One telltale movement signals that a recording has passed final muster with the Underdogs: The production duo's heads bob in unison throughout the song.

One telltale movement signals that a recording has passed final muster with the Underdogs: The production duo's heads bob in unison throughout the song.

Harvey Mason Jr. and Damon Thomas' double head-nodding was very much evident recently at their Hollywood studio as they played Beyonce's "Listen" and other selections from the forthcoming "Dreamgirls" soundtrack. With this project, the new Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige single "Never Gonna Break My Faith" and collaborations with Mario, Chris Brown, Fantasia and "America Idol" finalist Katharine McPhee, 2007 is shaping up to be a breakout year for the Underdogs.

During the five years since the partnership took off with Tyrese's "I Like Them Girls" and subsequent R&B and pop hits with Ruben Studdard, Omarion and others, the Underdogs were offered work on various soundtracks. But the timing and desire didn't click until the pair was asked to lend its production talents to "Dreamgirls."

"We knew we wanted to do films," says Thomas, nicknamed "the motivator" by Mason. Before the Underdogs, Thomas wrote songs with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds for Pink and Faith Evans, among others. "But we wanted to wait for a great opportunity."

The Underdogs' first soundtrack venture was an ambitious undertaking. During a 14-month span, the duo worked on more than 40 songs and musical snippets for the DreamWorks/Paramount film. Adapted from the Tony Award-winning Broadway play about career highs and lows of a fictional girl group, the film -- starring Beyonce, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson -- will debut nationwide Dec. 21, nearly to the day (Dec. 20) the play bowed 25 years ago.

As previously reported, the Music World Music/Sony Urban/Columbia soundtrack is set for release Dec. 5 in both a single-CD version and a double disc featuring 37 songs. The lineup includes "Listen" and three more new tracks, plus updated versions of songs from the original production, most notably the signature "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."

While talking to Billboard, the pair was busy tweaking the bridge on a new Chris Brown track, "Let Me Take You Down," before the singer returned to record the chorus and ad-libs. "Whatever we do, it's a two-step process," Mason says as Thomas switches places with him at the keyboard. "If something bothers one, it bothers the other. It's got to excite us both."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print