Q&A: Kashif – Music History in the Making

Revolutionary. Iconic. Musical Legend.

Those are just some of the words that describe Grammy award winning singer, songwriter, super producer Kashif. He is a man that has paved the way for artists of yesteryear through today. From his humble beginnings in the group B.T. Express to a successful solo career, Kashif is responsible for many of the hits that we still enjoy today. Remember those chart topping songs, such as Evelyn Champagne King’s “I’m in Love” and “Love Come Down”?  Or the Kashif and Meli’sa Morgan duet “Love Changes”, or even Whitney Houston’s “You Give Good Love”, just to name a few? The multi-talented musician is also responsible for revolutionizing R&B music in the 80s with his usage of the New England Digital Synclavier synthesizer. Kashif invented uses for sampling to get the unique sound evident throughout his discography. In 2004, Kashif was inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame as a “Living Legend.”

Soultrain.com caught up with Kashif to discuss his views on the music industry, his involvement with foster care, and his plans to bring the history of music to the forefront.

Soul Train: Mr. Kashif, What have you been doing over the past few years?

Kashif:  I have been crazy busy. I am producing and directing now. Producing and directing lots of documentaries and commercials. I have now taken that same energy and put it into the visual arts and of course I write the music for the commercials and the documentaries that I produce. Some of my clients include Casey Family Programs–which is a philanthropic wing of UPS, Hyundai Motors, NAACP, and St. Joseph Health System. I have a production company called Brooklyn Boy Entertainment.

Soul Train: How did you make the transition from music to getting behind the camera?

Kashif: Well, photography is my hobby. It started with UPS.  A buddy of mine that I had been playing basketball with years says–and I get this all the time–but he says, “So your name is Kashif, like the Kashif?” (laughs) One day he heard me on the radio talking about a program for children in foster care, which is another thing that I do, and said he had no idea that I did that and he said he worked for Casey Family Programs, a philanthropic wing of UPS.  He asked me if I would become a spokesperson for them. They are the largest private agency in the country that advocates for children in foster care. I came up in foster care so one thing led to another and I became their national spokesperson, I became their keynote speaker at their annual retreat. They asked me what I would like to do with foster care and I said I would like to work with branding it as a social issue, so they asked how would I do that, so I suggested commercials and they ended up giving me a huge budget to work with and Iwrote, directed and produced three commercials for them. Other people saw them and said it was really creative and hired me so here I am today, writing, directing and producing.

Soul Train: What is the program that you are involved in with foster care children?

Kashif:  I grew up in 8 different foster homes. There was no biological family at all. So, I started the iCare Foundation. We do a number of things. For example, we took 200 youth in foster care and 200 mentors on a cruise, and the kids are strategically placed at the dinner table with people who are already working in the field that they have expressed an interest in. Out of that, as you might imagine, mentor-mentee relationships develop. We also have a school called Kashif University, where it’s a school specifically for kids in foster care, ages 8 to 18; we do supplemental and intermittent programs in language arts and math. In the fine arts training we offer piano, singing, drums, songwriting, recording, producing, martial arts, creative writing, fashion design, basketball, and a lot more. We’ve been very successful in increasing test scores in language arts and math.

Soul Train: Since you have the creative juices flowing with directing and producing, have you ever thought about doing a documentary or movie based on your life?

Kashif: Actually, one of the biggest projects that I am working on, we are in pre-production with it right now. It’s called The History of R&B Music and Its Influence on World Culture.  It’s a 10- part documentary for television. We start in 1948 and come to the present time and take a look at the influence music has on the way people live, politics, and love and relationships. For example, James Brown; in the 1960s, we were in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement and Negros, African Americans, blacks, whatever you want to call us, were trying to carve out our niche  and be treated equally [with] justice, fairness. But if you called us black it was considered an insult, and one week, someone called you black, then you’re fighting like someone stabbed your mama or something. Then James Brown made a song called “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” and so the next week, call me black, and I’ll put my hands on my hip and wear it as a badge of honor. So you can imagine the effect that had on black people, then the effect that it had on the rest of the world was even bigger. Those who supported us became more active in their support for us. Think of how that song changed the planet as a whole. So that’s what this documentary is about, it’s about the fun, the impact of their music. The doo-wop songs in the 50s were so amazingly romantic; most people sang how they loved. No one else has really documented R&B music before. It should be completed in 2014.

Soul Train: What do you think of the music industry today? Do you think that hip hop is taking over R&B and pushing it to the wayside?

Kashif: I think the music has been dumbed down. I think what’s happened is record companies have gotten greedy and stopped wanting to pay for quality production, so they see that the money comes from a younger audience…well, the strength in sales comes from a young audience but the sustained sales will always come from an older audience.  A kid that’s 12 years old doesn’t have any money to buy anything.  The greed and the record companies and the dumbing down of the music itself caused the sales to suffer. If you look at old school artists and the trend in terms of their live performances, there is a huge upsurge, so that should tell them something. Actually, it also goes back to the fine arts training programs being taken out of public schools. So all of the music training basically dried up, there’s no venue for them to learn music, so rap emerged, with the sampling. Since kids weren’t getting training, they wanted to express themselves and be creative so they began making music by sampling and not actually playing the instruments. So if you’re not playing the instruments, you’re not getting the training, so the quality of the music was bound to suffer and it has. So that’s the historical element of what has happened to not only R&B music but most music across the board.  I still think there is an opportunity through programs such as mine and private schools where you are going to always see songwriters and artists emerge who are unique and will rise above others who want to work in the industry.

Soul Train: Do you think the thrill or the chase of getting the coveted record deal has fallen to the wayside in this microwave society?

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Kashif: It’s called wood-shedding. When I was coming up as a piano player, when I wasn’t in school I would spend 15-16 hours a day practicing.  Now days that doesn’t happen; instead you can go to the music store, pick up a beat box and press a button. The problem goes a little deeper than that. When I was coming up taking the music lesson, going to the rigors of wanting to become an accomplished musician, I never thought about making money, it was all about the love of the craft, learning to write songs and produce. The thought of making money came much later, after I started making music. So, now almost every verse that you can think of, their main thing is they want to be rich and famous. Not that they want to be an excellent musician, writer, producer so on and so forth. So when you put the horse before the cart, obviously the quality suffers. That’s another thing that I think we’re suffering with in the industry as a whole–they are so quick to give these grand awards to these new artists that really haven’t paid their dues, and they don’t spend enough time focusing on artists that have actually laid down the foundation. So they give these lifetime achievement awards to artists of years gone by, but there’s not enough focus so that young people will know the history. Just like you have to know about George Washington, you have to know your history. Young people don’t have the chance to get the enrichment that they could get. It’s important to know the history of the music, where it came from, where it is going. If you don’t know that, then you end up just like the music industry is today where a lot of people complain about the quality of it.

Soul Train: What do you think of artists taking to reality shows to build their audience and boost their record sales?

Kashif: I think any form of promotion and marketing is a legitimate, if you look at the reality of what sells today. You know they don’t become music artists as much as they become matinee idols. So, yeah they get to promote their music on the show, but they promote their chance to be in a film or have a new fragrance attached to their name. It’s all legitimate, but as it speaks to the music, if the music was so great, their sales would be even higher.

Soul Train: Who do you listen to?

Kashif: The same music I’ve always listened to. I have an eclectic ear. I listen to classical, straight hair jazz.  I listen to everything.  I listen to TI, LMFAO, heavy jazz, heavy old school R&B, and classic rock. My tastes have not changed. I don’t listen to commercial radio anymore; it’s just gotten so bad. So like everyone else, I can make my own playlist on my iPod.

Soul Train: Do you still perform?

Kashif: Every once in a while I do. I’ve done some shows lately. I’ve done some shows in Europe and in the Los Angeles area. I do a one man show, private show that I do every so often, but it’s not what I spend most of my time doing. My other business is so lucrative that it just didn’t make sense for me to do that, and everybody likes money (laughs).

Soul Train: Do you have any memories of being on Soul Train?

Kashif: (laughs) Oh sure! Back in 1974 is when I was first on Soul Train. I was in a group called B.T. Express. I think I still have that archived footage (laughs). That was the first time I was on the show, had just graduated from high school and I joined the band and we had the song “Do It Til You’re Satisfied”. Then I performed again as Kashif the artist, I think maybe twice. So yeah, growing up watching Soul Train and then getting to be on the show, how cool was that?

Soul Train: What was your impression of Don Cornelius?

Kashif: Don always looked like his shirt collar was too stiff (laughs) but you know what, Don was a gracious host always looking to make the artists shine and do them justice. I’m good friends with his son, and I look up to him. If it weren’t for Don, what other outlets would we have had for African American music? Let’s say from the beginning of Soul Train to the Arsenio Hall Show, what other outlets did we really have for R&B artists? TV One and the outlets that people are creating for themselves like on the reality shows, those are the only outlets these days since things have just changed so much. We can expect change, we should embrace change, we should embrace our history ten times as much because that would ensure that the change moving forward would maintain the quality of the music going forward.

Soul Train: Did you have a favorite Soul Train dancer?

Kashif: There were a couple of dancers that wore those tight pants!  (laughs) I’m so afro-centric when it comes to women, I love black women, so there was one girl on there that was black and Asian and (laughs) yeah boy, I didn’t even know their names (laughs) but I watched Soul Train for those girls in those tight pants. (laughs)

Soul Train: (laughs) At least you’re honest! What is your favorite Kashif duet?

Kashif:  “Reservations for Two” with Dionne Warwick and “Love Changes” with Meli’sa Morgan are my favorite duets.

Soul Train: How about your favorite as Kashif the writer/producer?

Kashif:  I guess it would have to be of course, Whitney Houston “You Give Good Love” and probably George Benson’s “Inside Love.” George Benson was my idol.

Soul Train: You wrote the book Everything You’d Better Know about the Record Industry a few years ago.  Do you plan to write a follow up book?

 Kashif: Yes, I am actually in the research phase right now. When I wrote that book, it’s when I taught the course at UCLA. I used that course as kind of a case study. I used that to see what young people wanted to know and I could fill in the spaces for all that they needed to know. I am currently in the phase of choosing the university at where I would teach a course and use the same methodology and use it as a case study to write my next book.

Soul Train: What advice would you give to music lovers?

Kashif: I would like to encourage people to get out and support and buy albums, through the music, songs, through art, you should support what you are able to comprehend in real life. People are losing their people skills and relying on texting and tweeting. I would encourage people to go out and listen to live music. Instead of texting, pick up a phone so people can hear your voice, go visit that person. Touch it, feel it, experience it.

-Shameika Rene’

Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.

 

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