How Do You Do?

In July of 2009 Beyond Race Magazine celebrated its 3rd anniversary by using Mayer Hawthorne as its cover boy. He had only been signed to the hip-hop label Stone Throw Records in 2008 by label head Peanut Butter Wolf, but already he’d made inroads into the consciousness of popular culture, especially in terms of how his retro sound blurred race and genre distinctions.

Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Andrew Mayer Cohen was immersed in the rich culture of the region. Detroit’s jazz scene produced Sippie Wallace, Ron Carter, and Kenny Burrell. Aretha Franklin debuted at the New Baptist Church where her father ministered, and John Lee Hooker began his career in the city’s blues clubs. Pop singers ranging from Margaret Whiting to Sonny Bono to Madonna have called the region home. But Detroit’s best known musical legacy is the incredible soul music that poured out of Motown Records in the 1960s and ‘70s. Barry Gordy’s pantheon of artists inspired young Andy Cohen, especially Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, Isaac Hayes, and the songwriting team Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, who collaborated on many of Motown’s greatest hits.

Mayer Hawthorne (the surname is derived from his family’s street address) was drawn to music as a child. He took up playing many instruments and began producing despite no formal training. After moving to Los Angeles in 2008 Hawthorne’s intentions were to produce, arrange, and write. His own music was designed to be a side project, meant for his own entertainment. After meeting hip-hop impresario Peanut Butter Wolf, Hawthorne was encouraged to record his own material despite the fact that he’d never intended to be a vocalist. How Do You Do is his 3rd album and, although not a great singer, Hawthorne is growing more confident. What is never in doubt is his commitment to classic soul music.

From track to track the influences of different artists manifest in the arrangement of the songs. “Get To Know You” features the sexy mood of Barry White or Isaac Hayes. “A Long Time” pays homage to Barry Gordy and Motown Records while Hawthorne sings in a Smokey Robinson falsetto. “Can’t Stop” finds retro-soul intersecting with rap as special guest Snoop Dog drops in to add his rhymes to the mix. “Dreaming” drips with strings and punchy bass lines. This track, as well as “Finally Falling sounds like a steal from a Supremes’ record. The stand out track is the hit single “The Walk.” It’s spunky beat and smart-ass lyrics are ear-catching but be warned, the album version’s language is way more tart than the “radio-clean” single. Hawthorne has a remarkable knack for writing songs that sound classic, thanks in part to his clever arrangements. He knows just when to throw in horns, strings, girl choruses, a bouncing bass or toy piano. It will be interesting to see how he will develop his own distinct musical personality.

Addendum: Mayer Hawthorne celebrates his 33rd birthday on February 2nd.

Rosemary Welsch (afternoon host)