Interview: Mark Hood Talks Competing On ‘The Voice,’ Working With Pharrell And New EP

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Photo Credit: Karl Ray

 

Hailing from the best of both worlds of acting and singing is Mark Hood. The burgeoning entertainer, who was featured as a Rated Next artist in 2011, is making huge strides in his bubbling career that will make him as a household name in the near future.

In the world of acting, Hood has had roles on hit television shows like Chicago Fire and Sirens. Meanwhile, in the music world, Hood has been featured on the legendary show Apollo Live and most recently a contestant on NBC’s The Voice. Under the guidance of music mogul Pharrell Williams, Hood made it all the way to the Top 12 on the competitive show.

Rated R&B recently caught up with Hood to learn about his latest happenings. In our interview, Hood talks about his growth as an artist since we first met him, his most challenging moment on The Voice, working with Pharrell and, of course, his new music.

Check out our interview with Mark Hood below.

RATED R&B: How do you think you’ve grown musically over the years?

MARK HOOD: I’ve grown tremendously. I have a different mindset about music. It’s so crazy to know when we first interviewed in 2011, when I had “Ain’t Gon Change” out, which is still a holding strong — I still sing that — but knowing that the kind of music I’m working on now is so different than that. It’s just an evolution and I’m happy about it.

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RATED R&B: Since you have years of experience in musical theater, do you think it gave you an advantage when performing on The Voice?

MARK HOOD: I actually do think I had the upper hand because being used to performing all the time. The stage is home to me literally. I feel more comfortable on stage than off stage. That’s just where I like to be. As soon as I got on that stage, it was just like go time — just do what you want. Feel free. Feel comfortable. So many things were planned out and choreographed, but then there are so many other things in the moment that only comes with experience on the stage and being used to it. I feel like that helped me out.

RATED R&B: What was the most challenging part of The Voice for you?

MARK HOOD: I would say there was a lot of things thrown at us really fast — like songs — trying to choose songs with your coach and then getting them late and stuff. I just have really bad short-term memory. So, I would always be cramming to try to learn my songs and not and praying that I don’t mess up the words.

RATED R&B: What’s one thing you learned about yourself by working with Pharrell?

MARK HOOD: The biggest piece of advice he gave me was to not doubt myself. It was eye-opening because I never really realized that I doubt myself as much as I do until he pointed it out. He kind of went into Uncle Pharrell mode, like, he almost started yelling at me [laughs]. He was like, “Mark! Is this the end of this doubt because if you start doubting yourself then I’m going to doubt you and you might have to go home.” I wasn’t really realizing the things I was saying and he just picks up on everything. He’s such an amazing, humble, spiritual person. He just picks up on everything and kind of read you without many words.

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RATED R&B: When you look back at your time on the show, is there anything that you would’ve done differently during the competition?

MARK HOOD: No, because I feel like I did what God wanted me to do. If I had to change anything, maybe it would be some song choices. Other than that, I’m happy with what I did with my performances. I gave my heart.

RATED R&B: Is there new music on the way?

MARK HOOD: Absolutely! I’m excited about my EP that’s coming out this year. Pharrell and I have been talking and he has a vision for what my music should sound like. I’m excited about working on my EP and working with him.

RATED R&B: What do you want people to take away from your music, your brand?

MARK HOOD: I want people to feel good. It’s enough negative energy around in general. I just want people to feel good and feel positive. I really want to inspire people.

RATED R&B: Is there anything else coming up for you?

MARK HOOD: In addition to new music, we have some theater opportunities coming, TV opportunities coming, so it’s a lot of things in the works.

Follow Mark Hood on Twitter @MarkJPHood.

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

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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.

Interview: Tiara Thomas Talks ‘FWMM’ EP and Working with H.E.R.

Around this time five years ago, Tiara Thomas could be heard on the hook of Wale’s single “Bad.” The melodic track, which peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, would become Thomas’ stepping stone into the mainstream world. Although her past success with “Bad” is part of her foundation, it doesn’t necessarily define who she is as an artist today.

Thomas has spent the last few years building up her fan base with her own music. Last year, she released an acoustic-driven EP titled Don’t Mention My Name and went on an international tour with rising star H.E.R. She followed-up last month with another EP called FWMM (Fucking With My Mind).

Rated R&B caught up with Thomas to chat about her FWMM, working with H.E.R. and her headlining tour.

Check out our interview with Tiara Thomas below.

What were you thinking about when you created FWMM?

I live in my own head a lot. Sometimes I feel like — not in a crazy bitch way — but it’s like the world in my head is the reality and the outside is not reality. So I just talked about a lot of things on this project like relationships, sex, self-discovery and my journey… it’s a collection of these things that are fucking with my mind.

Do you think by being in your own mind, you kind of get in your own way sometimes?

I definitely think so but in my music I’m not necessarily giving you the solution. Sometimes I’m just telling you the story, like, “Yo, this is how I feel and this is what happened.” Everybody gets in their own mind and their own way. Sometimes all you got is your own head, your own boss, you know? Sometimes I love it, even if it’s bad. I don’t know. I can’t explain that. I guess it’s like, for instance, I’ve been in bad relationships before — like, bad ass relationships — and when I got out of them, it hurt really bad but I always know I’m going to be okay. That’s something that I learned about my life. Some people would be like, “I’m going to hang out with my girls,” “I’m going to go party” or “I’m going to go fuck some random person” but I’d rather almost think about it for a little bit. It’s inspiring to me. That sounds bad but it’s true [laughs].

Your FWMM EP and your Don’t Mention My Name EP have a similar cover art. How are these projects connected?

Well, I think these projects go together content wise. It’s all like a statement. On Don’t Mention My Name, I’m talking about people I used to date or fuck around with. Fucking With My Mind is another statement. Maybe the next project cover art may be the front of my face, using the same artist, and another statement. I kind of like that theme. I like that image. I thought it was dope.

You have a few EPs under your belt now. When will you be ready for an album?

I really want to get the best of out an album. I feel the only way to do that, I have to almost build my fan base back up. I don’t want to hurry and drop an album when I don’t feel like it could be at its full potential. I’d rather keep building up my base, keep bringing awareness to the Tiara Thomas brand. I’m going to put out one more EP and hopefully an album after that.

Speaking of building up your fan base, one way you’ve been doing that is through touring. You just wrapped up your tour with H.E.R. What was that experience like?

It was so fun! It was the first time I left the country. Up until a month ago, I never left the country (besides Canada). That shit was tight. I remember the first night, I was in bed in my hotel in Manchester and I was just thinking like, “Damn I’m so far away from home.” I feel blessed to have been able to go out there with her. A lot of the shows were sold out and also I felt like I’ve been getting a lot better as a performer. I like being on the road. I’m trying to be on the road for the rest of the year.

retired my pants after wearing them for 2 weeks, we had a good run

A post shared by Tiara Thomas♕ (@tiara_thomas) on

You apparently had to retire an outfit on tour after two weeks?

Yes, it was longer than two weeks. I bought these pants at Urban Outfitters and, oh my gosh, they’re so fly. I wore them on the last day of tour. They were comfortable. I like to be comfy and I was like, “I’m not taking these pants off. People spend money on clothes, wear them once and don’t wear them no more.” I wore the pants for about three and a half weeks. I literally took them off to wash them a few times.I ended up going home to Indianapolis after tour and I wore the pants the whole time I was at home. My mom and dad were like, “Yo take those pants off.” I wore them to church when I was at home. I wore them to my grandma’s house. I wore them for my New Year’s show with H.E.R. I wore them for a while. Yeah, so they’re retired.

Speaking of H.E.R., you co-wrote “Avenue” on her project. What was that process like working on that song?

H.E.R. is like my little sis. I’ve known her for literally years. I’ve always had a working relationship with her. I have a couple songs with her. When she’s in LA and needs help in the studio, she’s like, “Yo T.” I just went to the studio that day — I remember I was in an extremely bad mood. Mother Nature got me that day. I was just pissed. I didn’t want to go in the studio, not because I didn’t want to work with her, but because I was just cranky as fuck. I went in there and they were playing a beat. I was just like, “Just turned down your avenue. I had to but I’m mad at you. You always say I gotta attitude.” She was like, “That’s tight.” I was like, “Go lay that down.” Sometimes I will get lucky in the studio and some things will come right to me immediately. That’s what happened with “Avenue.” I just started freestyling the song off the top of my head and then write the rest of it obviously. The first initial idea was that melody and those words and we just built based off of that. I think that was one of the last songs to make it to her Vol. 2 EP.

Are you writing for any other artists?

Sometimes I have songs that I be wanting to use but I realize that they don’t necessarily fit my sound so I’ll try to get it off on somebody else but I want to. I’d like to. I would honestly like to write some pop songs because that’s where the money at. I had a song that I was really excited about for Rihanna’s last album. It almost made it onto her album. I was so close but I’d definitely like to get one with Rihanna because I know what type of music she likes.

With your headlining tour getting ready to start. What’s one song you’re most excited about performing?

I think from my new project “Retro 1” because that seems to be a song that a lot of people like and it’s real vibey on stage. I’m excited to do some older stuff too because I know when people discover my EP they’re going to be able to go back and look at other projects too. I got some good tunes on my EP Up in Smoke. There’s a song called “Mary Jane” that’s really fun. “Bad” is always a fun song to do.

Anything from your Dear Sallie Mae EP?

I don’t know. We’ll see. Dear Sallie Mae is probably my least favorite project that I put out because I was with Interscope and I kind of — you know, label things. You can definitely tell the difference between the music I made when I was signed to a label and the music from when I was not signed to a label. Let that speak for itself.

Follow Tiara Thomas on Instagram at @Tiara_Thomas

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