Rated Next: Kevin Ross Talks Signing to Motown Records and Debut Album ‘The Awakening’

Kevin Ross has a voice that any R&B music enthusiast can appreciate. Hailing from Washington, D.C., the classically trained singer studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Not too long after graduating with a degree in songwriting, and landing writing placements for artists such as Trey Songz, Ross inked a deal with Motown Records/Universal Music Group.

“It’s such a prestigious label so I’m very honored to contribute what I have towards the legacy,” Ross told Rated R&B over a phone conversation. “It’s all about the new definition of soul. There’s a string of new artists who signed to the roster that has something different to offer than what people know Motown as. It’s really about redefining it in our generation.”

Ross most recently released his EP, Long Song Away, which is gaining a lot of buzz online — especially the title track. The project is just a taste of what fans can expect on his forthcoming debut album, The Awakening, which is slated to release in March.

Check out our interview with Kevin Ross below.

RATED R&B: How did you get into singing professionally?

KEVIN ROSS: The training started in high school at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. I didn’t realize I wanted to sing professionally until my sophomore year of high school. I wanted to figure what I wanted out of the music business. I knew that I was very creative, had a lot of ideas and a lot of music stored up in my heart and my soul. I needed a place where I could facilitate it, so I found Berklee College of Music in Boston. I honed my craft there. Once I graduated, I moved out to Atlanta and I started writing — that was back in 2009. That was really the beginning of my career in the music business as a professional. That was eight years of schooling and really just being in that shed and working on my craft.

You landed a recording contract with the legendary Motown Records. How did that come about?

It was a very natural progression for me. When Ethiopia [Habtemariam] — who is president of Motown now — was just stepping into that position, I did a showcase in LA around that same time. It just made sense for us to figure out a situation for me and a great situation ever since.

You may be young but you have an old soul. Who are some artists you look up to?

Stevie Wonder is my all-time favorite…Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Maxwell, Babyface, Usher, Smokey Robinson. I grew up around a lot of that music.

Your single “Long Song Away” reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Chart. Tell us your inspiration behind that track.

I wanted to do a song that felt like what you heard on [the D.C. radio station] WHUR. My parents always played WHUR, so I wanted to feel like home. Of course, the subject matter on top of that was something that I was experiencing as far as patience — understanding that everything that you desire in life takes time. There’s no exception with love and that’s what I kind of wanted to infuse with “Long Song Away.” I wrote it and I produced it, so that’s my baby. I’m very proud of it and I’m just truly humbled. This is my first single out the gate that was sent to radio and for it to be in the Top 10, God is truly the source of it and truly the source for what’s going on.

OK. So let’s talk about the Long Song Away EP…

Long Song Away, the EP, is kind of the prequel to the album. I wanted to create a body of work that reflected on [2016]. It feels good. It vibes really well and gets me really excited to show people the album — let people listen to it and for them to go in and take it in for themselves.

Your debut album The Awakening is set to release this year. What do you hope fans take away from this project?

It comes out around March. I really look forward to people listening to the inspiration that’s on there. This is my first album so I really touched on a lot of things. You have songs like “Be Great,” which is pretty much the introduction. We released that through Grey’s Anatomy earlier last year, so you’ll get a lot more of the “Be Great” and the “Long Song Away” side. It’s a very vulnerable and transparent record that speaks on a lot of issues that’s going on now.

Kevin Ross

What does The Awakening represent?

It’s me waking up as a man. Me waking up as an artist and understanding that my platform means something. I’m held accountable for the things that I say and the things that I think. You never know who’s listening. I think for me it was waking up for that. It was waking up for the God-given responsibilities that I have to the business, to the field of entertainment and to the world — in that I’m necessary, God told me I’m necessary and everybody else is necessary because we’re all made one of one. I just want to spread that message so that everybody can reach their full potential. The world could be a better place because of that.

Who did you work with on the album?

I worked with Babyface on one of the records. That was an awesome experience. I worked with Lecrae, he’s an incredible lyricist. I worked with BJ The Chicago Kid on “Be Great (Remix).” I also worked with a lot of up and coming producers.

Since this is your first album, what would you say you learned about yourself while creating the project?

I learned a lot. One of the biggest things I learned was how necessary I was — not just to the fabric of music but in my life, my family and my community and the world. I think once you understand your purpose and how important you are in the fabric of life in general, you walk with more confidence, pride and reassurance. I don’t believe that people are just here to exist and fill in the blanks.

Follow Kevin Ross on Twitter/Instagram @KevinRossMusic. Download/stream Long Song Away (EP) here.

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Kevin Ross Releases Visual for ‘Prototype’

In celebration of his birthday (Dec. 8), rising singer Kevin Ross debuted the visual for “Prototype,” lifted from his Drive EP. Directed by Marc Diamond, the dramatic clip opens with Ross taking pictures of a murder scene. When he goes to pull the sheet off the victim’s body, he is surprised to see who it is. From there, the video takes viewers back to what led up to the murder.

Watch Kevin Ross’ video for “Prototype” below.

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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