Interview: Leela James Talks New Album ‘Did It For Love’

Nearly three years after releasing Fall For You, Leela James returns with her sixth album, Did It For Love. The concept of the album, which explores all the different sides of love, was developed organically.

“I don’t really try to think of concepts when I make music, I just go with the natural flow of the evolution of the making of the album,” James tells Rated R&B over a phone conversation “As I’m recording, sometimes it’ll take a life of its own. When I’m writing the songs, they’re usually based off direct and indirect experiences. It kind of tells its own story.”

In our interview with Leela James, the singers dives deeper into the journey of creating her album while pregnant, using music as a form of therapy and more.

RATED R&B: Your new single “Don’t Want You Back” is hit no. 1 on urban AC radio. Congrats on that! What’s the story behind that song?

I’ll just say sometimes you get to a point where you have to be really direct and blunt about the way you feel. It’s almost as if a person is not getting the hint or the message — no matter how many times you might not return their phone calls or text messages or whatever — at a certain point you just have to say “don’t call me. Leave me alone. I don’t wanna be bothered. I don’t want you back.” You have to be blunt.

RATED R&B: The album seems to explore different aspects of love…

Yes! It definitely does that because that’s what love is. Love is good sometimes. Love is bad sometimes. A lot of times, the things we do we do it for love.

RATED R&B: You have a song with Dave Hollister on the album. How did that collaboration happen?

Dave Hollister is an amazing, talented artist. We’ve known each other for years. He’s like a brother to me. So we finally just had the opportunity to do something together and it was something we had talked about before and it was really easy. It wasn’t hard.

RATED R&B: How does Did It For Love compare to your previous album Fall For You?

I just say it’s definitely feels grown but it’s definitely more mature. Fall For You is grown. Did It For Love is very grown. It’s definitely more intense.

RATED R&B: One thing I like about the album is, despite you working with multiple producers on the project, it has a cohesive sound.

Thank you. Even though I can work with different producers, it’s still a process for me. We create the music on spot. It’s a building process. I’m very particular with who it is I do work with. Again, because I want them to be able to kind of come through with my vision that I might feel and see.

RATED R&B: Did recording this album help you in any way?

I will say all my albums is going to be therapeutic because music, to me, is therapeutic. I enjoy making music, writing songs and performing them. It doesn’t matter what I’m necessarily singing about, it’s just the fact that I am able to sing and express myself. That’s a form a therapy.

I recorded a lot of this album while I was pregnant, so that in itself was an interesting time because you’re in touch with all kinds of emotions when you’re pregnant (laughs). You could just be watching Family Feud and start crying.

RATED R&B: Was it difficult for you to sing while pregnant? I heard it’s not so easy!

Right towards the end, it got hard for me because your breath control, breathing techniques, get a little more challenging. You have a human being sitting on your uterus and close to everywhere where you need your diaphragm.

I think there’s a picture where I’m in the studio and I’m literally — I like to stand when I recorded — but I couldn’t even stand anymore. I was sitting down on a stool (laughs). I had to literally get up on the mic and  try to gut it out because it was so difficult. Finally, my producer was like, “That’s it for you. You are officially done. You are on maternity leave. We can pick this up after the person gets here.” I went as far as I could up until about eight and a half months.

RATED R&B: Does being a mother influence your music?

Absolutely. I’ve always made emotional, sultry, soulful music. I think motherhood puts you over the top because your emotions are all over the place because it’s a different kind of love when you become a parent and are a mother. Even just going through the process of carrying a child and feeling life in you, those different things stir up all kinds of emotions when you’re working on music. Another standpoint is just the business aspect of things, you look at things differently. Before I had kids I was like, “Oh yeah, I’ll go here. I’ll go there.” Now, when you have kids you have to think about — plan it out. It’s just something that makes sense, not only for you but your family.

RATED R&B: Speaking of traveling, you’re going on tour with Daley this month. What can fans expect?

Fans are going to get a great show. They’re going to get some good music, some good singing and musicianship.

Get Leela James’ new album Did It For Love here or stream it below.

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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.

Tank and Leela James Announce ‘The Savage x The Soul Tour’

After wrapping up the first leg of his Savage Tour with Sammie, Tank joins forces with Leela James to announce The Savage x The Soul Tour. 

The tour kicks off on November 13 at Playstation Theater in New York City and will make stops in cities across the U.S. including Philadelphia, D.C., Chicago and Dallas. The tour will wrap up on December 8 at the Historic BAL Theatre in San Fransisco.

Tank will be supporting his brand new album Savage, while Leela will be promoting her latest album, Did It For Love. 

Tickets are on sale now. Check out tour dates below.

The Savage x The Soul Tour Dates

11/13/17 — New York, NY @ PlayStation Theater

11/14/17 — Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts

11/15/17 — Washington, D.C. @ Warner Theatre

11/17/17 — Westbury, NY @ Theatre at Westbury

11/19/17 — Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

11/20/17 — Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom

11/21/17 — St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant

11/24/17 — Charlotte, NC @ Liberty Hall at the Park Expo & Conference Center

11/25/17 — Memphis, TN @ New Daisy Theatre

11/26/17 — Atlanta, GA @ Buckhead Theatre

11/28/17 — New Orleans, LA @ House of Blues

11/29/17 — Dallas, TX @ House of Blues

11/30/17 — San Antonio, TX @ The Aztec Theatre

12/1/17 — Shreveport, LA @ Shreveport Municipal Auditorium

12/2/17 — Houston, TX @ Arena Theatre

12/6/17 — Los Angeles, CA @ CA Belasco Theater

12/7/17 — Sacramento, CA @ Crest Theatre

12/8/17 — San Francisco, CA @ Historic BAL Theatre