Since her professional debut in 2002, Amerie has continued to carve out her own niche. She refuses to be relegated to any box. Singer, songwriter, producer, and actress are but a few of the nouns which can be used to classify the 26 year-old beauty. “I’m a citizen of the world,” she says jokingly. Her family background demonstrates that concept. Born to a Korean mother and an African-American father, Amerie’s first language was Korean. A self-professed “military brat,” she has spent her entire life traveling the world, living in places such as Germany, South Korea, Alaska, Texas, and Washington DC, among others. From an early age, she began to view the world as one full of human beings who have more similarities than differences, regardless of culture and geographical location.
Amerie’s critically-acclaimed debut LP, All I Have, was a breath of fresh air and much attention was given to the petite beauty with a big voice, but immediately after its success, Amerie did what is almost unheard of in the music business: she took a two year break. “I always intended on venturing into acting one day,” she confides, “I just didn’t know I’d get the opportunity so soon, so I took it. I had to!” That opportunity was developing a new show on the BET network. The show would be centered around music videos and a teenage/young adult audience. Hosting The Center, as well as working behind the scenes, Amerie enabled the new show to garner the highest ratings ever for any show in its time slot. Weeks after shooting the last episode, Amerie was in front of the camera again, this time in a leading role in the Forest Whitaker-directed First Daughter, a romantic comedy co-starring Katie Holmes and Michael Keaton. It was towards the end of shooting, however, when she began to yearn to get back into the studio, and a couple of weeks after leaving the set, she was back in New York City writing and recording new material.
The result was the outstanding sophomore LP, Touch, which spawned a summer classic, “1 Thing.” The next year proved to be a whirlwind: Amerie was nominated for two Grammys, was the recipient of the Aretha Franklin Entertainer of the Year Award at the Lady of Soul Awards, received the ASCAP Soundtrack Song of the Year Award, won the Vibe “Club Banga of the Year” award, and, with her exotic, striking good looks and million-dollar legs, she was named one of People Magazine’s “100 Most Beautiful of the Year.” In August of 2005, she became the first Asian-American to ever grace the cover of Vibe magazine. And she’s not ready to sit down for a breather quite yet.
“I’ve always loved creating music. When I was in high school, I used to record songs that I wrote by using two different tape recorders and two separate tapes. I would start by recording myself on the first tape, singing the song down from top to finish. Then, I would play it back, while singing the harmonies and recording them onto the second tape. I’d just keep repeating the process, going back and forth between tapes until I had a final version of the full song on one tape, with stacked harmonies, backgrounds and everything!”
Producing, writing and arranging her third LP reminded Amerie of those earlier times. “I felt like I had so much music in me, I just had to get it out. In the vocal booth, I was incredibly antsy because I had so many melodies and harmonies—all these parts and different bits—that I just had to get out of my head and onto something tangible! The feeling of hearing something in your head and then actually laying it down is indescribable, it’s amazing.” This burst of creativity is evident throughout Amerie’s latest offering, Because I Love It, scheduled for release early summer 2007. It exemplifies her individuality in the musical landscape, and she is in a lane all her own.
“To me, the key is staying true to myself. I have to sound like me. I can only be myself, and I won’t even try to be someone else. From growing up and having people want to define me by my ethnicity, to being in this industry and feeling the expectations of falling into certain categories based on my skin color, my gender and background, I was just determined to do what I wanted to do and make the music that I wanted to make.” Earlier in her career, some even believed Amerie’s educational background (she received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University) would somehow make her less appealing as a recording artist. Amerie intuitively deemed such a conclusion “ridiculous! Everyone has their own story, their own path to wherever they’re going. It’s like the questionnaire that we’re always faced with at some point. People often want to fit you into a box, a little cubby hole: ‘please circle one.’ Who really fits into those things?”
Remaining true to her vision and not second-guessing herself during the creative process did prove to be difficult at times. “I really wanted to create in a way that was very unafraid, but of course, in the beginning, I was questioning myself constantly. `Is this record too this? Is it too that?’ And I just finally had to say, `I don’t care! I love it and I’m going to do it! I feel like music is so much a part of me. It lives in me, and for me, creating it is like breathing.” As a whole, Because I Love It unapologetically falls into no particular box. There are many elements (70’s soul, 80’s new wave, hip-hop, live instrumentation), yet the sound is remarkably consistent throughout and makes complete sense. Although the musical inspiration is broad, the arrangement of the material is signature Amerie: strong, aggressive vocals; beautiful melodies, and lush harmonies.
The album’s first single, “Take Control,” takes an authoritative approach to love. Produced by Amerie, Len Nicholson, Mike Caren, and Cee-Lo, the song oozes with attitude. Over a funky guitar and punctuated horns, a confident Amerie urges her love to take the initiative. “Make Me Believe” is a terrifically interpreted cover of the 1975 song by Curtis Mayfield protégé, Patti Jo. Amerie is tough and blunt, yet in a velvety way, and the record is reminiscent of the long Cadillac cars, fedoras and posturing of the seventies. Amerie even picked up the flute and played on the record. “Some Like It” samples Malcolm McLaren’s “World’s Famous,” and was something Amerie and Nicholson dreamed up while riding to the airport, listening to an old school mix. “We thought it’d be a lot of fun taking on the challenge of actually singing on top of that beat. We played around with the arrangement and it ended up being such a great feel-good record!” The lyrics and delivery demonstrate quite a swaggering side of Amerie, and the sound is a brazen departure from what people are used to hearing from her. The innovative record goes down smooth, but is hard-hitting at the same time; one can’t help but see images of roller-skating on a sunny day.
“Crazy Wonderful,” a song all about kissing an especially sexy “cocoa lover,” was conceived during a conversation with her sister about lipstick of all things. “Sometimes wearing lipstick seems so pointless because it ends up coming off every time you kiss. Women complain about that all the time, so I decided to write a song about it!” In “That’s What U R,” probably the sexiest song on Because I Love It, Amerie sings the praises of that special someone who has been patiently waiting to take the relationship to the next level. “A woman knows when she’s ready to `go there.’ It may take a long time, so it takes a special guy who can wait until she’s ready.”
On the effervescent “Crush,” which brings back the cool energy of the early eighties, the artist yearns for, at the very least, a chance encounter with her heart’s desire. Of course, one can’t speak on love without acknowledging its darker side. “Paint Me Over” is beautifully haunting and brilliantly written, and is something many, male or female, can relate to. “I wrote this song after reflecting on what it is to truly lose yourself in a relationship. Not just losing yourself, but allowing someone to completely change you; basically, letting someone you love paint you over. It’s a doomed relationship.”
From recording songs in her bedroom in high school and performing them in talent shows, to crafting songs in the studio and vivaciously performing them worldwide, Amerie has taken her love and appreciation for music to new heights with Because I Love It. With her trademark raw, raspy, heartfelt delivery, and her angelic falsetto, Amerie is one of music’s most versatile, vocally honest artists. “I’ve learned that if you want to do something, do it! Don’t be afraid! Don’t shut yourself down. Whether it’s pursuing a career, writing a book, taking a road less traveled…do it!” Amerie has taken that approach and created an astounding third LP, one that escapes simple classification. It isn’t strictly R&B, it isn’t a seventies or an eighties throwback, and it can’t be explained only as hip-hop soul. “It’s just heartfelt music,” Amerie says. “It’s music from my heart.” As it should be.