Wednesday, December 29, 2010


When I spoke to Victor Wooten, one of the things he made clear to me was that he is not the only member of his family with musical talent. One of five brothers who formed a band in their formative years, he also has aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., who sing, play instruments, etc. One he particularly talked about was Keyaunna “Keymace” Danielle Mace, a 20-year-old singer from the Washington, D.C. suburb of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Keymace—a childhood nickname that evolved into a stage name—is, to use her words, “ready to break out and take over.” She is working on her first album, “The Sultry Sounds of Keymace,” a compilation of ten songs, nine of them original. One features rapper Rick Ross, who heard it and liked it enough to rap over it after someone sent it to him. Keymace started even younger than Victor, literally singing when she popped out of the womb. Soon after she was delivered at a Washington D.C. hospital, doctors on her ward nicknamed her “the humming baby.” At nine months, she would hush her crying and pay rapt attention whenever her mother, Kym Mace, played Regina Belle’s “Make it Like it Was.” Over the years, she became a prominent presence at annual family reunions, recalled Wooten, her second cousin on her mom’s side. “I’ve known her, Keymace, since before she was Keymace,” said Wooten. “I’ve known her since she was born and every year when we have family reunions they have like a little family talent show and she would always just get up there and sing you know, so she’s already a big star within the family. And we have a big family. We have a huge family. So when she started doing her bigger thing, actually with a full band and show and CD and stuff, her mom and dad contacted me and so I just try and support her and include her wherever I can because she has the ability of becoming huge..definitely much bigger than I am.” Keymace sang in her church and high school choir while growing up. She sang at the Kennedy Center with the prestigious Children of the Gospel Choir, a group organized by the Washington Performing Arts Society. She finally decided to take the plunge into a music career in November, 2009 after winning a singing contest at South Carolina’s Allen University, which she was attending with the intention of becoming a veterinarian. A family member in advertising hooked her up with producer/songwriter Chris Absolam—known for his work with Donell Jones—and off she went. Last June, she joined Wooten on stage at D.C.’s 9:30 Club and sang Anita Baker’s “Angel.” “He called me up on stage,” she recalled. “We went to see him and he called me up on stage…I went up there and I did it, and right after that he called the next day and asked could we come to Carrboro, North Carolina and do it again. We got up, drove to Carrboro and did that show with him as well.” During the same period she opened for the rhythm-and-blues group Dru Hill at Bobby McKey’s in National Harbor. Whenever he hears his cousin, Wooten, 46, thinks of Baker, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson and other old school singers he grew up listening to. But he also thinks of the new singers. “She has the capabilities that the newer singers have because nowadays we have acrobatic singers, meaning they can do all of these runs and tricks with their voice,” he said. “But, you know like when Keymace did the Anita Baker song with us, that was just a sultry ballad. It’s nice to hear that side of her come out, to let you know she’s a well-rounded singer.” Keymace likes the older singers too (her song “Seen them” borrows a hook from “Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites, a group that was on the scene years before she was even born!) and particularly Baker, whom she says is number one on her list. She talks about that in this interview with Beldon’s Blues Point: BBP: It sounds like you like the older people. Keymace: I do. And to be honest with you, when I do shows, a lot of the older crowd takes to me. Not just because I sing the Anita Baker song (Angel), but all of my music. And that’s what I want. I don’t just want my generation or my age. I want younger than me, I want older than me, I want everybody. I want music that everybody can listen to. Like, for example, you’re sitting in a car..okay, we’re on our way to a family reunion: me, my mother, my little sisters, my grandmother. We’re on our way to family reunion in North Carolina and my grandmother wants to listen to (asks her mother, Kym) what would she want to hear? (Her mother shoots out “Etta James.”) Yeah, Etta James or something like that. My mom will want to listen to Angie Stone and my little sisters will probably want to listen to Miley Cyrus or the Cheetah Girls or something like that. And me, I’m trying to sing like some Chris Brown or some Jazmine Sullivan or Rihanna or something like that. You can put my CD in, everybody will be happy! BBP: What about Anita Baker do you like? Keymace: Her music is real. And it comes from the heart and it’s about makes you fall in love. And it’s very positive. She sings from her heart. She’s amazing live! BBP: But you like some new singers, right? You mentioned Jazmine Sullivan and Chris Brown. Keymace: Jazmine Sullivan, you can tell where everything comes from, how’s she’s able to use her voice. She kind of inspired me because when I first started singing, I used to sing, what we call “in the basement.” Really deep voice. Raspy. Her sound is jazzy, but she is able to switch it up so she inspired me and let me know that it’s okay to sing in the basement sometimes, and use my voice in different ways. Chris Brown, I take from him the struggle. He struggled after what happened, it’s like “keep your head up at all times.” BBP: And I read you like Michael Jackson. Keymace: Michael Jackson, he started it, so… BBP: How did Rick Ross get on your album? Keymace: What happened was, they sent the song to him, and he liked it and he said he wanted to be a part of it. BBP: What do you mean when you talk about versatility in what you do? Keymace: When artists come out, you have a pop lane. You have an R and B lane. You might have an R and B soul lane. You have a rock lane. You have a rap lane. You have a gospel lane as well. When you come out, people try to categorize you. I don’t want to be categorized, because I want to be able to do it all. And nowadays if you can’t do it all, you won’t last long. As you can see, it’s not really R and B anymore, it’s pop. Pop has taken over right now. So if you can’t do pop now, you ain’t on the radio, you ain’t on the videos, you’re not doing anything.” BBP: Tell me how you write a song. Keymace: Songwriting is like, wow. I mean you put a beat on, and it just goes, goes, goes, goes. You know because it’s all about the melody. It’s all about the melody, how your melody is different from other people’s melody. And it doesn’t take me long if I have a concept. If I have a concept for a song it doesn’t take me long. It took about an hour to write “Seen Him,” if that. So it really doesn’t take long. The writing process doesn’t take long; it’s the arrangement of the song. It’s the arrangement. You know, where the verse goes, where the bridge goes, how many hooks you want in there, the “B” section, everything. That’s the hardest part, to be honest with you. That’s the hardest part. But it really doesn’t take long to write a song.

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