Interview: Fantasia Is ‘The Definition Of’ Strength

If anyone knows a thing or two about life, it’s Fantasia. The 32-year-old singer has experienced many obstacles in her life, including rape at age 14 and a suicide attempt in 2010, that has made her a survivor. Her new album, The Definition Of, is the soundtrack for anyone who’s going through tough times.

The Definition Of represents strength,” Fantasia reveals to Rated R&B. “I’ve been through some things that people may have not been able to bounce back from. I am fighter and I will continue to fight. My reason for fighting is to encourage other women to accept the storms and the tests because they only come to make you strong.”

Fantasia worked closely with music exec and producer Ron Fair to create The Definition Of. It wasn’t easy, especially since the album steps outside of her R&B box to explore different sounds and genres of music. “Rock soul” is how she describes the album’s sonic mix.

In an interview with Rated R&B, Fantasia discusses the challenges of making her new album, finally gaining creative control, bringing back passion to the music industry, returning to Broadway and much more.

RATED R&B: What was the most challenging part of creating/recording the album?

FANTASIA: The most challenging thing is when you hear a sound and you want something so bad and you need certain things for it. Thank God for the relationships because there were a lot of times when we needed certain things or we wanted to bring in a live band. When you call the label and you tell them that, it’s like, “We don’t have the money for this…we don’t have the money for that.” That bothers you when you’re in the studio and somebody tells you, “We don’t have the budget for it” or “we don’t believe in it.” That can be frustrating.

What does The Definition Of represent?

It represents real music. When I say that I’m not just talking about the singing, I’m talking about the horns that you hear, the guitar, the strings, the drum, the arrangement, the vocals. Ron Fair really brought something out of me I didn’t even know I could do. There were times when I would be in the booth and he would play [music] on the piano and would be like this is the note I want you to sing. I’m like, “Ron, I don’t quite hear that in that.” He’s like, “Just do it, just do it.”

We wanted the album to represent the definition of music — the definition of the strength of a fighter. He and I both fought for this record. We don’t have timeless records like we did back then. You can still put in a Luther Vandross CD or Anita Baker or Elton John or Queen or Stevie Wonder, and those were timeless records. It seems like they were just recorded yesterday. That’s what we wanted.


Although you wanted to bring back real music on this album. Did you ever feel the pressure to cater to radio and what’s being played on there now?

Nope! I think that’s what everybody else on the other end was thinking. Right now on the radio, it’s really not a lot of singing. It’s mainly hip-hop. Right now there’s no good messages in the songs. There’s no motivation in the songs. Nobody hears good love music anymore. So I just wanted to know when the radio stations would stand up and say, “Let’s bring back music.” Let’s do both. People are saying singers are dying off. They’re not. It’s just that we aren’t getting the support we need to continue to keep that type of music alive.

With you being in the music industry over the last 12 years, do you believe creative control is something that should be given to artists early on, or is it something that should be earned over time?

Early on. If you are an artist and you are a writer and you know what the sound is and you know what you want it to be arranged, I feel like it’s something you have to fight for in the beginning because it’s harder when you put people in control of everything and allow them to do what they want to do. You kinda get stuck in a box, which can hurt you in the long run because you are allowing them to make you what they want you to be and if it doesn’t go far, then you find yourself fighting harder to get back to that place where you know you should have been. For me it was a lot harder because I was coming from a show and they had everything all planned out. Your deal is already there, so you’re walking into a ready-made situation and it’s kind of harder for you to call the shots.

That’s why it was such a fight, but I finally got to that place where I just knew what I wanted, and if I couldn’t do it, then I just couldn’t do it anymore. Twelve years is a long time and I plan on doing it for as long as I can. But when you’re getting up on that stage and you’re away from your family and the sacrifices you make when you’re out here, you want to do what your heart is telling you to do. You want to create music and be in that space you’re in and share that with the audience. I’m at that place right now where I just couldn’t do what they wanted me to do or record a song just because it was sent to me. That’s where the fight came in for me on this album.


So, The Definition Of is the album where you felt you had some creative control and was very hands on?

Yes, with the help with Ron Fair. He fought with me because he believed. With Ron I was almost at that place where I was like, “I would rather not do it at all if this is what you’re telling me I have to do as an artist.” This is what you’re telling me is hot right now, and musically what it should sound like. If you’re telling me that, I would rather stay home and be with my family. When I met him, we were in the same place of, “Somebody out there wants to hear good music, timeless records.”

That’s something I can respect about you. It’s so easy to just do what people tell you to do to collect a paycheck. For the simple fact that you’re willing to make sacrifices and fight for music that you actually believe, I think that’s a quality that more artists should kind of take up. I feel like that’s something that will keep you in the industry longer because if you know your worth as an artist and as a person, you’re not going to settle for anything less than that.

The thing about it is — and I think record labels have forgotten this, radio stations, artists have forgotten this — when it all started for all of us, it started as passion. The A&R’s that had that passion to go out and find great artists and then after finding them, go out and build relationships with the radio stations and get them where they could see them going when they first heard them. I think that the passion is gone. It’s not about the money and that’s what me and Ron were talking about. There were days we would come out of the booth and just have conversations where we wouldn’t record. And I always said this is perfect.

I think when you record, everyone feels like they put a time limit on it, and they feel like every day you should go into the studio and do something. Sometimes it don’t work like that and that’s how you be creative. We would go in the studio and just have deep conversations and we talked about this album and the direction we’re going. Some might not like it, some will, but we were so passionate about it. We talked about the sales and what if, what if. We were both at the place where it’s gonna do what it needs to do. I’m not focused on if it’s going to go number one.

That passion I had since I was a little girl, just getting up and singing, it’s my therapy. It blesses me. I remember when we used to stand on the side of street and sing for free. I remember when we would go to different places and it wasn’t about the money, it was about the passion. I think that the whole industry, everybody needs to get back to the passion about it…about singing and writing and deejaying and A&R’ing. We are losing the passion.

That’s what I like about your new album. I feel like you did not put yourself in a box. You didn’t stick to that R&B lane. There are elements of country, pop and gospel. You really kind of just stuck to the music and went whichever way felt more comfortable. I like how you show your versatility as an artist and a singer.

Thank you and that’s rock soul. People say to me, “what’s rock soul?” I tell them rock soul is every genre of music and that’s what I wanted to do on this album. “Ugly,” my country song, people were so blown away by it. When you love music, you love it all. When rock soul came to me, it was that lane of me doing everything. You can invite me to your jazz concert if you’d like, I got a little something for you. You can invite me to your country concert, I got little something for you. You should be able to step into any arena and be able to adapt to whatever is going on. I know I can because I grew up on it.


Let’s talk about acting — because you’ve been in two Broadway musicals and a movie. Do you foresee yourself returning to Broadway?

Yes. Back then, when I first did The Color Purple, I probably would’ve said “hell no” because Broadway is no joke (laughs). Every time I go see a show, I’m always impressed and proud because I know how much it takes to do that every day and to step into that character’s shoes everyday as if it is a new show. I’m always awed and proud of them because doing The Color Purple was no joke. The role I played, Miss Celie, she was tough, and it was all new for me and I didn’t know how to come out of the character. I didn’t know how to let it go. So, I woke up Celie, went to bed Celie. When I look back at it, I couldn’t have played the part if I did not step fully into her shoes. After doing it here in New York for a year, I went on the road with it.

After that, I came back and did After Midnight. I enjoyed the challenge, and I enjoy being able to step away from Fantasia and go into being another character and live that life so well. I get a kick out of stuff like that. I want to do it again. I want a totally different role this time. I want people to say, “I never expected her to do that.” I think from playing Celie and doing my Lifetime movie, everybody knows I can tap into the woman that’s been beaten and been down. I don’t want to do that anymore. Whatever I do, I would want it to be a challenge in a role I’ve never done and something nobody would ever expect.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know to be honest. Everything that I’ve done has come to me. Of course, the tour is next. We are going to do a tour with Charlie Wilson coming up soon and I love him. The man puts on an amazing show. I feel like I’m just getting started, even though I’ve been in the game for 12 years. I have the right team of people around me. I’m working on the rock soul label. I want to bring artists out and actually take good care of artists — we’ll have to have another conversation about that. I want to take care of artists and let them be artists and support and love on them.

Get Fantasia’s new album The Definition Of on iTunes here. Follow her on Instagram/Twitter @TasiasWord.

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Demetria McKinney Joins Fantasia on ‘Christmas After Midnight Tour’

Fantasia Demetria McKinney Christmas After Midnight Tour

‘Tis the season to go on tour. Rising R&B star Demetria McKinney has just joined Fantasia’s Christmas After Midnight Tour.

Fantasia originally announced the tour on October 9 with just 12 dates and cities. As of November 29, there are 16 dates that run through December 14 in Philadelphia, PA. McKinney officially joined the tour on November 27.

This has been a very busy fourth quarter for the soulful singers. For McKinney, this tour is coming on the heels of her debut album Officially Yours, which was released on October 6. For Fantasia, the Christmas After Midnight Tour is in support of her holiday album of the same name.

Both singers were performers at this year’s Soul Train Awards, which aired Sunday, Nov. 26 on BET. Fantasia was part of the “Soul Cypher” alongside Mali Music, Bilal, Faith Evans, Robert Glasper and host Erykah Badu. Meanwhile, McKinney did a short-lived version of hit single “Easy” on the Coca-Cola Stage.

Check below for the dates of the Christmas After Midnight Tour. Tickets are available now at or


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.

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