DeepSoul: Floetry - "Say Yes"

Unfairly underrated, Floetry redefined neo-soul by combining poetry with old-school R&B.
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During the height of the 90s neo-soul movement, the duo Floetry became songwriters in demand.  Their sensual mix of poetic lyrics, hip hop, and classic soul appealed to emerging and established artists- Michael Jackson covered their lovely composition "Butterflies," while Jill Scott recorded "Love Again" with Jazz from Dru Hill.  Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart's own work, however, should not be overlooked.  While they released only two studio albums before disbanding in 2007, Floetry's unique sound evokes the heyday of neo-soul and its lasting effect on artists such as Scott and Maxwell.  Their 2002 single "Say Yes" perfectly represents Floetry's mission, which the duo once defined as "poetic delivery with musical intent."

The English-born Ambrosius met army brat (but mainly English-reared) Stewart at the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology in the mid-90s.  While they primarily bonded over their mutual love of basketball, they also share a passion for the performing arts.  Ambrosius loved reggae and studied voice, performance technique, and recording; Stewart was drawn to funk and soul, but mainly focused on studying acting and directing.  After graduation, they went their separate ways--Stewart attended North London University while Ambroisus planned to enroll at Georgia Tech University on a basketball scholarship.  Injury forced the latter to remain in London, but both women kept in touch.  While in school, Stewart led a girl group, 3 plus 1; after they broke up in 1997, she and Ambrosius decided to team up and pursue music as a career.

Desiring greater exposure, the women relocated to Atlanta in 2000.  Their later stint in Philadelphia proved their bigger break, as it was where they met Julius Erving III, son of the basketball legend.  Convinced of their talent, Erving became their manager and teamed them with Jeff Townes (better known as DJ Jazzy Jeff) for recording and mentoring.  They began penning songs for other artists, but longed to record their own album.  Again using connections, Floetry consulted with Townes and his organization A Touch of Jazz Productions, a collection of producers who had worked with artists such as Will Smith, Lil' Kim, Darius Rucker, and Musiq.  The collaboration worked, and Stewart and Ambrosius finally released their debut, Floetic, in 2002.  While not a huge hit, the album solidified the duo's position as R&B stars on the rise.  The single "Say Yes" became a modest crossover success, while other tracks "Floetic" and "Getting Late" reached the R&B top 40.  

Ambrosius (also identified as "the Songstress" in album liner notes) possess a deep, rich voice that sounds almost androgynous, yet it suits this sexy ballad.  In keeping with their poetic leanings, the song begins with Ambrosius murmuring to her beloved: "See I've been watching you for a while your smile and stuff / And I want to know if I can be with you for tonight all right / Is that all right baby, baby."  She sings the last two words, effortlessly gliding into the first verse.  Stewart ("the Floacist") harmonizes on the chorus, their combined vocals resembling a cat purring: "All you gotta do is say yes / Don't deny what you feel let me undress you baby / Open up your mind and just rest / I'm about to let you know you make me so."  They repeat the last word, verging on jazzy scatting.  When Ambrosius sings the second verse, one cannot resist thinking about their Jackson single: "I recognize the butterflies inside me / Sense is gonna be made tonight, tonight."  Production and arrangement are wisely minimal, letting Floetry's sultry vocals remain in the forefront.  As Ambrosius ad libs, the song fades out, leaving listeners feeling as though they have been wrapped in a cozy blanket of sound.  

"Say Yes" immediately grabs the ear due to Floetry's unusual voices and unabashedly romantic lyrics.  It has since become a "cult classic" of sorts, a track known primarily to die-hard neo-soul fans.  Unfortunately Floetry never experienced massive success, but their contributions to modern R&B should not be overlooked.  Today they continue to write and record quality soul, albeit separately.  Listening to their 2002 debut, however, makes listeners long for the duo to resolve their differences, reunite, and continue reinventing contemporary R&B.