Red Hot + Cool: Stolen Moments was also released in 1994. This was Red Hot's attempt to engage black Americans living in urban areas in HIV awareness. HIV was still seen as a disease only affecting white gay men, despite the community having lost several major black celebrities, including fashion designer Willi Smith, singer Sylvester, and ABC news anchor Max Robinson -- in addition to Magic Johnson's announcement of his HIV status in 1991. And yet, mistrust in the black community of government-led messaging around HIV was firmly rooted. Conspiracy theories were plenty.
Seeking trusted cultural ambassadors in hip-hop was key, and Red Hot co-founder John Carlin and a South African filmmaker named Earle Sebastian led this effort. By 1993, hip-hop and acid jazz had forged a creative alchemy through sampling and live instrumentation. Names like Digable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest, Greg Osby, Jazzhole, Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Guru's Jazzmatazz series, even Miles Davis' final studio album, Doo-Bop, may be familiar. Yet, Carlin and Sebastian kept meeting impasses in connecting with people in hip-hop based in New York.
"I decided to go to the masters of jazz," Sebastian said. "John and I first went to Pharaoh Sanders. We found Mr. Sanders in the phone book, and he invited us to his home for tea. And we went, and we explained what we were doing. We explained the issues regarding HIV and AIDS. And he said, 'I'm there.' And I was like, 'OK. Thank you, sir.' I said, 'So do you have a lawyer that you want us to -- How do you want to move forward?' He said to me, 'I said I'm down.' So that was it. He was down. And then, so we kind of built back and forwards and sat out to do collaborations between the old school and the new school."
Black French hip-hop phenomenon MC Solaar teamed up with jazz bassist Ron Carter. Guru joined his Jazzmatazz collaborators Donald Byrd and Ronny Jordan on "Time Is Moving On." Me'Shell NdegéOcello recorded "Nocturnal Sunshine" with Herbie Hancock. The Roots proceeded with Roy Ayers. Thirteen songs of hip-hop artists with seasoned jazz veterans coming together to bring HIV awareness. The album Red Hot + Cool: Stolen Moments came with a companion disc of spiritual jazz and a 60-minute film, which aired on PBS. Sebastian, Red Hot co-founder Leigh Blake's partner at the time, served as creative director.
"The documentary kind of works as the commercial, if you will, for the album," Sebastian said.
Before joining Red Hot, Sebastian did not know much about how HIV was affecting black Americans. He, too, followed the popular narrative asserting HIV was predominantly impacting gay men -- white gay men. His relationship to Blake gave him a unique perspective with her advocacy history, but he felt he still needed to dive deeper. He was introduced to Louis Jones, founder of Stand Up Harlem. Stand Up Harlem provided housing for people living with HIV, along with direct services rendered through the recently passed Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. Sebastian would make weekly trips to West 130th Street to hear from people living in Stand Up Harlem's housing. The residents there were living with HIV at all various stages and were almost entirely black.
"We were talking in real terms. And so, I proceeded to get a handle on the issue, and find out for myself how it was working and how people couldn't necessarily figure out what was happening, because they weren't being given the information. And that's how I decided to speak about the issue within the film itself," Sebastian said. "The issue was really fractured, brutal, and that's how the film kind of became."
This influenced Sebastian's filming, from his angles to framing. In Stolen Moments, he records his conversations with several drug users who were high.
"They'd be slurring as they were talking. And so I'd do these double exposures on them," he said. "That's, in some ways, why it looks and sounds like it does."
Bruce Ashley edited. Kevin Kerslake served as cinematographer. By then, both Ashley and Kerslake had garnered MTV's attention with their previous work with Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
"The other thing that I liked about it was when I first spoke to Kevin Kerslake, the D.P. [director of photography], he was not familiar with black music," Sebastian said. "And again, from my gut I was like, 'OK, great. I still want you on board.' And I wanted him on board because he was going to bring an eye to the project that was very different to what I had seen as a kind of style that had been formed with rap music and hip-hop."
Though Stolen Moments features live music performances spliced with commentary from the musicians and Stand Up Harlem residents, the film also includes Cornel West, who was a professor of religion and director of African-American Studies at Princeton University in 1994. Getting his appearance came with difficulty. Two scheduled meetings were cancelled, leaving Sebastian and his team to hatch an idea. They somehow found out West was flying into John F. Kennedy International Airport and at what time.
"So we waited at the airport, and the producer from the project was going berserk, because we were winging it. We didn't know that we could shoot in the airport. We didn't know if we were going to see him. I had a whole crew standing by. I'm fighting with the producer, because he's rightly doing his job," Sebastian said. "He's like, 'We're going to have to wrap this in a minute.' And I said to all the crew, 'Listen, I'm sorry guys, but this is so important.' Next thing you know, we've been there like a couple of hours. Cornel West comes walking through the airport."
Sebastian and Kerslake approached West, introducing themselves.
"How the hell did you find me?" was West's reaction. Sebastian spit out a quick but persuasive response.
"Well, I'm late for something, but if you want to talk to me while I'm putting my luggage in the trunk of the car, we'll do it," West said.
The film crew followed West and set up lights while he put his luggage in the trunk of his car. Action! Sebastian abbreviated his original questions into 10 short questions on the spot.
Sebastian remembered, "Every single question he answered, I stood there goggle-eyed, because he was summing up the overall project without knowing the previous shots we filmed already. And it was a one take on every question, and we used all of those questions -- all of those answers for the film."
"That's 101 documentary filmmaking," he added.
West and most in the film addressed their thoughts on conspiracy theories surrounding HIV, which did not surprise Carlin.
Carlin describes Red Hot + Cool: Stolen Moments as black Americans dealing with this emerging virus in the context of the legacy of slavery. The film asks, "Why do young people of color think AIDS is something created by the government to kill them, and why is it somewhat impossible to trust the government?"
Hub, the former bassist of The Roots, stares in the camera and says, "Would you trust someone who had raped your grandmother?"
This was controversial in 1994, and it may even still be in 2019.
"I remember fighting with PBS," Carlin said. "In fact, PBS stations below the Mason-Dixon line would not air the show because of that line. They wanted me to take it out. I was like, 'I'm not taking that line out of a TV show. That's a fact. That's not an opinion. America has to own up to this stuff.' So, there's a lot in there to unpack."
To this day, Sebastian holds the film in high regard.
"It was a landmark in what it is I was doing. I'm still very, very proud of it. I think it's the piece of work that I'm most proud of, but it did lead to Madonna and the likes."
He added: "To be able to speak to this issue through pop culture, I think it was quite a landmark at the time. I don't think anyone else was doing it, or doing it as well as Red Hot were doing it," he said. "Issues such as this will always be on the fringe, related to the public as a whole, but I think it was extremely masterful in what it did. I love that they stayed true to the artistry of, you know, whoever each piece was being directed towards. It's something that I've been really proud of to be involved with."
That year, Béco Dranoff, a Brazilian music lover, found himself coming to the Red Hot orbit by way of the Village Voice classifieds -- much like Paul Heck had a couple of years prior.
Dranoff remembers the job posting: "'Red Hot Organization is looking for assistant.' Literally one of those classifieds in the back of the Village Voice, two-line thing. I cut it out. I had the little sense I'm going to host a Brazilian record. I know these big Brazilians and I have access to them. At first, I think I sent a fax, back in the day: 'Hi. I'm Béco from Brazil. And I love what you do. I have access to several incredible Brazilian artists and would love to talk to you.' It took a long while for them to reply, a few months. And then, one day, John's assistant faxes me back and like, 'OK. Do you want to come talk? This is no guarantee. Just come talk and meet us.' I said OK."
"I had a very nice first talk with John, and he was super open," he added.
Dranoff was humble, with an impressive resume already. Carlin saw on Dranoff's resume that he had managed tours for Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, two of Carlin's favorite Brazilian musicians. Upon meeting him, Carlin knew he had met the right person.
"Béco, you shouldn't be anybody's assistant," Carlin said. "Why don't we make a Red Hot Brazilian record?"
"I was in heaven," Dranoff said.
"That was sort of the embryo of Red Hot + Rio," Dranoff said. "He [Carlin] got the funding for the project with Verve, which was great. Verve Records, it's a subsidiary of Universal. And they have all the bossa nova masters, all the João Gilberto records. It was really the right home for that project."
Shortly thereafter, Dranoff met up with Brazilian composer, pianist, and singer Antônio Carlos Jobim to discuss the upcoming Red Hot project. Jobim gave his blessing to use his songs, even waiving the publishing fee for the cause.
"It was all so amazing that a composer, a classic composer of his stature, to reply, and be so kind, and be so nice, and so open to it. I said, 'It's going to be modern. It's going to be edgy.' And he was very open to it. And after a while, he passed away. He didn't see the project released, because the whole process was almost two years," Dranoff said.
Red Hot + Rio is considered the first Red Hot record focused on HIV/AIDS messages for Brazil and Latin America. This was also Dranoff's first adventure as A&R. Dranoff, Heck, and Carlin were constantly together making lists of names and conceptualizing unique music pairings.
"It's about interesting people from different genres, from different eras," Dranoff said. "We had Stereolab with Herbie Mann, a very current band from that era, from the mid-90s, with Herbie Mann, who was a jazz legend and who was a bossa legend from the '60s. And they collaborated. It was all about putting PM Dawn with Flora Purim. It was fascinating. We had these lists on the wall. The dream list, let's say, of artists to invite, and to pair, and how to make it happen, and calling agents, and calling managers, and scheduling. It was fascinating. It was like a very, very detailed work, let's say, to make it all happen."
"Back then, it was just also pre-email, and pre-Internet, and pre-file trading exchanging. There were real 2-inch tapes. Flying tapes around the world, and writing faxes, and waiting for faxes. The process was very slow, very complicated," he said.
Dranoff fondly remembered George Michael's participation on the album.
"He loved Brazilian music and loved bossa. And he suggested his song 'Desafinado.' And he suggested that he wanted to do it with Astrud Gilberto, which was amazing. They really matched. They flew to London and they recorded together. And it was a dream come true for both of them. They were very happy to meet each other. It was great. Each track was like its own little story to get together and make it happen. And then, the record went very well around the world."
Carlin reflects, "It was just the randomness of the universe. I loved Brazilian music. I was listening to it. But I didn't know how to access it. Then the interesting thing about Red Hot + Rio was, because I wasn't Brazilian, I had this idea that to me was so obvious, which will be really cool to mix kind of organic bossa nova music from Brazil with some of the more electronic music, pop music being made in London and New York at the time. It sounded really good on the record when we mixed everything."
Carlin brags about the album's enduring influence.
"Red Hot + Rio had the largest impact on Brazilian music, because ever since that record came out, every fairly young producer in Brazil mixed electronics into Brazilian rhythms, because it sounds so good," he said. "It's like one of those peanut butter and chocolate perfect combinations."
"It's a constant hustle," Heck described. "Maybe that's why I've been involved for so long, because I just love making these records. I love giving the artists an opportunity to do something that they enjoy, like an excuse to do a song, maybe, and sing in Portuguese. Or maybe they do something that was an influence to them, but they never quite had the context to really show that love, like Stereolab on Red Hot + Rio, or add something to the incredible connections and knowledge Béco brought to Red Hot + Rio."
Dranoff also led production on two later Red Hot projects, Onda Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon and Red Hot + Rio 2.
Ruben Blades, the famed salsa singer, joined the roster of Silencio=Muerte: Red Hot + Latin after Dranoff reached out. He recorded the song "No Te Miento" in Panama with fellow Panamanian musicians, Son Miserables.
"It was a good cause," Blades said. "It is a contribution to help people in need and to oppose inhumanity and bias against human beings. We have been participating in such efforts throughout my career as an artist."
Indeed, this was not Blades' maiden foray into HIV advocacy. In 1987, he starred in the PBS short film AIDS: Changing the Rules, the first nationally broadcast show on HIV. Blades shares the bill with supermodel Beverly Johnson and Ronny Reagan, son of the same U.S. president who had not spoken the words "HIV" or "AIDS" publicly until two years prior.
"When the PBS show came out, we all received threats," Blades recalled. "The backlash was huge, even from the Catholic Church, because of the condom sequence. There were people saying we encouraged drug use (because of the new needle initiative, to prevent infection from used needles), and from people who said we were challenging God's will to have gays die because of their ungodliness. Lots of crazies and crazy shit in 1987."
"We were trying to humanize the disease," he concluded.
In 1998, Heck was music supervisor for Red Hot + Indigo, Red Hot's all-star tribute to Duke Ellington. While in the studio with The Roots, he and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, two vinyl enthusiasts, began speaking of their love of Nigerian Afrobeat legend, Fela Kuti. Kuti had passed away a year earlier from AIDS complications. His record company was busy reissuing his previously released music on box sets to capitalize on his posthumous popularity.
Heck remembers the moment of inspiration.
"He [Questlove] was like, 'Hey, you guys should do a Fela record and call it Red Hot + Riot.' And I was like, 'Holy shit.' You know, sometimes good ideas just drop on you like a ton of bricks."
The next day, Heck was on the phone reaching out to Kuti's managers and publishers with a proposal starting off like, "Hey, you don't know me, but …"
Fela Kuti's music in conjunction with Red Hot was finally coming into fruition on Sept. 9, 1999. That Thursday, New York City was bubbling with musicians attending the MTV Video Music Awards. Red Hot already was recording out of Funny Garbage's studio but decided to book a session at Electric Lady Studios, the storied recording studio started by Jimi Hendrix and creative epicenter for The Soulquarians. The session was booked, and Questlove was corralling the talent.
Heck recalled the session: "I had no idea if D'Angelo was even going to show up, because nobody communicated. Nobody ever told me. I'm organizing it, putting 15 grand on the line. No one bothered to give me the memo, 'We're all going to be there.' I'm not panicking, because Questlove would be like, 'Yeah, yeah, cool. All right, cool.' That was it. Everyone's going to be there, because I asked them and told them to be there, but pretty much all he would say, 'Oh, yeah, cool, great.' Richard Nichols, the legendary Roots manager, sadly passed. Rest in peace. Same with him. 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, Paul, it's cool.' I'm like, 'Alright, I'm pretty sure this is all going to happen.'
"And then morning, we're in Electric Lady. First artist to show up is D'Angelo, and we're not even ready. The room's not even set up. I was just like, 'Oh, hi, I'm Paul Heck. Paul from Red Hot. I'm so glad you're here.' And he's just like ... he wasn't like, 'Whatever, man,' but he was just like, 'Yeah, man, cool.' I'm just like, 'OK, all right, this is cool. We're off to a good start here.' And then, that whole day literally is one of the greatest moments. That was just a very special day. Just so happened, also, as if it wasn't enough, Jorge Ben was in town for one of those rare trips. And we managed, somehow, to convince him to come, also, to the session. And Nile Rodgers came, thanks to Andres Levin's relationship with Nile. Nile was playing on 'Zombie' and I was like, 'Do you think maybe he'd stay and play on "Water"? Wouldn't that be awesome?' And he did, and it's just amazing.
"And then everybody else who I didn't even know about. Common shows up. Erykah shows up, and Nikka Costa, Bilal. It was just people coming out of the woodwork. The night before, we were up until 3 in the morning with Dead Prez, doing 'Shuffering and Shmiling,' the first pass on that. So that was just mind-blowing.
"He [D'Angelo] was one of the hottest, greatest working artists, just came off this mind-blowing summer tour. They were hot. Everybody was hot. That room was just pulsating with the music. They recorded 'Water No Get Enemy' in three takes, and I think we used the second take. And there's footage of everybody in the control room, Roy Hargrove, I see that and I'm like, 'I can't believe this dude isn't around anymore.' Money Mark is there. It's just ridiculous. There's 30 people in this room who have been responsible for some of the greatest music made in the last 25 years, freaking out at this track that was just played live in the room. It was really, really, really remarkable. And many, many other highlights."
Femi Kuti -- Fela's son and an international music star himself -- recalls the session.
"It just turned out to be a very big party in the studio. And everybody was just dancing, and it didn't even seem like recording. It seemed like a concert eventually, because everybody was just dancing, happy, and it was very great atmosphere," Kuti said.
"It was a brilliant idea, and I think it went down very well then," he told TheBody.
Heck sends his gratitude to Questlove: "Thank you, Ahmir, you know, for just dropping that nugget on us."
The story of Red Hot's HIV advocacy is heralded for its innovative and engaging messaging. Less is known about the company's social activist affiliations. The proceeds from each compilation album would go to groups and organizations selected by Red Hot and its musical contributors. "Basically, amfAR taught us how to give away money, peer review, panels, do RFPs [requests for proposals]. We sort of went through that. amfAR, being a somewhat more conservative AIDS organization, held a preference on which organizations to donate. Certain groups were too radical, too brash," Carlin said.
"Not to sound cheesy, in hindsight, but there's a lot of people who want to be involved, especially the artists. Artists are looking for opportunities to do stuff with their art," Heck said. "Some of the artists were like, 'We've done a lot of fundraisers, but nobody ever actually bothered to go back to us, and be like, "We raised money. Do you want to have a say in where the money goes?"'"
Often, Heck said, the artists were and still are not involved in deciding where the money goes. Red Hot was open to musicians recommending local charities. Heck remembers Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü chose AIDS service organizations in San Francisco, Boston, and Minnesota, and the Beastie Boys recommended Clean Needles Now, a needle exchange program in Los Angeles.
Andres Levin, one of the production minds behind Red Hot + Rio 2, agrees. Levin is the co-founder of Music Has No Enemies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting musicians with social justice and political activism. Levin's work with Red Hot is a part of a continuum of Levin's life's work.
"Red Hot has not only been one of the most creative collaborations in my career, and I think many of the artists' involved career," he said. "As a producer, it is an incredible opportunity to work with over 50 of the world-class artists from all over the world, and if you can combine the path of creativity with the proper social impact, which Red Hot has managed to do, there's basically something to be applauded, and supported and ascended and amplified. The impact on the health side has been tremendous, and I think it's really a blueprint for how easy business could move."