On September 24th, 2002, 15 years ago today, a double-album was released, seemingly coming from nowhere, The Headphone Masterpiece, made by an unknown artist. The name was Cody ChesnuTT. It was said he concocted the album in his own bedroom. A Look back at an impressive piece of work.
From his early teens ChesnuTT performed as a support-act to several bands that were coming into his hometown Atlanta. During the second half of the 1990’s he was the bandleader of The Crosswalk. They were under contract with record company Hollywood Records. Their first album Venus Loves A Melody was recorded and ready to be released, when the label, without explanation, annulled the deal and cancelled the release. The band fell apart and ChesnuTT, disillusioned, withdrew to his bedroom. There, he wrote and recorded song after song after song, all alone.
In 2002 The Roots released the single The Seed (2.0), off their new album Phrenology. The song contained a guest appearance by Cody ChesnuTT. Soon it was clear that ChesnuTT wrote the song and that the original was part of his own album The Headphone Masterpiece. That was the album to have!
The Headphone Masterpiece
Cody ChesnuTT’s self-preferred isolation yielded so much material, that the provided album, The Headphone Masterpiece, turned into a 36 song double-album. All songs were written, played, arranged and produced by ChesnuTT. The complete (debut!) album was recorded in ChesnuTT’s bedroom (using a 4-track recorder) and, subsequently, has a lo-fi character and sounds like a demo.
The album has every element that make double-albums so interesting: it is good (however subjective that may be), raw, funny and funky. A kaleidoscopic album: rock, ballads, soul, R&B (1990’s style) and hip-hop. All instruments and voices are done by ChesnuTT (on just 4 songs contributions by others are included).
The music is somewhat out-of-tune at times, but that doesn’t interfere with enjoying the album. The intimacy and quality make up for it. It probably enhances the experience, because it demonstrates its boldness. The title and album-cover refer to the (supposed) amateurism of the recordings. Nothing could be further from the truth than that. It is an outstanding and impressive album, that is extremely diverse and has many highlights. It starts off very quickly with With Me In Mind which has a drone-like feel. Boylife In America is an accurate portrayal of how a young, still carefree, adolescent, views his place in the world. This is immediately followed by Bitch, I’m Broke, which leads misogyny to new ‘hights’. The Seed, the songs that was covered by The Roots, is a strong funk song. Michelle is a beautiful neo-soul ballad. She’s Still Here has a Beatles-like atmosphere, followed by the soul song Can We Teach Each Other, followed by The World Is Coming To My Party, which gravitates to dance (with its heavy bass-motif), somewhat later followed by the funk of Family On Blast, which is followed by folk song My Women, My Guitars, etc, etc. It clearly demonstrates the album’s eclectic character. Despite the minimalist intention and approach, something new is discovered every time the album is played.
The album was released through the Ready, Set Go! label, which ChesnuTT founded, because no record company wanted to release it, as it was. Many were convinced the songs were demo’s and encouraged ChesnuTT to re-record and change towards the neo-soul style, which had become hugely popular by that time. ChesnuTT commented: “I refuse to re-record it-that defeats the purpose. What about the experience I had in my bedroom? To go back to the studio, I’d be chasing something. If you’re listening to it and you love it, then it’s already done what it’s supposed to do”.
ChesnuTT performed in many Los Angeles clubs promoting the album and toured with Macy Gray, Erykah Badu and The Roots. The latter covered The Seed and released it as a single with the title The Seed (2.0). A video was taped, in which ChesnuTT sang with the band. As a result The Headphone Masterpiece entered the Billboard 200 charts, but disappeared the following week. Approximately 25,000 copies were sold (sales numbers 2012, Nielsen SoundScan).
All songs composed and performed by Cody ChesnuTT, except stated otherwise.
|Disc 1||Magic In A Mortal Minute|
|With Me In Mind *|
|Upstarts In A Blowout|
|Boylife In America|
|Bitch, I’m Broke|
|Serve This Royalty **|
|Enough Of Nothing|
|Setting The System|
|The Most Beautiful Shame|
|Smoke And Love|
|No One Will|
|Batman vs. Blackman|
|Up In The Treehouse|
|Can’t Get No Betta’|
|She’s Still Here|
|Can We Teach Each Other|
|The World Is Coming To My Party|
|Brother with An Ego|
|War Between The Sexes|
|The Make Up|
|Out Of Nowhere|
|Disc 2||Family On Blast ***|
|My Women, My Guitars|
|Somebody’s Parent ****|
|When I Find Time|
|Juicin’ The Dark|
|5 On A Joyride|
|So Much Beauty In The Subconscious|
|If We Don’t Disagree|
|Look Good In Leather|
|*||Sonja Marie – vocals|
|**||RH – saxophone|
|***||Talley Thomas – background vocals|
|****||Talley Thomas – dialogue|
After The Headphone Masterpiece
Given the enormous amount of songs on his debut, the common assumption was that ChesnuTT would release a successor fairly quickly. However, he became a father and decided to devote his time to (raising) his children. He denounced his old (rock n’ roll) lifestyle and became a devout Christian. It lasted until 2010 before he would release the EP Black Skin No Value and even until October 30th, 2012, before his second album, Landing On A Hundred appeared. Also a great album, but the complete opposite of The Headphone Masterpiece. No rawness, the album is pristinely produced, without getting slick. Many of his lyrics are about his struggle and his new found faith, so no more Bitch, I’m Broke. In Everybody’s Brother, which was also released on the Black Skin No Value EP, he explicitly addressed his old, sinful ways and how he does things differently (better) now.
On March 1st, 2013 (only available in Dutch) ChesnuTT performed at the Melkweg in Amsterdam and it was a great show, even though he lost his voice.
Just recently (June 2nd, 2017) ChesnuTT released his third album: My Love Divine Degree, which falls between The Headphone Masterpiece and Landing On A Hundred, sound wise. Once again a great album by an unique talent.
Do you know Cody ChesnuTT? What do you think of his albums, and The Headphone Masterpiece in particular? Let me know!
Cody ChesnuTT Live 11/11/2002 image: amoebe.com
Cody ChesnuTT – The Headphone Masterpiece image: tinymixtapes.com
The Roots – The Seed (2.0) image: wikipedia.org
Cody ChesnuTT – Albums after The Headphone Masterpiece image: amazon.com/apoplife.nl