…it’s cool to dance
But what about the groove that soothes that moves romance
Give me a soft subtle mix… – DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince “Summertime”
Summer is when long-lasting memories are made. The weather and long days compel us to leave our abodes to socialize, travel, and enjoy fine eating. It’s a magical time where the music also transforms. We gravitate towards tunes that are vibrant and celebratory no matter the topic. And occasionally, there comes a song that crystallizes everything we love about the season.
Back in 1993, Shanice achieved this with the release of “It’s For You.” The single was the lead offering from the Meteor Man soundtrack, a film notable as Hollywood’s first big-budget black superhero film. Although Shanice was already an established star from her previous chart-topping singles (“I Love Your Smile,” “Saving Forever for You”), the song added a new Hip-Hop dimension to her sound.
In this exclusive interview, BeatsBoxingMayhem sits down with Michael Angelo Saulsberry, Grammy-nominated producer and lead member of the platinum 90s R&B group Portrait. He details the creative process behind “It’s For You” and how Portrait’s sound helped create one of the 90s more underrated jams.
“It’s For You” is now 25 years old! Would be clichéd to ask if it feels like yesterday?
25 years? Man, time is flying! At that time, I was still in between knowing the business and having fun making records. You don’t realize at the beginning that you’re playing a game that needs to be won.
Let’s start with the sound of the record, which is an extension of what you did with Portrait. A lot of times you’re grouped with New Jack Swing, but if you really listen to your sound that’s not the best description…
No, it’s not! Whew, I get so mad sometimes [laughs]. We came at the tail end of New Jack Swing. It’s not disrespect because it’s a great legacy and Teddy Riley is a legend. I have a sound where earthy people can still sound funky. Growing up in LA, when I heard Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” it was pretty much over with. It had a jazz overtone but was still Hip-Hop. That’s what my music was. It was R&B Hip-Hop with a jazz overtone. And not heavy jazz, but the mood. My inspirations were Chuckii Booker and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. It’s about having an edgy bottom and an atmospheric top.
At the time there were a lot of loops going on because NY Hip-Hop was using breakbeats. So I was like let me be the R&B version – I want to take breakbeats and put R&B on top. We had a young producer at the time named Maurice that we were going to sign to our camp. I would do a piece of music and ask Maurice to find the Hip-Hop version of that drum beat. Any loop that could feel good with this.
You already had a big hit with “Here We Go Again,” and could’ve conceivably used “It’s For You.” How did you end up working with Shanice?
My group member Eric Kirkland, we started Portrait. Originally, we were a writer and producer team.
I did the music and Eric would write the lyrics. When Portrait hit, we still wanted to be writers and producers. The connection with Motown came from a group called the Good Gyrlz. We knew their manager and producer and that’s how I met her A&R Darryl Jones. He liked Portrait and wanted us to do some stuff for her.
We jumped at the opportunity to show we’re not just artists. Shanice was the first name that came up. We had our sound with Hip-Hop loops with smooth music on top. We got together and wrote the song first and did a demo. She didn’t hear the song. We were in a zone. Quincy Jones taught us “spacing.” Silence is a note, it’s just quiet. Just because there’s nothing there doesn’t mean something is supposed to there.
So when we were writing for Shanice, we said “let’s keep it spacey so it won’t be a lot going on.” She heard the demo and went crazy.
Quincy Jones taught us spacing. Silence is a note…
Was it as free flowing to record as it sounds?
We recorded Shanice in two different places. I did the music in New York and the vocals in LA. She has a pop hit called “I Love Your Smile” but she didn’t really have a signature urban record. She had some cool ones like “Can You Dance” but our focus was how to fit her into that urban lane. Portrait, our sound was going good at the time, so I thought there was nothing wrong with having her do something we would do.
We took the Portrait sound and put a female on top.
This is one of those classic summer records. What always struck me is Shanice’s voice sounds so vibrant with these melodies. Just listening without the visuals, you still feel a joyful presence, like she’s smiling while singing.
Word. Man, let me tell you something. Doesn’t even have to be someone you’re attracted to, but I’m sure you’ve come across women in your lifetime that just have that presence when they come into a room. I was intimidated because she was so professional. When we met, she had already been in the business since she was 5 years old. She was a pro. She smiled when she came in, did everything we asked. Did 3-4 different takes, wasn’t impatient. Always vibrant and smiling – “Do you need some more?” she would say. Always laughing, it was that type of session. Shanice is an absolute pro.
The song got the lead on the Meteor Man soundtrack which was big considering it was Hollywood’s first big budget black superhero movie. It also hit Top 20 on the Hot R&B Singles list. How would you assess the roll-out and response from the fans?
It was underrated. I loved it when we were done. When it got to the radio we felt like “Ok, we have something kinda cool.” It got on the Meteor Man soundtrack. At that time, soundtracks were in-between – they could break you or maybe not. We were very cool with Robert Townsend, but I don’t know if that movie was big enough to really launch that song.
Everyone always says they love that tune. A year ago Shanice told me she never really does that song in concerts. I like “That’s crazy! Why not?” It made me feel funny. [laughs] She asked if I had the old recordings. I’m like “nah.” She said fans were asking her to do it and she would start doing it. Here I thought she was already doing it!
It could have been bigger. “I Love Your Smile” was her pop hit and I felt my song should have been the big urban hit. It made noise but I wish it could’ve got bigger.
I’ve always wondered about why there wasn’t any more collaborations on the next album (1994’s 21… Ways to Grow). Were you guys ever considered for placements?
No call, no nothing. It was weird — me and Eric wonder to this day why we never got a call. When we see her now she’s like “Let’s get in the studio again!” And I’m like man, we should have really been getting into the studio all this time! I believe I could’ve given her a couple of more in that time and helped shape her urban sound. Didn’t happen, but she’s a beautiful, grounded person. Her family is so cool. But I definitely wish we could’ve collaborated more.
It’s interesting you mention balancing different lanes because you can look at someone like CeCe Peniston who did that very well. She had her dance base with songs like “Finally” but captured the urban audience when she dropped “Keep On Walkin’.”
Absolutely, same concept. I was always a forward thinker. Everyone wanted their version of “Here We Go Again.” I ran into Rafael Saadiq in traffic and he told me how much he loved the Shanice record. [Writer’s Note: Saulsberry later produced Saadiq’s “Ray, Ray”]
When I did the Faith Evans record (“You Gets No Love”), I remember her also telling me how much she loved the Shanice record. Even Busta Rhymes told me that when I was working on the Genesis album (“There’s Only One,” “You Ain’t Fuckin’ Wit Me”). So people remembered it but didn’t realize I was the one who produced it.
There was no social media then so I couldn’t market myself fully as a producer. I was in a group that went #1 and sold a million, but I didn’t have the know-how on how to market it.
Any closing thoughts?
Soon I’ll be starting a podcast called “Let’s Talk,” focused on creatives being open about their insecurities, fears and other issues. Fans can find on me on the IG. I have two accounts: one for poetry (@michaelangelowords) and one for music (@therealmangelo).