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.

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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.

Interview: Tank Talks ‘Savage’ Album, Being Placed in a Box on Radio and more

Tank is a renaissance man. The 41-year-old is a singer, songwriter, musician, actor and gym rat, to name a few. Although he comes from the old school era of R&B music, he has been able to authentically position himself in the new era of R&B — without losing focus of who he is as an artist. He can literally go from making a grown and sexy song for the bedroom to making a club banger.

His eighth studio album, Savage, is out now. The album is a follow-up to 2016’s Sex Love & Pain II and features guest appearances from Trey Songz, Ludacris, Candice Boyd and J Valentine. Ahead of his album release, Tank released his bass-driven bedroom jam “When We,” which is now No. 5 on urban adult contemporary radio. He also launched his Savage Tour, which quickly sold out in multiple cities.

In an interview with Rated R&B, Tank talks about his Savage movement, being placed in a box at radio, his imprint R&B Money, his thoughts on a TGT reunion and more.

RATED R&B: What inspired this whole Savage movement for you?

TANK: I think our approach to the music was a lot more aggressive. I think we kind of found magic within us that we did on songs on Sex, Love & Pain II that people just gravitated to, which were those aggressive R&B moments. We were like let’s just take a savage approach with this one. Let’s go all the way there — dedicate a complete album, a complete movement to that name…to fighting for R&B and my style of R&B…fighting for a certain space. Everything we’ve done up until this point has had a kind of savage approach to it where we’re not taking no for an answer. We’re fighting for every inch and it’s going well for us.

RATED R&B: In the past you’ve released albums every two to three years apart but with Savage, it comes just a year after Sex, Love Pain II. What prompted you to break away from your trend with releasing an album?

TANK: We caught a wave. We found something that connected. We didn’t want to lose that connection. I got a call from Ludacris. He heard Sex, Love & Pain II and he said, “Man you found it. You got it. If I were you, I’d get ready to drop something sooner than later to come right back and hit them again.” I was like, “Alright, enough said.” Ludacris is a veteran and a well-established guy in this game. So when guys like that give you good information, you use it.

RATED R&B: What would you say has been the most savage thing that’s happened on tour?

TANK: I mean, it’s a tour so it’s hard to pick one thing. Girls are definitely — they’re showing body parts. They’re aggressive about pulling their titties out. It’s pretty exciting. I’m not mad at them. I got this part of the show where I do this little joke and sometimes women participate. It’s funny but it’s savage.

RATED R&B: “When We” is No. 5 on urban AC radio. With every album, I feel like you always have a smash at urban AC radio and although you make music that can be played on various formats, do you feel like you’re automatically placed in a box at radio?

TANK: Yeah, I am. It’s up to me and my team to fight our way out of that box. People are always going to have their preconceived notions about what they feel you are. I’ve been doing it for a long time and for R&B artists, what everybody feels is the natural migration to an artist who has been here for a while is urban AC. They only do it R&B artists. They don’t do it to rappers. A rapper can be 60 years old and have a record on mainstream radio. That’s just the climate and the time we’re in. It is what it is. I let them assume what they want to assume. When you look at my audience and my crowds at my shows that are sold out, it’s from 18-80. That lets me know that I can be played just as much on mainstream as I’m played on urban AC and be received very well. I’m the number one streaming artist on the urban AC format and we know that older people don’t stream. Streaming is a young format. I’m over a million streams a week. Listen, I don’t let people dictate that for me. I don’t let radio dictate that for me, although they’ve given me a lot of love and support on the urban AC side. I have a sold out tour. It don’t get no mainstream than that.

RATED R&B: Your streaming numbers are definitely impressive for an R&B artist who’s always put in that box. When you’re creating your music, and now that we are in a streaming era, are you taking an approach to appeal more to the streaming audience — since sales have declined and more people are streaming?

TANK: No. I’m just allowing my growth to be on display. Everything changes and evolves. I’ve been part of helping with evolution. For me to be making records with Chris Brown and Trey Songz and all these other guys — for me to be able to that, I’m in it. I’m not a guy that sits at home and wears an Ascot tie, cross my legs and read books all day. That’s not really my lifestyle. I’m in the streets. I’m in the clubs. I’m into fashion. The music is just a reflection of living and growing and finding my balance. My music has to be in a space where it can inspire —not just older people but younger people as well, the next generation of R&B artists who want to do it. In order to do that, I have to be able to meet them where they are. I have to be tuned in with what they’re tuned in to. That’s not me forcing it, it’s just me living my life. That’s just where I am.

RATED R&B: When we last spoke, you were in the beginning stages of launching your own label R&B Money. You now have a couple artists signed to the label. What can we expect from them?

TANK: I can’t really tell you what to expect from them because they’re new artists. What they’re doing is completely different. What they’re doing is them. I wanted to create a space where artists could be themselves. When I explain an artist, I wouldn’t be giving you an example of another artist. I would be saying, “Hey. This is Dante Dontay Duntea or hey this is Jordan Morris and there’s nothing like them.” Soon enough, you will see why that is and you will get to make your own assessment from that. That’s what you’re going to get from these new artists. We’re going to give you some individuals who are being themselves unapologetically — same way I’m being myself.

RATED R&B: Would you be heavily involved in the creative process of their music?

TANK: I provide the motivation, the platform and the infrastructure and the studio. I provide all the things so that these creative people can create. Ultimately, I don’t want them to lean on my creativity to find themselves. I want them to lean on their own. I look for artists who kind of have a clue of who and what they want to be. I’m like the mastering session of an album. I come in and I fine tune things. I give critiques and ideas. In terms of the overall product, I let them create that because ultimately they have to stand in front of it. I teach artists all the time, that’s your face. That’s your name. You only have one. So you have to be able to stand on your own. Don’t lose because of what somebody else wanted you to do. Lose being true to yourself if you must lose.

RATED R&B: You’ve written for some artists in the past. Are you still doing behind the scenes work for others?

TANK: No, I’m just focused on R&B Money and acting. If it ain’t R&B Money or a new acting role, it ain’t me.

RATED R&B: What acting roles can we expect from you?

TANK: I’m part of a show that got picked up on Bounce TV called Grown Folks. So everybody please tune into that. It starts October 2. That’s going to be very fun. We got a couple other moments coming up. Once we get the green light on it, we’ll start talking about those as well.

RATED R&B: Is it true there will be a second leg of the Savage Tour?

TANK: Yeah. It’ll start in November. So everybody can stop saying, “You ain’t come to my city.” (laughs)

RATED R&B: I checked Atlantic’s website and I see TGT is still signed to the label. When can fans expect a reunion?

TANK: I have no idea. At the moment, I’m living a stress free life. This Savage movement is going amazing. My team is amazing. It’s all stress free and that’s how I like to live my life.

Stream Savage below.

Interview: Sammie Opens Up About ‘Coming of Age’

Eighteen years ago, the world was introduced to a kid named Sammie. Although he was just 12 years old, he had a major hit under his belt — “I Like It.” The Dallas Austin-produced track reached No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was among the best-selling singles in 2000 with over 600,000 units sold. His debut album, From the Bottom Up, went on to reach No. 21 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart.

After the dust settled from his debut era, Sammie went on to being a normal kid again. In high school, he played basketball and even was crowned homecoming king. After graduating high school, Sammie went back to music. In 2006, he released his self-titled sophomore album that included his comeback hit “You Should Be My Girl” featuring Sean Paul of The YoungBloodZ. He also released the follow-up single, “Come to Me,” which was a ballad. Although both singles were solid, they didn’t receive the same recognition as “I Like It.”

By 2009, Sammie found himself in a legal battle with a former manager who was allegedly mishandling his money on the low. Naturally, Sammie developed trust issues and for the next seven years, he took it upon himself to handle all his business matters — his bookings, emails, etc. It wasn’t until a year ago that he finally found someone he could trust to be his manager.

Fast forward to now, the R&B heartthrob has released his third studio album, Coming of Age. The album is the follow-up to his I’m Him EP, which dropped last December.

Rated R&B caught up with Sammie at The Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., as part of Tank’s Savage Tour. In our interview, Sammie opened up about regaining trust, lessons learned and, of course, his third studio album Coming of Age.

RATED R&B: You came into the industry at a very young age. What is something you wish you had known back when you started?

SAMMIE: Honestly — not to sound cliché — but with everything I’ve gone through (the hell and the good) was necessary for me to become the man that I am to day. I wouldn’t change anything. There’s of course some mistake I’ve made along the way and there’s some unfortunate mishaps and barricades that I went through but I technically wouldn’t change it because I wouldn’t be these alert and business-oriented had I not experienced the things I experienced.

RATED R&B: One mishap you experience was a legal issue with your former manager, who didn’t have the best intentions for you. When were you able to regain trust and get new management?

SAMMIE: I just got genuine management — paperwork signed — like a year ago. I would say it took me almost seven years to fully allow someone to come in and help me. I love him but I still make sure everything comes through me. I don’t trust anybody one hundred percent and that might sound cold and it’s not that, it’s just we all as humans have vices — it could be money, liquor, greed, fame, women. Since I understand humans are liable, I make sure I protect myself at all costs. It took about seven years to finally allow somebody to help me propel. I’m grateful. His name is Skino. He’s my brother, my business partner, we do everything together.

RATED R&B: What was the one thing that took you awhile to get used to when you were doing everything on your own?

SAMMIE: Doing everything on my own. I was so used to singing and being the performer. I was kind of bred to be like that since I was 12. I didn’t have to worry about the business because I always had people handling the business for me. I was handling the emails. I was literally saying, “Thank you for reaching out to Sammie. His booking is such and such.” I’m grateful for those days, though. It’s kind of beautiful how things are manifesting because I always saw this day — even seven years ago when I didn’t have anything.

RATED R&B: What made you decide to use a childhood photo for the cover art?

SAMMIE: Every time someone notices me as Sammie, they sing “I Like It.” With me being 30, I could easily just take my shirt off and show that I have tattoos and I’m older now, but instead let’s take them back to that moment. I have nostalgia on my side, I would say. I just thought it would be dope for them to see the same face they fell in love with back in 1999, in 2017.

RATED R&B: How did you creatively approach this album? Did you already have a concept in mind when you started or did it all come together organically? 

SAMMIE: No, I knew. When “I’m Him” went viral, I knew I only had six songs, as far as the EP, that I could sonically create to match it. If you follow me on social media, you know I’m a very profound person. I like to talk about spirituality, peace, light and love. I keep my love life as private as I can. I’ll post my girlfriend if I’m in a relationship but I’m not trying to overdo that because I feel like that’s inviting negative energy. However, my music is my outlet to be as honest and transparent as possible. I just knew that I wanted to tell on myself — the good and the bad. I didn’t want people to think I’m perfect. I’ve made mistakes — that includes infidelity, some lies and some cheating.

RATED R&B: It’s been over 10 years since you released your last album. In between that time you’ve released a few mixtapes and an EP. Do you feel like this is a comeback or do you feel like you have to present yourself as a new artist?

SAMMIE: I’m first and foremost catering to my generation. I would be a fool to abandon those who made Sammie, Sammie. I’m doing and delivering what they know me for. I feel like it’s so honest and so pure that the new generation — who don’t know who Sammie is, never heard a record — would gravitate to it. My father said something that was kind of profound. It was real simple. He was like, “This is a come up.” I was able to get beat down by the world so I could have this moment of clarity. I never doubted myself. I’m just very grateful, humbled and ready. I approached the album as a defining moment to bring transparency, vulnerability and passion back to R&B.

RATED R&B: Speaking of transparency, which song on the album was the hardest for you to write?

SAMMIE: “Confessional.” It’s the last record on the album. Three years ago, I was in the most serious relationship in my life. I met this girl — who I believed was my soul mate — when I was 24. I’m 30 now. The childish, foolish guy in me was like, “Oh it can’t be over now. Playtime is over at 24? I gotta still have fun.” I hurt her terribly. To see someone cry the way she cried made me reevaluate myself. I had to look at myself and say “I’m not the guy who I want to be. I’m a piece of shit. I’m a dark person. I’m toxic for any woman in this stage of my life.” It was hard to write that record so much that in the second half I freestyled. I just had my engineer continue the loop and I just sung my heart out. I gave it my all and for the first time, I got emotional during the recording process. That record was hard simply because I had to address my flaws. I didn’t even know if I was going to put it on the album. I had this record for three years. It was the best way for me to have closure in this situation.

RATED R&B: What has been your experience touring with Tank? We know you worked with him in the past…

SAMMIE: Tank is really a big brother. I’m super comfortable around him. He’s so humble. He’s one of my idols and one of the greatest vocalists of my time that I ever witness. To be on tour with him and to just write a song for him a few years ago (“Next Breath”) was like a dream come true. It’s just me and him seriously out here rocking. He’s pushing me to be even better than what I am.

Stream Coming of Age below.

https://open.spotify.com/album/3TQPy8tiVuMUGePCPEXxKw

Watch the video for “Coming of Age” below.