Thirteen years ago, I walked out of a classroom in Winter Park, Florida preparing to experience some of the most memorable moments of my life. A short year prior, I walked into my first major recording session, featuring fellow HS for Creative and Performing Arts alumni Bilal and Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson. The session was for Bilal's debut album 1st Born Second. He was late, there was an accident in the Lincoln Tunnel, I was early. During the hour long wait, I sat on the couch sharing conversation with the engineer, Jon Smeltz, stealing everything I could from his brain about the industry and the process. In an effort to not be annoying, I stepped out routinely and at one point ran into the owner, Larry Gold. After some discussion about my plans, Larry invited me to return when I got back home from school.
I'd been exposed to celebrities in the past - my dad's close friend was Miles Davis' tour manager (imagine me at 10 standing around backstage waiting for an autograph), my sister traveled heavily in the 80s hip-hop circles and I graduated from the same high school as Boyz II Men. But that night in February, I encountered two people I'd admired for years. Unexpectedly, as I sat on the couch further spelunking into Smeltz's brain, Common enters the A Room, interrupting our conversation with greetings. I sank down in my seat quietly, expecting to be overlooked when he walked in my direction, hand humbly extended and said, "Rashid". His visit was short, I can't recall why he was stopping by, but he left without much fanfare. Shortly after, Ahmir walked in. He and I exchanged nods, and I watched as he prepared for the session, in awe. I'd been a fan of The Roots since the release of "Distortion to Static" and picked up every release since. Whenever they were performing in Philly, from an underground appearance in a garage/warehouse party/open mic in Parkside, to their headlining dates at the Electric Factory, I was there. Ahmir and I had seen each other in passing before, and I believed he recognized me, but I wasn't going to be the one to remind him.
He left the room as quietly as he entered, and suddenly the crack of his snare drum came through the mains. Jon queued up the tape and Ahmir began re-cutting the drum parts to the record they started a few days prior. Bilal walked in midway through the recording with his managers and greeted Jon. He and I hadn't seen or talked to each other in three or four years, since our high school graduation, but we'd been back in contact for about six or seven months prior to this night. We shook hands and hugged like old friends do, and he got to work.
After some playback and conversation with Bilal, Ahmir left as unceremoniously as he'd arrived. Bilal spent the majority of the night on the other side of the glass, with myself and Jon as the only people in the control room. The rest of the night was a blur as I sat and watched a moment in history being captured eternally. When all was said and done, the jokes, the recording, everything, I walked away knowing I'd made the right decision in traveling down this road.
I didn't remember much from that night once I got to school. There were so many experiences wrapped into such a short period of time, it was hard to remember anything specific. One day, walking down University Boulevard in Winter Park, I began humming (or singing) the bridge to the song from that night. I fought to remember the rest of the lyrics and was moderately successful. I waited for months before the song would be released, although I and the rest of the world would be held-over with the Raphael Saadiq produced "Soul Sista" for the Love and Basketball soundtrack. Then it happened. The album "1st Born Second" was released and "Sometimes" was the center track on the album. Finally I was able to hear it, and feel like my energy was part of it.
The song went on to be one of his most successful, despite never being released as an official single. It was later added to the soundtrack for the biopic Ali, and is still a favorite of Bilal fans. For me, the success of that song is very valuable. I was able to experience something in the beginning of a career and a new sound, that also signaled the beginning of my career. Yes, he was a friend who I'd supported creatively for as long as I'd known him, but this was something new for both of us. I still look at "Sometimes" as one of my favorite records of all time, because of the art and the emotional attachment I have with it.