EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Syleena Johnson Talks Three New Albums, ‘Fix My Life,’ & more

Syleena-Johnson-promo

R&B songstress Syleena Johnson is a true grinder. The “Stone Wall” singer has worked her butt off to expand her brand through music, television and business ventures. Johnson recently visited Washington, D.C. for her concert at the legendary Howard Theatre. During her rehearsal break, we had a moment to talk to the Chicago native. During our interview, Johnson dished on her “9INE” project with Musiq Soulchild, her new album “Chapter 6: Couples Therapy,” her duet album with her father, her experience filming “Iylana: Fix My Life,” and more.

Check out our interview below.

You recently filmed “Iyanla: Fix My Life.” What was your experience like doing that?
That was a really good experience. I did that more so for me and my mom and my sisters because with my mom moving to Atlanta and my other sister already living in Atlanta, I just felt like it would be cool to have some clarity…living together at this age –and me having a husband and kids, is like having somebody try to come in your house and try to change stuff up, chile! So I wanted to be able to get some clarity with our relationship. Maybe it would help [my mom] recognize some things about herself, me recognize some things about myself, my sisters find some clarity about themselves…my dad is in it as well. I just thought it would be cool for our family because music is a big part of our family…

Do you have any other TV placements that you can talk about?
I just did an episode for Rickey Smiley for his sitcom, The Rickey Smiley Show, with Tamela Mann, Ann Nesby, and Darlene McCoy. We were auditioning for Mr. Willy, which is one of Rickey Smiley’s characters who has a singing group. We were called the Lamentations [laughs]. It was off the chain…from Pigskin, Tennessee…that was so much fun. Hopefully I will be able to get into more TV because that’s what I really want to do.

You and Musiq Soulchild have a new album called “9INE” coming out soon. How do you plan on promoting that project?
We’re going to kick [the tour] off in the UK. That’s our plan to have a big album release overseas. So that’s the start of it. And then we have a couple of booking agencies that are putting feelers out because we want to tour from this. And it won’t be just a tour of just this album. It will be a tour of what you know of Syleena Johnson and Musiq Soulchild — it’ll be the “9INE Tour” — but you’ll get our songs too. What we were thinking of doing, since it’s a reggae album, is putting reggae beats behind some of the songs that you know. It’s going to be cool. It’s going to be a great show.

“Feel The Fire” is the first single off the album. Are you guys going to shoot a video for it?
Absolutely. We were thinking late July for the video…probably come out the top of August.

What’s the concept?
We’re thinking very sexy, very slow motion, club, grimey in Miami, in the street…dirt bike.

Let’s talk about your sixth studio album titled “Chapter 6: Couples Therapy.”
I’m about six songs into it. [The album] is executive produced by Bangladesh. It’s really, really good. I’m really excited about it.

What was your creative direction for this album?
I’d like to say new soul/R&B. It’s not your average backpacker type music. It’s more mainstream but not too far away from the Syleena that you know. I like to dance in clubs and have a good time too because I’m only 36. So, in my show, I realized that I want to sing more about sexy songs, love songs, happy songs — I do better with kind of material.Most of the album is about love and making up.

I think it’s going to be awesome to show him in this light too because he can do so many things — he’s a hitmaker, clearly — but he can also do some other cool things inside of hits as well.

What songwriters did you work with on this album?
For this record, I’m not even trying to write songs like that. I probably wrote like four songs. I just want to come in and sing. I’m not really interested in writing. It’s almost like I got writer’s block. I wrote the “9INE” project with Musiq. I was struggling through that even. I just need a break from writing. I’ve written over 100 songs. I’m tired. I wanted to challenge myself and sing something else. But I challenge [the songwriters]. I say “I wouldn’t talk like that.” “Fix That, that’s not me.”

You also have an album with your father in the works called “Rebirth of Soul.” Can you share any details on that project?
We’ve got one more song to record. That’ll probably come out next year sometime. The good thing about “Rebirth of Soul” is that it’s a timeless record..It’s a remake album. So it can come out at any time.

What was it like recording three albums all at once?
Very difficult. Very stressful. I’ll never do that again. “The Rebirth of Soul” I didn’t have to do too much. I did most of that in season one of “R&B Divas.” But I did both “The 9INE Project” and “Chapter 6” at the same time — and taping “R&B Divas” and “Mommy’s Got Soul” DVD all at the same time — I didn’t get any sleep.

You have so many projects and ventures that you’re working on. How do you stay sane?
I don’t, which is why you have scenes like the last episode of “R&B Divas” [laughs]….actually, I’m all over the place and I’m trying to get organized. Organization is key.

Be sure to follow Syleena Johnson on Twitter @Syleena_Johnson. 

Keithan is the founder/editor-in-chief of Rated R&B

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Exclusive: Ro James Talks Sophomore Album

When it comes to R&B artists pushing the envelope, Ro James is at the top of the list. From his three-part EP Coke, Jack & Cadillacs to his debut album Eldorado, James shows his commitment to the traditional R&B sound while adding his own unique touch. His debut single “Permission” was one of the biggest R&B songs in 2016, reaching number one on Billboard’s Adult R&B Songs chart. Meanwhile, Eldorado has racked up over 263 million streams on Spotify alone.

James’ popularity has afforded him major opportunities that aren’t always obtained by new artists.  From joining legendary acts like Maxwell and Mary J. Blige on tour to headlining his own XIX Tour, James has been consistently booked and busy since his Eldorado era

“I grew up listening to the legends — respecting their work, emulating their voices and just learning their writing techniques,” James tells Rated R&B. “You don’t realize while you’re in it but then you sit back you’re like, ‘I just did a show with Mary J. Blige. I just did a show with Maxwell.’ It’s an honor and it also lets me know I’m on the right path.”

With a successful album under his belt, James is gearing up for his sophomore album that is expected to drop this summer. Before he drops the project, he plans to release the second installment of his two-part EP, Smoke & Mirrors.

Rated R&B caught up with James at his tour stop in Washington, D.C. In our interview, James dishes on his Smoke & Mirrors EP, his sophomore album, collaborating with Salaam Remi and his love for cars.

Check out the interview below.

Tell us about your Notorious B.I.G.-assisted song “Lost My Mind” from your Smoke EP.

That song was produced by Salaam Remi. I’ve known Salaam for a while and this is our first time actually getting into work. That song came right out of us getting in the studio — it was the first day, within the first hour. He was asking me what I was going through in my life. I had just got come off a breakup. It was either I really go hard with my music or try to appease my girl who was complaining that I didn’t have the time or wasn’t giving her enough attention — women need that too and my career needs that too. So it’s like in a sense, you have to decide and it kind of makes you a little crazy because you don’t want to lose either if it’s real.

If it’s your dream that you’ve worked hard to get to a certain place, nobody should be able to stop that. Anybody that’s joining energies with you should be able to say, “Let’s get this together.” So, “Lost My Mind” is about the idea of losing your mind and choosing which way to go. The Biggie sample, man it’s kinda crazy. I’m signed to ByStorm/RCA Records. Mark Pitts is my OG. It’s an honor to be under them too because I’m from New York. So, growing up, 90s hip-hop was NEW YORK and Mark Pitts was a part of that. When I was with Salaam, I was literally just mumbling and rapping the feeling because I knew the feeling I wanted to have in the hook and he was like, “Yo I have an idea” and he put the Biggie verse on there.

What can you tell us about your Mirrors EP and how does that compare to Smoke?

I had just come up out of a relationship, came off tour, did my own tour…and really tried to find the time to have a peaceful moment so I could gather all of the things I’ve been through and being able to talk about it. It’s hard. I was just in a place where it was kind of hazy. I was just creating music with people — Ryan Toby, Verse Simmonds —  just a lot of different people. When you see fire, you see smoke and when you see smoke you know there’s a fire. It’s like I got all this music that I’ve been holding and just growing with. I wanted to put something out eventually. I’m not the type of person who just puts music out. I want people to appreciate it and I feel like we’re in a time where we’re just oversaturating music. With Smoke, I’m in a haze but at the same time, I’m out that shit. I’ve been creating some fire shit. I decided to call it Smoke & Mirrors because in life everything is fucking smoke and mirrors. The Mirrors part is about reflection for me. In a time of, through the smoke, through the fire, through the breakups, through being on the road — all of that shit — it’s something that you’re moving so fast and you don’t have time to really breathe and appreciate it, take a moment to see how far you’ve come.

You seem to incorporate cars into your music, somehow. You have an EP called Cadillac, your debut album is titled Eldorado and your Smoke EP has a truck in the artwork. Is this all on purpose or by coincidence? 

Man, first of all, I love cars [laughs]. Me and my dad have that thing in common. I kind of tie that into all of my work. Everything I do is inspired by family and certain things — and myself. My father loves cars and my mother is really into fashion, so I got both.

Photo credit: Cheril Sanchez

How did you approach your second album? What was the process like compared to your first album?

I won’t say harder but it was different because Coke, Jack and Cadillacs was all me. I had nobody in my ear, concept-wise, saying “you should do this” or “you should put this here.” Eldorado was my first time going to the label saying “I don’t want to do this, this is who I am” and accepting their advice too, so we can create something timeless. My next album is the same process — growing with people who now are a part of your trajectory, your growth and who you are…I had a concept from the jump but the thing is finding the sound that matches the concept. It was definitely harder but I enjoyed the process and everybody …

Do you have a title set for your sophomore project?

I’ve been going back and forth between two titles but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Ro Mantic MP3.

Are there any features on the album?

I got some people I’m working with but I wanted it to come out with no features because I really wanted people to vibe to me, my sound and my feeling. I’m a rebel.

Follow Ro James on Instagram at @RoJamesXIX. Stream his Smoke EP below.

Exclusive: BJ The Chicago Kid Details ‘The Opening Ceremony’ and Teases New Album

It’s hard to believe BJ The Chicago Kid released his major label debut album, In My Mind, just two years ago. Looking back, the Motown Records artist had an impressive debut era. He went on a headlining world tour, earned three Grammy nominations — including “Best R&B Performance,” “Best Traditional R&B Performance,” and “Best R&B Album” — and racked up over 75 million streams on Spotify alone.

In January, he released a vulnerable track called “I’m Sorry” as a treat to his fans. “It’s a song that’s pathetically R&B,” BJ explains to Rated R&B. “I feel like it’s R&B at its most essential feeling,” he continues. “R&B is made to say the things that you can’t or don’t have the balls to say. It’s like you can’t figure out the words to say but somehow this writer and this artist makes this song say exactly how you feel. That’s a part of my job as an R&B singer.”

BJ most certainly doesn’t have an issue with tapping into his feelings. Earlier this month, he dropped three new songs collectively titled as The Opening Ceremony. The lyrically-rich project consists of “Going Once, Going Twice,” “Nothing into Something” and “Rather Be With You.” The songs are just a taste of what fans can expect on his next album that is slated to release later this year.

While fans get acclimated with his three new tracks, the R&B champion teamed with his colleague Ro James for their co-headlining The R&B Tour. Rated R&B caught up with BJ at his tour stop in Washington, D.C. In our interview, he dishes on The Opening Ceremony, his upcoming album, his fight for R&B and more.

If you could add one more artist to The R&B Tour, who would it be?

It would definitely be Luke James. That’s our brother. He’s going to pop up at one of these shows, I’m not going to say which one, but he’s going to pop out and have some fun with us.

What inspired the songs on The Opening Ceremony?

On “Going Once, Going Twice,” I was really eliminating some things in my life that I didn’t really need. I wasn’t necessarily auctioning things off but I thought it was a cool way of having a song in that type of phrasing…describing how auctioneers get rid of things.

“Nothing Into Something” is a song that says you were here with me at the start and right now having what we have is a beautiful thing. It’s about seeing the growth and evolution of our love.

“Rather Be With You” simply describes the feeling with her is like no other. It’s the one place you’d rather be versus anywhere.

Are these three songs tied to your upcoming album in any way?

Absolutely. This is not an EP. To let the secret out the bag, a lot of people put EPs out to see what songs stick with the people. These three songs are on my album.

What can you tell us about the album?

The album is incredible. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. Life has evolved for me. I’ve grown and seen the world with my label Motown Records. It’s been an incredible asset to add to the music. I just can’t wait to put it out the right way.

Is there a title?

I can’t say yet.

Who are some producers you worked with?

Cool and Dre, Danja, Jarius Mozee, Tubb Young and Karriem Riggins.

Photo credit: Jack Beaudoin

The title of Opening Ceremony and its artwork seem to be inspired by the Olympics. Does the album play on that theme?

Everything I do is huge and worldwide. My first tour was a world tour. So, everything I do begins with the world — not just my community, not just my neighborhood, not just to the people I’ve met but it’s to the world.

You recently said you’re “fighting for R&B, not trying to change it, just push it.” What elements of R&B are you trying to preserve for the masses?

I’m trying to preserve very essence. Our forefathers and our foremothers have laid down such an awesome pedigree of what we should follow. I think it’s up to us to take the responsibility to evolve it, be ourselves and really take it to another level — be creative. Keep the people involved…slow song, fast song, it doesn’t matter. It’s how life has evolved away from me and has given us other opportunities and lanes to help it grow and express ourselves so we should use that.

Speaking of evolving, how would you say you’ve evolved since In My Mind?

Life evolving, my family evolving, my music evolving, my producers evolving…working with producers I’ve never worked with before that I’ve always idolized.

Stream The Opening Ceremony below.

Justin Love Talks New Project ‘When Love Returns’ and Working with H.E.R.

Justin Love’s passion for singing dates back to the age four. “I got started because my mom is a vocalist,” he reveals to Rated R&B. “She’s nobody big but she just sang around the house. My whole family always knew to never pick up on their birthday because she would leave a voicemail singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ Growing up, watching her do that, made me want to do the same thing.”

Love’s “Happy Birthday” performances would eventually evolve into him becoming a singer, songwriter and producer. The New Jersey native’s work has been praised by Nicki Minaj, Alicia Keys, Jermaine Dupri and others. He recently co-wrote H.E.R.’s hit single “Focus,” which has over 25 million streams on Spotify.

The 22-year-old now plans to ‘focus’ more on his own music this year with his new EP, When Love Returns. In our interview with Love, he dishes on working with H.E.R. his new single “Models” and forthcoming project.

You co-wrote “Focus” with H.E.R. How did that come about and what was your experience working with her?

She had came to one of my shows earlier in my career and her management actually stopped me when I was walking in the city one day and told me that she was upstairs in the studio. He was like, “Yo. Come check her out. I think you guys will vibe well together.” I’m a spontaneous person so I took my spontaneous ass right upstairs. We caught a vibe real quick. We set up another studio session and we wrote like two or three songs that day. It was just dope. The vibe with her is just very quick and very powerful. We knew that anything we wrote down and put out was going to be something.

You just dropped two songs — “The Weekend” and “Models.” What inspired those records?

“The Weekend” — I hit a point in my life where I was just dealing with women that would take care of me. That song is inspired by that stage of my life where I had a suga mama or two just taking care of whatever I needed.

“Models” — We were on set shooting a video for “Stripper Girl” in LA. Me and my boy Nate were looking at these models. We were like, “Damn. They look good as hell.” He was like, “Pretty soon we’re only going to be fucking with model bitches and you need to make a song about that.”

Tell us about your project When Love Returns. What stories are you trying to tell?

My fan base has been waiting for me to drop material for a long time. When Love Returns is literally the return of love. I haven’t dropped material in a good two or three years because of a situation I was in. I was legally tied to working with other people I didn’t want to work with. I couldn’t blatantly say that to my fans, though. I could only hint that towards them at least at that time. Now, I can say whatever I want. I was just legally bound to people. When Love Returns is just the return of me showing the world that I’ve been working and I’m here to stay. I’m going to give a bunch of different vibes. They’re going to get a little iSingHipHop, which is my hip hop-singing shit.

Who is iSingHipHop vs Justin Love?

iSingHipHop is my bread and butter. I’m not a rapper but you know there’s rap singers these days. I can sing bars. iSingHipHop is me singing bars and Justin Love is my mature R&B side.

Are there any collaborations on the project?

No collaborations on the project. If there’s anybody I give credit to I really genuinely appreciate all of the producers that were a part of this project .

Follow Justin Love on Instagram @OfficialJustinLove.