INTERVIEW: Producer Harmony Samuels Talks ‘Best Man Holiday’ Soundtrack + New Music From Fantasia, Michelle Williams, Jordin Sparks

Harmony blue jacket front profile

British musical powerhouse Harmony Samuels goes beyond simply working as an artist’s’ producer, by relating to them to create brilliant musical masterpieces. After rising from the scene in his home of London, he’s come to America to create hits on another level. From Fantasia to Ariana Grande, Harmony Samuels has built a powerful resume , all while producing hit after hit. Rated RnB had the chance to sit down with the busy Englishman to dig into his career.

Five years ago, you were on the verge of quitting the music industry to become a music teacher. What kept you in the game?

Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins (laughs). I was on my way out. I was like “I’m done. I’m fed up with the politics.” The music industry is not all about talent. It’s a business itself. It’s more about numbers, figures and who knows who. I was kind of fed up of years and years of trying. I was going to try to teach these kids how to keep going. In my final run, I came to America to finish up an independent mixtape. I ended up in Los Angeles from New York, which ended up with me signing with Rodney Jerkins.

How did you meet Rodney Jerkins?

He actually heard my music playing next door in a studio and came looking for me (laughs).

Rodney Jerkins once said (referring to you), “I believe that he will single-handedly bring R&B back to the forefront.” What does that mean to you to have someone like Rodney Jerkins say that about you?

I tell him often, “big bro there’s no need to put all that pressure on me” (laughs). I mean, it was an honor for him to believe that I had the capability of doing that. Whether I will do that, I don’t know. I’m just going to keep believing in the God that I serve and keep making great music. As long as music comes from the center of my heart, I’m never really going to have any problems. That’s what got me so far. I’m really passionate about music. It’s like my wife (laughs)…I think we’re slightly bringing R&B back (laughs) bit by bit. We’ve got “Without Me” by Fantasia, Ariana Grande “The Way,” Kelly Rowland “Gone” with Wiz Khalifa.

Being one of the hottest producers out right now, you are working on a lot of different projects at the same time. How do you keep your creative juices flowing?

My main way is church. I go to church twice a week. I’m on a worship team so I play with the worship band. That helps me keep a pure way of relating to music. I just work hard. I pay attention to a lot great people. A producer I’ve been paying attention to is Mike WiLL Made It. I think he’s doing very well for an up and coming producer. I’m attracted to people who do very well and know how to excel their careers. I like to read on people’s history — Quincy Jones, I’ve got like 18 books on him (laughs)…I’m really a down to earth guy. That’s how I get my inspiration.

You executive produced Fantasia’s “Side Effects of You.” Do you think an album with 1-2 producers is better than having an album with a different producer on each track?

I believe that if you want a cohesive album, yes one or two producers makes sense. There’s examples from Justin Timberlake’s three solo albums, Usher’s albums….going back to Michael Jackson’s album, Quincy Jones was the producer for him. I do believe it’s relative to have one producer but I do believe if there’s a mindset of people on the same page. If you put nine producers and make them have the same passion and have the same page, you can have that. You can get nine different producers to make a great album.  One person who has done it is Jay-Z — “The Black Album.” There was probably like five or six producers — Kanye [West], Timbaland, Pharrell, NO I.D. — there was lot of producers. But because everybody was cohesive and together, he came out with a great album. I just believe that in this day and age everybody is trying to get on top and everybody is trying to be famous. In my field, [producers] want to be as big as the artist. It’s not a passion for music anymore it’s “I want to be seen, as well as heard.” We’ve got to find the balance.

Harmony_Samuels003What can fans expect from Fantasia’s “Side Effects of You (Remix)”?

It’s a throwback hip-hop record. It’s Mobb Deep meets Mary J. Blige, basically. There’s going to be a beautiful collaboration happening which I can’t disclose until we completely do it. It’s going to be an incredible record. I don’t think people have ever seen her in this light. The remix is amazing.

What are the ingredients to making an album great?

A great artist. When you have a great artist you can kind of go anywhere.

You’re working on Michelle Williams’ upcoming album, can you tell us a little bit about her direction on this project?

The same direction I took with Fantasia’s latest album, which was just creating great music. I didn’t generalize it to pop or R&B or dance. I just wanted to create great music. Yes, the lyric is about Jesus and the God we serve. It’s inspirational. It’s about the relationship. I think we are starting to break ground with it.

You once said, “I was brought into the industry to impact the artist and bring the greatness out of them.” How do you go about doing that? How did you bring out the greatness in Fantasia, Michelle Williams or any other artist you’ve recently worked with?

Time. It takes time. You have to be patient and watch. You have to know who they are. If you want to find out who they are quickly, you have to be silent and watch. You can’t be too loud. You can’t overly express yourself…you have to learn why. You have to understand why. I didn’t know Fantasia’s story when I met her. I didn’t know Ariana [Grande] could sing as well as she did until she came to my studio (laughs). I just knew that she was a Nickelodeon star. They eventually start opening up and then you’re like, “Wow! You guys are actually really special.” I think producers win more if they spend more time [studying]. Same with Chris [Brown]. When I went in the studio with Chris Brown and we did “Say It With Me” and “All My Love” that was the first session that we ever done and we wrote two hit records. People was like “how did you do that?” I’m like, “Dude, you’ve got to study the person…study who he is. You can get enough information on them.” That’s how I did it anyway and let God do the rest.

As the executive producer for  “The Best Man Holiday” Soundtrack, what can we expect?

There’s going to be some collaborations. Definitely. Collaborations and just your favorites — Mario, Fantasia, Marsha Ambrosius, Anthony Hamilton…I can’t really disclose much but the story has a meaning and that’s why these songs go with it so much. I’m very excited about it and I’m sure it’s going to do well.

Tells us about your company B.O.E. Global. I heard it has different meanings. 

My record label is called Best Of Everything. My production company is called Blackout Entertainment. We have a publishing house in which we just signed two producers — Moe Keyz and Big Mike. Real young kids like 22-years-old. Amazing producers…worked with me on the Ariana [Grande] album. They’re moving to LA next year. B.O.E. has its different branches.

When you aren’t in the studio, what do you enjoy doing?

To be honest with you, I like to go see buildings…that’s why I live in Hollywood. It’s amazing. I’ll go up the hills and just look at homes and architecture or the beach because the water hitting the sand is amazing (laughs). I really like peace because I’m always around noise — my speaker is on, my keyboard is on…there’s music playing somewhere. I sound like an old man, don’t I? (laughs).

Any other words?
I really want everybody to know that Jordin Sparks’ album is going to be amazing. I know people are sleeping on her. She’s got a big album. She’s got a great duet coming with her other half that we did. Keep an eye out for that. That’s going to be an awesome record.

Connect with Harmony Samuels:
Twitter – @HarmonySamuels
Instagram – @HarmonySamuels
www.boeglobal.com

Keithan is the founder/editor-in-chief of RatedRnB.com.

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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.

15 Times Missy Elliott Brought ‘FIYAH’ To R&B Music

Let’s be clear, Missy Elliott is and will always be universally relevant in the world of music.

Misdemeanor Elliott has been an unstoppable force since establishing herself as a trailblazer for R&B and hip-hop music and its culture in the early 90s. Some people, such as myself, may say they first heard Elliott and her iconic “hee-hee-hee-hee-how” line on Gina Thompson’s hit “The Things I Do.” Others may remember Elliott’s artistic expression in a large black trash bag from her 1997 video “The Rain.”

What remains consistent with those possible introductions to Ms. Elliott is R&B has been the meeting place. For instance, the chorus on “The Rain” samples “I Can’t Stand the Rain” by ‘70s soul diva Ann Peebles. Missy Elliott not only lent her rap talents to the remix of Thompson’s lead single – she co-penned the track too, which is one of the reasons why we’re here.

For the past few months, Elliott has been on Twitter sharing memories of writing and producing R&B songs for past and present artists. Rated R&B has compiled a list of Elliott’s top 15 R&B hits that she either produced, wrote or was featured on, along with a reason why they are absolute FIYAH (as Elliott would say).

Aaliyah – “One in a Million”

Written by: Melissa “Missy” Elliott & Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley
Produced by: Timbaland

“One in a Million” is FIYAH because it helped shift the direction of R&B and way we heard it with its advanced melting pot of melody and rhythmic. From Kanye West and BJ the Chicago Kid to Jay Z and Tink, the cultural impact of this record is undeniable. The song spent six weeks at No.1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart.

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