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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Mary J. Blige Gets ‘Stronger’ with Help of Sir Elton John for ‘Sherlock Gnomes’

Mary J. Blige is getting a head start to secure a nomination for Best Original Song at next year’s Academy Awards.

The Queen of Hip-Hop & Soul has reunited with Sir Elton John for a new original song titled “Stronger,” featured in the animated film Sherlock Gnomes. Blige’s voice breathes life into Irene Adler, who was once engaged to Sherlock. Irene uses Sherlock calling off their engagement as fuel to sing a powerful anthem on discovering an inner strength after the romantic sparks die.

“Doesn’t it look like I need ya? / Better shape, better off / Stronger than I ever was,” she belts.

John admits he “never wrote a song like this before” but found inspiration from Irene and Blige’s recent love tales for the song’s dynamic lyrics.

Blige made Oscar history by becoming the first person ever to receive nominations for a performance and original song in the same year, for the same film. She portrayed Florence Jackson, a sharecropper’s wife in Dee Rees’ film adaptation of the novel Mudbound.

Sherlock Gnomes arrives in theaters March 23.

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Exclusive: Melanie Fiona on Her New Album ‘Next Train’ and Adapting to the Streaming World

Around this time in 2012, Melanie Fiona was promoting the release of her sophomore album, The MF Life. The album would become well-received by fans and critics, debuting at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and earning Fiona a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Wrong Side of a Love Song.”

It’s been six years since the Toronto native dropped The MF Life. Although the album is a timeless body of work, fans are ready to hear new material; Fiona is too. “I’m not going to let another year go by without the album coming out,” she tells Rated R&B. “I’m really anxious to get this music out.”

Fiona has been crafting her third album (originally titled Awake) for a few years now. In 2015, she dropped two tracks — the Caribbean flavored song “Bite the Bullet” and the socially conscious track “I Tried.” As the creative direction evolved, Fiona renamed the album to Next Train. “I feel like Awake has just become my lifestyle and not my album anymore,” she explains. “I didn’t want to kind of limit it to just one moment in time.”

Instead of focusing on a specific period of her life, which she doesn’t knock other artists who do it, she prefers to make her project more evergreen. “I’m still performing music from my 2012 album and my 2009 album,” she says. “I feel like it’s always about a classic, timeless conversation.”

Fiona’s current single “Remember U” hits home for anyone who has been in a relationship. The reggae-influenced song is about an ex-lover who tries to come back in someone’s life after doing them wrong the first time.

“I can’t, fall back in love again / You broke this simple heart / That used to beat for you my friend / And I say that you’ve got some nerve just to come back and say that you’re sorry,” she sings on the raw track.

Rated R&B caught up with Fiona about Next Train, how she is adapting to the streaming world, who she salutes for Women’s History Month and more.

Photo credit: Zigga Zagga Studio

Why did you change your album title from Awake to Next Train?

When I was putting the finishing touches on the album and started deciding what songs I wanted to put on the album, one of the last songs I recorded was a song called “Next Train.” I looked at all the songs I put on this album and I was like, “It doesn’t feel like ‘Awake’ anymore because now I feel woke [laughs].” “Next Train” was the last song I recorded for the album and that came with so much strength and so much power. It felt like a collection of songs that became about reflecting on where I’ve been to move forward to be where I am now. The songs are very truthful and it just felt right. Train…I think of steel, moving, progress and destination. It’s a journey and that just felt more present to who I am now.

You released a couple of songs in 2015, “Bite the Bullet” and “I Tried.” Did they make the album?

“Bite the Bullet” is on the album. “I Tried” is not on the album but it is out and people still love it and listen to it. I just felt like there were just so many other records that I have evolved from.

What was it like working with Top Dawg Entertainment artist SIR on your album?

Listen, that’s my brother. When I started working with Andre Harris, SIR was in the room of his house. He was just this quiet dude sitting on the couch. I sat down and we started rapping and we wrote “I Tried” right there on the very first night we met. I just remember feeling that I had found a new musical counterpart. This was before he had released his new album. I just have admired his work and his talent since 2013. He’s someone very special and just naturally gifted. He really helped bring out a different side of me in the writing process.

Who else did you work with on the album?

The features are still to be determined. On the album, I have worked with Sebastian Cole, Carmen Reese, Lil Eddie, Jerry Wonda, Jack Splash, Andrea Martin, etc.

Do you have a release date yet?

I don’t but I’m going to say this year, for sure. I’m really excited to reveal more elements of the album before it comes out.

Speaking of getting music out, how do you feel about Best Buy’s plans to stop selling CDs in its stores?

It’s interesting because historically a lot of my album sales are physical copies. I think that I attribute that to the demographics of people who do go out to buy CDs and who do buy tickets, which I’m so fortunate now. I think what’s happening is that quickly, since 2012 to now, there has been a huge shift in how people consume music. It’s very digital. I think that is something that will be missed — having a physical copy and signing CDs…having the artwork and people having something tangible. It’s something really special but time has changed.

Streaming has clearly taken over. Do you feel any pressure now to focus on streaming rather than physical sales?

It’s definitely become something that’s at the forefront of my mind for sure, especially in this time now and getting ready to release new music — seeing how instant your data is, your reach is and how instant the plays are. It’s crazy. I feel like there’s so much pressure. Everyone’s so judgmental based on this statical data. I try not to get caught up in that. I was even shocked to see how many people actually follow me on Spotify with no music out in six years. I’m looking forward to playing in this landscape. There’s an upside to it, you know? You can just upload it right away and get the music to your fans immediately. I love that instant correspondence with my fans. I don’t want this shit to stress me out, ever. I love this too much and I don’t ever want it to become a hindrance because things are changing.

“It Kills Me” has over 25 million views on YouTube…

They’re watching. They’re there. People have been discovering my music for so long and that’s the beautiful part about it. There was a time when you had to rely on the radio to hear a song. If your song came out in 2009, it lived and died by 2011. Now with streaming people can go back and find your whole catalog of music. I think there are so many songs people haven’t discovered because they were only focused on what radio exposed them to. [Streaming] gives all my fans and new fans the exposure to all the B side records because those are the joints. For me, the ones that never see radio are the ones I’m excited to perform and have people discover.

What are your top three non-singles to perform?

I don’t think it was a huge single but “A-yo” is one of my favorite records to perform off The Bridge. I love that record so much. “This Time” was a single but I wouldn’t put it up there with “It Kills Me” or  “4AM.” And then there’s a song called “What Am I To Do” and “Rock Paper Scissors” off The MF Life that are so fun to perform because those are fan faves.

Photo credit: Zigga Zagga Studio

Toronto is bringing a new wave of R&B acts like PARTYNEXTDOOR, Daniel Caesar, and Dvsn. How does it feel to see a new generation of Canadian singers making a mark in the U.S. market?

I am so proud because I know how it was when I was doing it and what that struggle was like; that struggle is not as heavy anymore. All of those people in which I know personally still live in Toronto, which is beautiful because that means that the world is coming to them and they don’t have to leave to go to the world anymore. Shout out to Drake, really, who changed the game because nobody was checking for us hard until he came along. That’s a longtime friend of mine and he broke the stigma.

How has motherhood changed you?

It’s kept me so busy [laughs] because now I have to think about what time I need to be back to put the baby to sleep — no longtime late night studio sessions. It’s a balancing act but it has enlightened and enriched my life so much more than I could’ve ever imagined. It just makes me feel complete and I want to continue to create so he can be inspired by that.

What else is on your mind right now?

I can talk about so many things [laughs]. I just think that the future is bright. Something that I’m really looking forward to is using my voice this year — not just musically — but socially, emotionally and consciously to inspire people on many levels. I’m really living the motto these days: “I have to live to give.” I just feel like we’re living in a world right now where people can be so consumed with self that they forget that you have a responsibility when you have a platform. It can’t just all be self-serving and so that’s kind of my motto and my approach to 2018… to live to give and to create and aspire to inspire.

With it being Women’s History Month, who is a woman who inspires you?

Lauryn Hill. I just identify with the lyrical content, the approach, the awareness, the level of artistry that she created by breaking boundaries and being like “No, I can do all this. I can rap, I can act [and] I can sing.” She was everything. Shout out to Lauryn Hill to leaving a legacy from one album that we’re still celebrating. It’s never been matched. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill educated a lot of people on what music is supposed to feel like.

I also got to give it to Whitney [Houston]. I was four years old singing love songs that I had no idea what they meant. She was singing about very adult content but I was moved to sing at the top of my lungs with that voice from a young age. It taught me the importance of vocal ability, emotion, and storytelling. She didn’t write many of her records but she could tell that story. That tone and that voice was a great teacher for me as a child because I identified with the emotional aspect of music.

Connect with Melanie Fiona
Instagram: @MelanieFiona
Twitter: @MelanieFiona

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Mary J. Blige to Perform at 2018 Oscars

R&B legend Mary J. Blige is not only a two-time Oscar nominee this year, she is a performer, too. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul will perform her Oscar-nominated song “Mighty River” at the 90th Academy Awards.

While discussing her Oscar attire and how she celebrated her double nods news with Diddy and friends, Blige tells Entertainment Tonight that she intends performing the powerful ballad from the Mudbound film. “This is all beautiful. This is the thing we dream about,” she says.

Blige made history as the first person ever to score nods for a performance and original song in the same year, for the same film. “My phone rang at about 5:30 a.m. and it was my publicist, Amanda, and she was screaming. And I don’t know what it is so I’m screaming and I’m crying! It’s just a really emotional time. We’re not taking this lightly because things like this don’t happen. And it did.”

Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, the 90th Academy Awards will air live on Sunday, March 4 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.

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