Exclusive: A&R Eddie Fourcell Talks Early Beginnings at Def Jam, Mary J. Blige’s New Album ‘Strength Of A Woman’

The success of a single or an album takes teamwork. One of the most overlooked members of the team is the artist and repertoire (A&R), who is responsible for building the team of songwriters, producers and artists to create magic. Eddie Fourcell, Mary J. Blige’s A&R, has seen success with Blige’s chart-topping single “Thick of It” and her Kanye West-assisted single “Love Yourself,” which is climbing the radio charts. Both records are lifted from her upcoming album, Strength of a Woman, due April 28.

Working with an artist like Blige, whose music career expands over two decades, makes Fourcell feel “super elated” about her recent achievements. “The fact that people are now witnessing how dope she is still is amazing to me,” he tells Rated R&B in an exclusive interview. “It makes you feel good that all the work you put in is finally being appreciated.”

Before landing his position as Blige’s full-time A&R, Fourcell had to pay his dues. Born and raised in New York City, Fourcell vividly remembers his ear sprouting for music early in his childhood. “When kids were going outside and playing games, I was coming in to watch videos,” he recalls. “I was addicted to BET’s Video Soul and The Box. I was driving my mother crazy because I would have to call in to request songs. I was doing that shit all day.”

Fourcell remembers requesting songs from artists like Notorious B.I.G, and Junior Mafia to Aaliyah and R. Kelly, who all emerged from the 90s, an era Fourcell is proud to call “the best decade in music.”

Fourcell’s obsession with the climate of music in the 90s helped him realize his career aspirations. “As soon as the 90s hit, I knew all I wanted to do was be involved in music – especially from the creative standpoint,” he says.

Not only was he passionate about the creative aspect of music, he also was interested in the business side. He admired music moguls like Puff Daddy and Jermaine Dupri, who were both pushing hip-hop culture to the next level.

While his life wasn’t engulfed in the luxury existence of his favorite music tycoons, he remembers, “just looking at it from a perspective of loving the music and the lifestyle and being from New York City.”

After stepping inside the Def Jam Recordings office in New York, and seeing his favorite artists’ lifestyle, Fourcell quickly realized his calling — the music industry. “It changed everything,” he reveals. “I’m not doing anything else for the rest of my life. It has to be this.”

From there, at the age of 17, Fourcell started his intern gig at Def Jam during the era when Roc-A-Fella Records and Murder Inc Records dominated musical landscape.

While at Def Jam, Fourcell’s philosophy on music from his upbringing and working in the label’s office influenced his feelings on what good music was supposed to sound like. “I feel like coming from where I came from helped perfect my ear,” he says. “Back in the day, I was always in the middle of talented people who just loved music the same way I did. So every time I was around artists and songwriters, it helped level my ear up.”

Fourcell also credits his association with Roc Nation’s Senior Vice President Lenny Santiago who he had a chance to work closely with on crafting records for Rihanna’s early projects, along with other notable accomplishments. “I was able to help out with delivering lyrics, and facilitating between mastering and mixing on projects for Ghostface Killah, Fabolous and Ne-Yo,” says Fourcell.

After graduating from SUNY Fredonia, Fourcell landed an internship at Mary J. Blige’s record label Matriarch Entertainment.

His internship eventually evolved into an A&R position. His first project he worked on was Blige’s 2011 album, My Life II: The Journey Continues (Act 1).

Instead of overseeing the entire recording process of the album, Fourcell acted as an apprentice where he learned the ins and outs of making an album for a major artist. Although his role wasn’t as prominent as it is now, he was still able to secure a placement with platinum-selling producer Harmony Samuels on the “Irreversible,” which is featured on the deluxe edition of the album.

Fourcell’s hands-on experience with My Life II allowed him “to see what the responsibility of it [full-time A&R] would be like.”

Following My Life II, Fourcell became more involved while working on Blige’s full-length soundtrack to the 2014 film,Think Like A Man Too. “It was the first time I put a writing camp together,” he says. “To have done that for her on that project was dope because we came out with three records that made the album.”

From Blige’s 2014 release The London Sessions to her forthcoming album, Strength Of A Woman, Fourcell has become the “Be Without You” singer’s right-hand man. “It’s all just me and her now,” he states . It’s just me telling her to take a chance to work with [different people] and her just trusting me.”

Before Blige’s divorce news hit tabloids, her Strength of a Woman was already in production, according to Fourcell. Blige’s new album was birthed after The London Sessions was unable to connect with her fans unlike her previous material. Yet Fourcell applauds Blige’s evolution as an artist. “[The London Sessions] is still urban, and more advanced which is how we look at Mary,” says Fourcell. “She’s not an old artist that’s ready to give up and retire. She needs to be involved with the biggest and best people. It just sucks that people didn’t accept it. It’s fine and cool … no one is down and out about it.”

Even though her UK based project underperformed, Fourcell sees it as a win for himself. “I would not be A&R that I am right now if I never did that album,” he says. “That album completely changed how I hear everything. Going to London advanced my ear like no one will ever know.”

As the recording process for Strength Of A Woman got on its way, Fourcell and Blige relocated from the East Coast to Los Angeles. Fourcell recalls hearing singer-songwriter Prince Charlez’ name in conversations with industry friends.

Through a mutual friend, Fourcell consequently went hiking at Runyon Canyon in L.A. with Charlez. From there, their musicianship blossomed to the point of Fourcell bringing him to the studio while Blige was working on Sam Romans’ “Overthinking” track.

“I snuck [Prince Charlez] in because they wasn’t trying to hear no new artist or writer yet,” he reveals. “I had him go in and do a session with a producer by the name of XSDTRK (Soundtrack) and they did this record called ‘Love The Way’ that was amazing. [Blige] lost her mind. It was the first song we recorded for the project and it kind of started from there.”

In an interview with Arbiters of A&R in June 2016, Fourcell shared possible release dates for the new album. “The album is expected to drop in either August or September,” he told the podcast hosts.

Not too long after, news broke about Blige filing a divorce from her husband. With half of the album completed, Fourcell felt it became “very necessary to do more sessions,” due to the energy changing. “It’s therapy for her,” he explains . “I knew who and what needed to happen from then on. Now we need you to work more with Jazmine Sullivan. I need Prince Charlez more than ever right now because I knew what was going to bring the best out of her.”

With August or September releases out of the question, Fourcell tweeted in late December, “Might be safe to say the album is officially done tho.” He remembers being in New York and being on a time crunch to deliver the album to Capitol Records due to a different release date. “We finished this one song at Platinum Sounds that [Blige] did with Jazmine Sullivan,” he recalls. “That was the last song that they told me I had to deliver for the album to be complete. At that point, I went through the tracklisting with Mary and we felt comfortable with where we were at with the sequencing to start mixing process but that was a lie. The album wasn’t done.”

Fourcell admits he talked “very prematurely” when it came to the all release information. However, he says there was always an initial plan but things changed. “In the middle of the situation she [Blige] got a divorce, so it derailed everything. It put everything on pause.” he says. “From the song we wanted to go with to the time we wanted to go with … to everything.”

Although the album’s release date changed and the sessions increased, it didn’t stop Fourcell and Blige from remaining a team. “Everything that you see was a combination of her wanting to go and do it or me bringing it to the table and making sure she was straight with it and loved it,” says Fourcell.

One of the most surprising tracks, when it comes to features, is “Glow Up.” The star-studded track features DJ Khaled, Quavo (from rap trio Migos) and Missy Elliott. Both Fourcell and Blige worked collectively to bring these artists together on one track.

“We knew we wanted a feature on it,” says Fourcell. “There were a couple of names we threw on the table but it was her idea to get Missy [Elliott] but it was my idea to get [DJ] Khaled and Quavo [from the Migos]. She loved it. That’s how we work. We work best when it’s a collaborative effort. It’s not her doing it on her own completely, and it’s not me just doing whatever. She has to always be involved because if she doesn’t love it or feel it then it’s not going to work. ”

Fourcell describes Blige’s song “Glow Up” as “the best example of what Mary J. Blige sounds like in 2017 on rhythmic radio – without taking her out of her element”.

Although he felt the track was risky, he also believed this song and project needed to reflect the current climate of music. “I think what makes [Blige] more relevant than a lot of other artists is that she able to capitalize off of what time we are in,” he says. “Putting Quavo from Migos on this [record] because they are so huge right now kind of speaks towards ‘oh she made a record in 2017, this is not 1997’. Yet we are able to balance it by putting Missy on it because she is somebody who is iconic and just as legendary too. Then you have [DJ] Khaled who sticks in the middle. It was all about the balance. It had to make sense.”

Fourcell goes on to call “Thank You” a “Grammy moment.” He also says “Telling the Truth,” co-written by Daniel Caesar and features Kaytranada is “dope.”

“I like for her to experiment,” he says. Mary really took a chance trusting me with bringing Kaytranada to the table. He’s very much still urban … sampling the good urban stuff but almost has like a dance feel to it. So I wanted to hear her on something like this.”

Before Fourcell even asked Kaytranada about working on Blige’s album, his people were already reaching out for a collaboration for his next project. Although Capital Records was on Fourcell about turning in her album, he took this opportunity to make magic. “Me and her were on the side like ‘Listen, if this record comes out crazy we’re keeping it for [Strength of A Woman],” he laughs. “We were quiet about it because we couldn’t tell the label we were still recording because they would have killed us. So we said it was for his project.”

Fourcell’s idea worked and for a good reason too. “It was seemingly perfect,” he says. “It was honestly the last session we did for the album and my favorite session because it was when she was ready to start talking about what she was going through and how she was feeling. She connected so well with Daniel [Caesar] who is like 22 or 23 but still he was a huge fan. Then when Kaytranada pressed play, she lost her mind. Her and her sister LaTonya were in the studio and they kept singing it. So everything was perfect.”

The Kaytranada collaboration wasn’t originally slated to be on the Strength Of A Woman track listing, however, due to the response from Blige and her sister, Fourcell rearranged the order and took a record off the album to accommodate their warm reaction.

While the award season hasn’t officially kicked off, Fourcell believes Blige’s lead single “Thick Of It” should take home the prestigious Best R&B Song at next year’s Grammy Awards. “I’m not saying there isn’t another song better [on the album], but I feel [Thick Of It] is so 2017 to me,” he explains. “The song is an amazing record. In my opinion, it’s the best way she expressed herself written wise. From the way the hook is structured to how the whole process came about … it’s classic but it’s still modern.”

Once Strength Of A Woman drops, Fourcell has a final message for Blige’s true fans and even her naysayers. “It’s the perfect example of throwing it in anyone’s face that said Mary can’t make music in 2017 because she’s done and she’s over,” he says. “This album will prove that Mary J. Blige has made an album in 2017, 25 years after debut and still made an amazing record that still stands the time. We didn’t make it a dated album. It doesn’t feel like What the 411? but it feels like what she was on there . You’re going to be extremely pleased with the album.”

Aside from Blige, Fourcell continues to work with budding artists, producers and songwriters like Shawn Butler. He plans to sign artists to Blige’s Matriarch Entertainment imprint. He also plans to remain an important figure in the music industry as A&R as he develops emerging artists and songwriters in the coming year and years to come.

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Janet Jackson, Keith Sweat, Patti LaBelle and More Nominated For Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame Class of 2018

Some of the biggest names in music have been nominated for the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame Class of 2018.

Motown Records, Patti LaBelle, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Nat King Cole, Berry Gordy, Keith Sweat and Stephanie Mills are among the impressive list of nominees.

Ten artists with the most votes will be selected to join the Class of 2018. Winners will be announced in February, Black History Month. The first-ever televised ceremony will take place in June, Black Music Month.

In 2016, inductees included Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Manhattans, Freda Payne, James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Carl Carlton and The Impressions.

See the full list of Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame nominees below.

Apollo Theater, and New Editions
Barry White
Berry Gordy
Billy Paul
Bobby “Blue” Bland
Gamble & Huff
George Clinton
Janet Jackson
Jerry Lee Lewis
Keith Sweat
Mary J. Blige
Motown Records
Nat King Cole
Patti LaBelle
Peabo Bryson
Stephanie Mills
The Dells
The Drifters

(Source: Click On Detroit)

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.