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

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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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Exclusive: Melanie Fiona on Her New Album ‘Next Train’ and Adapting to the Streaming World

Around this time in 2012, Melanie Fiona was promoting the release of her sophomore album, The MF Life. The album would become well-received by fans and critics, debuting at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and earning Fiona a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Wrong Side of a Love Song.”

It’s been six years since the Toronto native dropped The MF Life. Although the album is a timeless body of work, fans are ready to hear new material; Fiona is too. “I’m not going to let another year go by without the album coming out,” she tells Rated R&B. “I’m really anxious to get this music out.”

Fiona has been crafting her third album (originally titled Awake) for a few years now. In 2015, she dropped two tracks — the Caribbean flavored song “Bite the Bullet” and the socially conscious track “I Tried.” As the creative direction evolved, Fiona renamed the album to Next Train. “I feel like Awake has just become my lifestyle and not my album anymore,” she explains. “I didn’t want to kind of limit it to just one moment in time.”

Instead of focusing on a specific period of her life, which she doesn’t knock other artists who do it, she prefers to make her project more evergreen. “I’m still performing music from my 2012 album and my 2009 album,” she says. “I feel like it’s always about a classic, timeless conversation.”

Fiona’s current single “Remember U” hits home for anyone who has been in a relationship. The reggae-influenced song is about an ex-lover who tries to come back in someone’s life after doing them wrong the first time.

“I can’t, fall back in love again / You broke this simple heart / That used to beat for you my friend / And I say that you’ve got some nerve just to come back and say that you’re sorry,” she sings on the raw track.

Rated R&B caught up with Fiona about Next Train, how she is adapting to the streaming world, who she salutes for Women’s History Month and more.

Photo credit: Zigga Zagga Studio

Why did you change your album title from Awake to Next Train?

When I was putting the finishing touches on the album and started deciding what songs I wanted to put on the album, one of the last songs I recorded was a song called “Next Train.” I looked at all the songs I put on this album and I was like, “It doesn’t feel like ‘Awake’ anymore because now I feel woke [laughs].” “Next Train” was the last song I recorded for the album and that came with so much strength and so much power. It felt like a collection of songs that became about reflecting on where I’ve been to move forward to be where I am now. The songs are very truthful and it just felt right. Train…I think of steel, moving, progress and destination. It’s a journey and that just felt more present to who I am now.

You released a couple of songs in 2015, “Bite the Bullet” and “I Tried.” Did they make the album?

“Bite the Bullet” is on the album. “I Tried” is not on the album but it is out and people still love it and listen to it. I just felt like there were just so many other records that I have evolved from.

What was it like working with Top Dawg Entertainment artist SIR on your album?

Listen, that’s my brother. When I started working with Andre Harris, SIR was in the room of his house. He was just this quiet dude sitting on the couch. I sat down and we started rapping and we wrote “I Tried” right there on the very first night we met. I just remember feeling that I had found a new musical counterpart. This was before he had released his new album. I just have admired his work and his talent since 2013. He’s someone very special and just naturally gifted. He really helped bring out a different side of me in the writing process.

Who else did you work with on the album?

The features are still to be determined. On the album, I have worked with Sebastian Cole, Carmen Reese, Lil Eddie, Jerry Wonda, Jack Splash, Andrea Martin, etc.

Do you have a release date yet?

I don’t but I’m going to say this year, for sure. I’m really excited to reveal more elements of the album before it comes out.

Speaking of getting music out, how do you feel about Best Buy’s plans to stop selling CDs in its stores?

It’s interesting because historically a lot of my album sales are physical copies. I think that I attribute that to the demographics of people who do go out to buy CDs and who do buy tickets, which I’m so fortunate now. I think what’s happening is that quickly, since 2012 to now, there has been a huge shift in how people consume music. It’s very digital. I think that is something that will be missed — having a physical copy and signing CDs…having the artwork and people having something tangible. It’s something really special but time has changed.

Streaming has clearly taken over. Do you feel any pressure now to focus on streaming rather than physical sales?

It’s definitely become something that’s at the forefront of my mind for sure, especially in this time now and getting ready to release new music — seeing how instant your data is, your reach is and how instant the plays are. It’s crazy. I feel like there’s so much pressure. Everyone’s so judgmental based on this statical data. I try not to get caught up in that. I was even shocked to see how many people actually follow me on Spotify with no music out in six years. I’m looking forward to playing in this landscape. There’s an upside to it, you know? You can just upload it right away and get the music to your fans immediately. I love that instant correspondence with my fans. I don’t want this shit to stress me out, ever. I love this too much and I don’t ever want it to become a hindrance because things are changing.

“It Kills Me” has over 25 million views on YouTube…

They’re watching. They’re there. People have been discovering my music for so long and that’s the beautiful part about it. There was a time when you had to rely on the radio to hear a song. If your song came out in 2009, it lived and died by 2011. Now with streaming people can go back and find your whole catalog of music. I think there are so many songs people haven’t discovered because they were only focused on what radio exposed them to. [Streaming] gives all my fans and new fans the exposure to all the B side records because those are the joints. For me, the ones that never see radio are the ones I’m excited to perform and have people discover.

What are your top three non-singles to perform?

I don’t think it was a huge single but “A-yo” is one of my favorite records to perform off The Bridge. I love that record so much. “This Time” was a single but I wouldn’t put it up there with “It Kills Me” or  “4AM.” And then there’s a song called “What Am I To Do” and “Rock Paper Scissors” off The MF Life that are so fun to perform because those are fan faves.

Photo credit: Zigga Zagga Studio

Toronto is bringing a new wave of R&B acts like PARTYNEXTDOOR, Daniel Caesar, and Dvsn. How does it feel to see a new generation of Canadian singers making a mark in the U.S. market?

I am so proud because I know how it was when I was doing it and what that struggle was like; that struggle is not as heavy anymore. All of those people in which I know personally still live in Toronto, which is beautiful because that means that the world is coming to them and they don’t have to leave to go to the world anymore. Shout out to Drake, really, who changed the game because nobody was checking for us hard until he came along. That’s a longtime friend of mine and he broke the stigma.

How has motherhood changed you?

It’s kept me so busy [laughs] because now I have to think about what time I need to be back to put the baby to sleep — no longtime late night studio sessions. It’s a balancing act but it has enlightened and enriched my life so much more than I could’ve ever imagined. It just makes me feel complete and I want to continue to create so he can be inspired by that.

What else is on your mind right now?

I can talk about so many things [laughs]. I just think that the future is bright. Something that I’m really looking forward to is using my voice this year — not just musically — but socially, emotionally and consciously to inspire people on many levels. I’m really living the motto these days: “I have to live to give.” I just feel like we’re living in a world right now where people can be so consumed with self that they forget that you have a responsibility when you have a platform. It can’t just all be self-serving and so that’s kind of my motto and my approach to 2018… to live to give and to create and aspire to inspire.

With it being Women’s History Month, who is a woman who inspires you?

Lauryn Hill. I just identify with the lyrical content, the approach, the awareness, the level of artistry that she created by breaking boundaries and being like “No, I can do all this. I can rap, I can act [and] I can sing.” She was everything. Shout out to Lauryn Hill to leaving a legacy from one album that we’re still celebrating. It’s never been matched. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill educated a lot of people on what music is supposed to feel like.

I also got to give it to Whitney [Houston]. I was four years old singing love songs that I had no idea what they meant. She was singing about very adult content but I was moved to sing at the top of my lungs with that voice from a young age. It taught me the importance of vocal ability, emotion, and storytelling. She didn’t write many of her records but she could tell that story. That tone and that voice was a great teacher for me as a child because I identified with the emotional aspect of music.

Connect with Melanie Fiona
Instagram: @MelanieFiona
Twitter: @MelanieFiona

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Elijah Blake and Jordin Sparks Release ‘Rendezvous (Remix)’

Singer-songwriter Elijah Blake enlists American Idol album Jordin Sparks for the official remix to “Rendezvous” from his latest album, Audiology.

Sparks opens the track with a steamy verse about rushing home to please her boo. “I been ridin’, ridin’, ridin’ through the city / Been anticipating, it got my heart racing / Impatient, I bet this night will be the one to remember / I got a present for you, how you gon’ pay it forward / Had to be at the door to see your reaction / Oh baby your gift is me, Im at your service,” she sings.

This isn’t Blake and Sparks’ first time working together. The two collaborated on Sparks’ album, Right Here Right Now, on the tracks “Unhappy” and “11:11.”

Listen to “Rendezvous” by Elijah Blake and Jordan Sparks below.

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Janet Jackson and Mary J. Blige Will Headline Essence Festival 2018

Essence Festival keeps getting better. The lineup for the 2018 festival has been revealed. Music legends Janet Jackson and Mary J. Blige will headline the event, which will take place July 5-8 in New Orleans.

Other artists announced in the first round of performers include Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Fantasia, Miguel, Kelly Price, Ro James, Marsha Ambrosius, Dave Hollister, Xscape and 112. Emerging singers H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, Kelela, Kevin Ross, MAJOR. and DVSN have also been added to the bill. More performers will be revealed at a later date.

Tickets for the Essence Festival are available now.


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