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Writing "Goodnight" By Reggie Bennett

The song “Goodnight”, based on Franz Schubert's "Gute Nacht" from the famous song cycle "Die Winterreise", was written over roughly a two year period between fall of 2009 and January of this year. Wanting to emulate the classical art song style, which is based on poetry, storytelling and serious composition, I originally saw “Goodnight” as a classical/hip hop ballad with no rap in it. Think Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau meets DJ Premier or RZA meets Paul Robeson. Beautiful vocal performance and gorgeous instrumental arrangements combined with gritty hip hop production. With its dark harmonies and eerie recurring melody, I found Schubert’s “Gute Nacht” an ideal composition for classically inspired hip hop music.

Working on a Schubert inspired hip hop song was a long time interest of mine, as I had sung lots of his music during my time at The Boston Conservatory as a voice student. I loved the way Schubert told stories with piano and voice—like two old lovers that could easily finish each other’s sentences, but don’t because they might miss out on learning something new. The relationship he creates between text and music is so intimate that it is difficult to imagine one existing without the other. Schubert’s “Gute Nacht” tells the story of a heartbroken young man, whose lover has reluctantly accepted the hand of a wealthy suitor instead of his own. In his attempt to understand his cruel fate, he consults nature and God, before ultimately bidding his lover farewell as she sleeps under nightfall. Schubert begins his heart wrenching composition with a mysteriously dark piano passage, highlighted by a descending melodic line in the right hand. This hauntingly rich six measure phrase is the basis of “Goodnight”.

I took a recording of “Gute Nacht” to my friend and producer K.C. Walden, also known as “K”, to see what he could do with it. K’s style at the time (and still today) was MPC driven hip hop production, meaning he uses the electronic drum pads on the instrument to play and program each sound in his beat. His background as a DJ influences much of his production style, often times giving it a live, transistor-like feel. Very New York hip hop. He has a gorgeous, pure sound—at times fragmented and provocative, creating tension for the listener while at other times hypnotic and simple. When using samples, he consistently discovers the sweet spot, recreates it, and builds the track around his reconfiguration. After telling K what I had in mind for “Gute Nacht”, he played the record, inhaled, tightened his jaw and started chopping it up. “Goodnight” arrived 40 minutes later. I sang a few lines of the original German text over it and we played with song structure and vocal effects. At one point we even put auto tune on the vocals. You’ll never hear that version!

Eight Months Later: As it often happens, time passed, both K and myself began working on other projects, and before long the “Goodnight” sketch became a faint memory. I was working intensely with friend and composer James Lindsay on both his new art song compositions and another hip hop/ classical piece called “The Prey”. During that time I also met master producer Steve Weisberg through my good friends Jessica Lipps and Larry Schaffer. Steve, James and I spent the summer working on new classical inspired hip hop pieces in both LA and New York. Steve introduced producer and engineer Lee Curreri to the team in August and together we created four new pieces, including an introspective piece called “We Wear The Mask”, and a song inspired by the African American spiritual called “Privilege”. After listening to demos of the new songs and loving them, I still felt like I needed a dark, edgy record. Then I remembered the “Goodnight” sketch.

K and I went back in the studio to rework the record this past December, this time with Steve. At that point I had created several classical/hip hop songs and was a developing a consistent song structure pattern with the help of Steve, Lee and James. I made the decision to rap and sing on the records, which was different from my earlier ideas. The blending of the two styles and everyone’s musical talents lent itself to very expressive, non-traditional songwriting. We all felt good about the direction of the project. I based the lyrical content of “Goodnight” on my taste in fine arts, culture and social consciousness. In celebrating the arts and my place in it, I included such notable references as the 18th Century black composer Le Chevalier de Saint-George and iconic 1980’s artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Just as we were making significant progress on “Goodnight”, K’s computer was stolen and we lost everything. We decided to remake the record in LA with Lee Curreri, whose incomparable talent is nothing short of phenomenal. Lee, Steve and I tediously reconstructed the song piece by piece over a two days stretch, adding a new operatic chorus in the process. Lee replayed the six measure piano phrase, then chopped it the style that K had originally created. We then added drums to create the track, but only after locating the exact drums K used in the demo—not a small task by any stretch of the imagination. Don’t try it at home! After matching tempo and timbre, we added bass, strings, and turntable to make the cypher complete. Finally, Lee suggested adding a round to the end of the song after accidentally creating one during a playback. Love when that happens. At that point, my big homie, b-boy/singer/engineer extraordinaire John “Purpose” Cambell came through the session. We all vibed out to the track for a bit, then I recorded all my rap vocals, doubles and ad libs. We finished well into the early hours of the the next day, a good night indeed. I headed back to New York the next day with a fresh record, a brand new sound and a smile that hasn’t gone away since.

 
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