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  • Jonathan Widran

MATTHEW SHELL & KENNY MCNEIL, "My Ride or Die"

From the first bubbly bass rhythms and seductive wordless vocal introduction of “My Ride or Die” and on through one of the most gloriously sexy and groovin’ Afrobeat jams you’re ever bound to hear, your ever-groovin’ body and toe tappin’ soul might be so caught up in joyful whimsy that you may not think twice about the unique dual musical history of its creators, the explosive songwriting, production and performer team of Matthew Shell and Kenny McNeil.

If somehow this irrepressible track – which finds McNeil singing sensually and passionately, caught in a lightning quick free flow of lilting tropical magic, about that loved one who never lets us down – is the first time you’ve heard what these innovative cats can do, by all means, check out their earlier 2023 release: the epic, equally intoxicating concept album We’ll Find a Way II: The Chill Afrobeat Album, which established this exotic fusion and globally conscious island based vibe as their primary means of expression as a duo. Adding to the organic exotica this time is the fact that Kenny’s singing artfully in “Pidgin,” a Nigerian dialect popular to the Afrobeats genre.


We’ll Find a Way II and its lead singles “Jazzy Lil Jane II” and “I Want to be Rich II” were the culmination of a creative connection and friendship that began in 2008 at Assembly Line Studios in Vienna VA, when Matthew engineered a session for Kenny, a Maui based multi-talent who was vocal arranging and producing an artist named Elika. Matthew loved Kenny’s vocal artistry and asked if he would contribute to writing and singing on a song he wrote called “Forever.” Their instant “brother from another mother” friendship evolved into a successful business partnership and inside of a year, they recorded the album What’s Your Dream?


Though the lyrics of “My Ride or Die” tell a colorful tale about an interdependent relationship based on trusting someone “who makes a difference in my world” and who would “go fight for me,” it’s Kenny’s playful vocal affectations and soulful exultations of “oooh”s that pierce deeper into the heart. The track seems designed first and foremost as a showcase for his formidable, supple vocalizing, yet it’s a true ensemble effort, driven by Matthew’s guitar and percussion, co-producer Angie Nicole’s dazzling fusion of synth, keys, horn accents and percussion and Hector Ruano’s buoyant basslines.

Both lyrically, melodically and sonic/production design-wise, this crew captures the high spirited, richly emotional gist of the track on the 2:40 radio edit. But the deeper experience of “My Ride or Die” comes on the generous six minute plus original version, which includes electrifying extended improvisational solos by guitarist Sami Turunen – who jams over the harmonic sizzle of horns and percussion - and saxophonist Douglas Lira, who works his likewise fanciful magic over those poppin’ basslines and percussion. If you currently have a “Ride or Die” friend or significant other, Matthew and Kenny’s latest gem will make you feel grateful. If you don’t, you’ll want one that inspires you to sing and groove like they do.


Interesting to note, the concept of the song – showing appreciation to your loved one for standing with you through the hard times - came from their friend Tope Iluyomade. The cover art of the black and white half face of a lion (with a yellow eye) is an oil painting by Diana Pigni, inspired by Kenny’s tatoo of the same image.


“What makes this song special is the collaboration with everyone involved,” Kenny says. “The concept of having that special someone through thick and thin is important for all of humanity. I believe it will always resonate with the masses. When Matthew and Tope presented the song idea to me, it was a no brainer. Once the pieces of arrangement started to come together, I knew how special this is. Angie is a true pro with her production skills. Hector is always on point and masterful on bass, as is Sami on guitar. Douglas took this song to another level with his sax solo on the extended version, which is also my favorite part of the song. Living in Maui for the past three years had an amazing influence of island vibes, passion, positivity, and love which will shine in anything I’m currently involved in.”


Commenting more directly on those relentlessly fun island vibes, Hector Ruano adds, “I'm a musician living in a Caribbean country, Venezuela, so I'm usually familiar with danceable and Latin rhythms, Many of these musical genres come from Afro music, so when Matthew told me about this song "My Ride or Die", and the idea of ​​following this Afrobeat current, I knew that the music of my region would serve as inspiration. So taking into account our previous works of jazz fusion and funk, I decided to mix a bit of afro Caribbean style with funk, And I think it turned out great. Great job from everyone involved. My bass is just a cog in this great engine made up of this MTS Music team.”


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