Stone, Angie 1965–
Angie Stone 1965–
Though the era of classic soul vocals reached its peak in the 1970s, it lived on into the twenty-first century in the voice of Angie Stone. Around the year 2000 a group of vocalists, predominantly female, turned to older soul and R&B styles in order to express various musical ideas, but it was Stone who evoked the pure vocal sounds of the pre-hip hop era. Releasing her debut solo album at the age of 35, Stone outsold many of the artists half her age who had begun to dominate the U.S. musical scene.
Stone was born in Columbia, South Carolina, around 1965. A strong gospel influence in her mature vocal style resulted from her singing gospel music at the city’s First Nazareth Baptist Church and by attending gospel concerts with her father, a member of a local gospel quartet. In high school Stone was a standout basketball player (her father was also a fine football player). She received several offers of college basketball scholarships. But Stone, who had written poetry since she was a girl, hoped for a musical career; standing in front of her bedroom mirror she would lip-synch whole concerts to recordings of soul vocalists such as Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye.
Stone broke into the music business as a rap artist—which was ironic since her music would later be seen as offering an alternative to a hip-hop-dominated urban radio mainstream. In New York in the early 1980s, she joined with two other women to form the Sequence. That group landed on the roster of the pioneering rap label Sugarhill, and they are generally regarded as the first female act in the rap genre. Stone, who was known as “Angie B,” delivered raps in such Sequence dance-club hits as a remake of Parliament’s “Tear the Roof Off.”
Statuesque and strong, with a large Afro hairstyle that she has retained throughout her career, Stone had a look that was little influenced by the high-fashion inclination of many urban artists. “I loved Pam Grier. Cleopatra Jones,” she told Rolling Stone. “Strong, beautiful, dark-skinned women. Pam had the Afro, the strong ‘I’m beautiful, but I’m bad and I’ll take it there.’” But as with many of the other acts of rap’s first generation, the popularity of the Sequence did not last. For a time, Stone supported herself by singing commercial jingles.
“I did Afro Sheen,” she told Rolling Stone. “Budweiser,
At a Glance…
Born and raised in Columbia, SC, 1965; father sang in a local gospel quartet; Son, Michael; Education: Attended high school in Columbia; star basketball player; received but turned down several college basketball scholarship offers.
Career: Soul vocalist. Joined rap group the Sequence, ca. 1982; group released album The Sequence, 1982; worked as singer of television and radio commercial jingles, 1980s; joined group Vertical Hold, 1988; group released album Vertical Hold, 1992; active as songwriter for D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, Lenny Kravitz, and other artists, 1990s; released solo debut Black Diamond, 1999.
Awards: Received Billboard magazine Album of the Year award for Black Diamond, 2000.
Address: Record Label —Arista Records, Six W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019
too. Budweiser ran for eight years, and I’m gonna tell you something: That stuff really pays well, because it really helped me survive when I was in transition with my career.” But Stone’s creative side didn’t take long to reassert itself. A prolific songwriter, she began to work with other rap acts, such as the group Mantronix and the innovative rocker Lenny Kravitz. By 1988 Stone had formed an R&B trio, Vertical Hold, that incorporated more of her own affinity for the classic style of soul vocals and enabled her to emulate such models as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Donny Hathaway.
Vertical Hold’s records bubbled around the lower end of Billboard magazine’s urban music charts for several years, and in 1993 the group released a self-titled CD. One dance number from the album, “Seems You’re Much Too Busy,” rose into the top 20, and several other singles made an impression, but that wasn’t enough to propel the group to an ongoing recording career. Stone’s family began to doubt her chances for success. “My mom used to say, ‘If God had meant you to make it, then you’d have made it by now,’” she told the London Daily Telegraph. But Stone continued with her songwriting, numbering among her collaborations those with soul veteran Al Green and modern R&B hitmaker Mary J. Blige.
One collaboration in particular proved both personally and professionally fruitful. Stone contributed songs to the recordings of D’Angelo, whose 1995 debut album Brown Sugar is often credited with kicking off the neo-soul musical phenomenon, and who remains the most significant male representative of the style. Stone placed four tracks on D’Angelo’s critically acclaimed 2000 release, Voodoo, which incorporated a host of modern influences into a basic soul context, and she and D’Angelo became romantically involved. The relationship resulted in a child, Michael, but after three years Stone and D’Angelo called it quits.
As Stone assembled material for her own debut release, Black Diamond, she was sometimes dogged by publicity connected to her relationship with D’Angelo, who remains a strong draw for female crowds. In conversation with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch she imitated the question she often faced: “Isn’t that the lady that had D’Angelo’s baby?” Nevertheless, she and D’Angelo remained friends; he contributed guest vocals on Black Diamond (as did Lenny Kravitz), and he continued to influence Stone musically.
Stone offers her own explanation for the preponderance of female vocalists in the neo-soul movement. “Our men are frustrated,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “That’s why you hear all that anger [in hip-hop music]. They feel it’s the only way they can make themselves heard. We are able to tolerate more, and in any culture women will always take on that motherly role. We caress and comfort our men through song, because we understand how bruised they are.”
In her mid-thirties in late 1999, an age when the careers of many urban contemporary vocalists are on a downward trajectory, Stone released her solo debut on the Arista label. Black Diamond was a creative triumph. Gaining momentum over several months, the album, and its lead single, “No More Rain (In This Cloud” (co-written by Stone and based on a phrase she had often heard her father say), stayed on the charts for more than 30 weeks. The album spawned a successful tour which, unlike those of Stone’s neo-soul rivals Macy Gray and Jill Scott, attracted predominantly African-American crowds. Billboard named Black Diamond its 2000 album of the year.
Part of the reason for the album’s success was that it intelligently updated classic soul with samples and other manifestations of hip-hop techniques. Paying homage to such vocalists as Gladys Knight through samples (Knight’s “Neither One of Us” is heard in “No More Rain (In This Cloud)”, Stone also drew on the 1970s funk styles of Rufus and other bands (the hard-edged vocals of Rufus frontwoman Chaka Khan are another influence on Stone’s style). Yet it was Stone’s voice that made the greatest impression. Clearly reflecting her gospel origins, it exuded a raw power of a kind not often heard in the increasingly electronics-dominated world of urban music.
“Real soul singers have used hip-hop beats as a crutch for too long now,” Stone told the London Daily Telegraph. “My music stems from the church, and in church there are no limits to where music can take you.” Stone emphasized a religious message in her concerts and in the liner notes to Black Diamond. Those notes said that the album represented “a woman’s life, all the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations, and the joys.” After 20 years of trials in the music business, Angie Stone had earned the right to a few joys.
(with The Sequence) The Sequence, Sugarhill, 1982.
(with Vertical Hold) Vertical Hold, A&M, 1993.
Black Diamond, Arista, 2000.
Billboard, April 8, 2000, p. 27.
Daily News (New York), April 24, 2000, p. 46.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), April 6, 2000, p. 27.
The Observer (London, England), February 27, 2000, p. 10.
Rolling Stone, March 16, 2000, p. 31.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 21, 2000, p. C2.
Washington Post, May 5, 2000, p. C3.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com
—James M. Manheim
Dubbed the “new soul queen,” singer-songwriter Angie Stone earned her title after years of hard work, emotional pain, and productive soul-searching. Her solo debut, Black Diamond, and follow-up, Mahogany Soul, were both highly regarded. Though she experimented with rap and R&B, Stone eventually returned to her first love—soul. “I’ve deviated from soul music, tried to keep up with what was going on, flavor of the month,” Stone admitted in an interview with Chris Willman in Entertainment Weekly. “Did not work for me.” The music industry followed her lead: “I think I was one of these people you can say was before her time,” she said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “But I think [the record industry has] begun to run out of fads and realized that it’s time to go back to music with some depth to it.”
Like other artists of the neo-soul genre that developed in the late 1990s, Stone blended R&B and gospel, and then blended the mix again with contemporary hip-hop flavor. While such platinum-selling artists as D’Angelo, Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, Lauren Hill, Mary J. Blige, Maxwell, and Jill Scott dabbled in this new-soul blend, “no single album during this neo-soul movement has embraced the soul experience as fully as Angie Stone’s Mahogany Soul” wrote Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn. “Where her contemporaries salute the legacy” of soul music “in occasional tracks, Stone is so immersed in the soul tradition that you feel the spirit of the masters in almost every number.”
Stone was born Angela Laverne Brown in the mid-1960s in Columbia, South Carolina, the only child of musical parents. Her father, a taxi driver, performed in a local gospel quartet. Stone herself started singing and writing poetry when she joined the First Nazareth Baptist Church choir of the when she was “knee-high to a duck’s tail,” she recalled in her J-Records online biography. She used to sing the songs of Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield in the mirror as a girl and taught herself how to play keyboard. A talented basketball player, Stone was ranked number one in South Carolina for free throws and number two for assists, she said in an interview with Newsweek. Though she was offered several basketball scholarships, Stone turned down college and moved to New York City to pursue a career in music. “I had a natural love for the game, but the thought of trying to become an artist was more challenging,” Stone told Newsweek. “My character is to chase things I’m never supposed to have, so I went for it with everything I had.”
While in high school, the gospel-trained soul singer and cheerleader had dubbed herself Angie B. and formed the first-ever female electro-rap trio, Sequence. In New York City, the group signed with the legendary Sugar Hill record label and released the single “Funk You Up” in 1979. She worked several dead-end jobs while trying to cut her first demos. She broke into the jingles
Born Angela Laverne Brown c. 1965 in Columbia, SC; married Rodney C. (a rap musician), c. 1985; divorced; children: (with Rodney C.) Diamond Brown, (with R&B singer D’Angelo) Michael D’Angelo Archer II.
Formed rap trio Sequence, c. 1977; group signed with Sugar Hill label, released the single “Funk You Up,” 1979; sang on ad campaigns for Afro Sheen and Budweiser; worked as a backup singer and saxophone player for Lenny Kravitz on his Let Love Rule tour; lead vocalist for Vertical Hold, which released A Matter of Time and produced the top 20 R&B hit “Seems You’re Much Too Busy,” 1993; songwriter for Mary J. Blige, SWV, Solo, and Malik Pendleton; cowrote and coproduced D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar, 1995; released Black Diamond, 1999; released Mahogany Soul, 2001.
Awards: Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, Best R&B/Soul or Rap New Artist—Solo, and Best R&B/Soul Single—Solo, both for “No More Rain (In This Cloud),” 1999.
Addresses: Record company —J Records, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10151. Website —Angie Stone Official Website: http://www.angiestoneonline.com.
business and sang on ad campaigns for Afro Sheen hair products and Budweiser beer.
Stone had her first child, daughter Diamond, during her brief marriage to rapper Rodney C. in the mid-1980s. She worked as a backup singer and saxophone player for popular rocker Lenny Kravitz on his Let Love Rule tour. She then was a lead vocalist with the soul trio Vertical Hold, whose 1993 debut album, A Matter of Time, produced the top 20 R&B hit “Seems You’re Much Too Busy.” Artists such as R&B singer Mary J. Blige, female group SWV, Solo, and Malik Pendleton count songs Stone penned for them among their repertoire.
R&B singer-songwriter D’Angelo, whom she considers “a musical soulmate,” according to her online biography, entered Stone’s life while she was working as a backup singer for him. She cowrote and coproduced his platinum 1995 debut album, Brown Sugar. The two had a son, Michael D’Angelo Archer II, in 1997. By the 1999 release of Stone’s debut, Black Diamond, on Arista Records, the couple had split, though D’Angelo collaborated with her on the track “Everyday,” and the two remain close friends. Being known as D’Angelo’s “baby-mama,” or mother of a star’s child, focused media attention and increased the pressure on Stone. “I spent a lot of time defending myself,” Stone said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “My life was such an open book… A lot of people thought I was bouncing back from heartbreak.”
Stone has referred to her weight—which is more than that of a typical R&B diva, but considered by some critics to be a refreshing change—as one reason for their breakup. She has suggested that the media and those close to D’Angelo may have convinced him a more slender woman should be on the arm of an R&B superstar. “A lot of what happened with us stemmed from outside pressure,” Stone revealed in an interview with Vibe. “At some point in everyone’s career you begin to hear the roar of the crowd.” Despite the pressures, Black Diamond sold more than one million copies, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and won two Soul Train Lady of Soul awards. The album’s hit single, “No More Rain (In This Cloud),” featured samples of the Gladys Knight and the Pips’ heart-wrenching hit, “Neither One of Us.”
If Black Diamond was seen as a breakup album about pain and loss, Stone’s sophomore release, Mahogany Soul, boasted songs that are “testimony to the power of love when things get tough,” wrote critic Jon Pareles in the New York Times. Though she had been with Arista since the label discovered her singing for D’Angelo, Stone was invited by label-head Clive Davis to start his own label, J Records. “When I encountered Angie, it was clear she was going to be a pathfinder,” Davis told Heart & Soul magazine. “She had a creativity that was clear to see. She’s moving soul music back to its roots.” Stone had more control over this album and wrote and produced it, revealing a “more refined, mature soul album,” wrote Joseph Patel in Vibe. She “dishes out realness with a side of dignity, righteousness, and self-respect,” wrote critic Tomika Anderson in the Source.
“Wish I Didn’t Miss You,” built on a sample from the O’Jays’ “Backstabbers,” and “Bottles & Cans,” which Hilburn suggested is evocative of Al Green, are songs of tempestuous romance. “Time of the Month” may be the first gospel song about premenstrual syndrome. While a battle of the sexes was being waged between male and female hip-hop acts, Stone chose “Brotha,” a refreshing and positive take on African American men, as the first single off her new album, because, she told Entertainment Weekly, to counter the venomous tide coming from other women in music, “somebody has to balance the scales.” Remixes of the song include vocals by rapper Eve and Alicia Keys, and the song’s video includes footage of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, hip-hop mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and an appearance by rapper and actor Will Smith. Though label-mate Alicia Keys was the subject of all the media hype for her multiplatinum release Songs in A Minor, Stone’s Mahogany Soul did just as well on the Billboard charts, tying Keys for third-best album of 2001.
Stone found another romantic match in singer Calvin Richardson, with whom she sings a duet on Mahogany Soul’s “More Than a Woman.” In addition to raising her own two children, Stone formed the mentoring company, StonePro. “I want to become more involved in discovering, educating and grooming young artists,” she told Heart & Soul. Ultimately, she sees herself as a minister. Though she has not attended seminary school, “I’m just a minister of soul music,” she told Heart & Soul. “I feel like God has shaped and fashioned me to do just this—soul music…. I always knew God had something in store for me, and He is the reason why I’ve maintained.”
Black Diamond, Arista, 1999.
Mahogany Soul, J Records, 2001.
Billboard, November 3, 2001; November 10, 2001.
Daily News (New York), November 4, 2001.
Entertainment Weekly, January 18, 2002, p. 35.
Heart & Soul, December/January 2002, p. 66.
Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2001, p. 3.
Newsweek, November 18, 2001, p. 66.
New York Times, November 10, 2001.
Paper, December 2001, p. 104.
People, November 5, 2001.
Source, December 2001.
Time Out New York, November 15-21, 2001, p. 46.
Vibe, March 2002, p. 124.
“Angie Stone,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 24, 2002).
Additional materials were provided by the J Records publicity department, 2002.