A secret weapon for producers from Diplo to Diddy, Angela has written songs for artists from Jay-Z to Britney Spears; styled classic, era-defining videos by Bell Biv Devoe, Boyz II Men and Jodeci; and brought an international touch to reggae and soca through her collaborations with Gyptian and Machel Montano. She’s written and been featured on tracks across nearly a dozen genres, from hip-hop and R&B to dancehall and dubstep. Artists including M.I.A. and Leikeli47 cite her as an influence on their style.
Angela Hunte began her recording career in the ‘90s, as a member of 7669, a Motown Records girl group whose style could be described as TLC or Salt N Pepa by way of Bone Thugs and Onyx. Following their sole album, 7669 East from a Bad Block, she learned the art of songwriting in the studio with iconic hip-hop producers Easy Mo Bee (best known for his work with the Notorious B.I.G.) and Salaam Remi, who would later bring Hunte into the studio with Amy Winehouse and Nas. Remember those “little kids” singing on Nas’ “I Can” (from 2002’s God’s Son)? Those were all Angela Hunte, putting her uniquely-pitched, high-register vocals to creative use.
The Aughts saw Angela spread her wings abroad. She moved to Sweden, where she worked with producers Bloodshy & Avant on tracks for Britney Spears, and then to London. In the U.K., she found a home in the garage/2-step scene, a soulful fusion of house and R&B, adding her touch to tracks by Ms. Dynamite and DJ Zinc. She’s since maintained a presence in the U.K. dance world, appearing as a featured vocalist on dubstep tracks like Magnetic Man’s “I Need Air.”
As her most famous lyric goes, New York is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, and it’s where Angela truly proved herself as a songwriter. Back in NYC, she gained steady work with Bad Boy Records, penning Danity Kane’s debut single “Show Stopper,” and adding her touch (and voice) to Diddy’s Press Play (2007), one of the first mainstream rap albums influenced by the burgeoning EDM movement in Europe.
The capstone of her writing career came in 2009 when her song “Empire State of Mind” was recorded by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. The track, which Hunte also co-produced with Al Shux, became the first ever No. 1 for Jay-Z, spending five weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, and winning multiple awards at the 2011 Grammys. “Empire State of Mind” now sits next to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” among the most iconic NYC anthems, having soundtracked storied championships by the New York Yankees and Giants. It’s still the only pop No. 1 in Jay’s illustrious career.
Working with Diddy and Jay-Z brought things full circle for Angela, both of whom she knew during her youth in Brooklyn. When Jay-Z mentions 560 State Street on “Empire State Of Mind,” he’s referencing the apartment building where he and Hunte resided in the 1990s.
While still a teen living in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Hunte literally walked into a job as a casting director and, later, stylist for Video Music Box creators Lionel Martin and Ralph McDaniels’ Classic Concepts, the original hip-hop production company. Among the videos she styled was Jodeci’s “Come and Talk To Me,” the remix to which established a young Puff Daddy as a producer with the Golden touch. (The two also knew each other through mutual friend, the Notorious B.I.G.) That was one of many iconic and era-defining videos Hunte styled in this period. She birthed many of the definitive looks of the 1990s, laying the foundation for hip-hop fashion as we know it in videos like Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” and Another Bad Creation’s “Iesha.” The latter turned Starter gear into one of the era’s definitive fashion statements. Angela’s iconoclastic pairing of baseball caps, bowties and sweaters in Boyz II Men’s early videos solidified the urban preppie look of so much ‘90s hip-hop and R&B.
“Back then, a stylist was an older lady who wore red glasses and walked around with a pin cushion and a tape measure over her shoulder,” Angela told Wax Poetics in an article aptly titled “The Birth of Hip-Hop Fashion.” “They didn’t look like me: A young, Black girl who was fly wearing jeans hanging off her with two ropes hanging around her neck and a four finger ring.”
Hunte has continued to innovate throughout her career, having recently turned her attention to the Caribbean sounds of soca and reggae. The only member of her immediate family born in the United States, she lived in Trinidad from age two to 14. The Caribbean is in her blood, and her time in NYC was spent largely in the West Indian melting pot of Flatbush, Brooklyn.
When Major Lazer were tapped to create a reggae soundtrack for Snoop Dogg’s transformation into “Snoop Lion,” Diplo (who also featured Angela on 2013’s “Keep It Gully”) recruited Hunte to join a team of songwriters and producers working in Jamaica. She wrote seven of the twelve songs on 2013’s Reincarnated, appearing as a featured vocalist on lead single “Here Comes the King,” among other tunes. An appearance in Vice’s documentary on the project enhanced her visibility, leading to further reggae work with acts such as Gyptian and Slightly Stoopid.
Next up was a return to Trinidad, where Angela has been redefining the sound of soca over the last few years with Machel Montano and producer DJ Buddha. “Party Done,” the trio’s first collaboration, was the runaway hit of the 2015 Trinidad Carnival season. Hunte’s appearance at Montano’s Machel Monday concert earned her front-page press in the island’s newspapers. The three have since collaborated on further projects, including last year’s Ti’ Punch riddim, featuring Hunte’s song “Mon Bon Ami” — an ethereal soca ballad named one of 2016’s best songs by NPR.
R.A.W., the debut album from Angela Hunte, is a project that’s literally a lifetime in the making. With R.A.W., this Brooklyn-born, Trinidad-raised polymath finally steps out on her own and delivers her story to the world, raw and uncut. After decades behind the scenes, Hunte lets pent-up emotions loose over a set of reggae rhythms, bringing her artistry front and center on her very first full-length project. “For me, ‘raw’ is starting over,” Hunte says of the title, which is short for “Reasons and Words.” “I am putting skin back on layer by layer that I have had to shed. I feel like I peeled off these layers of bitterness and let it go with this project.”
The album’s tracks maintain a steady reggae vibe, which might surprise Hunte’s followers given her recent success in soca, and her history of working in many different styles. “I am a genre-less artist,” Hunte proudly states. “I can’t see myself sticking to one core of music, or I go crazy. I won’t succumb to what is normal.”
R.A.W. lead single “Runaway Love” is a sweet addition to the canon of reggae make-up tracks like Foxy Brown’s “Sorry” or Beres Hammond’s “Falling in Love All Over Again.” Hunte’s bubbly, effervescent vocals literally soar over the rhythm, as she pleads for one more chance at love. “Rub A Dub” is a patois-laced celebration of Caribbean sound system culture, while “King & Queen” is a triumphant duet with reggae royalty Tarrus Riley.
Hunte’s longtime musical partner DJ Buddha (whose resume includes work with artists from Pitbull to Sting to T.O.K.) handles the majority of production, with assists from Jerry Wonda (The Fugees, Santana), Dready (Busta Rhymes, Vybz Kartel), house DJ Gregor Saito and reggaeton producer Nesty.
R.A.W. is out now via Therapist Music.