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Band Hopes To Refresh Motown With Its Grooves


When most people think of Detroit and music, Motown is the next word. Legends like the Temptations, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, and of course, the Queen - Aretha Franklin - all have roots in the Motor City. But now, a different kind of Motown music is emerging from a group with the unlikely name, Platinum Pied Pipers. These days, they go by just PPP or Triple P. Their latest album, "Abundance," came out earlier this year. Recently, Michel Martin spoke with the group's band leader and producer Robert O'Bryant, better known as Wajeed.

MICHEL MARTIN: Wajeed, welcome. Thank you so much for talking to us.

Mr. ROBERT O'BRYANT (Band Leader and Producer, Platinum Pied Pipers): Hi. How are you today?

MARTIN: I'm great. And before we get started, I just want to give listeners a little taste of what we're talking about. The first single, "On a Cloud," featuring the vocals of Karma Stewart. Here it is.

(Soundbite of song "On a Cloud")

Ms. KARMA STEWART: (Singing) He said Where you been Hiding all my life But until now Love's been on strike Get adventure Got you right on time...

MARTIN: All right, see? I'd get on the highway with that, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know I'm right. You're behind the wheel. You're not into that, right?

Mr. O'BRYANT: I accelerate to that one.

MARTIN: That's right.

Mr. O'BRYANT: That's what it's for, right?

(Soundbite of song "On a Cloud")

Ms. KARMA STEWART: (Singing) The same guy woke me up this morning Will it predict you in my future You're on the ground He's got me on a cloud...

MARTIN: First of all, how did the group come together? How did you and Darnell Bolden, better known as Saadiq, start making music together?

Mr. O'BRYANT: Saadiq and I have been - or Darnell - we've been friends for well over 10 years, and we've just been making music together for the last five. So you know, I'm a part of - or affiliate of the group Slum Village out of Detroit. I guess we kind of met through Slum Village, and eventually we started to make music together and gradually formed this idea of this group, PPP or Platinum Pied Pipers. And the most immediate fun person I could think to bring into the group, not to mention talented, was Saadiq.

MARTN: When you grow up in the Motor City, as you did, and you're into music, is the Motown sound always on your mind or is it something you think, I got to get away from it, I got to get away from it?

Mr. O'BRYANT: A little bit of both. Definitely, you know, I went to art college in the downtown or the cultural center of Detroit. And every day I went to school I would pass by the Motown Museum. And I guess passing it every day over the course of almost four years, I guess some of my dreams where there, you know what I'm saying? To kind of relive that moment or kind of bring Detroit back to that pivotal point in time. So, yes, it's definitely in your heart. It's definitely in your spirit as a Detroiter.

But you know, as I grew older, you know, I kind of wanted to shed those ideas and go some place, and you know, move to New York and start a new idea. But once you get here or once I got here, you know, those dreams still haunt me, and hence the "Abundance" album now.

MARTIN: Can you just tell me about the name, quickly, Platinum Pied Piper?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now, Platinum - I was thinking, OK, platinum album. Could it be that, but...

Mr. O'BRYANT: Well, if I've learned anything in this industry, in this music business, I've learned that you can't take yourself too serious, you know. We've all been to the night club or we've all been to the bar, and we see the guy in the dark club wearing sunglasses and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'BRYANT: You know, he's trying to look to cool. You know what I'm saying? I always vowed that, you know, I would never be one of those people. So I guess the name Platinum Pied Pipers starts by me kind of poking fun at myself and just having a free spirit and not taking it so serious. And the idea of the Pied Piper kind of generates from the story about the pied piper coming into town, and he's playing the flute and all the rats kind of follow him out of town. Everybody knows that story.

MARTIN: Yeah, everybody knows that story. But speaking of which, though - and I don't want to call them artist rats - but you are the producer on this album, and how was that, being the boss man?

Mr. O'BRYANT: Difficult sometimes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'BRYANT: It's tough to be dad, you know. I mean, this is - you know, I don't have any children, but definitely, you know what I'm saying, this experience with this album, it taught me a lot in a lot of ways, you know, that you just can't be really good behind the boards or making music, you know. It's your management - people management skills play a big part.

MARTIN: What did you learn on this?

Mr. O'BRYANT: An abundance of things. I mean, you know, that's part of the reason why I called the album "Abundance," you know. I learned that there is no future without that past, and that's why this album is so inspired by Detroit. You know, I learned that sometimes when you move away from things, you miss it so much and you reminisce on it so much that it ends up almost a way to pay homage, you know. Like when I moved here to New York, you know, I thought I would shed all those Motown ideas and Detroit ideas, and you know, find new ones. And I've only found myself reassociating myself with my past ideas and my history and my roots. And I can only appreciate it more because I'm here now.

MARTIN: That's a nice segue to the next track I want to play. I want to play "Go, go, go" which features Jamila Reagan. Let's play a little bit.

(Soundbite of song "Go, go, go")

Ms. JAMILA REAGAN: (Singing) Out of all the places I could have chosen. And the time my whole day was open. I find myself staring at you. Something I never thought I'd do. As we learn...

MARTIN: What were you thinking of when you were putting this song together?

Mr. O'BRYANT: You know, very much like "On a Cloud," I wanted to make one of those songs that made you kind of want to break the speed limit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'BRYAN: When you're driving in your car and you're going from one place to another, and this song comes on, and the intensity and the energy of it makes you just want to just go, go, go...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'BRYANT: Literally. That's kind of - what were you thinking?

MARTIN: Well, what I was thinking of is the Supremes, but what if they were just starting out now?

(Soundbite of song "Go, go, go")

Ms. REAGAN: (Singing) Oh how I wish that you would Go, go, go. What can I do. Go, go, go. Can I make....

MARTIN: It was like the freshness of it. That's like - it's like I can imagine that spirit of the girl group and that spirit of the elegance and the femininity that they stood for. But it's right now, it's a now sound. It doesn't sound like back in the day. It sounds like right now to me. And so that's what I was - I was wondering if you were - if that's a conscious thing, you were looking for that - the roots of the Motown sound, but freshening it up, and if you have like a freshening principle or freshness meter or something that helps you know that you got it right.

Mr. O'BRYANT: I mean, I'm definitely inspired by Motown, and you know, so many other things. But you know, for me, it's, you know, I'm kind of walking that fence where I've got one foot in the past and one foot in the future. And I think, you know, I think the best contribution that I could ever make to music is to create something original and to do something that kind of has my spirit in it, as well as, you know, the past. So I guess that's that freshness that you're kind of talking about.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Wajeed of the group Triple P, and we're talking about their new album. It's called "Abundance."

And speaking of "Abundance," let's talk about the song. It's sung by Coultrain?

Mr. O'BRYANT: Yes.

MARTIN: OK. Let's take a listen and talk more about it.

(Soundbite of song "Abundance")

COULTRAIN: (Singing) See you're a slave to tradition if you don't want to have it all. If revolution ain't your picture, then you cease to exist at all. Help me sing. See you're a slave to tradition if you don't want to have it all. If revolution ain't your picture, then you cease to exist at all. At all. I know you're scared, that's right. But worrying makes no sense. So, sit back and have a slice of abundance...

MARTIN: That's a strong message in there. That's a strong message. I mean, at first, you're thinking, oh, man, I'm sorry I'm in here by myself, I don't have anybody to dance with.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But then you think, OK, I'm listening. I'm listening. That's a very - it's interesting. Where did this come from?

Mr. O'BRYANT: Coultrain is our writer. He wrote for the entire album. And "Abundance" is the final kind of hidden track on the album. And we basically wanted to kind of sum up all the ideas of what the purpose of the album really was. And Coultrain and I spoke about it, and he went and wrote and he came back with this, and you know, we were recording, and I was just floored. It basically encompasses all the ideas of what we were trying to do, and you know, basically how all of us kind of feel on some days, you know.

(Soundbite of song "Abundance")

COULTRAIN: (Signing) All right. So, hey I'll be happy now. Before it all comes stumbling down. Music. Hey, I'll be happy now. Before it all comes stumbling down. You say, now. Hey, I'll be happy now. Before it all comes stumbling down...

MARTIN: How come this is a hidden track on the album? It's a secret no more. We're telling everybody.

Mr. O 'BRYANT: OK, right.

MARTIN: But it's not included on the song list.

Mr. O'BRYANT: You know, the song was so special to us, I felt like we kind of wanted to make it special for the people that found it, you know, if that makes sense at all.

MARTIN: It does. I'm sorry. I messed it up for you, didn't I?

Mr. O'BRYANT: No, no, no, no. It's fine. Don't worry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: It's like telling everybody which piece of candy is the caramel in the box. Sorry.

Mr. O'BRYANT: No, that's fine. That's fine. You know, I think that anybody who cares to really listen to the album, you know, you have your album cuts, you know, you have your singles, you have the sing-along songs, and then you have songs like this, that's kind of like a combination of all the above.

And my father always taught me, if you're not going to do something different or really try to change things, you know, then don't do anything at all. And I think this song in this album kind of reflects that, and you know, I'm just happy that some people are getting it, you know.

MARTIN: Tell me about your father.

Mr. O'BRYANT: Well, he's a regular guy. He's a regular guy, born and raised in Detroit. And he's like, you know, one of my best friends. And you know, he always had that ability to tell me to keep going, you know. I've done so many different things in my life, and he's always been supportive of all of them, just about.

MARTIN: Well, you know, and I'm dying to know what a live performance of yours is like. You were voted by URB Magazine as one of the best live bands. How many people do you have on stage - you and Saadiq? It sounds like there must be 15 of you. Well, not on this album but...

Mr. O'BRYANT: No, I wish, I wish, I wish. I wish we could do the funkydelic(ph) thing. But generally, there's about five or six of us on the stage. Saadiq plays bass and guitar and keyboard, and I play keyboard, and we have a drummer. And then generally, we have two vocalists.

MARTIN: You and Saadiq work so closely together. Do you ever get on each other's nerves?

Mr. O'BRYANT: Absolutely. Absolutely. This guy is a...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'BRYANT: Pain in my side a lot of times. But you know, it's that - it's that thing, it's that chemistry that kind of makes it what it is, you know.

MARTIN: But when you work so closely with somebody, how do you decide when a particular track is finished or when an album is what it is supposed to be? You know, I can envision that you might have different ideas about that - which take is the best take, which take is not, no, I don't like that one. I don't - you know.

Mr. O'BRYANT: Well, I mean, you know, there's only two ways that an album is finished. It's that's when you're out of money or out of time. So we pushed this album definitely past that point. We were definitely out of money and definitely out of time. So that's generally when our album is done.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Good to know. Kind of like a talk show.

Mr. O'BRYANT: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So - but generally, you know, Saadiq kind of trusts me, you know what I'm saying, and I'm grateful for that.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Mr. O'BRYANT: I appreciate it, and thank you so much.

MARTIN: Well, what track should we go out on?

Mr. O'BRYANT: Let's do "Smoking Mirrors."

MARTIN: "Smoking Mirrors." OK.

(Soundbite of song "Smoking Mirrors")

MARTIN: Robert O'Bryant is better known as Waajeed. He's the producer and the front man for the group Triple P. Their new album is called "Abundance," and he was kind enough to join us from our New York bureau. Thank you so much for speaking with us and good luck.

Mr. O'BRYANT: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of song "Smoking Mirrors")

COLEMAN: That was Michel Martin speaking with Waajeed of the group Triple P. That's our program for today, I'm Korva Coleman, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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