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Phonte Remembers Rich Nichols In His Top 5 Guest Verses

The Roots, “One Time”
Album: Undun
“Real rap, no tale spinning, Such is the life of a Kamikaze pilot
We wylin’ out of control, Until we all make the funny papers like Comic-Con”

“Oh my God. That was a bittersweet record. That was the last time I actually saw Rich Nichols, their longtime manager. Rest In Peace Richard Nichols. An incredible person. He reached out to me in 2011. Previously we had done the stuff on How I Got over, “The Day” and “Now Or Never.” So he hit me up ‘It’s album time, verse time, what you got?’ He sent me this one record and it was just a really slow and dark and I was like ‘You sure you want me to do this one? I can write to anything but send me something else.’  Charity Starts At Home was done and this was in the middle of my divorce. I was living in an apartment with no fuckin furniture, on the floor with just my laptop. He sends me the beat and that piano and those drums just spoke to me in that moment. I said Rich, this is the one.

Recording it, people don’t know that Rich was the most meticulous…I’ve worked with a lot of producers and been in the studio with a lot of cats, Rich Nichols was the most labor intensive vocal producer I’ve ever worked with in life. I might have spit that verse like 20 times.  He’d say ‘You said ‘Spirit in the SKY’ and I want you to say SPIRIT in the sky…’ It would be so technical. That shit was like Black Belt training in terms of vocal coaching and production. At the time the album told a story and I remember the note he gave me was ‘You’re telling the story, you’re not rapping it. So you have to speak as that character.’ As MCs you really don’t get worked like that. Usually it’s just ‘Gimme 16, gimme 32…’ There’s no focus at all. But with that one they were very, very specific in what they wanted me to do. But he liked it and was ‘We got it.’ That was the last time I worked with him.

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