Kendrick Hardaway knows how to give the royal treatment.
The Detroit R&B singer-songwriter pays majestic homage to his “queen” on “The Slave King,” a slow, groove-filled romantic ode released just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Hardaway’s soulful three-minute single dropped Tuesday and features his smooth vocals wrapped in high-tone electric guitars from Nick Behnan – “Eyes burnin’ like fire and a voice that sits in my soul/Sweet as cucumber sugar water with a stare that’s so damn cold/Sweet queen of desire, won’t you call my name/And I’ll come runnin’ to you over and over again.”
Who wouldn’t come running to Hardaway with poetic lyrics like that?
“That song really is kind of a combination of me just wanting to write a tune and actually being about my girl right now. I came across this little lick I was playing around with, and I started writing to it, but nothing was really coming together, and I was getting frustrated,” Hardaway said.
“My girl came down, she sat on the couch, and she actually had a little attitude with me or whatever, and she was giving me this real hard stare, and that’s the line where ‘a stare that’s so damn cold’ came from. Once that line came out, then the rest of it just flowed.”
He also sought creative inspiration for “The Slave King” from Behnan, a Detroit songwriter, guitarist and producer and Hardaway’s former bandmate in The Infatuations. A Motor City mainstay and now a guitarist with The Lows, Behnan collaborates regularly with Hardaway on his solo projects.
“That song was 90 percent finished by the time Nick got to it. I was about to master the song, and I felt like it was missing something, but I knew it was in the way of guitar,” said Hardaway, who’s currently shooting a video for his latest single. “I can tinker around on the guitar, but I’m no Nick Behnan, so I shot it to Nick, and he didn’t waste any time and got it right back to me, and it was full of wonderful things, and we got ‘The Slave King.’”
In December, Hardaway collaborated with Behnan and rapper Saint Diggidy on Behnan’s rock, hip-hop, funk and R&B-fused track, “Right at Home,” which solders pounding drums and roaring guitars with stuck-in-your-head verses and flavorful rhymes. The track started as a stripped-down demo on SoundCloud, but quickly evolved once Hardaway and Saint Diggidy added their own verses.
“He was trying a different little angle when he shot it to me to see what I would think about it, and I put a verse on it, and I said, ‘I got a rapper who I think would set this thing off,’ and we just put it together to see how it would sound,” Hardaway said. “We just collectively decided, ‘Hey, we need to put this out because it’s really hot.’ One thing I said about that track after we made it was, ‘It sounds like it’s going to bring some people or some genres together.’”
Outside of his powerful collaborations with Behnan, Hardaway released a hypnotic solo EP, “The Soundtrack,” last year to spotlight his mesmerizing vocals and passionate songwriting. He wrote, produced and played all the instruments on the EP’s six tracks, which feature revolving relationship anthems, a spiritual tribute to an African goddess and a deep appreciation for “Mary Jane.”
“The Soundtrack” opens with “I’ll Take You Back,” a slow romantic jam filled with fluttering synths and percussion to rekindle an old flame – “Damn when I think back on it girl I would’ve left me too/But since we’re here alone again the feelings are strong again/Let’s leave the past in the past/Girl as a matter of fact, I’ll take you back.”
“A couple of them I would say were just some tracks that I had done that I felt were good enough to be on the project. Actually my favorite song on that project is ‘I’ll Take You Back.’ It’s got a nice vibe to it, it’s got one of those feel good kinda vibes, it doesn’t have to try too hard to make the listener sink into the song,” Hardaway said.
Another exquisite track, “Oshun,” blends classical piano and beat box rhythms for a world music feel and envisions women as goddesses. Hardaway sought creative inspiration from a Yorùbá river deity in Nigeria and Benin for this spiritual tune – “Little girl tell me your name/When you dream, what do you see/When you cry, is there anyone to dry your eye/Take it from me it’s OK to cry sometimes/Cuz with every single tear there’s a lesson to be heard in there somewhere.”
“My next favorite song on that project would be ‘Oshun,’” he said. “She’s a goddess of beauty, fertility and other things. It’s a positive message to the divinity in all women.”
Hardaway’s EP also becomes addictive on “Green Eyed Girl,” which combines pounding electronic drums with deep synths to inhale the benefits of Mary Jane. Is it a woman or marijuana? Hardaway lets the listener decide and beautifully exhales – “I don’t what it is/But ever since my first dose/Baby girl you’re the drug I like and the high I want the most/And I ain’t about to quit ya/C’mon enable my habit now, gonna have you now.”
While growing up in Detroit, Hardaway came from a musical family with a grandfather who sang in the gospel group The Mighty Clouds of Joy. He’s also the nephew of gospel singer Deitrick Haddon. Hailing from a creative lineage, Hardaway quickly learned piano, trombone, trumpet, saxophone and guitar and developed a deep appreciation for Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Brian McKnight.
“As far as being an instrumentalist, I would say my biggest influences were my band teachers in school. I feel like they were some of the best people that I’ve known in my life. At one point, I wanted to be a music teacher, which is what led me to learn so many instruments,” Hardaway said. “I actually tried my hand at teaching high school for a year, but it was enough to let me know that I needed to just take to being a musician.”
By 2014, Hardaway became the lead vocalist for The Infatuations, a Detroit funk-soul-rock nonet, and met then-bandmate Behnan. While The Infatuations are currently on hiatus, Hardaway and Behnan continue to collaborate on each other’s solo projects.
“Have you met somebody that you felt like you’ve known for a long time but you just met them? We just click like that, and we don’t know where it comes from,” Hardaway said. “You get us in a studio or with some instruments around some music, a song will come out, music will be made, some magic will happen. That’s just the way it is.”
As for other collaborations, Hardaway is working with producer Frankie Biggz on an untitled five-song project that will be released later this year or in early 2021. Originally from Monroe, Biggz has produced tracks for Latino and R&B artists, including Miguel Tomas, Adassa, Frankie Negron, Eminem, Kayne West and Mariah Carey.
In March, Hardaway will release his next single, “Ain’t That the Truth,” and prepare for an April 2 Sound House Session at Aretha’s Jazz Café with Angela Davis and Tosha Owens. During the session, audience members will wear silent disco-style headphones while Hardaway, Davis and Owens perform live on stage.
The show also will include a Sound House Review portion, which will allow artists to submit their songs each month for critique from Motor City producers and musical industry professionals. The entire review session also will be filmed in 360-degree video.
“It’s going to be the first one of its kind here in Detroit, but I’ve got some really good investment from people in terms of their interests – people who can really chug this thing along,” Hardaway said.