Static Major: the forgotten genius behind Aaliyah’s hits

11.11.11

Hidden towards the end of Drake’s second album ‘Take Care’ is the song Look What You’ve Done, the most bittersweet of moments on an album full of bittersweet moments. While Drake rhymes about family friction hinging on the stress of aiming for the stars, in the background – muffled, as if being played in the next room – is a poignant piano loop with a male voice skitting soulfully over the top. That voice belongs to Static Major, a Grammy Award winning rapper, singer, songwriter and producer who was responsible for penning multiple hits for Aaliyah, Ginuwine and Lil Wayne, and it’s sampled from the YouTube video below in which Static messes around with a friend on the piano, just cooking up a harmony in a practice room. Drake even picks up on Static’s words, echoing his “I gotcha” refrain as the piano loops round and round.

Static Major was born Stephen Ellis Garrett on November 11th 1974 in Louisville, Kentucky, which would have made today his 37th birthday. “I remember Static was always entertaining the class – either by rapping or singing along with our classmate Troy Dudley, while rhythmically tapping the desk to emulate a drum pattern,” wrote music journalist Jonathan Hay in a blog post in 2008, having grown up with Static in Louisville. Static’s music career began when he got with Timbaland and Missy Elliot’s crew Swing Mob, and his first taste of success was helping to produce Ginuwine’s 1996 hit Pony with Timbaland at the tender age of 22. While he achieved moderate success as a member of one-album-wonders Playa in 1997, it was as a songwriter that his genius really lay. He went on to develop a close working relationship with man of the 90s, Timbaland, writing many of Aaliyah’s biggest Timbaland-produced hits including Are You That Somebody?, Try Again, We Need A Resolution, and More Than A Woman, as well as her last single before her death in 2001, Rock The Boat. Static also wrote Lil Wayne’s song Lollipop in 2008, which sadly became a posthumous hit for the Louisville star.

Static Major died on February 25th 2008 on a hospital operating table due to complications relating to a medical procedure. He’d been admitted after being diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disease. “A failed medical procedure?! What?!,” wrote Jonathan Hay in the same 2008 blog post. “Many people were enraged at the hospital when he passed away, ‘His death and illness are not related. His death was attributed only to the malice of the hospital,’ says Smoke E. Digglera, friend and band mate of Static, on his MySpace blog.’” While controversy surrounded his death, the final line of Static’s Wikipedia entry reads only: “A lawsuit against the hospital was later deemed frivolous.”

Like many songwriters, Static’s talent was overshadowed by Timbaland’s production during his lifetime, but his legacy lives on through the emotional sensitivity of his songs. What Static was so gifted at capturing was the messiness of life – which is probably why Drake is such a fan, and a kindred spirit in many ways – and that’s no more apparent than in the brutal, pained honesty of We Need A Resolution. “It’s written by Static,” Aaliyah said in a 2001 interview. “And at the end of the song, they really don’t resolve anything, and that happens in life, so that’s really what that song’s about.” Probably the best way of remembering Static, though, is the YouTube video that Drake sampled. “Music is like breathing,” he says into the camera at the beginning. It was that simple then, just as it is now.

Drake’s second album ‘Take Care’ is released on November 15th 2011