Success Story - Sep 18, 2001
City High – From school to stardomCity High, a 3-piece hip hop/ R&B group straight out of Jersey is aimed straight at becoming urban music's latest chart toppers. Starring Robby Pardlo (20), Claudette Ortiz (18) and Ryan Toby (20) City High's debut album “City High” is the first offering from Jerry Duplessis aka Jerry Wonder's (aka Wyclef Jean's cousin,) label Booga Basement.
Booga Basement, a joint venture with Interscope Records New York. Although the label is relatively young, the man behind the music – Jerry Wonder has been around the block, so to speak. Jerry and Wyclef have worked together to produce songs with Destiny’s Child (including their first hit “No, No, No Part 2”), Carlos Santana (“Maria Maria”), Michel Pras (“Ghetto Supastar”), not to mention the Fugees and Wyclef’s solo efforts. This time Jerry has combined the sounds and styles of 3 friends who grew up within a five-block radius of each other.
The story of the City High success starts right in their hometown of Willingsboro, New Jersey where the three musically inclined members were schoolmates who occasionally performed together but were mostly focused on developing their solo-careers. In fact, each of them had their own list of projects and accomplishments. Starting with Claudette who had already been in a girl-group called ‘Perfect.’ back in 1996. Having heard about the audition from friends, she contacted the manager and easily stepped into the role. Ryan also started performing at a young age. His early work in commercials and talent shows got him noticed by an agent who subsequently helped him land a part as one of the kid-singers in the popular film “Sister Act 2”.
Ryan’s continued efforts got him signed to A Touch of Jazz, the label of Will Smith’s producer and collaborator Jazzy Jeff, who learned of Ryan’s talents from his various performances in the Philadelphia / New Jersey area. After hearing some of the songs that Ryan and Jazzy had worked on, Will decided to ask Ryan to collaborate with him on his own album “Big Willie Style”. Ryan ended up co-writing 4 songs including the hit “Miami.” Right around the same time, Ryan’s artist contract with Jazzy’s label expired and the high-profile collaboration didn’t really have the impact it could have had on his career.
Robby, the third member of City High, was simultaneously performing in and around New York and New Jersey. Prompted by family friend and future City High manager Ken Joseph, Robby performed at an ASCAP (a performing rights organization) showcase at a club called Nell’s in Greenwich Village, NYC. Attended by many high profile music biz people including Jerry, Robby outshined the competition and recieved label offers from Motown, Atlantic and Jerry/Booga Basement. Based on the successful track record of both Jerry and Wyclef, Robby opted to work with Booga Basement. As Robby began working on his solo album, he would often bring his friend Ryan along to the studio. Their vocal cohesion is what prompted Wyclef, who was producing Whitney Houston at the time, to have them sing on Whitney’s “My Love Is Your Love” album. Shortly after Wyclef suggested that the two of them form a group and the evolution of City High was set in motion. With the intent of producing a more unique addition to the R&B/ hip hop scene (which is mostly dominated by 2-guy groups,) they decided to bring female vocalist and high school friend - Claudette - into the mix.
Working out of "Track House Studio" a home studio outfitted with basic equipment in Robby's house, the newly formed group; named City High after their mutual high school connection, created their debut song "What Would you Do" in only two days. After hearing their blend of harmony, textured beats and provocative lyrics they were signed to Booga Basement as a trio.
They began recording their album at the Booga Basement Studios also in New Jersey. Recorded in 1999/2000, the group wrote all the lyrics on the album and 8 of the 14 songs. With help from friends and producers from the likes of Clark Kent (an industry heavyweight whose production credits include Jay Z, The Notorious B.I.G, Queen Latifah and Rakim among others,) Wyclef and Jerry Wonder, they completed the album in less than a year.
The debut single "What Would you Do" a song about the hardships facing a single mom, was written by Ryan and Roby and produced by themselves along with Jerry and Wyclef. Having inserted a sample of the Dr. Dre track "The Next Episode," they caught the attention of Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of Interscope Records who selected it as their debut single.
The management behind the group is credited to Bob Celestin and Ken Joseph who started managing Robby in 1998 and then continued managing the expanded City High. The story goes that Ken Joseph had been working as an AR assistant at Columbia Records and knew Robby through friends and family. Bob Celestin was Ken's lawyer and was recruited to oversee the initial contract between Robby and Booga Basement. Bob also had extended experience in the music business having been the VP and manager of Uptown Records and Uptown Management, which carried artists such as Heavy D & The Boyz, Jodeci, Mary J. Blige etc.
Bob's legal and business advice led to full time involvement with the group. From the presentation of the demo to the evolution into a trio, Ken and Bob have co-managed the group under their own company Burning Sands Entertainment.
Upon completion of the album, the members of City High were introduced to Bob Flax, the president of EMI Publishing by Wyclef and Jerry and Bob signed them to EMI Publishing in 1999.
Released in May of 2001 the album has so far spent 11 weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart.
Their debut single “What Would You Do” released in February 2001 has spent over 20 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 and reached No.1 on the Billboard Rap singles chart.
Backed by a music video in heavy rotation and promotional appearances in Europe and North America you could say that City High has graduated – with distinction.
Written by Paulina Bozek. Research by Stefan Sörin & Kimbel Bouwman
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