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True Colors

Fountain of Truth: Shari Watson.
Eric Williams

In the summer of 2002, Truth Hurts, aka Shari Watson, couldn't have had it better. She had a huge radio and club hit with the DJ Quik-produced single "Addictive," featuring hip-hop living legend Rakim. She had a star-studded album, Truthfully Speaking, produced collectively by Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Organized Noize and DJ Hi-Tek. And she was the first female to release a full-length album under Dre's Aftermath Records imprint, a feat in itself.

By that fall, however, it all came crashing down. Aftermath tried to follow "Addictive" with "The Truth," a song produced by and featuring R. Kelly -- right in the middle of his sex scandal. The single and the video fell flat. And while label executives scrambled to figure out what to do next, Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, Truth Hurts, Aftermath Records and its parent company, Interscope Records, were hit with a $500 million copyright-infringement lawsuit. Saregama India Limited, the label representing Indian artist Lata Mangeshkar, filed the suit, claiming that the bhangra-influenced sample used in "Addictive" was sampled illegally from Indian composer Bappi Lahiri's song "Thoda Resham Lagta Hai," which featured Mangeshkar on vocals. Saregama ultimately won an injunction that required Interscope to stop the sale of Truthfully Speaking until full credit was given. The unsold albums were recalled from record stores, and only a fraction were shipped back with the correct credits. The suit was eventually settled out of court, but the album barely sold 400,000 copies -- underwhelming, by major-label standards.

"The lawsuit hurt my relationship with Interscope," Watson concedes. "My lawyer and their attorney were kind of going back and forth on how to negotiate things for the second record, and we just couldn't come to an amicable agreement. We agreed to go our separate ways."

Dre, though, had always been more interested in Watson's songwriting prowess than her ability as a performer. The pair met in the mid-'90s, when Watson auditioned for a group that Dre was putting together. She sent him a photo and a song she wrote; a short time later, she joined Aftermath and wrote material for artists such as Eve, Eric Benet, Shanice, Ray J and Monifah.

"I was a songwriter first," Watson points out. "A lot of people don't know that. I've been in the game for twelve years now, mostly as a songwriter. I started out as a songwriter for Dre for five years before I even got signed as an artist. So a lot of people don't get that information. People think that it was just about 'Addictive' and there was no life before 'Addictive' or after. I would just like people to know that it's about the music first."

Dre and Watson finally decided to begin work on an album in 2000, but it took nearly two years to finish. While other artists on the label, such as Eve, Dawn Robinson and, more recently, Rakim, didn't have the patience for Dre's work ethic and left for greener pastures, Watson stuck it out.

"Dre's really the type of producer that constantly second-guesses what he does," she says. "I'll tell him a lot of times, 'You don't second-guess what's hot or what's good.' A lot of people do that, and when they do that, they go over the fan's head. I think that's a lot of what we were doing."

In the process of creating the disc, Watson and Interscope continually bumped heads. And although things were going well when "Addictive" took the airwaves by storm, the lawsuit soon took its toll. But Watson maintains that she and Dre still have a good working relationship. She says the problem was solely with the parent company.

"They kind of gave me an ultimatum," Watson says, "and I decided to go my way. I wanted to talk to Dre about it, but we didn't end up having a conversation about it because he was a little hard to reach around that time. I really didn't know if he could make a difference anyway. So I was a little shocked, but at the same time, I thought, maybe it's just time for me to go. I already had undergone a lot of different stuff by being on the label. We didn't agree about some of the stuff that happened with my record, so there were a lot of disagreements to begin with. So that was kind of like the final straw for me."

After leaving the label, Watson dropped the "Hurts" from her moniker and began working on her sophomore album. She was in negotiations with several labels about a new record deal when she approached former Tony Toni Toné frontman Raphael Saadiq about doing some production on her new album. Saadiq, who had recently launched his own label, Pookie Records, was putting together a roster that already included himself and Atlanta artist Joi.

"I sat down with him," Watson recalls, "and told him I wanted to see how active he could be on my next project, because I've always respected him as a producer. I've always wanted to work with him. So he was like, 'Yeah, I'd love to get down.' After that, it turned into an executive-producer meeting. Then we started talking about if he's going to be an executive producer, I would have to be down with what he had going on, because he really didn't deal with the major record labels like that anymore. So I made the choice to just roll with what he was doing, and we just started doing the record."

Watson's new album, Ready Now, took less than six months to create and features up-and-coming producers Alonzo Jackson, Brian Wilson and Kelvin Wooten along with Saadiq and West Coast veteran producer Battlecat. Ready Now is a departure from the hip-hop style of Truthfully Speaking in that it's more mature and adult-oriented. Whereas Watson's debut featured producers who seemed to be trying to outshine each other, the new disc showcases her range as a vocalist and a songwriter. Songs like "Luv U Better," "Catch 22" and "Lifetime" illustrate her development as an artist. Her exceptional writing skills are displayed on the groovy melody of "U" and the Middle Eastern-flavored "Phone Sex." Watson says she was a lot more comfortable and felt more involved on this effort.

"Making the record," she notes, "was a smoother process for me. We weren't searching so hard to find out what I was supposed to be doing musically, just working under a different structure. It's more me than anything. You know, working with Dre, he was a lot more hands-on than Raphael. Raphael pushed me to the forefront, and I acted more as a producer and a co-executive producer on this album."

The first single from the new record, "Ready Now," has been receiving moderate play on both coasts, and Watson acknowledges that promotion is a concern. While most indie labels don't put as much emphasis on sales -- artists don't need to go platinum to be considered successful -- they also don't have the marketing muscle of the majors.

"Yeah, I'm still worried," Watson admits. "It's a different situation when you don't have the money, because it takes money to get back money. You just have to find out what the medium is -- absolutely how much money it takes to do it where you don't have to overspend or underspend.

"That's what we're still figuring out," she adds. "And it's something that you're constantly always trying to figure out. So you've kind of got to figure out what works for you in the trial-and-error process. But I'm still doing the music in the interim, because the music is what's important."

Truer words were never spoken.


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