With the internet and social media platforms like Soundcloud giving emerging artists a platform to sink or swim, discovering unique sounds has become obsolete — at least for Eddie Fourcell, A&R at Matriarch Records. “The internet is not the best place for me to find artists,” Fourcell tells Rated R&B. “It’s too much stuff to comb through. The times that I have tried to go through the internet, the material hasn’t been that good.”
From interning at Def Jam Recordings and working on early projects for Rihanna and Ne-Yo to becoming Mary J. Blige’s full-time A&R, Fourcell recognizes the solid lyrics and distinctive instrumentals that set artists apart from each other. He also knows how and where to find this talent.
“Word of mouth works the best for me,” he says. “I find that the best artists come from producers. When you work with a producer, they’ll be like, ‘Hey I’m developing an artist right now, you should check them out.’ Nine times out of 10 they are actually a dope artist.”
Fourcell also believes live shows help discover musical brilliance. “Everytime I go and check out a local artist, they’ll always have someone opening for them, which is someone dope they pull in from the area,” he states. “Once I see them there, I can tell this person is obviously not the best performer yet. But just knowing that when I first see them that they’re going to be something big is really a dope thing.”
At one point, artist development wasn’t an option but rather a requirement by record companies. While some people may say artist development has faded away, Fourcell believes it stills exists. “It’s just different now,” he explains. “I think the evolution of artist development has changed as far as the medium of it, but it’s very much still there.”
Fourcell believes artists who release projects on Soundcloud without label support or tour before getting signed, is a form of artist development.
Whether it’s requiring budding artists to film their rehearsals or conducting media training, A&R’s have many philosophies when it comes to developing them. Fourcell has found one handy style of artist development that has been successful. “I want [artists] to be in the studio constantly working and putting out new music. It helps develop their sound and ideas,” he says.
When it comes to releasing new music, Fourcell believes in consistency. “There are [new] artists [who] will make a project and they’re super skeptical about releasing it to the world because they’re afraid of how it would sound. I think that if you hold it back, and you don’t go in the studio and continue to work and put material out, it limits what your potential could be.”
At one time, R&B reigned supreme in world of music. R&B artists like Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and R. Kelly could be heard simultaneously on several radio formats including pop, rhythmic and urban radio. However, as more pop and hip-hop artists become more popularized on the latter formats, R&B artists are left reaching a smaller audience on urban adult contemporary (urban AC) radio alone.
For this reason, Fourcell says radio is partially responsible for the demise of authenticity in artistry. “I hate how [radio] puts [artists] in a box. It just creates so many rules,” he says. “This person can’t play on this format because they’re this age & they’re doing this type of music & their song doesn’t sound like this. It’s too structured when music isn’t that way. That’s why the internet is winning because there are no rules. It’s a free world. Whereas radio, it’s too many rules and puts artists in a box.”
Newcomer Bryson Tiller’s double platinum single “Don’t” fell victim to radio’s airplay guidelines. “Radio said [Tiller’s] ‘Don’t’ wasn’t a real record because it didn’t have a hook on it or it didn’t come in the right place that normally a radio record would. It makes no sense to me because that record blew up,” he laughs. “That’s one of the reasons [artists] don’t care about radio any more because they’re starting to realize it’s not a place to break records — it’s a business.”
Fourcell understands that his role as A&R is still significant in the growing and forever changing music business. He continues to develop emerging artists and songwriters and challenges Mary J. Blige to taste test different sounds, songwriters and musicians.
If you missed part one with Fourcell where he talks about Mary J. Blige’s Strength Of A Woman album and his days as an intern at Def Jam recordings, check it out here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This duet would be first release from Blige since April’s Strength of a Woman. In late November, she told Billboard, “Normally it takes me two years after I make an album to go on to the next, but the title [which Blige hasn’t revealed yet] just came to me so clear, and when that happens I know I have to move on. I guess because there was so much darkness, the next thing had to be light. I need it to have some party songs.”
Maybe Kehlani and Blige’s pairing with Kaytranda will yield one of those records. We’ll just have to see.
Tamar Braxton is an open book, especially in her music. From songs like “Raise the Bar” and “White Candle” to “Broken Record” and “King,” the Grammy-nominated singer knows how to pen the ups and downs of love.
In late September, the Maryland native released her fourth and last album, Bluebird of Happiness. The 11-track set unfolded the private love stories with her estranged husband and former manager, Vincent Herbert.
As a special guest on The Great Xscape Tour, Braxton soothes her wounded love scars by addressing her true feelings on stage. With profound performances of “Blind” and “My Man,” her fans get to witness her being vulnerable, yet buoyant during her healing process.
Rated R&B caught up with Braxton backstage after her 45-minute set at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC to talk about her last album, happiness, her holiday favorites and more.
Check out the interview below.
RATED R&B: You’re currently on The Great Xscape Tour. What’s been your favorite or most memorable moment so far?
TAMAR: I think the most memorable moment was when Kandi and Tiny were in my dressing room in North Carolina while the Alabama game was going on. Of course everyone in the city was gone to that game but we managed to still sell out. We were like, “Oh my God, can you believe that we are here? We really made it. We really did it.” Tiny and I always said we wanted to do this since we were younger. We just didn’t know it would be like this.
RATED R&B: “Blind” is moving up on the urban AC radio chart. Can we expect a visual for the song in the near future?
TAMAR: Well, that’s a long story but I’m going to say yes. There were a lot of obstacles when we put out Bluebird of Happiness that we didn’t expect to happen, but they did and we had to put it out anyway. There was a movie attached to this album but it got detoured. We’re trying to fix it now. We’re playing the waiting game.
RATED R&B: Is there another single choice in mind if the video for “Blind” doesn’t come out?
TAMAR: I don’t know. I always wanted either the Yo Gotti record “Hol’ Up” or “The Makings of You” to be singles. We’ll see.
RATED R&B: Speaking of “The Makings of You,” that record along with “Pick Me Up,” are just some of the many songs on Bluebird of Happiness with incredible samples or interpolations of timeless R&B records. Which record took the longest to get cleared?
TAMAR: I honestly did not have any pushback at all. In the past it does take a long time. I think producers went into this record prepared themselves for it [laughs]. It’s so funny the Gladys Knight record came up though. I’ve been knowing her for a very long time. Her son wanted to take me to the prom back in the day [laughs]. I explained to her what the song meant to me and how Claudine is one of my favorite movies. She was like “Of course, darling.” Curtis Mayfield’s estate was so generous too.
RATED R&B: What makes Tamar Braxton happy?
TAMAR: What makes me happy is being around good people, laughing and smiling — not having any drama because I don’t have time for it. During our show prayer today, I was saying, “God thank you so much for such a great group people” because we have absolutely no drama. Also, being a good mother to my son Logan. I believe co-parenting with Vince and getting along with him to make sure Logan has a stable family environment is important in making me happy.
RATED R&B: On each album, your sound matures and your writing abilities continue to become more superb. How has your evolution as an artist helped you evolve personally and professionally?
TAMAR: I’ve always been a stickler on professionalism [laughs]. But personally, I think I am more honest about my feelings and how I truly feel. I have no problem telling you how I truly feel. It’s something about telling the truth that is liberating. I know now that there’s a way to deliver it [laughs]. The only time you find the truth to be offensive is when you’re not ready for it. You have to be ready for it. You have to be ready for evolving. Honesty is what helps us evolve. That’s what works for me.
RATED R&B: You are very active on social media. With you having such a huge following, how do you deal with any negativity that comes your way?
TAMAR: I take it as an opinion. I don’t know you, so I’m not going to feed into you. The only time that you have real negativity is when you feed into it. Most of the time these people don’t know what they’re talking about. But like I said on stage tonight, “People are always going to have something to say. You just might as well live your best life to the way you want to live it because everyone is going to have a comment.” So however you feel, God bless you but this is what works for me [laughs].
RATED R&B: With 2017 coming to an end, what’s one lesson you’ve learned this year?
TAMAR: For me, not to put yourself down. Don’t beat up on yourself. I remember when I use to beat up on myself constantly. Instead of looking at the things that I did achieve, I looked at the things I didn’t. It took away from the overall pure happiness that I wanted to achieve. I couldn’t get there if I constantly beat myself up. It’s almost like I was my own hater [laughs]. I already have people on social media saying negative things about me, why do I need to add to it? So you have to be your biggest cheerleader and believe in yourself. You have to get to a point where you don’t care and just do you.
RATED R&B: So the holidays are here. I know that you’re a foodie. What’s your favorite holiday dish?
TAMAR: Chitlins [laughs]. My mom pulls the membrane out so the house isn’t stinking. I haven’t had it this year because I haven’t had a Thanksgiving dinner yet.
RATED R&B: Favorite holiday song?
TAMAR: I would have to say “The Christmas Song.” It doesn’t get any better than Nat King Cole, my sister [Toni Braxton’s], Mariah [Carey’s] and Whitney [Houston’s] versions.
RATED R&B: Favorite holiday movie?
TAMAR: Right now it’s Caillou’s Holiday Movie. I’ve seen it a 150,000 times thanks to Logan [laughs].
RATED R&B: Favorite childhood Christmas gift?
TAMAR: The Nintendo Power Pad. It was when Nintendo first came out and they had these little blocks that you could run on and jump over. It was the bomb [laughs]. Everybody is missing out now [laughs].
Make Tamar Braxton’s final album, Bluebird of Happiness, a holiday stocking stuffer this season. The new album is available everywhere.