Song to Song with Derrick Hodge
What happens when you randomly run into one of Philadelphia’s most beloved and talented musicians? You put your big girl panties on (in Iyanla’s voice) and ask for an interview.
That’s exactly what happened when we met renowned bassist, Derrick Hodge.
He was posted at the Warmdaddy’s bar after his Kindred Presents interview. I said hello. He said hello back. But also to my surprise, he remembered me from one of the Kindred Presents shows a couple months earlier. “You were the one singing along with Coko note for note,” he said. A badge of honor that I will hold close to my heart. My acting a fool at concerts never fail me. After a couple minutes of light conversation, he agreed to an interview.
But then anxiety came! What do you ask one of the most talented musicians to ever come from the greater Philadelphia area? We already know that he was one of Jill Scott’s early band members. It was Jill who supported his decision to go back to Temple University. We know that he’s a Grammy Award-winning member of the Robert Glasper Experiment and that he serves as Maxwell’s music director. What’s more to ask?
That’s when we decided to go "song to song" with Derrick Hodge. We asked him to think of a few songs that hold special significance to his career and give us the T on his choices.
Check out his picks and the stories behind them below!
"Be (Intro)," Common
Common and I have a really cool relationship. He was a part of my life during a lot of transitional moments. It was those opportunities that defined the next steps that happened for me, if I was aware of it or not. The greatest example of that would be me doing the intro on acoustic bass with Common and Kanye. I produced songs with him and I’ve been on everything he’s done since. I remember coming to the studio and first I had a whole string arrangement written out. I had string players there and all kinds of stuff. I wrote stuff out. I recorded string parts for it and I ended up at the last minute playing bass with them. Just putting a vibe on it and I conducted them fr.om the bass booth. In the end, they were like, “man, we’re feeling this as is.” At that time, when Be was supposed to be a big commercially successful album for him and Kanye. To show that love, like “yo, we want the sound of that instrument, and your take on it being the intro of the album in the spirit of what we’re doing for this project,” that was a real definitive moment for me. And not because of what ended up happening afterwards, it was about how quickly it happened. It reminds me of a lot of things I’ve done. Just trust in the moment and not take myself too seriously. Just try to give something honest. I think of that song because it was a prime example of being in the moment and just trusting in it. I’m glad people were able to hear it.
"Black Radio," The Robert Glasper Experiment featuring Mos Def
The special thing about that album, especially Black Radio 1, was the way it was recorded. It was recorded in a day. All first takes. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously. It was just documenting. We didn’t even know until a few days before who was all going to show up. Robert happened to be staying in my place in LA. He scheduled some studio time. He asked me to call some friends. I connected him to Jill, who was unavailable for that one, but did the next one, it was the same kind of thing. Really, at that time, we hadn’t been touring that much as a band. We only did New York and Mos Def was always the one who was aware. Mos Def would say “Yo, I want to rock with y’all.” He took us to South Africa. He was one of the people who got us out of the NY scene. So to have him on that album, on the album, it’s just special because it was almost paying homage to him. Taking that chance with us and always showing love. Whenever I hear that, I remember that moment. It all relates. Being in the moment. Not taking things so seriously. Like I said about Be. The things I learned from one experience directs affects another.
“Can You Stand the Rain,” New Edition
y mom was my biggest influence growing up. We didn’t have a lot of means but she would play the radio for me and make me just listen to the music. And that ended up being my biggest influence. The way you listen to music and they way you kinda take in every element, that can be a part of your voice in itself. I remember as a kid when I heard, and i’m taking it back, “Can You Stand the Rain” by New Edition. It was like every element of that song I liked but for some reason I wanted to try that solo bass. I would go home and just work on it. Often times, you’re drawn to just try different things. Like a cool bass line or whatever. But for me it was, I want to do something like that. It was cool. I couldn’t sing but I want to make this instrument sing in that type of way. And because I didn't have anyone saying “no, you can’t dream in that way.” That ended up becoming who I am. Just trust that anything can happen. And I never forget that song during that era, that time. I was super young, man like 10, 11 years old. It just hit me in a way and I wasn’t afraid to just try. Even though I was in the school band and playing in church, I was like lemme try this. And because Philly is such a hotbed of creativity. I came from the era of nobody ever saying “no, you can’t do this” or “that’s corny.” Fortunately, that ended up guiding my career. If I was doing one thing, I wasn’t afraid to switch it up and try something different. When I left Jill Scott to go back to college to go study jazz and classical music, I thought the world was ending. All of a sudden I wasn’t doing the cool stuff anymore. I just wanted to learn something different and who would’ve know that it would’ve led to film scoring. But that lends to me being a childhood dreamer, ya know.
“Over There,” Terence Blanchard
I was working with Terence Blanchard on his album Flow. The song is called “Over There.” That song was also re-recorded for his album A Tale of God’s Will with an orchestra. That song that I particularly wrote for that group, Terrence’s sextet, when I was in the band. That led to opportunities. Terrence was scoring When the Levees Broke. Spike Lee used that song in the actual film and that actually led to a whole series of other opportunities where I actually underscored and did additional work with Terrence for that film. That led to a whole new avenue for me. From there I started scoring. I worked on Inside Man with Terrence. I got to work on the Jackson Pollock film. I worked on the M.K. Asante film, The Black Candle, which is the only film ever made on Kwanzaa. Maya Angelou is in that. That film is special to me because I got to bring in my brothers, Robert (Glasper), Chris (Dave) and all those guys. That album had the Experiment on it. It was cool seeing those avenues open up. But when I hear that song “Over There,” writing that song defined a new avenue for me as a composer.
“Stop The World,” Maxwell
I hate to keep going back to my friends Rob and Chris. Any opportunities any of us had, we tried to put each other on. I go back to Maxwell when I became the MD for him. The Experiment was working for him. BLACKsummers'night was a defining album for me. It was very similar to the Common album Be. When I tell you…. You will not find a more genuine guy than Maxwell. He’s a kind-hearted guy. He doesn't play about his music. When I tell you, his spirit is just incredible and he’ll do anything for you. He’s just that guy. And that’s why even to this day whatever I can do to show my loyalty back, I do and try. I remember when we recorded that album. I showed up at the studio. It was almost midnight. The producer Hod David had his bass setup and Chris Dave was setting up his drums. I walked into his studio and his bass was setup and he started started playing the organ part to stop the world. And I sat there listening to it. I literally picked up his bass tuned it up a little bit and I said “let’s do a take.” And that first five minutes ended up going on the record. I was only there for one or two songs. The feel of that song led to us doing more songs and before you know it Hod was calling back in the horn section. And we pretty much ended up doing the whole album. Everything happened late. Nothing was forced. Especially for popular albums like that, people fine tune everything and spend forever nuancing. I like this take and not that blah blah blah. What people are hearing when they hear that album, that was us vibing, responding, taking a drink. And just doing a take. There was a film crew there. A friend of his. It was documented. The very first time me setting up and playing. There was a special that documented and talked about the making of that album. You can actually see me responding to that album for the first time. The connection that he and i had during that record. I appreciated the leader that he respected in me. For him to trust to do his live shows from 2009 on, that meant a lot.
“Message of Hope,” Derrick Hodge
I love how raw it was. I kept it as is. I didn't try to polish it up. When I hear “Message of Hope," I remember I was halfway through finishing my album. I was listening back and I heard things and I felt like I wasn’t giving enough. So I went to my studio in LA where Robert and I wrote “Ah Yeah” and started layering parts. I had an idea and I sang it on my Voice memo. So I went back to my studio and started layering parts to it and that happened to be the song. I played every instrument from bass to keys to the drums and percussion programming. I just layered each part and I said I'm feeling it as is. My friend Mark Cuhlenberg played drums on it. My buddy Travis Sayles, who has produced for everybody, ended up playing organ on it. When I heard the finished product, what I was happy about was that I didn’t settle for what I thought was a finished record. I said “you know, let me give people more.” When I perform that song, I remember that process and that choice to accept that I have more to offer. That led to speaking to my actual influences. My mother was my biggest influence and she would always to encourage me to try. I didn’t always gravitate to people playing the bass as influences. I was attracted to vocalists. I started with New Edition and it ended up with emulated Aretha and Patti LaBelle. I tried to go that route with it. It was great to let that side of me speak.
So what's next for Derrick?
Well... he actually gave us an exclusive. Derrick is planning a multi-disciplinary live presentation featuring a small band, a rhythm section, a DJ, and an artist. The title and location are not confirmed but if it takes places in any other place than Philadelphia, we're calling the cops.