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by Aitch
feat. Ashanti

I had to laugh at the irony that Aitch raps “how you not a mother with a body like that?” at 0:57 when Ashanti is actually old enough to be his mother! Or at least, I laughed until I realised that I’d misheard the word “model”. Ah well. It’ll always be “mother” to me…

And, speaking of Ashanti, her contribution here comprises a bunch of samples from her 2003 hit ‘Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)’, but clearly these samples have been taken from the original multitrack project, because none of the vocals used here are heard in isolation in the original production. Which means that producer Fred Gibson and mix engineer Jay Reynolds can’t blame Ashanti’s former producers for the strange mono-incompatibility of her main layered vocal hook in this production (the lines “I just wanna love you baby / always thinking of you baby” first heard at 0:04). Specifically, the stereo Sides component is much brighter than the Middle component – to the tune of 10-12dB at 8kHz, so I’m not talking about small nuances here!

In practice, this constitutes a big mix-translation issue, because one of the song’s main hooks transforms from bright and airy in stereo to indistinct and muffled in mono. And, honestly, I can’t think of any decent reason for this decision! After all, this is clearly a chart production that’s aimed at the mass market, so it seems pretty self-defeating that it should sound so much less appealing on small single-driver playback systems. Why even bother licensing a hit vocal hook if you’re not going to capitalise on the recognition factor? Neither is this mono damage some inevitable price to be paid for a nice wide stereo picture, because Irv Gotti’s original prodution manages a similarly expansive width with much better mono-compatibility. It’s a mystery.

Furthermore, it raises questions for me about the role of the mastering engineer Stuart Hawkes in the process. Did he contact the artist, mix engineer, or producer about this issue, as I would have expected any conscientious mastering engineer to do under the circumstances? If so, it baffles me that the conversation presumably ended with words along the lines of “OK, we’ll leave it like that, then.” (I imagine, however, that it’s pure coincidence that this is the same mastering engineer who also signed off the eyebrow-raising bass imbalance on Rudimental’s 'Feel The Love'…)