Miami soul singer Timmy Thomas remembers the first time he heard his Vietnam-era peace plea "Why Can't We Live Together" on the radio. "I stopped on the side of the street just to listen to it," he recalls.
That was 1972. Forty-three years later came "Hotline Bling" by Drake. First, Thomas' nephew called to tell him to listen to the song. Next, his daughter telephoned. That's when he searched online and heard that the recording he had made more than four decades earlier as a one-man band, one that wound up topping the Billboard R&B charts and making the Top 20 on the U.K. charts, had become the backbeat on Drake's confessional about a girl who replaced late-night phone calls with late-night outings.
Typically, stories that begin like this one continue with lawsuit proceedings. But that's not the case with Thomas, who was thrilled to hear the distinctive beat of "Why Can't We Live Together" on Drake's song. He's so thrilled, in fact, he's on a mission to meet the Canadian rapper to thank him.
"I knew right away it was my record," Thomas says. "And he sounds so good on it! It didn't have the message that I had about the world, about 'Why Can't We Live Together?' But I was so deeply honored in my heart that he used my original music. He had an opportunity to use Snoop Dogg beats, Dre beats, all these new beats. He went all the way back... and used my original. He wasn't even born when my record came out the first time."
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Now that his song has received significant attention for the second time, Thomas plans to re-record it with an orchestra and background singers. Over the past 45 years, "Why Can't We Live Together" has been covered by the likes of Santana and Sade, and it was even sampled by MC Hammer. But no one took it global quite like Drake.
"I want to meet him one day and just give him a big hug and just say, 'Man, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to try to get my foot back in the door to try to teach these kids to be an asset instead of a liability," Thomas says. "That's what my record was about. Why can't we live together? No matter what color, you're still my brother, or no matter what color, you're still my sister."
Thomas has been a music teacher in Miami for decades. He was grading papers and listening to a Walter Cronkite newscast about the casualties in Vietnam when the idea for "Why Can't We Live Together" struck. As a lifelong educator, he was pleased to learn of the financial gifts Drake made to Miami High and University of Miami students, as well as to the local women's shelter Lotus House, during his recent visit to Miami for the filming of his music video for "God's Plan." Thomas says he has not made a formal request to Drake's team but hopes the rapper comes across media reports of his quest to meet him.
"I want to say to Drake: 'Wherever you are, I love you. Keep on doing what you're doing, man. I love you, brother. Please show these young people god's plan.''"