agenda was to prove myself as a rapper and I just tunneled in on that,” Voice said. “Even then, however, I pinned myself up to a very idealist view and I’m glad that I’ve pushed myself not to be a schlep at the mic – I wanted to move people.” This reverence for Black American culture and true hiphop is evident in all of Voice’s work, including a four-minute musical voyage titled “Replay” (2006) during which Voice pays homage to the Pharcyde, Jeff Townes (aka DJ Jazzy Jeff), The ROOTS, and GURU (“…gifted…unlimited…rhymes…universal…”).
Visioneers featuring VOICE: Replay
With the last two years having been both a busy and fruitful and now reaching a summit, Voice has shared plans for her next venture – one which will involve all of the areas in which she is well-versed. “For my next project, I’m not planning to release a full-length album – I’m releasing four songs and four visual pieces to accompany the songs. The visual pieces could be video, photography or painting – more than likely two videos and one small film.”
That project will also be a culmination – yet not the end - of Voice’s journey as well: “When I moved to New York to go to the Pratt Institute, I got involved in the spoken word scene. Most artists that you meet do not limit themselves to one thing. Looking at it all, I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to a place in my artform as an MC where I feel that I can actually express what I see and how I feel in a very appealing way.”
VOICE joins Wax Tailor at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 9:30pm. For more information on VOICE, please visit www.voiceishear.com. For more information on Wax Tailor, please visit www.waxtailor.com.