INTERVIEW: Producer Harmony Samuels Talks ‘Best Man Holiday’ Soundtrack + New Music From Fantasia, Michelle Williams, Jordin Sparks

Harmony blue jacket front profile

British musical powerhouse Harmony Samuels goes beyond simply working as an artist’s’ producer, by relating to them to create brilliant musical masterpieces. After rising from the scene in his home of London, he’s come to America to create hits on another level. From Fantasia to Ariana Grande, Harmony Samuels has built a powerful resume , all while producing hit after hit. Rated RnB had the chance to sit down with the busy Englishman to dig into his career.

Five years ago, you were on the verge of quitting the music industry to become a music teacher. What kept you in the game?

Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins (laughs). I was on my way out. I was like “I’m done. I’m fed up with the politics.” The music industry is not all about talent. It’s a business itself. It’s more about numbers, figures and who knows who. I was kind of fed up of years and years of trying. I was going to try to teach these kids how to keep going. In my final run, I came to America to finish up an independent mixtape. I ended up in Los Angeles from New York, which ended up with me signing with Rodney Jerkins.

How did you meet Rodney Jerkins?

He actually heard my music playing next door in a studio and came looking for me (laughs).

Rodney Jerkins once said (referring to you), “I believe that he will single-handedly bring R&B back to the forefront.” What does that mean to you to have someone like Rodney Jerkins say that about you?

I tell him often, “big bro there’s no need to put all that pressure on me” (laughs). I mean, it was an honor for him to believe that I had the capability of doing that. Whether I will do that, I don’t know. I’m just going to keep believing in the God that I serve and keep making great music. As long as music comes from the center of my heart, I’m never really going to have any problems. That’s what got me so far. I’m really passionate about music. It’s like my wife (laughs)…I think we’re slightly bringing R&B back (laughs) bit by bit. We’ve got “Without Me” by Fantasia, Ariana Grande “The Way,” Kelly Rowland “Gone” with Wiz Khalifa.

Being one of the hottest producers out right now, you are working on a lot of different projects at the same time. How do you keep your creative juices flowing?

My main way is church. I go to church twice a week. I’m on a worship team so I play with the worship band. That helps me keep a pure way of relating to music. I just work hard. I pay attention to a lot great people. A producer I’ve been paying attention to is Mike WiLL Made It. I think he’s doing very well for an up and coming producer. I’m attracted to people who do very well and know how to excel their careers. I like to read on people’s history — Quincy Jones, I’ve got like 18 books on him (laughs)…I’m really a down to earth guy. That’s how I get my inspiration.

You executive produced Fantasia’s “Side Effects of You.” Do you think an album with 1-2 producers is better than having an album with a different producer on each track?

I believe that if you want a cohesive album, yes one or two producers makes sense. There’s examples from Justin Timberlake’s three solo albums, Usher’s albums….going back to Michael Jackson’s album, Quincy Jones was the producer for him. I do believe it’s relative to have one producer but I do believe if there’s a mindset of people on the same page. If you put nine producers and make them have the same passion and have the same page, you can have that. You can get nine different producers to make a great album.  One person who has done it is Jay-Z — “The Black Album.” There was probably like five or six producers — Kanye [West], Timbaland, Pharrell, NO I.D. — there was lot of producers. But because everybody was cohesive and together, he came out with a great album. I just believe that in this day and age everybody is trying to get on top and everybody is trying to be famous. In my field, [producers] want to be as big as the artist. It’s not a passion for music anymore it’s “I want to be seen, as well as heard.” We’ve got to find the balance.

Harmony_Samuels003What can fans expect from Fantasia’s “Side Effects of You (Remix)”?

It’s a throwback hip-hop record. It’s Mobb Deep meets Mary J. Blige, basically. There’s going to be a beautiful collaboration happening which I can’t disclose until we completely do it. It’s going to be an incredible record. I don’t think people have ever seen her in this light. The remix is amazing.

What are the ingredients to making an album great?

A great artist. When you have a great artist you can kind of go anywhere.

You’re working on Michelle Williams’ upcoming album, can you tell us a little bit about her direction on this project?

The same direction I took with Fantasia’s latest album, which was just creating great music. I didn’t generalize it to pop or R&B or dance. I just wanted to create great music. Yes, the lyric is about Jesus and the God we serve. It’s inspirational. It’s about the relationship. I think we are starting to break ground with it.

You once said, “I was brought into the industry to impact the artist and bring the greatness out of them.” How do you go about doing that? How did you bring out the greatness in Fantasia, Michelle Williams or any other artist you’ve recently worked with?

Time. It takes time. You have to be patient and watch. You have to know who they are. If you want to find out who they are quickly, you have to be silent and watch. You can’t be too loud. You can’t overly express yourself…you have to learn why. You have to understand why. I didn’t know Fantasia’s story when I met her. I didn’t know Ariana [Grande] could sing as well as she did until she came to my studio (laughs). I just knew that she was a Nickelodeon star. They eventually start opening up and then you’re like, “Wow! You guys are actually really special.” I think producers win more if they spend more time [studying]. Same with Chris [Brown]. When I went in the studio with Chris Brown and we did “Say It With Me” and “All My Love” that was the first session that we ever done and we wrote two hit records. People was like “how did you do that?” I’m like, “Dude, you’ve got to study the person…study who he is. You can get enough information on them.” That’s how I did it anyway and let God do the rest.

As the executive producer for  “The Best Man Holiday” Soundtrack, what can we expect?

There’s going to be some collaborations. Definitely. Collaborations and just your favorites — Mario, Fantasia, Marsha Ambrosius, Anthony Hamilton…I can’t really disclose much but the story has a meaning and that’s why these songs go with it so much. I’m very excited about it and I’m sure it’s going to do well.

Tells us about your company B.O.E. Global. I heard it has different meanings. 

My record label is called Best Of Everything. My production company is called Blackout Entertainment. We have a publishing house in which we just signed two producers — Moe Keyz and Big Mike. Real young kids like 22-years-old. Amazing producers…worked with me on the Ariana [Grande] album. They’re moving to LA next year. B.O.E. has its different branches.

When you aren’t in the studio, what do you enjoy doing?

To be honest with you, I like to go see buildings…that’s why I live in Hollywood. It’s amazing. I’ll go up the hills and just look at homes and architecture or the beach because the water hitting the sand is amazing (laughs). I really like peace because I’m always around noise — my speaker is on, my keyboard is on…there’s music playing somewhere. I sound like an old man, don’t I? (laughs).

Any other words?
I really want everybody to know that Jordin Sparks’ album is going to be amazing. I know people are sleeping on her. She’s got a big album. She’s got a great duet coming with her other half that we did. Keep an eye out for that. That’s going to be an awesome record.

Connect with Harmony Samuels:
Twitter – @HarmonySamuels
Instagram – @HarmonySamuels


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Jordin Sparks Reveals She is Married and Expecting First Child

American Idol winner Jordin Sparks is starting a family. The 27-year-old revealed to People that she secretly got married to her boyfriend Dana Isaiah in mid-July, while on vacation in Hawaii.

“We’re both really excited,” Sparks said about being a newlywed. “He’s been like, ‘I want to shout it from the mountain tops!’ We’re really proud to be married to each other and to be celebrating this.”

Sparks also announced she is pregnant with her first child that is due next spring. “It’s been really crazy because everything changes,” Sparks said about her pregnancy. “Once we got over the initial shock of it, now again just like it is with the marriage, to be able to share that this amazing thing is happening, it’s such a great thing. We did this together!”

It’s good to see that Sparks has found new love. Over the past few years, she had to endure very public breakups with her exes Jason Derulo and Sage the Gemini.

Exclusive: Syleena Johnson Gets Deep on Lack of Soul in Music + Talks New Album ‘Rebirth Of Soul’

One of R&B’s most authentic storytellers Syleena Johnson is not shy about recounting her trials and triumphs through her music. For more than two decades, the Chicago native has curated records that have brought joy and sweet pain to our hearts.

Deep and honest cuts like “Faithful to You,” “Apartment for Rent,” “Labor Pains,” and “Label Me” have championed women’s life stories while enlightening men on the day-to-day struggles of womanhood.

Johnson’s first and less documented release, This Time Together by Father and Daughter, premiered in the summer of 1995. The joint album – with her legendary father Syl Johnson – ignited her soulful stardom with songs “Keep on Loving Me” and “Piece of the Rock.”

Seven solo albums and one joint album later, the 41-year-old singer-songwriter pays tribute to her music genius of a father with her fall release,  Rebirth of Soul.

Along with the gearing up for the release of her new album, Johnson continues to secure her bag with television and health/wellness ventures.

During our 30-minute conversation, Johnson dished tribute album to her father, her new TV One talk show Sister Circle, her wellness brand SheLean and her favorite R&B artists now and more.

Check out the interview below.

Already, Sister Circle is capturing audiences across the nations — specifically women of color. How important is it for this new generation of black women to hear other black women like yourself and the other hosts empower and uplift each other?

If I can be frank, this show is important right now in a time where our current leadership is inadequate, unmotivating and sexist, which is causing our nation to adopt those undertones. In an entertainment field, where women — especially black women — are being exploited on television in such a negative way, Sister Circle is a breath of fresh air. We’re not perfect. We’re not walking around with halos. We’re still black women who have the same black women issues.

Our goal is to converse on these issues and show perspective from the African-American point of view in a bulk where the entire show is made up of African Americans. And Sister Circle is something that we don’t have right now in this climate where there are so many issues that pertain to us and our culture. It’s not black women directly. Black men, our sons. Black men, our husbands. Black men, our brothers.

What was it like having Wendy Williams, the contemporary Oprah of daytime, grace Sister Circle‘s inaugural show?

It was one of the biggest example of black women supporting each other. She’s the queen of daytime talk right now. By her being our very first guest, she pretty much blessed the show. She pretty much said, ‘I’m proud of you girls and you’re doing your thing.’ What more can you ask for? Other than Oprah Winfrey herself (laughs).

How does Sister Circle stand apart from other panel talk shows?

First of all, Sister Circle is live every day, five days a week. It’s the first all black panel talk show with no other nationalities. There is a male that represents the LGBTQ community which I have not really seen on any other talk show. Also, our hosts come from all walks of life which is really fun. Plus, we knew each other before starting the show which makes the chemistry really strong.

Recently, you started a health and wellness initiative, SheLean. Tell us about it. Also, did personal health motivate this new business venture? Or was this idea presented to you after the success of fitness DVD Mommy’s Got Soul?

No, it wasn’t personal health. Although SheLean was something that my best friend and I had already put together, what really put the fire under me is when I learned that every 4 out of 5 African American women, according to the CDC, are suffering from heart disease, type II diabetes and mild cancers. African-American women are also developing lupus and other different autoimmune diseases, which I believe is directly related to diet, poor rest and lack of vitamin and mineral content.

Also, the lack of education to be able to remedy this void plays a part. So with SheLean, the initiative is to educate the matriarch of the household, which is a woman, and in educating the woman you can help decrease childhood obesity, as well as obesity and obesity related disorders in minorities cultures, with African-American women and individuals being primary.

How do you resist food temptations and stay on a consistent workout regimen with your hectic work schedule?

During the five-day week, I eat clean. I need my energy and I need my stamina. Eating bad during the week will cause me to be sluggish and groggy. I allow myself a bad meal on maybe Friday and Saturday and then I go back to eating clean on Sunday. Like today, I had a glass of wine and a fried chicken burger. It was a good cheat meal for me (laughs).

I don’t go crazy though … like you won’t catch me eating a full pizza. I’m not really a sweets girl. I don’t get rid of temptations. I minimize them and I put them in my diet where it works. I think what happens is when people diet and they starve themselves it causes them to binge. That’s how they end up eating a whole pizza and ice cream (laughs).

Rebirth of Soul, out now, is an ode to your father, Syl Johnson. What was the overall recording process like?

It’s really easy working with my dad in the studio. So the recording process was awesome. It was all live instrumentation. On the Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You,” there was a live harpist and string quartet in the studio. So live instrumentation was the most intriguing thing.

With a title like Rebirth of Soul, do you think soul has died in music? If so, why?

Yeah … and the reason I say yes is because soul is not a genre. When you’re singing soul music, you’re singing from your soul. And that means you’re singing from your story, your history, from the things that you’ve gone through. I think that the music today is talking about things that are way too surface. They’re not getting deep enough into the infrastructure of their spirit and soul. They’re not baring their soul in records anymore. A lot of artists are just taking a song that was written and they just sing it.

As far as the music you’ve heard this year, who’s music do you feel still embodies soul?

Mali Music. He’s my favorite right now. I listen to a lot of old music like Anita Baker, Sade, Earth Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan. Every morning when we come on set for Sister Circle we first listen to gospel. Then we merge to vintage R&B, which has been in my spirit lately. To be quite honest, I don’t even listen to the radio. I’m not really a fan of anything that’s out at all. I do like The Weeknd … sometimes. It’s the music that I like. It’s eerie. He reminds me of a male Sade in a way. He’s just not as poignant as her.

What’s your favorite cut on the new project? Also, out of all the covers, which did you want to nail perfectly?

My favorite cut on Rebirth Of Soul is Otis Redding’s “These Arms Of Mine.” I was so happy to do this record because it’s my favorite Otis Redding record. And the song I wanted to nail was “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin. I knew that people would compare me to Aretha Franklin, like they already have. I knew attempting a record of that caliber I had to shut it down. So what I set out to do was to do it exactly like her. I mean timing wise, run wise, range wise — as well as singing it in her key. To me that was the best way to pay homage, to show respect and to celebrate Aretha Franklin. She is truly the Queen of Soul.

Rebirth of Soul is available digitally for purchase and streaming now. Packed with 10 amazing covers, including Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James, this incredible body of work is definitely a collectors item.

Make sure to follow Syleena Johnson on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also, follow Sister Circle TV on all social media platforms.

Meet R&B’s New ‘Pretty Girl’ Rhyon Brown

With roles in That’s So RavenLincoln Heights and Get Rich or Die Tryin, Rhyon Brown has made her mark in the film and television industry. Now the millennial entertainer is expanding her entertainment resume in the field of music.

Under the guidance of Grammy-nominated producer Harmony Samuels, the West Coast native is making waves with her debut album, Pretty Girl. Released last month on BOE Music Group/EMPIRE, the project features her catchy tune “California,” as well as her emotional track titled “Gone.” 

In support of her debut album, Rhyon released a short film with the same title. The premiere event attracted plenty of Hollywood influencers including Kofi Siriboe, Megan Good, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Paige Hurd, Tasha Smith, Keith Powers, Niecy Nash, Skye Townsend, Nicki Micheaux and Insecure’s Y’lan Noel, to name a few.

Rated R&B recently chatted with Rhyon about her debut album, working with Harmony Samuels, her short film and more.

Check out our interview below.

What is the inspiration behind your debut album Pretty Girl?

My inspiration initially was simply to be honest. I’ve been in the entertainment industry for a long time but this was my first introduction into the music industry and I knew the only way this would ever work was for me to be honest. People see through an artist not being who they are, fans are smart. Now, my inspiration has changed, and its to encourage people to recognize how great God has made them.

The album surprisingly doesn’t contain any features. Is this by coincidence or something you did purposely?

We didn’t have any features per say as far as my track list is concerned. I wanted to grow my fan base organically, with people finding me, liking my music and enjoying my message. I didn’t want people to like me only because I had another artist on my record that they were fans of. But I can say I have two songs graced with the presence of Andre Troutman, incredible artist and the best person I have ever had the pleasure of seeing work a talk box. No one does it better than him.

Along with your album, you have a short film. Tell us your experience creating that.

It was a rollercoaster. We pulled off a large feat with a group of very talented and dedicated people, but also a very small group. There were a lot of people wearing many different hats. Making this film and seeing how it is affecting people its literally a dream come true, but it took a lot of long days with very little sleep.

What is your definition of a Pretty Girl?

Someone that recognizes that her beauty isn’t found in anything this world can provide, and she shares that inspiring other people to feel and act the same way.

What’s your message to a girl who may not feel like she’s pretty?

The world does a really good job of telling women what they are supposed to look like and how they are supposed to feel, its not on the world to determine that for you. Being pretty is a choice, because everyone defines beauty differently. But when you choose to be pretty others will chose to look at you the same, because your belief makes it undeniable.

You’re signed to Harmony Samuels’ label BOE Music Group. How did you connect with him and is there anything you’ve learned about yourself while being under his wing?

I met him through someone that really believed in me that got Harmony Harmony to take a meeting, and rest was history from there. I’ve learned so much from him, the guy is a genius and one of the hardest working people I know. But its the fact that he’s a risk taker, and when God tells him something he’s willing to put everything on the line to make that happen and he reaps the benefits of that trust. So its made me be more of a risk taker, and more of a believer in my own purpose.

Although you may be new to music, you’re certainly not new to entertainment. Your acting resume continues to grow. Is there anything you’re currently filming that you can share with us?

My episode of Irv Gotti’s new BET show Tales actually just aired on October 24th.

Follow Rhyon on Instagram at @RhyonBrown. Stream Pretty Girl below.