Active since the mid-'80s, Salaam Remi is a low-profile but crucial figure in the evolution of rap and R&B. A multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, and label executive, he is is the son of Van Gibbs, a studio veteran who helped him enter the music industry. The Queens native's first session was for Kurtis Blow's 1986 album Kingdom Blow, on which he can be heard playing keyboards. It took several years for his career to reach full flight. His first crossover hit came in 1994 with Ini Kamoze's Taana Gardner-sampling, Cannibal & the Headhunters-interpolating "Here Comes the Hotstepper," a number one Billboard Hot 100 single from the Prêt-à-Porter soundtrack. While most successful behind-the-scenes players have a hot stretch that lasts no longer than a couple or a few years, Remi produced material on Top Five albums released during three decades, including the Fugees' The Score (1996), Nas' Stillmatic (2002), Amy Winehouse's Back to Black (2006), and Alicia Keys' Girl on Fire (2012). His work has been acknowledged with Grammy nominations, yet his diverse abilities -- he's proficient at working with breaks and orchestras, and has been successful with soul divas, a wide variety of rappers, and even dancehall stars -- have gone severely under-recognized.
Remi's studio credits, sometimes attributed to his website, salaamremi.com, number in the several hundreds. His first solo project, the digital-only Praguenosis!, wasn't released until June 2009. Featuring orchestral instrumentals recorded during a trip to Czechoslovakia, some of its material was used for collaborations issued before and and after release. "Shila's Playground," for instance, provided the backdrop for Jazmine Sullivan's "Lions, Tigers & Bears," a Grammy-nominated song that appeared on the singer's 2008 album Fearless. "Praguenosis" itself was later repurposed for Nas' "The Black Bond," included on Life Is Good, one of several 2012 works that led to Remi's Grammy nomination in the category of Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. In September 2013, Remi released his first official solo project, the R&B-oriented One: In the Chamber, through his Sony boutique label Flying Buddha. Initially released as a digital download and made available through streaming services, it was given very little publicity, despite appearances from Ne-Yo, Corinne Bailey Rae, Jordin Sparks, and Akon, among others. Nonetheless, it was nominated for a Best Urban Contemporary Album Grammy, along with Mack Wilds' New York: A Love Story -- executive produced by Remi and released through another one of his Sony-affiliated ventures, Re Mi Fa/Louder Than Life. One: In the Chamber was released on compact disc with bonus tracks in June 2014. ~ Andy Kellman