Q&A: Singer Angela "Mecca" Scott, Star Of Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, On Working With Jay, Big L, And A Real Housewife Of Atlanta
"I was before my time, as the record labels would say."
At 17, Angela "Mecca" Scott was beckoned by producer Ski Beatz to fly from her Virginia home up to New York City to sing on a track for an up-and-coming Brooklyn rapper named Jay-Z. Over a beat based around a sample from jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, Scott's scat-like vocals referenced bottles of Moet and Lex coupes; the result, "Feelin' It," became track five on (and the fourth single from) Jay's career-launching 1996 debut album, Reasonable Doubt, making Scott the only non-emcee guest on that record other than Mary J. Blige. But despite going on to score features on songs by artists from AZ to Camp Lo, her solo career stumbled thereafter.
Now, finally, 15 years on from her introduction to the world, Scott is preparing to release her own debut statement, Angela Scott Vs. Mecca. With first single "I'm Free" out now, Scott looks back on being in the booth with Jay-Z, hanging out with deceased Harlem icon Big L in D&D Studios, and her unlikely sideline penning a ditty for Kim Zolciak from the reality-TV show The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
You're best known for singing the hook on Jay-Z's "Feelin' It," right?
"[Sings] I'm feelin' it, fill the glass to the top with Moet/Feelin' it, feel the Lex pushin' up on the set...." Yes, that is me!
How did the opportunity to feature on a Jay-Z song come about? Was it through Ski Beatz, the producer?
Yeah, it started with Ski Beatz, and [Geechi] Suede from Camp Lo, the three of us. I met Ski in the mid-'90s in my hometown in Virginia. He was there on business, and a couple of weeks later he wanted me to come up to New York. The very first day I was there we recorded "Feelin' It." He said he loved my voice and my style.
What sort of music were you making back then?
I was making neo-soul and r&b.
At that point in his career, Jay-Z wasn't a superstar. Did you know much about him and his music?
Yeah, I knew Jay-Z back then from doing stuff with Jaz -- the "Hawaiian Sophie" song was popular, and he was on the [music TV] networks with that one. I knew of Jay-Z, yes. But Reasonable Doubt was definitely a different style for him. He was more mature in his life and career at that time.
Where did you record "Feelin' It"?
It was at D&D Studios, a very popular studio. Biggie Smalls recorded there, B.D.P. recorded there, DJ Premier was known to always be there. It was a very popular rap studio.
What were your first impressions of D&D? It was a pretty grimy place . . .
Yeah, it's pretty grimy! They had top-notch equipment, but it was definitely a male-dominated environment, like going into a man's bedroom. But I didn't turn my nose up or turn my cheek, because it was a great studio -- my initial thought was about how's the sound going to turn out more than the atmosphere or the things that were around, it's safe to say.
Who wrote the lyrics to the song's hook?
I was there with Ski, and he and I created the melody together, and then Ski came up with the lyrics.
Was Jay-Z there in the studio when you recorded your part?
Originally, no, because we first recorded in Ski's home studio, but then for the second session Jay-Z was there. He's a perfectionist with his music, so absolutely he wants to be there. We were side-by-side in the booth -- it was a whole Jay-Z experience.
What was Jay-Z like to record with? Did he give you any pointers or advice?
He was demanding. Jay-Z was an amazing professional; he knows exactly what he wants to hear. But he's also a very calming spirit. He's a professional man, I tell you. It was a pleasure working with him.
How was Jay-Z when he recorded his vocals for the song?
He's a combination of laid-back and intense. It depends on where he is in his rhyme. At the beginning of the verse, he's very calm, but as his bars climax he gets very intense. He definitely uses the emotion in the music. I think that's why he's able to not use a pen and a pad and not write anything down -- it's in his heart, in his soul, in his brain, and he definitely displays that when he's in that booth.
Did he ever forget his lyrics when recording them?
Never, he never forgot his lyrics. Jay goes in effortlessly and lays those vocals down.
There's an earlier, unreleased version of "Feelin' It" that features Camp Lo rapping on the beat and shouting you out as "my homegirl Mecca." Do you know if the track was first intended to be a Camp Lo song?
You know what? I don't know. I don't know if it was originally a Camp Lo song. It was recorded with myself, Ski, and Suede from Camp Lo, and it evolved into a Jay-Z record. It's safe to say it started out as a demo, and then it became Jay-Z's record.
What was the vibe like when you recorded the song? Was there a sense in the studio that this was about to be a huge record?
I remember I turned around after recording my vocals and seeing all these people behind me: Jay-Z, Big L -- if you remember Big L, rest in peace -- Jaz, just all of these hip-hop legends were standing behind me, and they knew it was going to be a hit record. Just the energy and the vibe in that room, we all knew what we were part of was something special. When I first heard the playback, I knew that it would lead to something big.
What was Big L like to be around?
He was very nonchalant, very laid back, and he knew exactly what he wanted. Him and I did some work together before he passed away. He was a businessman, Big L was definitely a businessman.
What did you record with Big L?
I did a little skit with Big L on his album. It was something where I say, "What's up Big L? I heard you was the man!" I didn't sing anything. It was just an honor doing that -- it was Big L, for crying out loud!
Other than "Feelin' It," did you get to hang out at D&D much?
Yeah, actually I did. I was in D&D probably about four or five times, 'cause I was working with Ski, and I'd go and hang out and there would be artists like Bahamadia, Premier, and Jay-Z there -- he and I recorded another record there as well. I remember times when Bahamadia and myself and Ski and Jaz and Big L would all get in a cipher and really just praise God for our opportunities and where we were and where we were going to be. It was a great experience being there at that time.
What was your first impression of Damon Dash, one of Jay-Z's partners in Roc-A-Fella?
Oh God, I love Dame Dash! I love his energy, his excitement, his drive -- he had a vision. He knew exactly what he wanted, a lot like Jay, which was why they wound up as partners.
How was Jay-Z when he wasn't recording music?
Jay's personality was laid back but also very assertive. He'd crack a joke here and there, but he was one of the more focused ones in the studio -- Jay-Z was very focused. But really, he was easy to be around.
Did you get paid much for your work on "Feelin' It"?
Yeah, and actually I got paid twice, because they also put it on Jay-Z's Chapter One: Greatest Hits. I bought a car the first time around, then the second time I got paid I sorta splurged a bit while also helping out family that needed some financial help. The record has definitely been good to me.
So after you recorded "Feelin' It," what was your goal? Were you trying to get a label deal and release a solo album?
Yeah, that was definitely the goal.
Why didn't it happen?
I was before my time, as the record labels would say. I was 17 years old, and they talked about how I sounded like Phyllis Hyman and Anita Baker, and they denied my project because I sounded so mature at such a young age.
Were you working with Ski on that project?
Yes, Ski and I were partners. At the time we had another partner, Jocko, who did a lot of the writing as well and really shaped and helped to mold me to perfect songs from a writing aspect. We were definitely all a team. Some of those songs you'll hear on my own album, Angela Scott Vs. Mecca, 'cause music is definitely timeless. We've re-recorded some of them. It should be out by December at the latest.
As you're well known for singing on a rapper's song, do you want any rappers on your album?
Definitely. Yelawolf is somebody who I'm interested in working with, as well as Rick Ross. But it's not just hip-hop artists -- I love B.o.B. and Katy Perry and Maroon 5, too. I started in this industry working with Jay-Z and AZ and Camp Lo, and that's the whole Mecca side of the album, but the pop side is definitely something I want to explore too.
Unrelated to your work with hip-hop artists, you recently wrote the song "Google Me" for Kim Zolciak from the reality-TV show The Real Housewives of Atlanta. How did that come about?
I've been knowing Kim for about four or five years, and it just started from there. She knows my talent as a singer and a songwriter, and she was working on a project and approached me and wanted me to write a song for her. She'd heard my records -- she actually wanted a song I'd written for myself, but the network thought it wouldn't be a great record for her. So they came up with the idea of me creating her next single.
So are you a fan of the show?
Absolutely I'm a fan of the show! I've even been on it -- I was on season two at the wig party, and in season three, too. Yeah, I like the show!