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“Don’t confuse caviar with pizza just because [India] didn’t sell as much as Alicia.”
——Kedar Massenburg, Motown Records CEO/President
A PASSAGE TO INDIA
Motown's Kedar Gently Hoping for Grammy Sweep for India.Arie
Motown Records CEO/President Kedar Massenburg is a very busy man. So where did he find the time to discover his suddenly hot superstar India.Arie? Arie entered the public’s consciousness after garnering a stunning seven Grammy noms for her Acoustic Soul album and “Video” single, outdistancing the more heavily touted Alicia Keys, who gathered six.

But no matter what happens on Feb. 27, Arie has stamped herself as an artist to be reckoned with for years to come. The budding neo-soul superstar is yet another feather in Massenburg’s cap, following in the
footsteps of such huge discoveries as D’Angelo and Erykah Badu.

Unfortunately, the industry heavy will have to deal with HITS’ feather-light Gary Jackson “Family Values,” whose own video was fortunately shot with the lens cap on.

How did India.Arie first come to your attention?
India came to me by way of Reen Nalli, a friend of [Universal Music Group honcho] Doug Morris’. She played me music by India, who wanted to meet the person behind D’Angelo and Erykah Badu. I signed her right there on the spot. I said, “Hey, welcome to Motown!”

What was the recording process like?
It was trial and error to make sure we got the right songs. Because she was so different and so raw, I wanted to make sure the songs were accessible, that they were polished. But at the end of the day, we went back to the basics; no big-name producers. We wanted her to be who she was. I didn’t want Chanel dresses; I wanted the girl next door.

India is obviously a charter member of the neo-soul movement.
I own the trademark to “neo-soul,” as well as “neo-classic soul.” The terms just popped into my head. It’s not so much a movement—it’s the music itself, going back to something of substance. That term is used to
categorize artists that are self-contained. When you hear an act is a neo-soul artist, you know they probably have written the majority of their lyrics, and produced more than half of their album. So, you know what you’re getting, as far as a brand. But, as far as it being a different sort of music, there’s nothing new, really, under the sun. It’s just reminiscent of soul music from yesteryear.

You took a pretty hands-on approach to the recording process.
I sequenced the whole album, and came up with the concept of the peacock feather for the cover. India didn’t even like the picture, initially. Remember back in the day, when the peacock represented pride? I had India hold one, because her album represented giving women back their pride. I came up with the name Acoustic Soul, too.

How did you react when you heard India received seven Grammy nominations and Alicia Keys six?
I thought she would get at least three, but I never fathomed seven. And you know, it is well-deserved. If you listen to her album, pound for pound, she’s got the best R&B/Soul record out there. If you listen to the lyrical content vs. some other artists that I won’t name, you will see. I don’t have the magnitude [of fame] that other executives might have, but hey, they’re only 30 years my senior… I have a couple more years to go!

Do you feel the number of noms will carry a little extra weight with Grammy voters?
India.Arie got a re-birth with the album. She was already Platinum when this came about. I told people, don’t confuse caviar with pizza just because she didn’t sell as much as Alicia. I expected the New Artist nomination, but I was surprised with the Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year nominations.

But you must have respect for Alicia Keys and what she’s done.
I have a lot of respect for Alicia and Clive Davis, but I have more respect for my artist—but I’m biased, just like Clive would be for his artist.

Any other artists like India up your sleeve?
You know about the Remy Shand single, “Take A Message.” And we have another artist named Lathun. I dropped “Take A Message” before I dropped Lathun’s “Fortunate” because I didn’t want him to get in Remy’s way. Lathun’s album is incredible, and I expect a lot from him. We have a slew of new artists, such as DJ Rogers, Jr., who’s really gonna take people by surprise. I want people to know that India is just the beginning.

Do you dare to predict how she might do Grammy night?
I think she’s gonna get at least three. I can’t name what they will be. And if she doesn’t, guess what? The world has still been awakened to her talent.


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