Ihsaan Khatim’s divinely inspired name, literally translating to “Excellence, Finally,” was given to him by his uncle based on the attributes and potential he saw in the young singer/songwriter. These words perfectly capture the Cleveland bred, New York based singer, songwriter and producer’s commitment to sharing his own spirit and voice with the world after a handful of years behind the scenes as a successful entrepreneur and producer for other developing talents. Drawing from his background in gospel and his love of blues and old school R&B, the multi-faceted performer infuses a much needed positive spirit into our culture with a mix of cultured soul, jazzy harmonics and bluesy melodies on a three track self titled EP that will be released as a “teaser” for his full length debut album Speak Life, due in 2010.
Khatim’s goals in creating Speak Life are threefold. First, there’s a simple return to self, recalling those roots at the Cleveland School of Arts, where he carried a double major of drama and music/choral, and his years studying music and recording at Full Sail University, where he won Mix Magazine’s Technical Excellence and Creativity Scholarship Award the year he graduated. He and his mentor/instructor, engineer Darren Miller produced a project for the group Heat that was on the Billboard Rap and R&B charts for over eight weeks.
Next, his debut collection is a reminder that artists can make real music that comes from the heart, with the realization that “if my music is going to live, I have to come out with it and perform it, sharing personal emotions as if it were a ministry.” And finally, Speak Life is about the way love really is, flowing freely without the cynical restrictions we place on it after hard life experiences. Khatim brings his love of excellence to every situation, inspiring us to take another look and see the good that can come out of even the darkest moments. His songs show a keen ability to take metaphysical thought and apply a framework to life that’s hip and brings a sense of higher ground to these moments in time. Finding the extraordinary among the common, the singer breaks through the downside we create in our minds.
“We don’t always have to look at a breakup as being bad,” says Khatim. “We can think, we blessed each other for a time, and now it’s time to move on. If I look at any situation, at the core of us there is a part that is real and pure. We can look at the pure intent and find what is real. I won’t listen to what my fear is saying, but what’s going on from a love standpoint, and that’s where my inspiration comes from. We can always hear the voice of love, but too often we cover it up with the negative things that keep us from embracing it fully. It’s all about accessing the heart of mind within. My music is created to inspire, touch and uplift people. I know there is a call for this type of hope and love in music, and am excited about being part of that.”
The three tracks on the Ihsaan Khatim EP perfectly embody these refreshing values that make a bold case for optimism during a politically and economically challenging time. The lush, midtempo ballad “Pump Our Brakes,” which started with a Donny Hathaway/Curtis Mayfield vibe before evolving into a slightly funkier, jazzier tune, is about the importance of taking it slow in a relationship, recognizing its value and making every decision carefully. The seductive and easy jangling, acoustic guitar and sax driven “Heaven” grew out of a riff that Khatim’s co-writer was strumming on guitar after hearing the singer improvising some vocals. Lyrically, it’s about the women in our life—whether it’s a wife, sister, mother, grandmother or daughter—who can create a sense of “heaven” just by walking into the room. Highlighting the high points in our lives, the infectious, gospel flavored “LaLaLa (Our Love Is So)” bursts with enthusiasm as Khatim addresses moving past our personal demons, taking our masks off, being real with each other and having a great time.
“As a producer,” Ihsaan says, “I find myself having to stay sharp, keeping the vibe flowing without it getting colored by big egos from great musicians, and channeling all of the energy involved in such a way that it communicates a love for being in the room together, creating something in harmony that none of us alone could have created without the mixed vibe of everyone involved. More times than not, when the vibe breaks down it’s because someone that's contributing feels impeded, for whatever reason they don't feel free enough to give the best of who they are!
“We have been blessed with the ability to combine talent, know the texture it will create, and see how each piece will contribute to turn a tune into an infectious groove,” he adds. “A constant mixture of older (old school w/flavor) seasoned musicians with Young Prodigies (fresh, new cutting edge vibe) is the core of taking our intimate moment piano/guitar written songs and turning them into great melodies. The ability to let everybody involved feel wonderful about their contribution, provides a majestic euphoria within the environment that translates within the music. We younger musicians involved give it what we have from a more creative let it flow vibe, and the older musicians round it off and ground it with life-long inspired stuff that's from the root of soul music.”
Khatim brings to his musical career a storied history as a diverse entrepreneur. Currently, he owns a state of the art private recording facility with all the latest technology within the analog and digital domain. He brings his talent for developing successful marketing techniques to the launch of his musical career with plans to do a “wedding tour,” where fans with wedding parties of 50 or more can enter a contest to have Khatim come and sing his popular song “Love Created Us Just For Us” at the ceremony. He has performed this piece numerous times at weddings for people in his business community. He has also sung “Pump Our Brakes” for events like the regional chapter gathering of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in Ohio, and at a show in his home state that was filmed by The Log TV Network.
“I feel like it took me a while to really find my own voice,” he says, “and it’s exciting to now be able to share it with the world and have people appreciate it. I have had numerous opportunities in the past to go down different musical roads, but all of them involved straying from the core of who I am as a person and artist. It’s always been important to stay authentic and be true to myself in all my endeavors. What you’re hearing as I Speak Life is the real Ihsaan Khatim.”