In 2006, Fergie summoned long-time collaborator and record executive Ron Fair to help produce her first solo album, “The Dutchess.” The 13-track collection included the singer’s now-quintessential No.1 hit, “Glamorous,” which has recently found itself buzzing again thanks to Jack Harlow’s interpolation of the track for “First Class,” the Louisville rapper’s first solo No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
When “The Dutchess” was released in September of 2006, the new millennium had heralded a change for R&B and hip-hop with artists like Keyshia Cole, Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey driving the fusion on genres into the mainstream.
The success of “First Class, which has amassed over 200 million streams to date (according to data from Luminate), is easy to comprehend when you take look at the framework of the sample which sits at the heart of the song. From the artists to the music executives and even down to the surroundings — the first decade of the 2000s was emblematic as ’90s slow jams gave way to a glossy stir of pop, R&B and hip-hop.
“I met Will.i.am at studio in North Hollywood which was like the epicenter of a certain phase of hip-hop,” recalls Fair of the intimate Enterprise studios where “on any given night, you could find Timbaland or Missy Elliot and in some cases even Kanye West – everybody was hanging out there and every single room had some kind of hit banging out of it.”
When Fair became president of A&M Records, the Black Eyed Peas were already on the roster of sister label Interscope and “Jimmy [Iovine] kind of put two and two together and was like why don’t we take Black Eyed Peas onto A&M and shepherd them through and while you’re at it — see if you can get Stacy Ferguson to join the group.”
Meanwhile, Stacy Ferguson — not yet Fergie — had come from a moderately successful background with her girl group Wild Orchid, which Fair had also signed to RCA when Fergie was just 17 years old. “Fergie was an alter ego she had created and Stacy Ferguson, when I first met her and signed her, was an R&B singer,” Fair says.
Already being long-involved with the evolving scene, Fergie joined the Peas after speaking with Iovine, Fair and “Will [who] was a great inspiration to [Fergie]. He’s really part of the vision of that period of time.”
Fair remembers the scene that surrounded the ‘00s hitmakers as an organic hub of ideas that came byways of “inspiration more than perspiration.”
“Our whole culture at A&M Records was…,” Fair starts to say before pausing and continuing through a laugh, “Jimmy Iovine was a sort of Zeus overlooking Mt. Olympus and we had a small but mighty force. Everybody had a hand in this tidal wave that started with the Black Eyed Peas and then it carried over onto Fergie.”
Between 2003’s “Elephunk” and 2005’s “Monkey Business,” — Fair, Fergie and Will’s mutually creative understanding of one another became second nature and by the time “The Dutchess” arrived in 2006, Fergie’s prolific solo career had already been years in the making.
Although he credits “the real creative ballgame” to Will and Fergie, Fair served as executive producer, co-producer and A&R rep for “The Dutchess” and recorded most of the vocals alongside Fergie. One of the album’s first singles was “Glamorous,” which gave Fergie her second (out of seven) Billboard No. 1s.
“Glamorous” beholds one of music’s most recognizable hooks — one that’s found itself at the top of the Billboard charts yet again 16 years later, thanks to “First Class” which segues into a smart interpolation of the chorus: “I been a (G) / throw up the (L) / Sex in the (A-M) / uh-huh (O-R-O-U-S, yeah).”
“[The interpolation] is really a gigantic co-sign of Fergie and Will.i.am’s continuing relevance in culture,” says Fair. “It was just a great feeling and reaction all the way around. That her work would be embraced by a different generation — that’s great, especially in this very qualitative way.”
Harlow’s strategic teasing of the track on TikTok also helped to make the song an immediate success. Using 13-second clips of the single online, Harlow made “First Class” a trending sound on the app weeks ahead of its full release. When it was finally dropped, it quickly climbed to the top of the charts and gave Fergie’s “Glamorous” a streaming boost along the way.
The video-sharing app has had a unique effect on the music industry, bringing older songs to a newer generation and as Fair explains it, “classic songs that are good land on Gen Z as brand new.”
“The artform and the philosophy have changed with the technology,” he says. “In other words, there is nothing diminished or wrong or incorrect about brazenly being inspired by the music of the past and weaving it into the expression of today.”
Although Fair has hung up his big label hat, the seasoned music exec is always listening to new music and says he finds TikTok to be a fun way “to consume so much information in these tiny-sized bites.”
Alternatively, as there has been recent debate and buzz surrounding the app’s imperative effects on the music industry, Fair offers: “I’m a guy who has worked at record companies for 45 years and there is still that very comfortable narrative of blaming the big bad label blocking artistic expression.”