Lost Gem: D'Angelo and Angie Stone helped Twice to "Sparkle"

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    Lost Gem: D'Angelo and Angie Stone helped Twice to "Sparkle"

    The nineties have come into vogue once more as a halcyon time for R&B and hip-hop music and culture. It’s easy to forget, though, that the latter part of the decade marked a somewhat tumultuous time for many artists struggling to maintain creative footing amidst major-label mergers and increased commercial pressures.

    Lost Gem: D'Angelo and Angie Stone helped Twice to "Sparkle"

    The nineties have come into vogue once more as a halcyon time for R&B and hip-hop music and culture. It’s easy to forget, though, that the latter part of the decade marked a somewhat tumultuous time for many artists struggling to maintain creative footing amidst major-label mergers and increased commercial pressures.

    One group which successfully found an ideal balance between classic R&B and modern soul and hip-hop—but in the process got lost in the corporate shuffle—was Cleveland, Ohio’s Twice. Identical twins Lovell and Laval Jones and Ike and Mike Owensby made an all-too-brief, but quite memorable, impression with an expertly conceived rendition of Cameo’s 1979 top-10 classic, “Sparkle.” The cover, released in the spring of 1997, was produced by none other than D’Angelo and Angie Stone and afforded Twice national exposure on Billboard’s R&B listings and an appearance on Soul Train. That is, before their album release was abruptly canceled.

    Co-lead vocalist Lovell recently spoke with SoulTracks to recall the experience of remaking the tune and shed light on the group’s trajectory.

    Lovell Jones: Our group started out with three sets of identical twins in the church choir. The third set couldn’t really sing that well, though, so we ended up with “Twice.” We were contracted to do demos for a writing team which submitted songs to record companies for their artists. The labels started asking who was singing on the demos; so, the company, Crucial Music, put us in the studio to record a few songs. We got a deal with MCA Records.

    The label wasn’t too excited when we turned in our first project. They wanted producers with more name recognition involved. Louil Silas, who had started his own label under MCA called Silas Records, then signed us directly to his company. We started working with up and coming acts such as Stevie J and Kelly Price, Rodney Jerkins, and the team of D’Angelo and Angie Stone.

    Louil suggested we cover “Sparkle.” It was one of my favorite songs growing up. I was really into the older Cameo, when they recorded a lot of ballads before Larry Blackmon became the main lead singer. But we were initially against doing the cover. We were young and wanted to have more involvement in writing. The label, however, wanted to give us, being a fledgling new group, something familiar to everybody. We ended up cutting it with D’Angelo and Angie Stone, and it became our first single.

    D’Angelo was one of the most creative people we worked with, but it was difficult. We flew to New York and had booked studio time for a 12-hour block. The song ended up taking two months to record. He worked in an unconventional way. He would come into the studio four hours late and all the lights would be turned out. He’d have a blunt and wait until he felt inspired, then get up and play some music for half an hour or so. Then, he’d be back on the couch smoking. Silas wasn’t too happy, as the project went way over budget. He ended up giving his fee back to them.

    Angie Stone, though, is responsible for a lot of D’Angelo’s sound. She gave him that soulful vocal style, and he took it and ran with it. She did a lot of the arrangements for us, and she also worked with him on another song on our album.

    We’d written a song called “Make You Say Daddy.” It was very racy, but it was where the industry was going. The label was conservative about it and figured it would work better to introduce us with known producers. We were green, but in actuality, it was a good idea. Our version of “Sparkle” hit number one across a lot of stations in Michigan and several other spots. Yet, I think we would have had more mass appeal had we gone with the other song.

    We also got to work with Rodney Jerkins, aka Darkchild, on a completely different version. He wasn’t well-known to the public yet, but in industry circles he was seen as super-producer-to-be. We sat in the studio with him, he gave us a track, and we wrote the remix in maybe two hours. Then we recorded it the same day. It was very spontaneous.

    Although the single did moderately well, the regime was changing at MCA. Louil was out, and new executives were coming in. MCA still had the rights to the Silas label, but they used all the funds for more experienced acts. As a result, our album was shelved. We were still signed for several years before we asked to be released from our contract. We took a break for awhile and then went on to sing backgrounds for Keith Sweat for a number of years.

    Last summer, we recorded an EP that will hopefully be released this spring. We worked with Jayshawn Champion, who’s the younger brother of Jason Champion from Men at Large. He’s written for the likes of Usher, Ginuwine, and Joe. We went back to our roots, but with something that’s still relevant to today’s music industry.

    Recording “Sparkle” was very satisfying. As a young artist, you want to get pushed out of your boundaries. It was our first experience working with a celebrity and being out of our comfort zones. D’ Angelo and Angie gave us a sound we hadn’t been used to. I’m still very influenced by them and still kind of in awe.

    by Justin Kantor