INTERVIEW: Grammy Nominated Producer Harmony Samuels Talks Working On JoJo’s New Album, Compilation EP And Evolution of R&B Music


Over the last few years, Harmony Samuels has managed to become one of the most sought out producers of today. The Grammy nominated producer has worked with everyone including Fantasia, Ciara, Ariana Grande, Michelle Williams, Jordin Sparks, Nathan Sykes and most recently JoJo to name a few.

When we last spoke to Samuels in 2013, he was hard at work on a few projects including Best Man Holiday soundtrack, Fantasia’s Side Effects of You album, Michelle Williams’ Journey to Freedom album and much more. Now the London native is working with JoJo on her comeback album, his own compilation EP and more.

In an interview with Rated R&B, Samuels chatted about working with JoJo, his compilation EP, what he looks for in an artist who wants to collaborate with him, his take on today’s R&B music and mentoring future music industry professionals.

Read our interview with Harmony Samuels below.

RATED R&B: Since the last time we talked, you’ve been very busy. You’re working with JoJo on her new album that’s her first album in 10 years. Tell us about that.

HARMONY SAMUELS: JoJo is awesome. I think being a part of her comeback record — after almost a decade of no music, per se — was a great honor for me. I was a big fan of JoJo. She was a special kid that was 13-years-old and sung with such a powerful voice. She has her own vision and wants to be authentic and true to herself and never really wants to express nothing other than her heart. So, working with her I think every time she sung I would almost walk out of the room because I was just like, “how are you able to do this so easy without even trying?” It was a great experience. Her album is great too because it’s going to have different textures. She’s a woman of versatility. You will have some urban, have some pop and ballads. It’s going to be a great cluster of music but she brings them all together. I’m just happy to be a part and expand whatever her vision is.

RATED R&B: What are the qualifications to work with you? What are you looking for?

HARMONY: I think what I look for mainly is passion and talent. The high end version of singing or rapping or whatever it is you do, I look for the best in it because it’s the only way people are going to be mesmerized. If I worked with every person who just sounded like everybody else, they wouldn’t be special anymore. I like looking for the most unique voice and talent with passion like never before [laughs] because that inspires me. If they are inspired, I’m inspired.

RATED R&B: What do you find more challenging, working with a new artist or an established artist?

HARMONY: That’s a hard question [laughs]. I think new artists are always easier to work with in the sense of creativity. You get more freedom to kind of experiment with stuff. Established artists always want to push the boundaries — but they can get stuck in their ways especially if they’ve been very successful. It’s kind of like they know what they want [and] they just want you to do it. I haven’t experienced it but I definitely have heard about it. Working with new artists is where I’m at. I do that more often. I always try to find the new kid.

RATED R&B: We heard you’re working on a compilation project of some sort. What can you tell us about it?

HARMONY: I’m working on a compilation EP coming this year. It will have special guests but it will focus on the new artists who I believe in and who I’ve worked with — people like Kehlani and Nathan Sykes — just focusing on the new.

Harmony blue jacket front profile

RATED R&B: What is your vision for your EP?

HARMONY: My vision is just good music. I’m not an artist or whatever so I’m never going to be on stage trying to be one. I think what I want to do is give an expression of music at its best with no limitations. Because I’m a producer, it’s going to be expected. When you’re an artist, it’s kind of like what genre is it? R&B? Pop? For someone like me, because I’ve worked in so many different avenues, I’ll be able to express a wider genre of music to the people. That’s going to be my goal for this EP. I’m really excited. We’ve got some new faces that’s going to be on it. We have some talent signed from my label that will be on it. We started the process and it will definitely be dropping first quarter next year.

RATED R&B: What’s your take on today’s music? Some people believe music has just evolved, while others feel like it simply has went downhill. What are your thoughts on people who criticize R&B music?

HARMONY: It’s definitely an evolution of music. You have to understand genres have crossed paths so many times. Hip-Hop now is more R&B driven. We have more singing rappers than we have rappers. Pop artists like Katy Perry can do a trap record (“Dark Horse”). Ariana [Grande] comes out with an R&B record (“The Way” featuring Mac Miller). Everything just has changed. But I will say the essence of R&B has not died. I’m making it my mission to bring R&B back to the forefront. It’s going to sound a little different but R&B at its best — the vulnerable R&B. That R&B that made you think. That R&B that made you feel something. That R&B that was honest. That R&B that made you love. We’re bringing that back.

I don’t necessarily think it’s dead. I think what we’ve grasped as the concept of R&B is dead. That legacy has died and we have to accept that and understand that it’s time for the new. If you look at the whole music industry, it’s changing. It’s not just R&B. Pop is changing. What we call pop now is very different from what we called pop ten years ago [laughs].

I just feel like the world is not as big as it used to be, so music is evolving. Now that Amsterdam, Sweden, France, Asia, all these countries that used to get music just from America are now involved in the music industry. So now there’s a fusion of sounds that’s happening. We just have to accept it and roll with it and look for unique talent.

RATED R&B: Since you were involved with both of Ariana Grande’s albums, we can only help but wonder if you’re working on her next album?

HARMONY: Yeah, we’re about to go in and we have one or two [records] that she’s already done. We’re working again real soon. I’ve been very busy. She was on the tour. So I’m really excited for her. I’m really happy to see her explode. From the first album, when she came to the studio she was this innocent girl that nobody knew. Looking back three years and to see her be such a humongous influence on these young kids and having such an amazing platform, I’m grateful and fortunate to be a part of something so great.


RATED R&B: Speaking of kids, you’re very passionate about helping children learn about the music business. Could you expand on that? What opportunity have you created or creating for kids to get educated about the industry?

HARMONY: We started this school tour where we go around to schools. We talk to 300-400 students. We give them a better understanding of how to be in the music industry. You’d be surprised when you walk into those schools and you ask how many students want to be in the music industry. At one school, at least half of them wanted to be an artist or a producer. It’s like “wow,” music has really influenced a lot of people.

This year, we’re going to Africa and other places to kind of invest in the mindset and the ability to help people and how to accomplish it especially when you’re from places that don’t have the facilities for it. Like, I came from London — and even though London is a great music place — where I grew up, it was hard to find studios and hard to get studios and be around the industry.  Now, we’re going out and educating these kids and showing them ways. We have internships that we’ve done for the last three years. We are just laying the foundation for these young kids and making sure they are excited. We also have a thing called Mentor Fridays, which is where we invite 25-50 people to my studio and we invest time. We bring guest producers and writers and we tell them our story. We listen to their music. We critique it and create opportunities for them to meet other creative people and hopefully something magical takes place. That’s what the mission is. We just want people to be successful and the opportunities I wasn’t able to have, I want to be able to give to others.

RATED R&B: What’s something about the music industry that you had to figure or learn on your own?

HARMONY: I think one of the things I had to figure out was it’s not always going to be great. You’re going to have down time. You’re going to have quiet time. You’re not always going to be asked to be on every project. The biggest thing I think I will say is to never take it personal. I think that’s where people really get messed up is they get into these relationships and it gets personal. When things don’t fall in place or they don’t call you for the next gig, it really does affect it. The fact of the matter is it’s business. You can’t be personal with it. You have to be willing to lose as much as win. If you can’t accept that, then your time is gonna be shaky.

RATED R&B: How do you deal with rejection?

HARMONY: Honestly, I’m so focused on what I got to do that before you can reject me I probably won’t notice [laughs]. Will I say I never dealt with it? No, I’ve definitely dealt with it and it’s a very painful thing. The music industry is so fast that sometimes nobody will offer you an explanation. I’m thankful that I was raised in church and the Lord’s been my balance and just meditating and praying and believing I wasn’t brought here for no reason. Also, understand that not everything is going to happen how you want it and not everything you will be involved with. Some things you have to watch from the sideline and just be happy to be able to see someone do well. That’s honestly how I survived. It was a lot of times when I was asking is my career over [laughs]? Sometimes it can stay quiet for a long time. For me, I’m always creating. I’m always writing. I’m always producing. I’m always looking for the new artist. When you look for new artists, you’re always going to be in front.

Follow Harmony Samuels on Instagram/Twitter at @HarmonySamuels. 

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.

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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