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WPGM Commentary: Charli Taft Pays Homage To Golden Era R&B On Her Debut Album ‘DLUXLIFE’

Hi, I’m Charli Taft, a UK R&B artist and songwriter. My debut album DLUXLIFE, out now, is a love letter to the music I loved growing up – the golden era of R&B from the ’90s and early 2000s.

Many people know me as a hit K-Pop songwriter as I’ve been lucky enough to write songs for some of the biggest groups in the world – Red Velvet, EXO and Super M to name a few. What a lot of people don’t know is that my biggest dream (and the reason I got into the music industry in the first place) was to be an artist and release my own solo albums. Finally that dream has become a reality.

I’ve been working steadily over the past few years writing songs for others but also developing my own album project. Inspiration behind the album came from the ambition to create a modern classic; an album that would be entirely mine sonically but would hold its own next to the great albums of the late ’90s/early 2000s.

To me, that era was such a pinnacle of musical excellence when artists were allowed to be credible and commercial at the same time. I aspire to that greatness.

Sonically, the album is a collage of my favourite R&B inspirations. It represents a unique time in my life and captures what I set out to achieve when I make music – rich harmony, soulful melodies, heartfelt lyrics and above all, a tasteful and elevated musical experience.

DLUXLIFE was inspired by my personal experiences of love and heartbreak and puts timeless, auto-biographical storytelling in the context of sophisticated arrangements and soulful, beat-driven productions. My goal was to bring back standards of excellence whilst staying authentic and artistic.

I feel it’s time to celebrate excellence in music again. I care deeply about my craft and I’m a serious musician so for a long time, I’ve been ready to show the world that I’m the real deal.

Written over a period of two years, the album was produced in its entirety by Daniel Obi Klein, a Danish GRAMMY winning R&B/Hip-Hop producer who has worked with a host of rap superstars including Method Man and Fat Joe.

Working with Obi was a turning point in me finding my voice as an artist. He’s an amazing producer and always pushed me towards expertise, truly believing in me from day one. He was irreplaceable. We collaborated on every aspect of the creative process, executive producing the project together, with Obi’s productions serving as the ultimate vehicle for my vision.

I love the concept of one artist and one producer working in sync to execute a clear vision. A lot of my favourite albums were made that way. I really believe a strong artist/producer relationship is fundamental to making timeless music.

Lyrically, DLUXLIFE explores contemporary themes of love and relationships from the perspective of womanhood and has a sentimental yet upbeat tone throughout that marries perfectly with the dusty, street flavoured sound of the tracks.

This album chronicles a period in my life, and writing it was like much-needed therapy. I’ve experienced my share of heartbreak in the past so that provided some inspiration. Generally though, I’ve luckily been in a very solid relationship for several years now so I think my sense of optimism comes across in the majority of the songs.

I guess they have this feel-good quality, even the more rhythmic, track-driven songs. I didn’t just want to write about heartbreak and pain. Sure, that’s important but I also like to write unconventional love songs that take you by surprise.

With years of songwriting experience behind me and a long list of credits to my name, I decided to take a different approach to working on my debut project, throwing the rule book out of the window and switching up my writing methods.

The first half of the album was written in the studio with Obi, making tracks from scratch and finishing one song at a time as we established the sound. We co-wrote toplines together too, building everything from the bottom up. Then the pandemic happened.

We had some tracks, loops and ideas that we loved but no way to work on new music. During lockdown, I wrote a lot at home, away from the studio. I wrote with pen and paper, voice notes and kept the tracks playing in my head. It was really liberating.

I also embraced formative life experiences, opening up lyrically and emotionally as I worked on the project. I’d just moved to a new country and got married so a lot of big things were happening for me. The writing sessions became my safe space where I was able to make sense of the changes in my life.

Creating this album helped me channel my inner fire and manifest dreams I’ve had since I was a child. I’ve had to stay driven and connected to my purpose throughout the whole process, even when I was vulnerable and things felt overwhelming. It reminds me that true self-belief is practised, not taught.

Production inspiration was primarily rooted in my love of rich, jazz harmony set against the backdrop of hard-hitting Hip-Hop beats. I love the juxtaposition of soulful female vocals against heavy, masculine drums.

Inspired by the work of Darkchild, Rich Harrison, Just Blaze, Babyface and J Dilla, I wanted to take the hit-proven flavours that inspired me growing up and infuse contemporary songwriting to create a sonic landscape that is comfortingly familiar yet inherently modern.

I believe that although the album has a timeless quality, it could never have existed until now. I’d like to think I’ve brought something new and necessary to the table.

To give the album its signature sound, Obi and I created our own samples using live instrumentation and focused on making each song expansive by adding multiple layered harmonies, intricate background vocals and bridge sections.

We were drawn to write bigger songs with interesting musical parts, chord progressions and structures. In particular, I was keen to include a ‘Middle 8’ section in most of the songs because I believe that’s where you get to open up and really bring the song home!

One key element of my sound is centred around vocal production, particularly how it plays an important role in creating the lush, immersive experience you feel when listening to DLUXLIFE. I’ve closely studied my biggest vocal idols since childhood – Brandy, Mariah Carey, Faith Evans, Kierra Sheard, Tamia, Coko.

I loved learning their runs and would practice non stop until I had them perfectly down. I’ve always worked to be at my best vocally because I look up to that era of singing. Hopefully upon hearing my album, people will feel I’ve brought that vibe back!

Drawing inspiration from the late LaShawn Daniels’ work on Brandy’s seminal album Full Moon, I made full use of Obi’s years of expertise in A-List vocal production and his work helped me showcase my vocals. During recording sessions, we were always thinking about adlibs, textures and how we wanted the vocals to hit the listener.

Unlike many other artists in a similar lane, I’m especially hands-on in the studio, co-writing and playing instruments on every track. A lot of people aren’t aware that I actually play keys on my records and typically establish the harmonic foundation through the chord progressions I compose.

I like to put my imprint on every layer of a track so the audience can understand my taste and really step into my world when they hear the music. To me, a lot of what makes my sound unique is as much to do with my chord sensibilities as it is with my songwriting.

Finally able to share my music with the world, I feel more confident than ever. Making this album has been completely life-changing for me and I feel really proud of what Obi and I have accomplished without a huge team behind us. This is a true passion project born out of a love for music. If teenage Charli could see me now, I think she’d be freaking out!

DLUXLIFE will be released on my newly formed independent record label, aptly named DLUXLIFE Records – a venture that I hope could create a new home for like-minded R&B artists in the future. I want to be in control of my career and I believe in owning my own masters. These days it’s so important to do things on your own terms!

I hope when people hear my album, they will feel like they know me and understand what I stand for. I’m ready to share my taste, my vision and my experiences with the world so they can come and join my musical universe. I love this album to death and I’ve absolutely poured my heart and soul into the entire process.

Beyond the album, my next ambition is to put together my dream live show, complete with dancers, a live band and a full-production set up. I grew up with artists putting on a real production when they performed live.

Above all, I’m here to entertain so I’m ready to challenge myself and grow. In terms of future projects, I honestly feel like I’m just getting started and have so much more to give through my music.

Listen to DLUXLIFE below and stream it everywhere else here.

Words by Charli Taft // Follow her on Twitter + Instagram

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