Revolutionary. Iconic. Musical Genius.
Those are just some of the words that describe the late Grammy nominated singer, songwriter, super producer Kashif Saleem. This week marks a year since the musical innovator passed away, but his mark on America’s soundtrack remains.
From his humble beginnings in the group B.T. Express to a successful solo career, Kashif is responsible for many of the hits that many still enjoy today. Remember those chart topping songs such as Evelyn Champagne King’s “I’m in Love,” “Love Come Down”, or the Kashif and Meli’sa Morgan duet “Love Changes,” Howard Johnson’s “So Fine,” or even Whitney Houston’s “You Give Good Love?”
The multi-talented musician is also responsible for revolutionizing R&B music in the ’80s with his usage of the New England Digital Synclavier. Kashif invented uses for sampling to get the unique sound that’s heard throughout his discography.
Kashif went on to work with Stacy Lattisaw, Al Jarreau, Jermaine Jackson, George Benson, Melba Moore, Johnny Kemp, Kenny G, and more. He worked close with super producer and songwriter Paul Laurence, who said Kashif made a positive impact on his career. “He was always positive. When I came in he had already been in the business for a minute, so he was seasoned. He had been with B.T. Express, so for me, this was my first time doing anything on that level. It was Morrie Brown that put us together. He saw what Kashif had and what I had and thought it would be a great combination and put us together in the studio. So I just remember thinking in hindsight thinking he’s been around for a while so he understand things that I didn’t at the time. He was always just so positive. He would say ‘that’s nice what you are doing with that chord right there’ and that just helped me. Not to say that I didn’t have confidence because I did; but it was more about not having had any success yet and wondering if it was ever going to take off. He would say it’s going to be fine, and he was very encouraging,” said Paul Laurence.
“People gravitated to him in the room because he was always so positive about things. He would dream big. Sometimes you would think ‘man that’s too much.’ But he didn’t see it that way, he always shot for the big things,” said Laurence.
That positive energy and encouragement led to several hits once the two joined forces including Evelyn Champagne King’s “I’m in Love” and “Help Yourself to My Love” on Kashif’s album Kashif. The list of collaborations goes on and on.
Singer Will Downing worked with Kashif and credits him for teaching him some of the ins and outs of producing. “We had the opportunity to work on many occasions together. I actually used to work for him, he would hire me as a background vocalist. I pretty much learned how to arrange vocals based on what he beat us up doing (laughs). He was one of the most meticulous producers that I’ve ever met in my life. The outcome was always amazing. When you were in the studio with him, you hated him (laughs). He would say ‘take a breath here, and take four steps this way, and you take four steps back, and you do this and that;’ so he was always just experimenting and we would be thinking ‘what is this dude doing?’ Then we’d hear the record, and we would get it,” said Will Downing. “So I learned from him how to produce. His sound was before Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis came along; that was his sound, and I think they kind of borrowed a little bit from it. They both did really well as artists and producers. In my opinion, it was Kashif’s sound first,” explained Downing.
In 2004, Kashif was inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame as a “Living Legend.”
Kashif also wrote, directed and produced commercials and corporate films for a number of brands, including Hyundai.
Kashif tapped into his other talents as an author. He wrote the book, Everything You’d Better Know about the Record Industry.
One thing close to his heart was a 10 part documentary he was in the process of working on at the time of his death called The History of R&B Music. In an interview he did with me for SoulTrain.com in 2012, Kashif said, “It’s important to know the history of the music, where it came from, where is it going. If you don’t know that, then you end up just like the music industry is today where a lot of people complain about the quality of it,” Kashif said.
Outside of music, Kashif Saleem was passionate about education and activism. He created his iCare Foundation and Kashif University targeted to youth in foster care. Kashif University provided supplemental programs in language arts and math. His iCare Foundation produced the first Walk/Run for Foster Care at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California. Kashif told me in an interview, “My connection to the foster care system is I grew up in 8 different foster homes. There was no biological family at all,” he said.
I had the chance to chat with Kashif a couple of times over the years and here’s an excerpt from one of those interviews.
Shameika: Since you have the creative juices flowing with directing and producing, have you ever thought about doing a documentary or movie based on your life?
Kashif: Actually, one of the biggest projects that I am working on, we are in pre-production with it right now. It’s called “The History of R&B Music and its Influence on World Culture.” It’s a 10 part documentary for television. We start in 1948 and come to the present time and take a look at the influence music has on the way people live, politics, love and relationships. For example, James Brown, in the 1960’s, we were in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement and Negros, African Americans, blacks, whatever you want to call us, were trying to carve out our niche and be treated equally, justice, fairness. But if you called us black it was considered an insult, and one week, someone called you black, then you’re fighting like someone stabbed your mama or something. Then James Brown made a song called “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” and so the next week, call me black, and I’ll put my hands on my hip and wear it as a badge of honor. So you can imagine the effect that had on black people, then the effect that it had on the rest of the world was even bigger. Those who supported us became more active in their support for us. Think of how that song changed the planet as a whole. So that’s what this documentary is about; it’s about the fun, the impact of their music. The doo-wop songs in the 50’s that was so amazingly romantic, most people sang how they loved. No one else has really documented R&B music before.
Shameika: What do you think of the music industry today? Do you think that hip hop is taking over R&B and pushing it to the wayside?
Kashif: I think the music has been dumbed down. I think what’s happened is record companies have gotten greedy and stopped wanting to pay for quality production, so they see that the money comes from younger audience, well the strength in sales comes from a young audience but the sustained sales will always come from an older audience, a kid that’s 12 years old doesn’t have any money to buy anything. The greed and the record companies and the dumbing down of the music itself, therefore it’s caused the sales to suffer. If you look at old school artists and the trend in terms of their live performances there is a huge upsurge, so that should tell them something. Actually, it also goes back to the fine arts training programs being taken out of public schools. So all of the music training basically dried up, there’s no venue for them to learn music, so rap emerged, with the sampling. Since kids weren’t getting training, they wanted to express themselves and be creative so they began making music by sampling and not actually playing the instruments. So if you’re not playing the instruments, you’re not getting the training, so the quality of the music was bound to suffer and it has. So that’s the historical element of what has happened to not only R&B music but most music across the board. So, I still think there is an opportunity through programs such as mine and private schools where you are going to always see songwriters and artists emerge that are unique and will rise above others who want to work in the industry.
Shameika: Do you think the thrill or the chase of getting the coveted record deal has fallen to the wayside in this microwave society?
Kashif: It’s called wood-shedding. When I was coming up as a piano player, when I wasn’t in school I would spend 15-16 hours a day practicing and now days that doesn’t happen, instead you can go to the music store, pick up a beat box and press a button. The problem goes a little deeper than that. When I was coming up taking the music lesson, going to the rigors of wanting to become an accomplished musician, I never thought about making money, it was all about the love of the craft, learning to write songs and produce. The thought of making money came much later, after I started making music. So, now almost every verse that you can think of, their main thing is they want to be rich and famous. Not that they want to be an excellent musician, writer, producer so on and so forth. So when you put the horse before the cart, obviously the quality suffers. That’s another thing that I think we’re suffering with in the industry as a whole, they are so quick to give these grand awards to these new artists that really haven’t paid their dues, and they don’t spend enough time focusing on artists that have actually laid down the foundation. So they give these lifetime achievement awards to artists of years gone by, but there’s not enough focus so that young people will know the history. Just like you have to know about George Washington, you have to know your history. Young people don’t have the chance to get the enrichment that they could get. It’s important to know the history of the music, where it came from, where it is going. If you don’t know that, then you end up just like the music industry is today where a lot of people complain about the quality of it.
Shameika: What do you think of artists taking to reality shows to build their audience and boost their record sales?
Kashif: I think any form of promotion and marketing is a legitimate, if you look at the reality of what sells today. You know they don’t become music artists as much as they become matinee idols. So, yeah they get to promote their music on the show, but they promote their chance to be in a film or a new fragrance attached to their name. It’s all legitimate, but as it speaks to the music, if the music was so great, their sales would be even higher.
Shameika: What is your favorite Kashif duet?
Kashif: “Reservations for Two” with Dionne Warwick and “Love Changes” with Meli’sa Morgan are my favorite duets.
Shameika: How about your favorite as Kashif the songwriter/producer?
Kashif: I guess it would have to be of course, Whitney Houston’s, “You Give Good Love” and probably George Benson’s “Inside Love.” George Benson was my idol.
Shameika: What advice would you give to music lovers?
Kashif: I would like to encourage people to get out and support and buy albums, through the music, songs, through art, you should support what you are able to comprehend in real life. People are losing their people skills and relying on texting and tweeting. I would encourage people to go out and listen to live music. Instead of texting, pick up a phone so people can hear your voice, go visit that person. Touch it, feel it, experience it.
One thing is for sure, Kashif lived up to his name’s meaning ,”inventor and discoverer.” He always said he wanted to make a mark on the industry, and he did just that. His music and influence on the soundtrack of America lives on.