New album blends poet’s prose with hip-hop; Oprah Winfrey is co-producing a music video for the project
Before her death at age 86 on May 28, Dr. Maya Angelou had signed off on a unique music project she had been actively involved with over the last seven years. Today (Nov. 4) marks the debut of that project, Caged Bird Songs. Oprah.com is co-producing a video for one of the tracks, "Harlem Hopscotch," which will premiere later this month on the website.
Released by Smooch Music, Caged Bird Songs skillfully pairs the legendary poet’s illuminating commentary about life and social issues with a contemporary fusion of hip-hop, R&B, blues, jazz and more. The 13-track set is the brainchild of Shawn Rivera, a member of R&B group Az Yet (“Last Night”). “Her life story rang a bell with me,” says Rivera, who first met Dr. Angelou at her 80th birthday party. “I wanted to bring her message musically to her fans as well as a new generation.” Produced in Los Angeles and at Dr. Angelou’s North Carolina home, Caged Bird Songs uses both pre-recorded vocals and new live recordings of Dr. Angelou, who sings and raps on the album. Rivera, who co-produced the project with RoccStar (Jennifer Lopez, Chris Brown, Jennifer Hudson), selected poems he felt fit a musical symmetry. “Four bars, 16 bars … there were certain meters she implied musically in her work,” he explains.
Best known for her poetry and the iconic 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Dr. Angelou won three Grammy Awards for her spoken word recordings. During her prolific career, she recorded a calypso album, seven songs for the Ashford & Simpson album Been Found and collaborated with Wynton Marsalis and Roberta Flack, among others.