Not too long ago, I interviewed for an internship with the local distribution outfit of a major record label. To start off, the woman who was conducting the interview asked me what type of music I liked, and which artists in particular. After rattling of my favorite rappers, and some bands I dig to not sound so close-minded, I said a name that garnered the response, “Wow, I haven’t heard that name in about ten years.”
That name was Roger Troutman.
An artist known to mold genres, the man who went simply as Roger is probably most famous for bringing Peter Frampton’s synthesized talk-box into urban music. More notably, he helped pioneer the bouncy and digital-synth sound that’s become commonplace amongst not only the rap world, but also pop and techno. However, since his untimely death at the hands of his brother in â€˜99, his legacy seems somewhat forgotten to even some of the most musically inclined.
To others, that’s not the case at all.
Roger’s characteristic sound has become emblematic of Left Coast Low-Lows, stiff necks, and “old school” stations around the country. The group he formed with his four brothers and musical cohorts, Zapp, produced possibly the most sampled song ever in “More Bounce to the Ounce.”
Known better as the lead in the group, than for being an established solo act, however: Troutman received very little credit for his five solo efforts.
His first, The Many Facets of Roger, is to some extent a forgotten gem.
Originally released in 1981 with only six songs, and later re-released in ’02 with nine, The Many Facets of Roger is a prime example of how versatile Roger Troutman could be. An album that has somewhat of a precursor in the Zapp albums, it should definitely be considered a melting pot of music. It’s choc full of brilliantly elaborate, somewhat erratic songs, which are sometimes almost twice as long as those heard on today’s radio.
For instance, the cover of Norman Whitfield’s timeless song, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” With a running time of 10:45, the album’s lead cut and single put a whole new twist on the classic. Fused a funky sax and guitar, lots of sporadic horns and percussion, and a talk-box showing from the legend himself; the happy-go-lucky song rides the original melodies into a musical fusion that only the Eighties could produce.
While not as long as “Grapevine,” “So Ruff, So Tuff,” is another example of an upbeat tune that should bring any listener out of a mode. It’s huge bassline and drums were the inspiration for countless samples in the rap world, including 2pac’s “California Love,” and Cube’s “How to Survive in South Central.”
Other album cuts, such as “Blue (A Tribute to the Blues)” “Maxx Ave,” and “A Chunk of Sugar” seem to branch out a little more. “Blue” has the unmistakable twangy sound of a small live blues bar down in Memphis, while “A Chunk of Sugar” with its entrancing guitars and never-ending bassline, is just what the name entails. “Maxx Ave” also keeps a bluesy feel, in a more fresh and lively way, and definitely funks up the album.
While it should be noted this is album is solid as a fist-pound, there is an obvious highlight to Roger’s first full-length.
“Do It Roger,” the intro to side B of the vinyl, is something that could only be made by a musical genius. The timing and cohesion of the multitude of instruments and numerous singing voices, accompanied by the Roger’s talk-box, literally lets Roger “Do It” for eight-plus minutes of pure awesomeness (On a personal note, between parties and the daily campus iPod strolling, this song single-handedly got me through my first year at WMU).
With solo albums the caliber of The Many Facets Of… and his legendary work with Zapp, it’s a shame that Roger’s name has fallen out of the mouths of those in which it should matter.
With his production, he paved way for prominent producers like Erick Sermon, Doc Dre, and DJ Quik and helped the T-Pains and Boskos of the world find their niche. The classic songs he made carried such driving character, that once today’s burgeoning stars became ready to find their own path, his music was their foundation and benchmark.
So maybe, in retrospect, while the woman interviewing me hadn’t heard his name in a while, it shouldn’t have struck me as disappointing. It really doesn’t matter if anybody listens to him at all, because due to some of most creative artists of my generation, she’s most certainly heard his impact in the music of today.
Roger Troutman definitely left his stamp on this world, a legacy even, and that’s all that matters.
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