Washington, D.C. is a melting pot of diverse musicality, with a plethora of talent seeping from its brim. For D.C. native Carl E. “Chucky” Thompson, the ability to hone and duplicate the sounds of the euphonious urban landscape that surrounded him is something that came naturally.
Having picked up the guitar and drums at an early age, the exemplary producer always felt a harmonious synergy between the emotion in his musical abilities and his surroundings. It was a concurrence that he traces back to his most primitive memories.
“I got it from Sunday mornings when my mother used to listen to the station WHUR, Howard University Radio,” Thompson tells Rated R&B over the phone. “They would play a lot of the newer-sounding gospel records. I would take to those chords and changes, but I would only gravitate to those changes that felt emotional.”
Thompson’s innate ability to bridge an artist’s emotional strife through musical production is textbook. A constituent in Bad Boy’s production collective The Hitmen, Thompson collaborated in close quarters with many of the talents Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs was fostering in the 1990s.
His work on Mary J. Blige’s voyaging My Life album earned him a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album in 1996, and his meticulous direction over Usher’s eponymous debut and Faith Evans’ quintessential Faith album contributed to the shaping of R&B’s profound presence throughout the decade.
In 1999, Thompson reunited with Blige to contribute behind the boards for her esteemed 1999 album Mary. The tracks included the enchanting ballad “Beautiful Ones” and the Stevie Wonder-sampled “Time.”
His incredible musicianship work prevailed into the new millennium as he co-penned and co-produced the all-star bonus track “Love Sets You Free” from Kelly Price’s sophomore album Mirror Mirror in 2000.
He continued to work with artists who, like at Bad Boy, understood the close-knit relationship between hip-hop and R&B. Thompson collaborated with Disturbing tha Peace’s Shareefa for a number of hip-hop soul bangers on her debut album Point of No Return, including “No One Said,” a song said to be inspired by the classics of The Notorious B.I.G.
“Woman,” a breakthrough hit produced by Thompson from Raheem DeVaughn’s sophomore LP Love Behind The Melody, earned the soulful crooner his first Grammy nod in the category of Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 2009.
For nearly 30 years, Thompson has molded the energy in R&B, nurturing longstanding careers and influencing an emerging future for the genre. Here are five songs that defined the career of the innovative producer.
“Sexy (Interlude)” — TLC
Credits: Diddy, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas (Writers); Diddy, Chucky Thompson (Producers)
One of the highlights of Thompson’s skillset is his ability to craft intricate and purposeful interludes. Having worked on multiple for Usher’s debut album, Thompson had the opportunity to produce three for TLC’s sophomore album CrazySexyCool along with then-Puff Daddy in 1994.
“Sexy (Interlude)” is a prime example of the iconism of Thompson’s production stylings. The fourth of the album’s five interludes uses a smooth R&B background to portray a raunchy skit between the Bad Boy Records head and Chilli of TLC.
Out of the musical intermissions placed on the album, Thompson says this is his favorite. “I was in the zone, he had me producing some funky stuff and I heard what TLC and Puffy put on there and it was just weird, but it was funny to me. I know him and I know his personality and then you throw them in there, it was just crazy.”
Thompson and Puff Daddy’s work on CrazySexyCool paid off in the end, as the LP took home the statue for Best R&B Album at the 1996 Grammy Awards and earned its diamond certification from RIAA the following year.
“One Sweet Day” (Chucky’s Remix) — Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men
Credits: Mariah Carey, Michael McCary, Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman, Walter Afanasieff, Wanya Morris (Writers); Walter Afanasieff, Mariah Carey, Chucky Thompson (Producers)
Thompson pursued his work with music’s heavy-hitters well into the decade. Following his immense success with artists like Usher, Blige and Evans, the impresario was requested to recreate Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day.”
Darker and heavier on the contemporary feels than its predecessor, “One Sweet Day (Chucky’s Remix)” is inspired by the satiny production stylings of a certain King of R&B. Thompson says with that sound, he aimed to pave the road that converged pop and R&B, something that was discussed in the song’s most preliminary stages.
“I had more R&B melodies, and that was too much at the time for Tommy; he was like, ‘It’s too dark.’” But I knew where she was trying to go. I felt what was happening with her and her lifestyle, and the fact that she wanted more R&B was the reason why they called me,” Thompson explains.
“No One Said” — Shareefa
Credits: Carl Thompson, Harvey Mason, Jr., Shareefa Cooper (Writers); Chucky Thompson (Producer)
From working with Blige to Evans to The Notorious B.I.G., Thompson prides himself on being one who gravitates and appreciates real people. Disturbing tha Peace signee Shareefa is no exception as the duo worked closely on the Bad Boy-inspired track “No One Said.”
A midtempo R&B ballad drizzled in adversarial landscapes, “No One Said” captures a feeling of determination to get out of a tough situation despite your circumstances. This niche intertwines the lines of hip-hop and R&B that Thompson is familiar with, and it is where he and Shareefa connected to bring the song to life.
“She knew I understood it to a certain degree that that’s what stays in that zone…she was just a fan of what I was doing. The hip-hop records and turning them into R&B records, so just that alone, we connected,” Thompsons explains.
“Woman” — Raheem DeVaughn
Credits: Raheem DeVaughn, Chuck Thompson, Thompson, K. Vincent; Chucky Thompson (Producer)
As a D.C. native, Thompson is an advocate of collaborating with newcomers and legends to emerge from his hometown. This is apparent in his collaborative efforts with artists such as Chuck Brown and Raheem DeVaughn.
“Woman,” co-written and produced by the latter and Thompson, is a celebration of the beauty and strength of Black women. Borrowing from JAY-Z’s “Lost One,” Thompson laces the track with pragmatic street appeal and feel-good melodies; these melodies were brought full circle with DeVaughn’s unique brand of songwriting.
“Raheem is one of those Bigge artists, you know,” Thompson tells Rated R&B. “He doesn’t have any paper or nothing, he does stuff off the top of his head. If you got an engineer, you better hope he knows what he is doing with him, ‘cause he’s relentless with it.”
“Show Love” — Mary J. Blige
Credits: Mary J. Blige, Sean Garrett, Chucky Thompson (Writers); Chucky Thompson (Producer)
While he is particularly known for his collaborations with Blige on My Life, Thompson’s working relationship with the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul stretches far beyond that. The elite producer penned a number of songs for the R&B titan in the 2000s, including “Show Love,” a bonus track from her multi-platinum selling album The Breakthrough.
An optimistic track aligned with the retrospective messaging of the 2005 LP, “Show Love” contrasts vastly from the somber and introspective works of Thompson and Blige in the previous decade. Here, the pair create a new type of energy as their situations in life differ. “I mean this is her not with Puff, but her in a new relationship. I wasn’t even around her, I didn’t understand where her life was at,” Thompson says.
“I sent her a couple of tracks, and [“Show Love”] was the one that she picked. She wrote to it and sent it back to me, and I put the little pieces on it and that was it. In a sense it was how we worked before because I gave her songs when we worked on the whole My Life, but like I said it was a different synergy for even the stuff that I was giving her. [But] she loved it.”