Salaam Remi

One: In the Chamber

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It's hard to overstate Salaam Remi's crucial role in rap and R&B. Active since the mid-'80s with no apparent dry spells, he has produced songs on Top Five albums released during three decades. Ini Kamoze, the Fugees, Nas, Amy Winehouse, and Alicia Keys account for a fraction of the artists who have greatly benefited from working with him. Rather than exploit his achievements to gain the level of mainstream notice enjoyed by younger superstar beat-makers like Timbaland and Pharrell Williams, he's been content to hang in the background. Remi didn't release his first album, the digital download-only Praguenosis!, until 2009, and there was no push behind it. One: In the Chamber came four years later, again released only as a download. It sought little attention and was given it, yet it reached enough Grammy voters to be nominated in the category of Best Urban Contemporary Album. How known was this album? The day its nomination was publicized, it had yet to touch any Billboard chart, and its Amazon U.S. best-seller rank was 76,837. In June 2014, it was released on compact disc with a couple bonus tracks. One of the better commercial R&B albums of its time, it's certainly one of the most musical sets. The songwriting is traditionally minded, all about love and lust, albeit with some frank language dealt by Akon and Estelle. Remi fully flexes as a composer and arranger, applying grand-sounding strings to many of the songs. These include an orchestral dub cover of "Eleanor Rigby" that features Stephen Marley, a sweet instrumental version of Keni Burke's mellow 1982 classic "Risin' to the Top," and the silky "Levi's Place," the last of which could pass for a deep early-'70s CTI interlude. Likewise, "Everything I Need," a sweeping and aching number, is the best song fronted by Ne-Yo since "Champagne Life." Most of the remainder is either at or near that high standard, including "Makin' It Hard for Me," a Corinne Bailey Rae showcase as grand and penetrating as anything recorded by Rotary Connection, the harder-hitting "More Than Music" (featuring Lemar), and "I Belong" (featuring Liam Bailey). This, along with just about everything else involving Remi, is one of the dozens of albums that should be handed to anyone who claims that R&B is dead.