Cheyenne “Papa” Harrell and Jacob “Jake” Harrell have been around musical legends like Dr. Dre and Brian McKnight since they were kids. Years later, the pair still remember the OGs who helped them on their path.
“We worked with Heavy D on his last album before he passed away. If you go to the album [Love Opus] and listen to a song called ‘Love In A Bottle,’ Jake and I wrote that while we were in the studio with him. We spent time at his house. It was great vibrations. Rest in peace to that man. He gave us an opportunity,” Papa recalls for REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the brothers and R&B duo discuss how they had a full-circle moment with Dr. Dre in the studio, what they learned from Brian McKnight, and how Tattoos & Blues II is their way of rewriting the genre they love. Read the exclusive conversation from Jake&Papa below.
Brian McKnight was one of the earliest musicians to recognize your talent. What do you remember about your first studio session with him?
Jake: The first time we were in the studio with him, he recorded something for his Christmas [album] and then took us to the show. He was there recording something for the [Christmas Interpretations] album he did with Boyz II Men. He was going to be performing some of that stuff, so he was re-recording some of it. One of the main things I got from Brian was when he was talking about how to construct six-part harmonies. He gave us a lot of gold.
Papa: Working with Brian helped us build a relationship with his sons, Brian McKnight Jr. and Niko McKnight. They’re exceptional musicians, and we still have a great relationship with them until this day.
Being in the industry as long as you both have been must invariably lead to working with other legends. I saw a photo of you two as young men with Dr. Dre. How’d you connect with him?
Jake: That was a full-circle moment. Someone showed him that photo while he was in the studio, and we were invited to the studio to meet him and play some music. And we ended up going back three times. It was a dope experience. He said, “Let’s recreate the photo.” So, we recreated the image. It was great to listen to him in the studio and see how he works. We were there when they were mixing and mastering Game’s album and his last feature with Nipsey [Hussle].
You’re brothers, so what’s it like working on music together?
Papa: There are two different ways we can answer that because we have a specific way of working rooted in us not having studio time back in the day. We are always ready to record. We show up with four, five, or six songs ready and just bang them out. Another is us going in, listening to beats, and then vibing out. I’ll look and see if Jake likes the beats. I already know if he closes his eyes, starts nodding, and his mouth starts moving, he’s feeling this one, and he already got a specific vibe. I’ll back off and see what he comes up with first. Or, if I come up with a melody or idea, I’ll spit it out quickly and he’ll say, “Oh yeah, that’s dope.” Then, I’ll lay that, and he’ll do the verses. I never want to step on his toes creatively — and vice versa.
Have any of your songs come from tears?
Jake: Oh yeah, there have been multiple songs. Recording is one of the most powerful, cathartic processes anybody can experience. It’s so vulnerable, and you’re traversing the deepest, darkest parts of your brain. There was a challenging song to get through called “Dear Father” [from the Octobuary album]. The song was a manifesto that I wrote about a time in my life when I wasn’t in the best place. Having to revisit that mindset made it very hard to get through that song.
Papa: The two that come to mind have yet to be released. Music is very therapeutic. So, there are times when I go to the studio and just need to let it off. One of the songs is called “Pictures In A Frame.” I just needed to let that off. I didn’t have intentions of dropping it. I didn’t know whether the team would like it, but I just needed to get it off. I started crying as soon as I sat down and played it back. The song wasn’t super depressing. Sometimes you have these frustrations, and you don’t always know how to articulate them. Then you finally get inspired enough, or God blesses you with the words, and you can articulate how you felt about a certain emotion.
Where do you both prefer to record?
Jake: I prefer houses, man. When we were buying our studio equipment, we personally got pieces that we’d be able to travel with because we always anticipated being on tour and still recording from the road. I have taken that studio around the city to work with all kinds of people. It’s more fun to be in a house and your comfort zone than it is to be in a big studio with a TV. No one is watching that TV (laughs). A lot of times, the TV is not playing anything, though. I’d rather be comfortable in my socks and pajamas.
Back to who you’ve worked with in the studio. Do any other legends come to mind?
Papa: We worked with Heavy D on his last album before he passed away. If you go to the album [Love Opus] and listen to a song called “Love In A Bottle,” Jake and I wrote that while we were in the studio with him. We spent time at his house. It was great vibrations. Rest in peace to that man. He gave us an opportunity. Also, being in the studio with Nipsey Hussle, man. The first time we met Nip was in the studio. We were working on our project Athena’s Erotica, and we showed up to work with The Futuristics, now known as Mike & Keys. Nipsey’s session was ending and ours was beginning, so he was chilling in the studio. He was sitting there, we started writing hooks for Mike & Keys, and he was just vibing out. I remember Jake asked Mike, “Can you load up our template?” Nipsey asked us, “What’s that?” So, we explained what the template was. I wish I had been a little more aggressive and asked him to take one of the hooks we were working on. Rest in peace to him.
You released your new offering, Tattoos & Blues II, in late October. What can you tell me about the making of that project?
Papa: We have three videos out for it. We’re proud of it. Our mom is talking on the project. Shoutout to our mom. She’s the only feature on the album. Her vocals came from a documentary we were shooting where we were collecting intel quite strategically from our mom and dad. The full documentary didn’t necessarily work out in that time frame but when we were putting the tape together, her excerpts were perfect ’cause she’d just be spitting game like that all the time. It fit perfectly because we’re constantly trying to shed light and love into the world, and she’s that person.
Why did you want to call it Tattoos & Blues II?
Papa: It’s a sequel to our first project. It represents the two ways we like to express ourselves. You mentioned before the chat how it feels like we’re creating a new genre within a genre. This is our version of the blues. It’s not blues in the traditional sense. The tattoos part is a great way that we express ourselves. Our bodies are our canvases; we tell stories with our tattoos.
What do you have coming up in 2023?
Jake: We have a lot of new music coming. First of all, we will be hitting a town near you. We’re about to do the second leg of our promo tour. So, the third leg will hopefully be at the top of the year, man. We have a video that’s coming. We love making videos. We direct, make treatments and do the whole nine. So, we’re going to have some fun with new videos. Just expect it to be nonstop with us: More tapes, music, and videos. We got movies we’re writing. We are just going to live life, man.