Don't Cha Blink by Before the rise of the singer-songwriter, songs were properties to be test-marketed in search of the ideal hit-making synergy. (See "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Gladys Knight and the Pips...
Tori Alamaze: You Can't Fake Sexiness by When Tori got her first big break working under Cee-Lo it seemed that she could only go up from there. She just recorded a smash hit called "Don’t Cha" and was beginning to hear it on the radio and...
Don't Cha Blink by
Before the rise of the singer-songwriter, songs were properties to be test-marketed in search of the ideal hit-making synergy. (See "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Gladys Knight and the Pips and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye.) The producers who dominate hip-hop and modern R&B have brought that model back, and the short history of "Don't Cha" - first recorded by the Atlanta singer Tori Alamaze, now a hit for the Pussycat Dolls - is a good case study. It also demonstrates how, in the Internet era, original versions that might have been forgotten can now leave ghostly echoes.
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Forum: Popular Music
JANUARY 2004: In a basement studio in Atlanta, Cee-Lo Green produces his composition "Don't Cha" with Ms. Alamaze, a former hair stylist and backup singer for OutKast. With a reprise of the hook from Sir Mix-a-Lot's 1988 song "Swass," it has the chorus, "Don't cha wish your girl was hot like me/ Don't cha wish your girl was a freak like me.
JULY 2004: Interscope Records signs the Pussycat Dolls, a sextet spun off from a burlesque group best known for its sometime member Carmen Electra.
AUGUST 2004: Felli Fell, a Los Angeles producer and D.J., hears Ms. Alamaze's demo while recording in Atlanta. He begins playing the song on Power106 in Los Angeles.
NOVEMBER 2004: Ms. Alamaze signs with Universal Records, like Interscope a part of the Universal Music Group.
JANUARY: Unhappy with Universal, Ms. Alamaze says, she agrees to release her rights to the song to get out of her contract. "I feel like I got caught up in the middle of egos and favors," she says. She completes an album with Cee-Lo and shops it to other labels. The San Francisco producers Justin Martin and Sammy D. make a house-music remix of "Don't Cha" for their D.J. sets, but don't press it on vinyl, believing the song is too obscure. "Then we went to Miami, and lo and behold, the song was playing on every radio in the city," Sammy D. says.
JANUARY-MARCH: Copies of Ms. Alamaze's "Don't Cha" reach stores. Meanwhile, Cee-Lo re-records the song with the Pussycat Dolls. The new version sounds almost identical but adds a verse from the rapper Busta Rhymes.
APRIL 14: Z100 in New York plays the Pussycat Dolls "Don't Cha" three times the day it's released. According to Z100's Tom Poleman, listeners call in immediately: "This is one of those big reaction records." In the next three months, Z100 will play the song 379 times.
MAY: The Pussycat Dolls' single is No. 75 on Amazon.com, which is selling only used copies of Ms. Alamaze's single. A reviewer on the site writes that Ms. Alamaze's version "is way better than that one of Pussycat Dolls." Posters to various message boards echo the sentiment. One writes, "The Pussycat Dolls are better known as the Copycat Dolls.
JUNE: Hip-hop retailers stock an unofficial 12-inch single, "Breezy Blends No. 3," that includes a mash-up of Ms. Alamaze's "Don't Cha" with Rick James's "Cold Blooded" and a Dave Chappelle sketch. File-sharing services offer an anonymous "chopped and screwed" rework of her recording.
Tori Alamaze: You Can't Fake Sexiness by
When Tori got her first big break working under Cee-Lo it seemed that she could only go up from there. She just recorded a smash hit called "Don’t Cha" and was beginning to hear it on the radio and really starting to create a buzz. Unfortunately that buzz was halted. The song "Don’t Cha" was taken by the Pussy Cat Dolls and another one of Tori's songs were taken by Amerie. Well now Tori Alamaze is back with a new sound and a new style. She is able to teach people that despite all of the hardships and obstacles that you may face, there is no reason to stop fighting for your dream. From make-up artist to singer, this is the Tori Alamaze you have never been introduced to.
Jonathan Tobias: Not many people know how interesting your story is. Why don't you give an introduction of who you are and how you got your start in music?
Tori Alamaze: Ok well here is the short version. I got started with Cee-lo by being signed to his production company. Eventually we got a deal with Universal. I had already recorded the single "Don't cha" before I got signed to Universal. We generated some buzz on radio because DJ Felli Fel decided to play it on Power 106 in Los Angeles. Eventually, the song got up to over 3500 spins on radio and we worked the single (my version) into the movie Beauty Shop starring Queen Latifah... all this was done without a record deal. At some point, however, label politics got involved and the song "Don't cha" went to the Pussycat dolls. And there you have it!
JT: It really is a shame that all of these albums get shelved by the record companies...
TA: Well I didn't necessarily get shelved. I wish my situation was that normal. It was a little bit more surprising because there was a single already on the radio with my voice. I had begun meeting with program directors, DJ's, interviews, shows, and at the same time a few months later you have a group who recorded the exact same song. So really you have one song on the radio performed by two different artists. "Don't Cha" wasn't just a demo sitting on an A&R's desk waiting for the right voice. The buzz had already begun. My situation became quite confusing to most people.
JT: You worked as a makeup artist for a while correct?
TA: Yes, I traveled all over the world doing makeup for several artists. My first tour was with this group called Xscape. We did this big R.Kelly- LL Cool J tour. I've worked with Monica, Destiny's Child, Brandy, Faith Evans, TLC, Usher, Outkast. So many wonderful artists.
JT: As you were touring the world with these great artists did you experience something in particular with anyone that made you want to become a singer?
TA: Well, I think it was about 1999 when I was on tour with a group called Blaque that I had made up my mind to really start focusing on writing. Prior to that I'd already had some of my clients compliment my style and my voice. So at some point I embraced and accepted my voice, style, and creativity. It really wasn't until returning back to the States that I decided to transform my journal writings into lyrics. I just felt like I was more than a make-up artist. As much as I love beating faces, there was so much more to me than that. Much more.
JT: How did your music fall into the hands of Cee-lo to begin with?
TA: I had a house fire in 2002. After that I went to New York to record. A friend of mine encouraged me to get to NY to record after they set up a situation for me. I was more determined than ever to get this done, especially after the fire. The fire made me realize that I was complacent with being a makeup artist and the money and lifestyle. So it was time to do something because I realized everything could be gone in the blink of an eye. I recorded a demo of about 3 or 4 songs. After that, I came back to Atlanta and started hustling the demo to the very people I've worked with in the industry as a make-up artist. One day I was doing a fashion show for Russell Simmons and Cee-lo came into one of the dressing rooms and started singing one of the songs from my demo. I was like hey, that sounds familiar... that's me! So we found out later that our managers knew each other and then everything started from there.
JT: I noticed your lyrics are a little tougher than a lot of the RnB singers out there. Do you think that a lot of these singers are missing that certain passion and drive to really get out there and be different?
TA: There is a vulnerability to me as well. There is an honesty and rawness in the music and sometimes its not really me, it's a character. That is one of the things that Cee-Lo taught me. The record companies do not pay you to be you. They pay you to be whatever the character requires! So it's not necessarily me all the time. I like to include all the layers involved in being a female because there are so many. It’s not just the nurturing, caring, giving, maternal stuff. It's also the fuck you, but I still love you that can be fun! It's a whole bunch of different stuff that I'd like to tap into. Sometimes it is a bit hair raising. I like to use double entendres in the lyrics so that one can interpret as it suits them. It also means you have to pay attention to the words because it is missed sometimes. You might not hear it the first time because you just like the beat of the song. When you hear it the third or fourth time you’re gonna be like "Oh shit she said that".
JT: You have a little vaudeville style to you, how did that come about?
TA: I like that word, Vaudeville. I don't really know. I have always loved fashion from Motown to High Society. My favorite all time classic is Sophia Lauren. If I could have that same appeal and beauty when I am 70 then that would be amazing. I definitely feel that I am a trend setter. This industry can beat you down though if you don't have a strong foundation. If you get signed to a label they can make you feel that you are not worth it. My short hair for example, its one of my signature looks and its one of the things that I really fight to keep. I don't need hair down to my ass to be sexy. I know I'm hot! (laughs...)
JT: When you originally recorded the song Don't Cha with Cee-Lo, did you really feel that the song was for you?
TA: Indeed... I am Don't Cha! But I’m also so much more. I am music. I am timeless. I enjoy keeping it raw & authentic.
JT: What would you say to people that might start to give up after coming across obstacles that get in the way of their dream?
TA: Well, this is just my journey. Even at the worse times I've always kept one foot in front of the other. Even on days when I couldn't get out the bed because I may have been depressed or confused, I kept writing and editing. I believe it was Chris Rock who said it only takes one person to change your life. You never know what work you put in six months ago or even a year ago that matters today. So keep it moving!
JT: So what is going on with your album that you are recording now?
TA: Well, I kind of had to start over. All the stuff that I started with Cee-Lo I had to start over with another project. But I did. I hustled, I got great beats, great music and I wrote in the studio, I got my band together and we started recording and performing. I did a mixtape with DJ Jamad of the Apphiliates and I have a song on the Aphilliates R&B mixtape called Freaky Boys. I have a video for Freaky Boyzs that's coming out soon. Some people who don't know what I've been up to may think that I have fallen to the wayside. I just can't wait for them to hear the new album and see me perform! I'm just really excited for people to hear my new music. I'm just starting to brand Tori Alamaze, taking new concept pictures and doing many other things. By the beginning of April Tori Alamaze is going to be a brand. You will see it and say, I get it its clear. That is what we are in the middle of right now with the team I have now. With all the challenges that I have had in the past, you got to just keep rollin. Your support system is so valuable.
JT: Is Cee-lo still apart of your album because on your pod cast you have a song with him called "Quite Simply" and you both seem to work very well together.
TA: I think Ceelo and I have great chemistry together. He won't find that with anyone else. The Pussycat dolls and Amerie could not pull off what we did together. I think Cee-lo is really focused on his label and Gnarls Barkley. So I've not really had any conversations with him as of late. I do think he is extremely talented and his time has finally come. But I've had to fight the past two years for myself. But believe me the fans always keep me going!
JT: Is there anything else you would like to say to the world?
TA: I just really want to create a balance in music. Music that is timeless, fun, has no race, or color! There are stages all over the world with my name on it! That is what keeps me going.