The producer of Nas’ “Cherry Wine,” which features the late singer in one of her last recordings, says “I’m shocked that it’s already a year … I just miss her.”
by Colin Stutz
One year ago today, producer Salaam Remi was heading to Amy Winehouse’s London home when he heard of her sudden death.
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In town to attend the wedding of Winehouse’s former manager Nick Shymansky, Remi tells The Hollywood Reporter, “I was on my way over, I was picking up some food in Shepherd’s Bush … and by the time I got there, there was press and people everywhere.”
Like many of Winehouse’s friends, family and fans, her sudden death was a shock to Remi, who had worked with the songstress since her 2003 debut album, Frank. Fortunately, her legacy lives on with posthumous releases including, most recently, “Cherry Wine,” a collaboration with Nas off the Queens rapper’s Life is Good album released last week.
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In it, Winehouse pines for that evasive one true love, while Nas elaborates through the verses with lines like, “I want someone who like the champagne I like. My a-alike. Someone to talk me off the bridge any day or night.”
Remi, who produced this track, as well as much of the new Nas album, explained it had been a song he and Winehouse had been working with since the two began working together. They had toyed with varying arrangements, including this one that was meant for her third album, which was never recorded.
“It was all very fluid,” Remi recalled of this recording with Winehouse. “I had the drums up, was playing guitar and she’s singing, it was just another day in the office for us. We’d done different versions of it over the last couple years when we kind of messed around with it, playing with it in different types of arrangements, but this version was always what felt right at the heart of our original inception.”
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Quoting Winehouse’s lyrics from the song, Remi continued, “‘Where is he? The man who was just like me? I heard he was hiding somewhere I can’t see.’ I don’t know. It was natural. It’s the talent that Amy had flowing out of her.”
Fans will note, “Cherry Wine” is the second posthumous collaboration between Winehouse and Nas, the first of which being “Like Smoke” from the late-2011 album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. Remi said both songs’ Nas verses were recorded over the same period of time in October, “but everyone felt that ‘Smoke’ should be on Lioness and this was more suited for Nas, so that’s what happened.”
“It was just clockwork,” he continued. “I was in London or Miami at the time, [Nas] wrote it and sent it back. But he understood it, just from getting at that chemistry… He could just listen to it and fall right into it in a way how that he explained the scenario totally matched what she was saying. It was chemistry, it all fell together, and it’s a stand apart song. I’m a big believer in not tagging records by saying what it’s supposed to be, but letting it be what it is and letting that magic happen because that’s the magic that we can’t explain.”
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Remi, a multi-Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter, will be among this year’s recipients of the Amy Winehouse Foundation Inspiration Awards held in October. With her from the beginning to end, he was the last producer to work with Winehouse and recalls introducing her and Nas.
“When I’d just met Amy, I was doing ‘Made You Look’ for Nas’ God’s Son album at the time,” Remi said. “And I was just starting to work on Amy’s Frank album, so there are Nas songs where Amy did ad libs on them that we never put out that were just background that she was just singing on. She was really inspired by him… Over the last couple years a lot of times if I had my computer on in the studio, my Skype would ring and Amy would be there, ‘Hey what’s up?’ And then she’d end up talking to Nas or whatever, then they got each other numbers and they would talk.”
When asked if there was any romance between the two, Remi said absolutely not.
“Over this last year of looking at Amy Winehouse and what’s going on there, what I felt was that it wasn’t even songs that she left behind. She left behind inspiration,” Remi said. “She will inspire another generation and another set of people. She might have collectively 20 or 30 songs that she’s released for her actual recording career but I feel that she inspired many other artists to now dig back into her artistry. She was inspired by Ms. Dynamite, by Ella Fitzgerald, by Donna Washington, by Lauren Hill, all these other things and people that she’d never met, and mashed it to make who she was. So now she will continue in that same idea of inspiring other people.
“I miss her. At the end of the day that’s what it really comes down to. I’m shocked that it’s already a year. I can also look back and say it was a long year since then. I just miss her. As far as her as a person, she just always had something smart to say. And you’d want to be like, ‘You shouldn’t have said that.’ But then you’ve got to laugh because it was so funny. I miss her actually as a person. And musically, she still stands up there as one of the best to ever do what she’s done.”