K7/TKA Freestyle/R&B artist K7 is back! After being the lead singer in freestyles most influential group (TKA) and having a string of chart topping solo singles, K7 has been very busy. Check out this exclusive interview with K7 and the Swing Kids as he discussing the singles “Maria”, “Come Baby Come”, life at Tommy Boy, and what’s next for him and TKA!
by Rob Schwartz
WHO?MAG: Tell me how TKA got started. K7: We started back in, truthfully, 1984. We were a bunch of friends from around the neighborhood and we started writing songs together and performing at sweet 16’s and, you know, community events around the area. I walked up to the record label that was two blocks away from my house and the receptionist there, a male receptionist, became a good friend of mine. I invited him to come see us perform at a local school and then from that point he brought us back to the label and signed us to Tommy Boy Records.
WHO?MAG: Tell me about the TKA single, Tears May Fall. K7: Tears May Fall was a song written by Anthony Tripoli who was responsible for finding The Cover Girls. Right before he found The Cover Girls, he had two songs. He had the song called, Show Me, that he was shopping around as a demo with the original lead singer of The Cover Girls, and he had written, Please Don’t Go, for Naomi. And he says, well I have this song for guys to sing. And he wrote that song to us and The Latin Rascal’s helped produce it (Tony Moran) and that was basically it. The ball started rolling for us from there.
WHO?MAG: Let’s talk about the “Scars of Love” album. What kind of impact did it have on the music industry? K7: We were the first male, all male, Latino group doing this type of dance music. For us, it was a major accomplishment for us. What it did was, it opened…I think it opened the flood gates for male artists and freestyle music and dance/pop music in the late ’80’s/early ’90’s. We were lucky enough to have spawned, I think it was 7-8 songs from that album…luckily – thank god.
WHO?MAG: So, on the “Louder than Love” album, what was the growth of the group at that point? K7: To me, it was the minds of the original group to me. It started showing that together as the original members we were becoming stagnant. Our ideas musically had reached its peak. Management and myself, we were doing most of the production and the songs we were writing together and the other two guys were feeling like they wanted to go in a totally different direction. So when we were doing that album, we felt like that was gonna be the curtain call, per say, for what we were doing. And it was the height of the freestyle movement and it became very popular because of songs like, Give Your Love to Me, and Louder than Love. We had tried to go in the direction, because we were signed to Warner Bros. at the time, so we tried to go in a pop direction which wasn’t really working for in the sense, because our core audience was more of a dance field. So we just felt like we had to stick to our core or change the total imagery of the group. And that’s when I started doing what I did – the K7 stuff by myself.
WHO?MAG: I know you kind of touched on it, but what was the final decision to break up the group? K7: The final decision came right after the Louder than Love video came about. We felt that that was it for us. We had gone to (it was funny) Chicago, and we w ere coming back from Chicago and we had a discussion on the plane about…that we reached it. When we got back, we had already started recording songs for our next album, basically which was gonna be my solo album originally. So we had Maria, that was already from the K7 album, and we had Zunga Zang, a song called Body Rock, and a song called Give Your Love to Me. Joey says, “well let’s do a compilation album – a greatest hits album, and let’s add a couple of new songs to it”. So I gave Maria to the greatest hits album, and Tony Moran and I wrote a song called Is it Love, for the greatest hits album as well, and that’s how we wrapped up the package.
WHO?MAG: Speaking of Maria, can you tell me the whole process of recording it? How you guys from beginning to end; the whole thought process of putting it together? K7: The thought process, when I started Maria, I was at home listening to my walkman. I happened to be watching West Side Story and listening to the Bell Biv DeVoe album and happened to be listening to Poison, and I felt wouldn’t it be cool to do a hip-hop/dance version of this song. So I got together with a couple producer friends of mine and we started playing around with it and then I took it to my manager, Joey Gardner, who liked the concept of where I was going with it, and really helped me flush it out. From that point on, I felt like we needed to make it, like, this epic thing; like we wanted it to start from the beginning. Since it tells a story we wanted it to build to kind of like a climax. So as we recorded it, each process was, you know we wanted to add different elements. Freestyle was going through a transition phase and hip-hop was becoming more prominent in New York radio. So we wanted to infuse some of the hip-hop elements in there so we had added scratching onto it, we added sampling, you know cause we sampled Bob James’, Breaking Bells in there, and we felt that towards the end of it we needed to add a crescendo of it all. So I called a good friend of mine, Marc Anthony, and he said to me that I should make the ending be like the salsa records. And at the end of most salsa records the lead singer would ad-lib throughout the whole thing, but you know he would ad-lib like constant different types of rhythms to what the salsa beat was. So I felt, maybe I should try to do that and a freestyle element. And I took ideas from this group called, The Cold Crush Brothers, and I felt like that’s the type of energy that I needed to give it cause it would still be freestyle and it would still have a hip-hop element to it. So that’s what we did.
WHO?MAG: What happened to TKA and K7 at Tommy Boy? K7: TKA ended on Tommy Boy. K7 started off with Tommy Boy and continued on Tommy Boy after our first album, Swing Batta Swing. And after that we continued to record our second album with them, but the way that we were moving musically and the things that were happening at the label weren’t really working very well. So we just felt it was best to part ways.
WHO?MAG: Tell me about the recording process for, Come Baby Come. K7: It’s the most fun that I ever had recording! I can only tell you that I felt free. I didn’t have opinions lieuing over me. It was just myself and my song writing partner and producing partner Joey Gardner. I had other people, a good close friend of mine Frankie Cutlass, Tony Moran, who’s basically like my uncle, and then I had these guys with me, and I had, you know, a couple other producers. And we just went in there and we didn’t have any preconceived notions of what we should do. We just wanted to have fun with it.
WHO?MAG: Did you have any other collaborations with any other Tommy Boy artists before? K7: We worked with Stetsasonic. We also worked with a group when TKA first got together. We did background vocals for a group called, The Rock Squad, whose original song was called The Facts of Life, and that’s basically it. We planned to do something with Naughty by Nature, but it didn’t come into fruition ever. That’s basically it.
WHO?MAG: What are your thoughts on Reggaeton and the Latin Movement today? K7: I feel it’s the same thing as the Freestyle Movement. I feel that there’s people that are good in it. There’s basically a core of probably 10 groups that are really excellent at it and then there’s another, like maybe, 20-30 groups behind them that are not putting as much emphasis to the music as they should, which only waters down the sound. So when you hear it, it becomes redundant. It’s the same thing that happened to Freestyle. That’s why Freestyle became stagnant and died quickly. If there’s no evolution in sound, if the sound doesn’t grow, there’s nowhere for it to go after that. So, it basically has a short lifespan. It happened with Freestyle and it’s happening with Raggaeton now.
WHO?MAG: Can you make a description of what Freestyle is? K7: Freestyle…it was supposed to be free of style. It was supposed to be anything that was dance oriented but with a Latin feel to the rhythm or a Latin feel to the song writing method. Our manager used to describe it as Harlequin romance poems written to dance music tracks or the sampled hip-hop tracks. That’s what it basically was for us. It was an extension of hip-hop music that started out at the end of Electrofunk with Afrika Bambaataa, Soulsonic Force, or Planet Patrol, when they started doing that stuff and when Shannon came in. Shannon, I would say, would be the mother of Freestyle, so would Lisa Lisa. And then when the popularity came Stevie B, George Lamont, us, Naomi who did The Cover Girls, Sweet Sensation, groups such as those, Noelle, Cynthia.
WHO?MAG: Last question. What’s next for K7 and what’s next for TKA? K7: The sky’s the limit. Wherever God puts me and wherever God puts us together. So, hopefully in the next few years, we’re gonna have something else out, and we’re gonna take the TKA name and get a fresh new start with it. So there will be another K7/Swing Kid thing going. But most likely we are going to have the new generation of TKA and, you know, see where it goes from there.