Interview: Eric Benét Talks Self-Titled Album, Teases Joint Project with Tamia

When Eric Benét made his introduction in 1996, his intent was to be himself. Fortunately, he was able to do so on his debut album, True to Myself.

“I remember how exciting it was to be able to record anything I wanted, the way I wanted to record it,” Benét tells Rated R&B. “No record label people came to the studio while we were writing and recording. It was just an incredible, autonomous feeling.”

Twenty years later, Benét still feels that same excitement and creative freedom for his new self-titled album.

“I remember working on this new album with the same giddy feeling I had with True to Myself,” he says. “It’s just incredible that 20 years later it’s still just as exciting. I’m still getting goosebumps when I write dope shit and I hope that feeling never goes away.”

Benét’s self-titled album has 13 infectious songs that ultimately express who he is as a seasoned artist. It includes the lead single “Sunshine,” which is now number two on urban adult contemporary radio. Benét worked with his longtime collaborator Demonté Posey to write and produced this album.

While on his promo run in New York City, Benét chats with Rated R&B over the phone about his eighth studio album (Eric Benét ). He also talks about reuniting with Tamia on his “Sunshine” remix, challenges he faced making the album and using his platform to speak about social injustice in the U.S.

Congrats on “Sunshine” peaking at no. 2 on urban AC radio. What inspired that track?

My band and I had just finished a session in the studio.  Everybody was packing. Then my guitar player, Jairus [Mozee], started playing that little riff that you hear in the opening of the song. I was like “hold up, y’all need to get your instruments because we are going to work this right here.” Everybody just kind of fell in.

The song is talking about something that anybody who’s ever been in a marriage or long-term relationship knows about. Relationships live in cycles. Sometimes you realize at some point that you’re not trying as hard as you did in the beginning. If the relationship is going to a get a second wind, then both parties need to start putting in more effort. That’s what “Sunshine” is all about.

Speaking of “Sunshine,” you teamed up with Tamia for the remix. The last time we heard you two on the same track was in 1999 on “Spend My Life With You.” What was it like reuniting with her in the studio after 17 years?

It was amazing! I’ll tell you bruh, we’re 17 years older but it don’t feel like it — especially when you vibe so well with somebody on a personal and a musical level. It’s like you never miss a beat. That’s how I felt with Tamia and I in the studio. Her voice is just so heavenly to me. When I wrote and recorded “Spend My Life With You,” I was very specific about getting Tamia. I knew that the song would be way more special as a duet. I knew there was only one person on the top of my wish list that who could nail it because Tamia has so much in her vocal arsenal. She not only conveys a vulnerability in her voice but so much strength and vocal acrobatics. She’s just so many things in one unreasonably beautiful package. It was a joy working with her again. We got excited in the studio this last time that we talked about doing an album together and we’re going to make that happen, too. So we’re really excited about that as well.

Was there any pressure to live up to the same success as “Spend My Life With You”?

I can’t really speak for her but I never really feel those kinds of pressures. Music to me is something that is so honest, vulnerable and real in the moment. When I working on “Spend My Life With You,” I wasn’t thinking about making it a hit. That was the last thing I was thinking about. I was just thinking about writing something that’s vulnerable and something that I’m emotionally feeling in this moment right now.

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OK, let’s talk about your new album. It’s self-titled. What’s the significance behind that?

Every album I do, I don’t really give it a title until I’m able to live with it for a while after it’s recorded. This album, for me when I lived with it and listened to it, was such a great representation of me musically. Not only being on my own label, but just recording in my own studio on the time frame that I wanted to do it with the [people] I wanted to work with. The whole thing underscored everything about me creatively. It just seemed very appropriate for it to be self-titled.

What was the creative process like of making this album?

A lot of that was just myself and my lifelong partner Demonté Posey. He’s kind of like my partner in crime when it comes to producing and writing songs. We really wanted to make a project that felt atypical of what was on the radio at the time but also really just paid homage to rhythm and blues. We weren’t really trying to emulate anything that was out there. I wasn’t trying to redo anything that I already done. I just really wanted this album to breathe and live and exist in its own unique identity. I think we did a really good job of making that happen.

With every project comes a challenge. Were there any obstacles you faced while creating this album?

It definitely wasn’t anything creative, it was more so scheduling. My wife and I have two little angels at home. I didn’t want to do the usual leave the house at noon and maybe come back at one or two in the morning, after spending ten or eleven hours in the studio. I didn’t want to do that this time because bed time, story time and bath time — that’s what life’s all about. I would give myself about five hours a day to work on the album and most of the time on the weekends I didn’t work. I would make sure I was home by 6 p.m. for bath time and story time and make sure they were in bed. I think that was the most challenging part. It took a little bit longer to complete this project for this reason but it was well worth it. I’m overly excited about the outcome of the album.

One song that I really love is “Insane.” It’s a sexy record, yet not overly explicit. It leaves something to the imagination.

I appreciate you liking that about the album. I think if the lyrics are too explicit and not creative, then you lose a lot of the sexual power. On “Insane,” I wanted it to feel like that late 80’s Prince ballad. My man Prince was so creative not only with the music, but if you listen to some of his lyrics they were just off the chain — creative. I wanted to really pay homage to that creativity as well with that song.

Exactly. It’s fun to be able to listen to a song a few times before you grasp what the artist is talking about because they’re lyrics are just that creative.

That’s what I love about writing lyrics. I like to go deep and be as creative with the metaphors as I can possibly be. Like you just said, the more creative you get the more opportunity other people will have for that same line to mean something completely different for them.

You’re very vocal on social media when it comes to politics and social issues. Do you think more entertainers should step up and speak on these issues?

I can’t really speak for other people because a lot of entertainers may feel as though people need to see them as an escape from all the craziness going on in the world. On the other hand, there’s so much inequality and injustice in this world. If you’re able to say something that could positively affect the world and there’s a gang of people listening to you, I kind of feel like you need to speak up. So many people have died, especially for black people, in this country to even be able to have an opinion. So, honor those sacrifices by speaking up when somebody is trying to silence somebody just because they don’t agree with who they love or want to spend the rest of their life with. There’s so many young brothers and young women out here just being murdered for absolutely no reason at all — other than the fact that they’re just black. For me, as long as I have a voice, I feel like I’m just going to use it.

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With your 50th birthday coming up (Oct. 15), do you have anything special planned?

I didn’t plan anything special [laughs]. I’ll be on the road — I think Ohio. I think I’m just going to have some laughs, dance and listen to music and hopefully be around some cool people.My wife and I are going to have to celebrate the 50th when she gets back from Malawi. She’s doing some amazing work with her nonprofit, InAPerfectWorld.org. She does so many incredible things all over the world from building schools for children in Africa and Haiti. When [she returns], we’ll do something lovely and romantic.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I just encourage people to vote. This is the most important election ever. Please, please don’t become indifferent about your voice and your opportunity to cast your vote in this election because it’s really, really important.

Get Eric Benét’s self-titled album now on iTunes. You can also stream it on Spotify

Stay in touch with Eric Benét on Twitter @EBenet or Instagram @EricBenet

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.

Tamia Returns with New Song ‘Leave It Smokin”

After a three-year hiatus, Tamia returns with a brand new single titled “Leave It Smokin’,” produced by Salaam Remi.

Backed by an erotic instrumental with hints of a tambourine, Tamia desires her romantic connection with her lover to match an intensity of an inferno with lyrics like, “I need passion like fire.” She sings, “I don’t want to play it safe / I just want to break every rule, like criminals.”

“Leave It Smokin'” is lifted from Tamia’s forthcoming album, Passion Like Fire, which is set to arrive this fall via Entertainment One/21 Entertainment Group. Speaking on her new single, Tamia says, “I co-wrote this song with my good friend, Salaam Remi. We always have fun in the studio. I’m beyond excited to continue my love of music and share the first single from my new project.”

In 2016, Eric Benét teased a joint project with Tamia after reuniting on the “Sunshine” remix. “It was a joy working with her again,” he told Rated R&B. “We got excited in the studio this last time that we talked about doing an album together and we’re going to make that happen, too. So we’re really excited about that as well.”

Listen to “Leave It Smokin'” below.

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