I first met Shakir Stewart in 2001 when he was Vice President at Hitco Music. L.A. Reid, who by then had succeeded Clive Davis at Arista, had put his faith in Shakir to oversee the creative direction and day-to-day operations of his publishing venture.
At the time, I had clients signed to a competing music publisher and was traveling to Atlanta frequently for meetings and studio sessions. I was peddling creative talent and Shakir was -- as always -- looking for the next best thing be it a song, a songwriter, a producer, an artist or a colleague with an ear for talent.
In music publishing, competition breeds collaboration. It was obvious to me at the onset of my first visit to the Hitco office that Shakir was someone you wanted to collaborate with. Someone you had to collaborate with. He was passionate ... driven, his energy contagious. I am proud to be counted among those he made music with--even if ours was never heard outside studio walls.
His goal: to make hit records. Mission: Accomplished.
With such hits under his belt as Destiny's Child's "Survivor," Shakir began moving up L.A.'s A&R ranks, first at La Face and Arista, where he signed Grammy Award-winning artist Ciara, and later at the premier urban record label, Def Jam, where he recently took the helm from Jay-Z.
I haven't seen Shake in a couple of years, the last time being only a brief dinner encounter when he was in Los Angeles. One of the most memorable times I had with him, albeit not that fun, was also in LA at the screening of one of the worst movies ever, The Wash. If you saw it in the theater, you might have walked out. We were stuck in a studio screening (no concessions) that had started about an hour and a half late when Dr. Dre decided to show up. And we saw the temp music, unedited version which went on and on and on. It was a long, creatively stifling but quite unforgettable afternoon.
Shakir was a true champion of talent and an inspiration to many. The news that he has taken his own life is nothing short of a stunning tragedy. We all had him pegged as a "Survivor."
Thanks for the memories and music, man. R.I.P.
Tip: Stop the Last.fm player on the left before playing
Def Jam: "L.A. Reid and all of us at Island Def Jam Music Group are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Shakir Stewart. Shakir was an amazing man, in every sense of the word. A truly incredible friend and father who was an inspiration to not only our artists and employees, but to his family and the many people who had the privilege of counting him as a friend. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family at this very difficult time."
Fiancee Michelle Rivers: "Over the past several weeks, Shakir's behavior was inconsistent with
the man we all know and love. As much as we all tried to help him,
Shakir was in deep pain and largely suffering in silence."
Friend Christopher Hicks: "Whatever happened over the past 24 hours is not a testament to who we all know. He was a one-of-a-kind individual. If you looked on his Blackberry [stamp] it said, 'One of one.' ... I mean, Shakir is the kind of guy who would get dressed up for a party none of us were invited to. ... He had no doubt he was getting in. He was a 'Where
there's a will, there's a way' kind of guy. Always."
I've had the opportunity to meet several musicians, songwriters and recording artists in my day, both personally and professionally, and at this stage of the game, few encounters result in positive, lasting impressions that warrant sharing.
Enter Gavin DeGraw
I was invited to see Gavin at the House of Blues Sunset in 2003 when he was promoting his first major-label release, Chariot. I declined the invitation to see the performance by an artist I knew little about and had heard nothing from. In the car while not on my way to the show that night, I heard the future top 40 single, "I Don't Want To Be." It was a first-listen love. When the DJ named Gavin DeGraw as the singer-songwriter responsible for the perfect Dale Earnhardt Jr. theme song, I was not only crushed -- I was bitter. Why hadn't I heard the song a day -- or even hours -- earlier? I copped the album the next day and lived to regret my cavalier dismissal of this then unknown artist. I know better than that.
Fast forward five years and another album later. Opportunity knocked again. A few Saturdays ago, upon learning that Gavin would again be performing at HOB, I made immediate inquiries. By Monday morning I was hooked up with a ticket for that Wednesday's show, had a meeting scheduled for that evening moved to The Foundation Room (membership has its benefits) and was looking forward to the show, filled with pride over my capacity to learn from past mistakes and extremely grateful for a "do over."
No Preparation Required
I'm one of masses who likes to be well-versed in an artist's latest songs in advance of concert attendance. No doubt this was one of my justifications for skipping the aforementioned 2003 appearance. This time I was ready. I've been listening to Gavin's self-titled sophomore effort since its release and placement in regular rotation in my iTunes in May.
"In Love with A Girl" - I immediately deemed the first single the theme song for 2008's most popular NASCAR couple, Kyle Busch and Samantha Sarcinella. If you're familiar with the back story, you get it. If not, you probably don't care.
"Relative" - Everything is relative. Isn't it? Clever, catchy, provocative.
"Next To Me" - A boy likes a girl, offers his heart but she won't open her broken heart to him. A tragedy with which I am all too familiar.
My now favorite song off this album was sorely missing from my early list:
"Medicate the Kids" - An incendiary anthem for the over-medicated generation. Passion-laced and powerful.
"Cop Stop" and second single "Cheated on Me" also deserve mentions, as do the love songs inviting one to settle into him and "Let It Go."
Sometimes, I go out of my way to meet people of interest. Far more habitually, however, I have fortunate encounters simply because I take advantage of opportunities that afford such pleasures. (See also: My day on set w/ Dale Jr.)
After making new acquaintances and putting in an acceptable amount of face time at a meeting (if you can call throwing down cocktails and kicking back in a tricked out prayer room at HOB a meeting), I ventured down to the venue to see what was what. The second supporting act, Charlotte Sometimes, wasn't even set up yet. There was still plenty of time before Gavin would take the stage. I made a stop at the merchandise table, then headed back upstairs to the Foundation Room.
After a quick stop at the bar, I made a beeline for the porch -- I'd heard earlier that there had been some drama out there with gen pop waiting to get in. I found Gavin holding court with label execs, music supervisors, etc., his handlers and fan organizers coming and going. I met a member of his management team and chatted up an A&R rep who was experiencing HOB Sunset for the first time. We taunted threw friendly waves to hostile onlookers desperately seeking a spot on our side of "the velvet rope."
I waited patiently in the wings as Gavin sipped hot tea and conversed with "important" people. Since I wasn't at the show in any official capacity, I had no legitimate excuse to butt in, but I had no intention of passing on a chance to meet him, either. When opportunity knocks, I have a tendency to open the door.
When a break in the conversation occurred, I made my move--approaching Gavin and introducing myself as a nobody a fan. I was greeted eagerly with a friendly but firm two-hand shake and welcoming eyes that peered directly into mine. For the next several minutes, the artist gave this fan his full attention. There were no exit attempts or desperate "save me" glances thrown about -- Gavin engaged me in conversation as if I was the only other person in the room.
I offered compliments and I believe that Gavin was genuinely moved by my random, critical appreciation of his creative talents. I inquired specifically about "Medicate the Kids" and he explained that it was not inspired by direct personal experience but by what he has observed going on around him. Indeed. I've seen it, too -- prevalently in the life of another talented musician I know. I won't out him here, but I will say that I've always been quite impressed by his songs about his "17 years crazy" with "ritalin in his arms."
Quite satisfied with my personal moments with Gavin, I took my leave ... headed downstairs, found a friendly face and settled into on of my usual spots behind the soundboard ... the whole way there experiencing a revelation ... Gavin is totally hot! Like, super duper, duper hot. It's amazing how personality can enhance outward appearance. On top of the rest, he's super buff ... super hot bod ... super hotness. Who knew?!
I left him way more excited for the show than before and he did not disappoint, but I'll spare you the concert review and leave you with this...
Gavin DeGraw = outrageous talent + genuine personality + romantic + social awareness + total hottie!
Two Final Words
L'objet d'affection de l'heart d'Gavin = lucky girl.