NEW YORK — A funny thing happened to Irv Gotti on the way to a business meeting.
The multiplatinum hip-hop producer had recently signed a deal with Universal Records for his label, the Inc., and was visiting with the bosses to discuss business matters. (" 'Pinky and the Brain' sh--," he quipped.)
An A&R rep noticed Gotti in the Universal building hallway and prodded him to join another meeting in the adjoining offices where, oddly enough, Vanessa Carlton happened to be working out a deal to join the label's roster. In a twist of fate even he admits is surprising, Gotti ended up signing the pop singer to his company, the one formerly known as Murder Inc. Now, he and Carlton are pushing to finish her new album in time for a spring release.
"I see Vanessa and I say to myself, 'I know her from somewhere,' " Gotti, preparing for a Carlton showcase at the Canal Room, remembered of their initial chance meeting. "I didn't quite know yet to put the name on it, [but I knew] she was an artist. She started playing and her voice, it completely took me over. I start rambling, running my mouth basically. And just going crazy.
"After I calmed down," Gotti continued, "she played 'A Thousand Miles,' and once I heard the piano riff, I spazzed out again.
" 'You're the girl from "White Chicks," ' " Gotti recalled Carlton jumping in, finishing his thought for him. They laughed about the song being parodied in the Wayans brothers' comedy.
With that number, Gotti knew exactly who Carlton was and began wondering if she would be willing to work with him. Gotti learned Carlton had become a free agent after parting ways with A&M Records following her commercially disappointing 2004 album, Harmonium. At first, a hesitant Gotti only offered Carlton his production assistance. He says he was surprised when her enthusiasm matched his.
"He just has this bundle of energy," Carlton said of meeting Irv. "I was so thrilled. I had been waiting for this reaction [to my music] my whole life and [that day] was the beginning of our friendship and our working relationship."
The two exchanged contact information and soon began paging each other. When Carlton signed her first message to Gotti with her first initial — he affectionately calls her "V" — he says he knew the odd pairing was destined to be. As Gotti explains, the V pendent he wears on his necklace is in remembrance of his late grandmother, who would only allow Gotti to call her "V," even though her nickname had nothing to do with her birth name.
Carlton also called their union coincidental. And she was quick to add that Irv, despite recent baggage from a federal court case (see "Gotti Brothers Found Not Guilty Of Money Laundering") and parting ways with his longtime distributor Def Jam, isn't as strange a bedfellow for her as many would think.
"I don't have an opinion on someone until I meet them, and he instantly struck me as a music guy," Carlton said. "It didn't matter what genre he usually works in or what imaging he has for himself. All I was looking for was someone who I would connect with personally, and there was energy there I wanted to be a part of."
The new duo were tightlipped about what to expect from Carlton's forthcoming album. Irv did reveal that a few surprises are possible, but most likely the effort will consist of Carlton continuing to evolve her sound. Gotti noted he wouldn't force her to become more urban nor would he be overbearing in the creative process, as he is notoriously known to be. "This is the first time where I'm gonna be a co-pilot," Irv said, adding that he usually plays the role of "dictator."
Carlton explained that just having Irv around is enough support for her. "What he gives me the most is this cushion," she said. "And I feel now like I'm sitting on the best patch of songs I've ever written. It's like baking bread, and I think this is the best loaf so far."
"Wait till you get a load of that loaf," Gotti finished.