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Simplicity Itself 

One-time New Orleanian Teedra Moses' Complex Simplicity gives the hip-hop milieu an '80s soul treatment.

Talk about lucky breaks. Teedra Moses was a stylist on a video shoot in Los Angeles when she fell walking down a hill and broke her femur -- "the hardest bone to break," she says from a beach outside L.A. While laid up, she reconsidered her career. She liked the freedom and meeting people such as Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and R. Kelly, but she didn't like the job itself. It was during that time she decided to make music. "That's the only thing I'll never want to quit," she says.

"From the process of the first song I ever recorded in life and ever wrote in life, to the point that I got signed, it may have been a year," she explains. The song is the Anita Baker-like "Caught Up" on Moses' debut, Complex Simplicity (TVT). With producer Pauli Pol, who produced the Black-Eyed Peas' "Joints & Jam," she recorded demos of it and three or four other songs and shopped them to record companies that envisioned whose career and style they could model Moses' on. "TVT Records said, 'We love it. We like it just how it is.' They didn't try to change who I was."

Though a Los Angeleno for years, Moses grew up in Kenner and went to school Uptown at St. Joan of Arc. "New Orleans is a soulful place," she says. "It's so down-home and so real, and that's something I took with me to L.A. Even as a young teenager I never wanted to lose that. I wanted to keep that feel, and I think that comes off in my music. I come off like a real person in the way I write, and the melodies I sing are real simple and just soulful. That comes from New Orleans."

Though she's the daughter of gospel singer Shirley Moses, Teedra Moses didn't start singing in the church. "My mom put me in choir a couple of times in a church," she says, "but by the time we got to that age, she wasn't consistent with going to church anymore. She found too many cliques and stuff that wasn't conducive to saving your soul."

When Moses was 15, her father and mother separated, and she moved with her mother to Los Angeles. "My mom and dad had a really turmoiled situation," she says, and though she was sorry to leave Kenner, she recognizes she probably would never have got into music. "I know I wouldn't have got into fashion styling," she says. "I probably unfortunately would have been more involved in the street life because that's where I was headed."

Complex Simplicity shows Moses has more street awareness than the album's warm, melodic sound initially suggests. The tracks recall '80s smooth jazz-influenced soul, but "You'll Never Find (A Better Woman)" is about a man too caught up in hustling to treat his woman right, something she describes in the song as "a ghetto love affair."

The track's production is also more hip-hop than it initially seems, as melodic lines are cut together to create urgency and edginess, and the song features a guest appearance by Jadakiss, who raps from a hustler's point of view. A promotional version of the album known as Young Hustla Compilation features a production style more typical of hip-hop albums. More sonically dense, the album includes samples, more programmed drums, and references to other current hits including Fat Joe's "Lean Back."

"Take Me" is the only song on the album not produced by Pauli Pol. Moses met Raphael Saadiq, one-third of Tony! Toni! Tone!, now a neo-soul producer, at a mutual friend's Christmas dinner. "We didn't say but two to three words to each other," Moses says, but when her friend called the next morning, she said, "Raphael really wants you to come over to his studio and write some stuff with him."

Such a meeting is part of Moses' affection for Los Angeles. "I live in Pasadena," she says. "I was in a bank and Master P walks into the bank. This is the kind of thing that happens a lot in L.A. You may be in a grocery store and see Tom Hanks. I love New Orleans to death, but the people I saw getting money were the ones selling drugs. When you're a young kid and your parents have nothing, and their friends are struggling to survive, you're looking around and you don't see anybody doing much. The only person you see living comfortably is the drug dealer. "I met musicians and people I never thought I'd ever get to meet coming from New Orleans. It's not that I couldn't, but I never thought about it being a possibility. I didn't think about life like that." Working as a stylist opened her eyes to possibilities she never considered in New Orleans: "I'm going to this man's home with a three-story house and a marble floor and all this, and it made me want more out of life."

click to enlarge If I wouldn't have come to L.A.," Teedra Moses says, "I'd probably never have done music. I probably unfortunately would have been more involved in the street life because that's where I was headed."
  • If I wouldn't have come to L.A.," Teedra Moses says, "I'd probably never have done music. I probably unfortunately would have been more involved in the street life because that's where I was headed."
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