Interview: Eric Benét Talks Self-Titled Album, Teases Joint Project with Tamia

When Eric Benét made his introduction in 1996, his intent was to be himself. Fortunately, he was able to do so on his debut album, True to Myself.

“I remember how exciting it was to be able to record anything I wanted, the way I wanted to record it,” Benét tells Rated R&B. “No record label people came to the studio while we were writing and recording. It was just an incredible, autonomous feeling.”

Twenty years later, Benét still feels that same excitement and creative freedom for his new self-titled album.

“I remember working on this new album with the same giddy feeling I had with True to Myself,” he says. “It’s just incredible that 20 years later it’s still just as exciting. I’m still getting goosebumps when I write dope shit and I hope that feeling never goes away.”

Benét’s self-titled album has 13 infectious songs that ultimately express who he is as a seasoned artist. It includes the lead single “Sunshine,” which is now number two on urban adult contemporary radio. Benét worked with his longtime collaborator Demonté Posey to write and produced this album.

While on his promo run in New York City, Benét chats with Rated R&B over the phone about his eighth studio album (Eric Benét ). He also talks about reuniting with Tamia on his “Sunshine” remix, challenges he faced making the album and using his platform to speak about social injustice in the U.S.

Congrats on “Sunshine” peaking at no. 2 on urban AC radio. What inspired that track?

My band and I had just finished a session in the studio.  Everybody was packing. Then my guitar player, Jairus [Mozee], started playing that little riff that you hear in the opening of the song. I was like “hold up, y’all need to get your instruments because we are going to work this right here.” Everybody just kind of fell in.

The song is talking about something that anybody who’s ever been in a marriage or long-term relationship knows about. Relationships live in cycles. Sometimes you realize at some point that you’re not trying as hard as you did in the beginning. If the relationship is going to a get a second wind, then both parties need to start putting in more effort. That’s what “Sunshine” is all about.

Speaking of “Sunshine,” you teamed up with Tamia for the remix. The last time we heard you two on the same track was in 1999 on “Spend My Life With You.” What was it like reuniting with her in the studio after 17 years?

It was amazing! I’ll tell you bruh, we’re 17 years older but it don’t feel like it — especially when you vibe so well with somebody on a personal and a musical level. It’s like you never miss a beat. That’s how I felt with Tamia and I in the studio. Her voice is just so heavenly to me. When I wrote and recorded “Spend My Life With You,” I was very specific about getting Tamia. I knew that the song would be way more special as a duet. I knew there was only one person on the top of my wish list that who could nail it because Tamia has so much in her vocal arsenal. She not only conveys a vulnerability in her voice but so much strength and vocal acrobatics. She’s just so many things in one unreasonably beautiful package. It was a joy working with her again. We got excited in the studio this last time that we talked about doing an album together and we’re going to make that happen, too. So we’re really excited about that as well.

Was there any pressure to live up to the same success as “Spend My Life With You”?

I can’t really speak for her but I never really feel those kinds of pressures. Music to me is something that is so honest, vulnerable and real in the moment. When I working on “Spend My Life With You,” I wasn’t thinking about making it a hit. That was the last thing I was thinking about. I was just thinking about writing something that’s vulnerable and something that I’m emotionally feeling in this moment right now.

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OK, let’s talk about your new album. It’s self-titled. What’s the significance behind that?

Every album I do, I don’t really give it a title until I’m able to live with it for a while after it’s recorded. This album, for me when I lived with it and listened to it, was such a great representation of me musically. Not only being on my own label, but just recording in my own studio on the time frame that I wanted to do it with the [people] I wanted to work with. The whole thing underscored everything about me creatively. It just seemed very appropriate for it to be self-titled.

What was the creative process like of making this album?

A lot of that was just myself and my lifelong partner Demonté Posey. He’s kind of like my partner in crime when it comes to producing and writing songs. We really wanted to make a project that felt atypical of what was on the radio at the time but also really just paid homage to rhythm and blues. We weren’t really trying to emulate anything that was out there. I wasn’t trying to redo anything that I already done. I just really wanted this album to breathe and live and exist in its own unique identity. I think we did a really good job of making that happen.

With every project comes a challenge. Were there any obstacles you faced while creating this album?

It definitely wasn’t anything creative, it was more so scheduling. My wife and I have two little angels at home. I didn’t want to do the usual leave the house at noon and maybe come back at one or two in the morning, after spending ten or eleven hours in the studio. I didn’t want to do that this time because bed time, story time and bath time — that’s what life’s all about. I would give myself about five hours a day to work on the album and most of the time on the weekends I didn’t work. I would make sure I was home by 6 p.m. for bath time and story time and make sure they were in bed. I think that was the most challenging part. It took a little bit longer to complete this project for this reason but it was well worth it. I’m overly excited about the outcome of the album.

One song that I really love is “Insane.” It’s a sexy record, yet not overly explicit. It leaves something to the imagination.

I appreciate you liking that about the album. I think if the lyrics are too explicit and not creative, then you lose a lot of the sexual power. On “Insane,” I wanted it to feel like that late 80’s Prince ballad. My man Prince was so creative not only with the music, but if you listen to some of his lyrics they were just off the chain — creative. I wanted to really pay homage to that creativity as well with that song.

Exactly. It’s fun to be able to listen to a song a few times before you grasp what the artist is talking about because they’re lyrics are just that creative.

That’s what I love about writing lyrics. I like to go deep and be as creative with the metaphors as I can possibly be. Like you just said, the more creative you get the more opportunity other people will have for that same line to mean something completely different for them.

You’re very vocal on social media when it comes to politics and social issues. Do you think more entertainers should step up and speak on these issues?

I can’t really speak for other people because a lot of entertainers may feel as though people need to see them as an escape from all the craziness going on in the world. On the other hand, there’s so much inequality and injustice in this world. If you’re able to say something that could positively affect the world and there’s a gang of people listening to you, I kind of feel like you need to speak up. So many people have died, especially for black people, in this country to even be able to have an opinion. So, honor those sacrifices by speaking up when somebody is trying to silence somebody just because they don’t agree with who they love or want to spend the rest of their life with. There’s so many young brothers and young women out here just being murdered for absolutely no reason at all — other than the fact that they’re just black. For me, as long as I have a voice, I feel like I’m just going to use it.

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With your 50th birthday coming up (Oct. 15), do you have anything special planned?

I didn’t plan anything special [laughs]. I’ll be on the road — I think Ohio. I think I’m just going to have some laughs, dance and listen to music and hopefully be around some cool people.My wife and I are going to have to celebrate the 50th when she gets back from Malawi. She’s doing some amazing work with her nonprofit, InAPerfectWorld.org. She does so many incredible things all over the world from building schools for children in Africa and Haiti. When [she returns], we’ll do something lovely and romantic.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I just encourage people to vote. This is the most important election ever. Please, please don’t become indifferent about your voice and your opportunity to cast your vote in this election because it’s really, really important.

Get Eric Benét’s self-titled album now on iTunes. You can also stream it on Spotify

Stay in touch with Eric Benét on Twitter @EBenet or Instagram @EricBenet

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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.

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.

Top 4 Deep Cuts from Brandy’s ‘Two Eleven’ Album

 

The “Vocal Bible” nickname has been bestowed upon Brandy for her vocal acrobatics and inexplicable natural ability to sing. However, Brandy Norwood is much more than her voice. In fact, her most redeeming quality is her nuanced storytelling as an artist. Every album that has been graced with those hypnotic eyes of hers has been complete from top to bottom, both vocally and thematically.

While some may argue that Never Say Never and Full Moon are artistic perfection, Two Eleven is too, but with a twist. The beauty of Two Eleven is the multi-edge edge sword of sound that it wields. The album is noticeably handled by hip-hop producers, but thanks to its host of R&B writers, the songs on the album are able to catch the spirit of the R&B genre today — a whole five years ahead of schedule.

If you take a listen to “Hardly Breathing,” do you not hear shades of Dawn Richard? Or maybe if you paid close enough attention to the vocal layering on “Wish Your Love Away,” you would hear the same on Tamar’s latest album. You can even compare “Put It Down” to K. Michelle’s “Either Way.” Aside from boasting the same feature, the candor and aggression in the lyrical content is almost uncanny. This album is for the Sabrina Claudio’s just as much as it is for the Sevyn Streeter’s and even the reaches the artistic bubble of a more established artist like Tamia. In short, Two Eleven, as a whole, is THAT album.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best deep cuts from the five-year-old body of work. Check  it out:

“Paint This House”

Brandy’s smoky vocals take center stage, backed by her airy background vocals and hauntingly pulsing production from Rico Love, Eric Goudy III and Pierre Moody. On the song, Brandy is in the mood for love-making and some “room redecorating” with her new lover. “And I want these stairs, those walls/Kitchen counters, and those chairs/To remind you of how good it feels/And all of these floors and ceilings/And every hallway, yeah/Not and inch will go untouched/Let’s paint this house with our love,” she sings. With lyrics so obviously sexual, Ms. Norwood brings her signature tender tone to song, creating a sensual jam for any bedroom-thumping situation.

“Slower”

Following a similar narrative as “Paint This House,” Brandy decides to take control this time when it comes to the moment of love-making and passion. “My baby got a lot to learn/Come here let mama bring you up to speed/A couple of changes/A couple of things I want to go over/Couple of hours is all I need/So let’s get it started,” she sings. The genius house production from Dave Taylor both compliments and juxtaposes Brandy’s vocals and lyrics extremely well.

“Without You”

Brandy’s voice takes full flight on this apologetic anthem. “Boy somewhere along the line I lost my way/And I made you pay for the mistakes he made/And I’m sorry baby, cause it shouldn’t be that way/Oh Boy, I really need you, I need you in my life/Cause oh boy I’m nothing, oh no I’m nothing without you,” she sings. Seeing the grave error in bringing baggage from the past into a current relationship, Brandy showcases her vocal power and grit to win her man back. And although we’d love just a piano behind her, the kick-snare and cymbal give this almost-but-not-quite-a-single the touch of bounce that it needs.

“Wish Your Love Away”

Brandy is trying to get over the one that should have been the one on this somber ballad. “I wish that there was no more sleepless nights for me/You can look inside my heart and see/How I’m feelin, baby/Or maybe you just don’t give a damn/Could I be foolish to give a damn, baby?/’Cause I’m to the point where I wish/Boy, I wish that I didn’t love you,” she sings. The track is just so sonically vivid-imagine rain softly falling on your windowpane as this song plays in the background-that it didn’t even need her vocals to be impactful. But, that’s not to say that her vocals aren’t appreciated, especially at the end of the song where the music fades out to just her immaculate vocal layering. Brandy’s resonance both in voice and artistry is perfectly encapsulated by this tune, and hints at how this album will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

What’s your favorite song from “Two Eleven?” Let us know in the comment section below.

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