INTERVIEW: Grammy Nominated Producer Harmony Samuels Talks Working On JoJo’s New Album, Compilation EP And Evolution of R&B Music

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Over the last few years, Harmony Samuels has managed to become one of the most sought out producers of today. The Grammy nominated producer has worked with everyone including Fantasia, Ciara, Ariana Grande, Michelle Williams, Jordin Sparks, Nathan Sykes and most recently JoJo to name a few.

When we last spoke to Samuels in 2013, he was hard at work on a few projects including Best Man Holiday soundtrack, Fantasia’s Side Effects of You album, Michelle Williams’ Journey to Freedom album and much more. Now the London native is working with JoJo on her comeback album, his own compilation EP and more.

In an interview with Rated R&B, Samuels chatted about working with JoJo, his compilation EP, what he looks for in an artist who wants to collaborate with him, his take on today’s R&B music and mentoring future music industry professionals.

Read our interview with Harmony Samuels below.

RATED R&B: Since the last time we talked, you’ve been very busy. You’re working with JoJo on her new album that’s her first album in 10 years. Tell us about that.

HARMONY SAMUELS: JoJo is awesome. I think being a part of her comeback record — after almost a decade of no music, per se — was a great honor for me. I was a big fan of JoJo. She was a special kid that was 13-years-old and sung with such a powerful voice. She has her own vision and wants to be authentic and true to herself and never really wants to express nothing other than her heart. So, working with her I think every time she sung I would almost walk out of the room because I was just like, “how are you able to do this so easy without even trying?” It was a great experience. Her album is great too because it’s going to have different textures. She’s a woman of versatility. You will have some urban, have some pop and ballads. It’s going to be a great cluster of music but she brings them all together. I’m just happy to be a part and expand whatever her vision is.

RATED R&B: What are the qualifications to work with you? What are you looking for?

HARMONY: I think what I look for mainly is passion and talent. The high end version of singing or rapping or whatever it is you do, I look for the best in it because it’s the only way people are going to be mesmerized. If I worked with every person who just sounded like everybody else, they wouldn’t be special anymore. I like looking for the most unique voice and talent with passion like never before [laughs] because that inspires me. If they are inspired, I’m inspired.

RATED R&B: What do you find more challenging, working with a new artist or an established artist?

HARMONY: That’s a hard question [laughs]. I think new artists are always easier to work with in the sense of creativity. You get more freedom to kind of experiment with stuff. Established artists always want to push the boundaries — but they can get stuck in their ways especially if they’ve been very successful. It’s kind of like they know what they want [and] they just want you to do it. I haven’t experienced it but I definitely have heard about it. Working with new artists is where I’m at. I do that more often. I always try to find the new kid.

RATED R&B: We heard you’re working on a compilation project of some sort. What can you tell us about it?

HARMONY: I’m working on a compilation EP coming this year. It will have special guests but it will focus on the new artists who I believe in and who I’ve worked with — people like Kehlani and Nathan Sykes — just focusing on the new.

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RATED R&B: What is your vision for your EP?

HARMONY: My vision is just good music. I’m not an artist or whatever so I’m never going to be on stage trying to be one. I think what I want to do is give an expression of music at its best with no limitations. Because I’m a producer, it’s going to be expected. When you’re an artist, it’s kind of like what genre is it? R&B? Pop? For someone like me, because I’ve worked in so many different avenues, I’ll be able to express a wider genre of music to the people. That’s going to be my goal for this EP. I’m really excited. We’ve got some new faces that’s going to be on it. We have some talent signed from my label that will be on it. We started the process and it will definitely be dropping first quarter next year.

RATED R&B: What’s your take on today’s music? Some people believe music has just evolved, while others feel like it simply has went downhill. What are your thoughts on people who criticize R&B music?

HARMONY: It’s definitely an evolution of music. You have to understand genres have crossed paths so many times. Hip-Hop now is more R&B driven. We have more singing rappers than we have rappers. Pop artists like Katy Perry can do a trap record (“Dark Horse”). Ariana [Grande] comes out with an R&B record (“The Way” featuring Mac Miller). Everything just has changed. But I will say the essence of R&B has not died. I’m making it my mission to bring R&B back to the forefront. It’s going to sound a little different but R&B at its best — the vulnerable R&B. That R&B that made you think. That R&B that made you feel something. That R&B that was honest. That R&B that made you love. We’re bringing that back.

I don’t necessarily think it’s dead. I think what we’ve grasped as the concept of R&B is dead. That legacy has died and we have to accept that and understand that it’s time for the new. If you look at the whole music industry, it’s changing. It’s not just R&B. Pop is changing. What we call pop now is very different from what we called pop ten years ago [laughs].

I just feel like the world is not as big as it used to be, so music is evolving. Now that Amsterdam, Sweden, France, Asia, all these countries that used to get music just from America are now involved in the music industry. So now there’s a fusion of sounds that’s happening. We just have to accept it and roll with it and look for unique talent.

RATED R&B: Since you were involved with both of Ariana Grande’s albums, we can only help but wonder if you’re working on her next album?

HARMONY: Yeah, we’re about to go in and we have one or two [records] that she’s already done. We’re working again real soon. I’ve been very busy. She was on the tour. So I’m really excited for her. I’m really happy to see her explode. From the first album, when she came to the studio she was this innocent girl that nobody knew. Looking back three years and to see her be such a humongous influence on these young kids and having such an amazing platform, I’m grateful and fortunate to be a part of something so great.

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RATED R&B: Speaking of kids, you’re very passionate about helping children learn about the music business. Could you expand on that? What opportunity have you created or creating for kids to get educated about the industry?

HARMONY: We started this school tour where we go around to schools. We talk to 300-400 students. We give them a better understanding of how to be in the music industry. You’d be surprised when you walk into those schools and you ask how many students want to be in the music industry. At one school, at least half of them wanted to be an artist or a producer. It’s like “wow,” music has really influenced a lot of people.

This year, we’re going to Africa and other places to kind of invest in the mindset and the ability to help people and how to accomplish it especially when you’re from places that don’t have the facilities for it. Like, I came from London — and even though London is a great music place — where I grew up, it was hard to find studios and hard to get studios and be around the industry.  Now, we’re going out and educating these kids and showing them ways. We have internships that we’ve done for the last three years. We are just laying the foundation for these young kids and making sure they are excited. We also have a thing called Mentor Fridays, which is where we invite 25-50 people to my studio and we invest time. We bring guest producers and writers and we tell them our story. We listen to their music. We critique it and create opportunities for them to meet other creative people and hopefully something magical takes place. That’s what the mission is. We just want people to be successful and the opportunities I wasn’t able to have, I want to be able to give to others.

RATED R&B: What’s something about the music industry that you had to figure or learn on your own?

HARMONY: I think one of the things I had to figure out was it’s not always going to be great. You’re going to have down time. You’re going to have quiet time. You’re not always going to be asked to be on every project. The biggest thing I think I will say is to never take it personal. I think that’s where people really get messed up is they get into these relationships and it gets personal. When things don’t fall in place or they don’t call you for the next gig, it really does affect it. The fact of the matter is it’s business. You can’t be personal with it. You have to be willing to lose as much as win. If you can’t accept that, then your time is gonna be shaky.

RATED R&B: How do you deal with rejection?

HARMONY: Honestly, I’m so focused on what I got to do that before you can reject me I probably won’t notice [laughs]. Will I say I never dealt with it? No, I’ve definitely dealt with it and it’s a very painful thing. The music industry is so fast that sometimes nobody will offer you an explanation. I’m thankful that I was raised in church and the Lord’s been my balance and just meditating and praying and believing I wasn’t brought here for no reason. Also, understand that not everything is going to happen how you want it and not everything you will be involved with. Some things you have to watch from the sideline and just be happy to be able to see someone do well. That’s honestly how I survived. It was a lot of times when I was asking is my career over [laughs]? Sometimes it can stay quiet for a long time. For me, I’m always creating. I’m always writing. I’m always producing. I’m always looking for the new artist. When you look for new artists, you’re always going to be in front.

Follow Harmony Samuels on Instagram/Twitter at @HarmonySamuels. 

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Interview: Tamar Braxton Talks Happiness, Lesson Learned This Year and Holiday Favorites

Tamar Braxton is an open book, especially in her music. From songs like “Raise the Bar” and “White Candle” to “Broken Record” and “King,” the Grammy-nominated singer knows how to pen the ups and downs of love.

In late September, the Maryland native released her fourth and last album, Bluebird of Happiness. The 11-track set unfolded the private love stories with her estranged husband and former manager, Vincent Herbert.

As a special guest on The Great Xscape Tour, Braxton soothes her wounded love scars by addressing her true feelings on stage. With profound performances of “Blind” and “My Man,” her fans get to witness her being vulnerable, yet buoyant during her healing process.

Rated R&B caught up with Braxton backstage after her 45-minute set at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC to talk about her last album, happiness, her holiday favorites and more.

Check out the interview below.

RATED R&B: You’re currently on The Great Xscape Tour. What’s been your favorite or most memorable moment so far?

TAMAR: I think the most memorable moment was when Kandi and Tiny were in my dressing room in North Carolina while the Alabama game was going on. Of course everyone in the city was gone to that game but we managed to still sell out. We were like, “Oh my God, can you believe that we are here? We really made it. We really did it.” Tiny and I always said we wanted to do this since we were younger. We just didn’t know it would be like this.

RATED R&B: “Blind” is moving up on the urban AC radio chart. Can we expect a visual for the song in the near future?

TAMAR: Well, that’s a long story but I’m going to say yes. There were a lot of obstacles when we put out Bluebird of Happiness that we didn’t expect to happen, but they did and we had to put it out anyway. There was a movie attached to this album but it got detoured. We’re trying to fix it now. We’re playing the waiting game.

RATED R&B: Is there another single choice in mind if the video for “Blind” doesn’t come out?

TAMAR: I don’t know. I always wanted either the Yo Gotti record “Hol’ Up” or “The Makings of You” to be singles. We’ll see.

RATED R&B: Speaking of “The Makings of You,” that record along with “Pick Me Up,” are just some of the many songs on Bluebird of Happiness with incredible samples or interpolations of timeless R&B records. Which record took the longest to get cleared?

TAMAR: I honestly did not have any pushback at all. In the past it does take a long time. I think producers went into this record prepared themselves for it [laughs]. It’s so funny the Gladys Knight record came up though. I’ve been knowing her for a very long time. Her son wanted to take me to the prom back in the day [laughs]. I explained to her what the song meant to me and how Claudine is one of my favorite movies. She was like “Of course, darling.” Curtis Mayfield’s estate was so generous too.

RATED R&B: What makes Tamar Braxton happy?

TAMAR: What makes me happy is being around good people, laughing and smiling — not having any drama because I don’t have time for it. During our show prayer today, I was saying, “God thank you so much for such a great group people” because we have absolutely no drama. Also, being a good mother to my son Logan. I believe co-parenting with Vince and getting along with him to make sure Logan has a stable family environment is important in making me happy.

RATED R&B: On each album, your sound matures and your writing abilities continue to become more superb. How has your evolution as an artist helped you evolve personally and professionally?

TAMAR: I’ve always been a stickler on professionalism [laughs]. But personally, I think I am more honest about my feelings and how I truly feel. I have no problem telling you how I truly feel. It’s something about telling the truth that is liberating. I know now that there’s a way to deliver it [laughs]. The only time you find the truth to be offensive is when you’re not ready for it. You have to be ready for it. You have to be ready for evolving. Honesty is what helps us evolve. That’s what works for me.

RATED R&B: You are very active on social media. With you having such a huge following, how do you deal with any negativity that comes your way?

TAMAR: I take it as an opinion. I don’t know you, so I’m not going to feed into you. The only time that you have real negativity is when you feed into it. Most of the time these people don’t know what they’re talking about. But like I said on stage tonight, “People are always going to have something to say. You just might as well live your best life to the way you want to live it because everyone is going to have a comment.” So however you feel, God bless you but this is what works for me [laughs].

RATED R&B: With 2017 coming to an end, what’s one lesson you’ve learned this year?

TAMAR: For me, not to put yourself down. Don’t beat up on yourself. I remember when I use to beat up on myself constantly. Instead of looking at the things that I did achieve, I looked at the things I didn’t. It took away from the overall pure happiness that I wanted to achieve. I couldn’t get there if I constantly beat myself up. It’s almost like I was my own hater [laughs]. I already have people on social media saying negative things about me, why do I need to add to it? So you have to be your biggest cheerleader and believe in yourself. You have to get to a point where you don’t care and just do you.

RATED R&B: So the holidays are here. I know that you’re a foodie. What’s your favorite holiday dish?

TAMAR: Chitlins [laughs]. My mom pulls the membrane out so the house isn’t stinking. I haven’t had it this year because I haven’t had a Thanksgiving dinner yet.

RATED R&B: Favorite holiday song?

TAMAR: I would have to say “The Christmas Song.” It doesn’t get any better than Nat King Cole, my sister [Toni Braxton’s], Mariah [Carey’s] and Whitney [Houston’s] versions.

RATED R&B: Favorite holiday movie?

TAMAR: Right now it’s Caillou’s Holiday Movie. I’ve seen it a 150,000 times thanks to Logan [laughs].

RATED R&B: Favorite childhood Christmas gift?

TAMAR: The Nintendo Power Pad. It was when Nintendo first came out and they had these little blocks that you could run on and jump over. It was the bomb [laughs]. Everybody is missing out now [laughs].

Make Tamar Braxton’s final album, Bluebird of Happiness, a holiday stocking stuffer this season. The new album is available everywhere.

Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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BET Premieres New Digital Series ‘State of R&B’

BET has launched a new digital series called State of R&B. The three-episode series features a panel of music influencers including singer/songwriter Sevyn Streeter, singer/songwriter Elijah Blake, singer Rachel Kerr, producer Harmony Samuels and songwriter LaShawn Daniels. The panelists candidly speak on a range of topics including their love for 90’s R&B, how technology has changed the music business and how they’ve been healed through music.

Episode 1: “90’s Back”

In the 1990s, R&B matured in a way a man or woman who has found their stride in life would. Fronted by artists with impeccable vocal abilities, performance technique and star power and backed by major labels, the ’90s saw R&B reign supreme. Music industry influencers LaShawn Daniels, Sevyn Streeter, Elijah Blake, Rachel Kerr and Harmony Samuels discuss the impact of 90’s R&B. The group discusses icons like Brandy while also paying homage to our Soul Train Awards honorees Toni Braxton and SWV.

Episode 2: “What’s Good Now?”

Technology has changed the music business. Now the way music is created, consumed and experienced has changed. Sonically, R&B is more explorative and discovery tools (streaming services) and social media have been key platforms to showcasing the genre’s versatility and influence. We’ll discuss what’s working, what’s interesting and what’s developing. Watch as music industry influencers LaShawn Daniels, Sevyn Streeter, Elijah Blake, Rachel Kerr and Harmony Samuels dish on the new model of R&B.

Episode: “Music Heals the Soul”

What is music’s role in today’s turbulent social and political times and people’s everyday lives? Based on the theme of this year’s Soul Train Awards, “Music heals the soul,” we end the series with an introspective conversation about the transformative power of R&B/soul music. Watch as LaShawn Daniels, Sevyn Streeter, Elijah Blake, Rachel Kerr and Harmony Samuels discuss the powers of R&B music. The conversation takes you on a journey of vulnerability, being authentic and trusting the process.

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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.

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