Born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, RES (née Shareese Renee Ballard) listened to her parents' Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Teddy Pendergrass albums at home. She also developed an appreciation for groups like the Eurythmics and Pearl Jam while attending the Academy of Notre Dame, an all-girls Catholic college prep school, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Now a classically-trained 23-year-old, RES remembers finding her lifelong passion for music at the tender age of seven, when she was first enrolled in voice lessons. "I began singing Italian arias from operas at 14, and continued until I was 19."
In her second year at Temple University, RES rang up Santi White, an old family friend from Philly who was working as an A&R assistant at Epic Records in New York. "Santi asked me to sing for her over the phone, then she invited me to her house in New York because she had just started writing songs at the same time. So I went up to New York, we started working on songs together, and she hooked me up with my manager."
After rejecting Epic's offer to join Groove Theory because "that wasn't what I was looking for at the time," RES shopped her demo at various labels and ultimately signed with MCA in August 1999. She started her major label career by participating in two critically-acclaimed projects: singing the hook on the title track from labelmate GZA's sophomore solo album, 1999's Beneath the Surface, and contributing guest vocals on "Too Late," a trippy, atmospheric cut on Talib Kweli & Hi Tek's Reflection Eternal.
RES found Doc, the missing link to her sound, after a friend turned her onto Esthero's Breath From Another. "I just thought that record was dope and I knew he was the one I needed to work with in order to do what I wanted to do," she explains, adding, "I liked the string arrangements he had on that record, the different noises he creates in his music, and how he uses the guitar to build every song from scratch. He also had that hip-hop appeal and edge I wanted."
Months later, RES relocated to Manhattan, and she and Doc entered the studio to begin work on How I Do, a cohesive collection of refreshingly original songs that boast vivid, compelling lyrics and incorporate elements of soul, hip-hop, alternative rock, roots reggae, acid jazz, folk, drum 'n' bass and psychedelic influences.
How I Do opens with the incendiary "Golden Boy," a loungy, drum 'n' bass-tinged track about illusion vs. reality and blowing up spots: "Why are you selling dreams of who you wish you could be / A prince in all of the magazines / They have no words for the man I've seen / You talk real fast before they see your face / Now would they love you if they knew all the things that we know?. Those golden boys are all a fraud / Don't believe their show." Similarly, RES says "They Say Vision" encourages listeners to question what they read or hear in the media and search for the deeper truths and hidden meanings. "Sittin' Back" is social commentary, with RES's lyrics painting the picture of an apathetic, disengaged young adult.
Other highlights on the album include "The Hustler," a boastful, self-assured track about taking care of the self that was produced by A Kid Called Roots (Memphis Bleek) and recalls the gritty New York street essence of Gang Starr. "Ice King" is written from the perspective of a woman who's struggling to disentangle herself from a romance with a drug dealer. "I've Known the Garden" is a catchy, guitar driven cut about love and loss. Guided by an infectious bass line, "Let Love" is a delightful new wave throwback to the carefree party vibe of the 1980s. "Tsunami" is an inspired ballad about discovering love and riding the emotional waves it brings. A hidden bonus track, "Say It Anyway," jolts the senses and closes the album with full-on guitar leads and bold vocals.
What song on the album best describes RES? "I'd say 'How I Do,' because it's about being young, energetic, carefree, just loving life and appreciating it for what I have and what I'm doing."