Rihanna's vocal producer Kuk Harrell on making 'Talk That Talk'
Less than two months, 25-plus cities, late-night recording sessions: Rihanna's vocal producer Kuk Harrell reveals how the singer's latest disc "Talk That Talk" quickly came together.
When Rihanna announced she was readying a new album for the fall, the news came as a bit of a head-scratcher. The 23-year-old singer was still issuing singles, and touring extensively, for her fifth album, "Loud," which she had released only 10 months before.
The aggressive turnaround of the new record, her sixth in as many years, followed the model she set with "Loud," when she was still in an album cycle (in this case 2009's "Rated R") and already issuing new material.
Long-rumored to be prepping a repackage of "Loud," which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and logged 1.5 million copies in the U.S. according to Nielsen SoundScan, the singer instead opted to piece together the naughty, dance-fueled "Talk That Talk," which hit stores on Monday.
Rihanna's vocal producer, Thaddis "Kuk" Harrell, recalls the swift, but arduous, process of crafting her latest batch of Top 40 hits.
As part of a songwriting–producing team with his cousin Christopher "Tricky" Stewart and The-Dream, the Grammy winner has been sought after by many including Beyonce, Kelly Rowland, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Chris Brown, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber.
Harrell, who produced all of the vocals for "Talk That Talk," began working with the singer on her smash hit "Umbrella." He also produced all the vocals for "Loud."
"The show was the priority, and then the album. That's how the day was broken up. Rihanna would do her show every night, get done at about 11, go do her meet-and-greet and be done by maybe 1 a.m. Then she’d get to the studio by 2 or 3 a.m., have some rest time and figure out what records to start with," Harrell said. "I’d make the decision based off where I felt her voice was. Knowing she just did two hours of a show and meet-and-greets, I would suggest capturing the stuff that was easier to get like the lower-range stuff so we wouldn’t hurt or damage her voice."
The singer would record late into the morning, sometimes until noon, before riding her bus to the next city. Working on the album's raunchy club bangers took Rihanna's collaborators on an international escapade through Paris, London, Norway, Denmark and Germany. Harrell estimates the album was cut in more than 25 cities.
"I was listening to 'You Da One,' and we actually cut that in Paris," he recalled. "Every time I hear the ad-libs that she does on the second chorus, it just reminds me of that moment. It was probably 9 a.m., and we’re just powering through to get the album done. You’re tired, but you’re there because you know you have to get it done. Take one, she just nailed it … at 9 a.m."
When pressed if the turnaround was too much, too soon for Rihanna — she was recently hospitalized and forced to cancel a set of shows in Sweden due to exhaustion — Harrell said she didn't take on too much. Rihanna, he said, approaches her albums much differently from other artists he's worked with.
"Here’s the thing that really impresses me about Rihanna: A lot of artists when they go in to cut their album, they will cut like 30-40 records. Rihanna and her camp, they are very smart. She’s really focused on her brand and she’s smart. She doesn’t put her voice on anything she doesn’t believe isn’t her record."
"She only cut 16, or 17 records for this album. Which is a huge difference," he continued. "She goes into the record knowing. It dictates the performance that we get out of her. It's a genuine performance rather than cutting a bunch of records and not being sure if it's going to make the album. It's sharpshooting. I know how it is to be hungry like that. When I was 23 I had that same hunger coming up in the industry."
— Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: At top, Rihanna checks off the track list for "Talk That Talk." Bottom, Kuk Harrell, left, Rihanna and Marcos Tovar toast the completed album. Credit: Rihanna's Facebook page