Shoe Soul steps ahead on heels of controversy Songwriters win plaudits, criticism for steamy hit

April 09, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

Loren Hill and his partners want to build a music "mecca" in the Baltimore-Washington area, and the Oakland Mills village resident's steamy -- and controversial -- hit song, "Freak Like Me," may have been the start of it.

The single for rhythm-and-blues singer Adina Howard was a switch from the usually reverent songs that Mr. Hill, 27, and his Shoe Soul Entertainment Group had written before. But it suddenly put them in the limelight.

The song rocketed to No. 2 on the R & B singles chart last year, selling 1.8 million copies for Atlanta-based East/West records In his Autumn Crest apartment last week, Mr. Hill sat beneath the framed platinum record he got for the million copies "Freak Like Me" has sold and three framed gold records for more than 500,000 copies of "Do You Wanna Ride" -- which he also wrote for Ms. Howard's debut album -- that have been sold.

In New York in June, Mr. Hill and his two Shoe Soul collaborators, Eugene Hanes and Marc Valentine, will receive a songwriting award for "Freak Like Me" at the annual rhythm-and-soul celebration of American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers, said James Steinblatt, ASCAP's director of media relations.

Last year, Billboard magazine's year-end wrap-up named the trio -- who grew up together in Columbia -- among the country's top 15 producers.

"It did open doors for us," Mr. Hill said of "Freak." "We'd hoped it would go gold, but we didn't expect it would go almost double platinum."

Ms. Howard's managers wanted a sexy image for their artist, so they requested that Mr. Hill write a sexually charged song. "The lyrics almost came out of frustration," Mr. Hill recalled. "Like, 'OK, you want a freak song, we'll give you a freak song.' "

In 1994, they flew Ms. Howard from Los Angeles to Columbia to record in their studios next to the house of Mr. Hanes' parents in Oakland Mills. The single was released a year later.

For a while, Mr. Hill said, he didn't let his parents listen to it. "I told them that 'freak' was a dance," he said to the laughter of his partners.

The song sizzled on the airwaves for months but also drew criticism from Sen. Bob Dole, this year's likely Republican presidential nominee, who said it was indecent.

In part, the song's lyrics say:

It's all about the dog in me, the

freak in me.

I don't care what they say,

I want to freak in the morning,

freak in the evening.

I need a rough-neck that can

satisfy me.

The songwriters have found success by writing a sexual song but don't want to be known only for that. "We're not into degrading women," Mr. Hanes said. "There is a part of shame in all of this. But at the same token, you have to get in in any way you can."

Mr. Hill added: "It's a compromise."

Mr. Valentine, of Wilde Lake village, said he can understand the critics' perspective. "They have a legitimate point, but we have to find a way to change that appetite of the consumer so we don't have to respond to that demand," he said.

Mr. Hill's wife, Jequita, a dance teacher and mother, said she wasn't bothered by the freak song. "I found the song to be about sexuality which everybody has to deal with," she said. "She wanted to be the leader in her sexuality and not a follower."

However controversial, the song did lead to success.

"We're on the edge of something large," said Mr. Hanes of Silver Spring. "We're trying to build a mecca here in this area. There's an abundance of talent."

The partners also have written a song on Chantay Savage's current album and wrote and produced three songs for a coming Barrio Boyz. album. Previously, they worked with Baltimore-based music producers the Basement Boys and with national dance music artists Crystal Waters and Ultra Nate.

Mr. Hanes and Mr. Valentine, who also perform as the group Mass Order, plan to release their second album this year on Warner Brothers Records. Mr. Valentine describes the untitled album as "funk with a hip-hop twist."

Their plunge into the music business began seven years ago when Mr. Hanes and Mr. Valentine formed Mass Order. In 1990, Mr. Hill joined them.

A year later, they created the songwriting production company.

In 1992, Mass Order released its first album, "Maybe One Day," on Columbia Records. It sold 100,000 copies. Among the tunes was "Lift Every Voice (Take Me Away)," a spiritual-filled dance song. Using some of their residuals from the first album, the trio found studio space on Dobbin Road, which they share with Ernesto Phillips, a member of the defunct R&B group Starpoint who helped discover Grammy winner Toni Braxton.

Columbia's diversity helped shape their varying musical tastes. They list their influences as Marvin Gaye, Parliament Funkadelic, the Isley Brothers, the Carpenters and Fleetwood Mac.

"The role of music is delivering the message," Mr. Hanes explained. "The message is everything and you've got all kinds of emotions, feelings and opinions about everything."

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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