Salaam Remi was already an established producer before he met a then-unknown singer named Amy Winehouse, having already created hits for the likes of Nas, the Fugees and Ini Kamoze (to name just a few). But from the minute he was introduced to Winehouse in 2002, his life — and career — were forever changed. Because not only did he produce the lion's share of her recorded work (her 2003 debut Frank and the follow up, 2006's iconic Back to Black), but he became a close friend with the mercurial Winehouse too, a confidant who knew her better than most.
So when Winehouse died on Saturday in her London home, it was somewhat fitting that Remi was nearby: in town to attend the wedding of the singer's former manager. In fact, he had planned on stopping by Winehouse's apartment that day to catch up with the singer.
Days after Winehouse's death, Remi spoke via telephone with New York's Power 105.1 host Kim Kane about the loss of his dear friend and the status of her new album. Kane was kind enough to share their conversation with MTV News.
"We were working on it; it's not a complete album," Remi said, debunking reports that her third LP was finished and slated for release. "We had a lot of things going, there are recordings, but first things first, I think. We're trying to focus on what's at hand and what her family wants to do. So those reports [that there is finished material] are false."
Remi also told Kane that despite near-constant speculation about Winehouse's health, he believed that she was well enough to complete her new album and was actually using the ongoing recording sessions as a sort of therapy, channeling her emotions and frustrations into her songs.
"To put it all in a nutshell, Amy loved to sing, to write ... that ability never left her," he said. "She was very good at channeling her emotions into lyrics, and then being able to sing them. She was in a place to go forward and make it happen. ... The way that Amy and I always created was, she would write and we would toss ideas around."
And though details surrounding Winehouse's death remain murky, Remi said that he's trying very hard to block out the near-constant media coverage of her passing and focus instead on the private moments the two shared in the studio. Those moments revealed the artist few ever knew: opinionated, funny and, above all else, caring.
"Amy had strong opinions on everything. .... She was very opinionated about what she liked. At the end, she was a real person," he said. "She had a huge heart. We'd be working for hours and she would have everybody in the room snickering. She always had a joke. You could hear a lot of that in her lyrics, she could be sarcastic and she was extremely witty ... but more than anything else she was a real person, an individual artist."
Celebrate Amy Winehouse on Wednesday night (July 27) at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT, when MTV will air an encore presentation of a performance she taped in the MTV studios in 2007.