Exclusive: A&R Eddie Fourcell Talks Early Beginnings at Def Jam, Mary J. Blige’s New Album ‘Strength Of A Woman’

The success of a single or an album takes teamwork. One of the most overlooked members of the team is the artist and repertoire (A&R), who is responsible for building the team of songwriters, producers and artists to create magic. Eddie Fourcell, Mary J. Blige’s A&R, has seen success with Blige’s chart-topping single “Thick of It” and her Kanye West-assisted single “Love Yourself,” which is climbing the radio charts. Both records are lifted from her upcoming album, Strength of a Woman, due April 28.

Working with an artist like Blige, whose music career expands over two decades, makes Fourcell feel “super elated” about her recent achievements. “The fact that people are now witnessing how dope she is still is amazing to me,” he tells Rated R&B in an exclusive interview. “It makes you feel good that all the work you put in is finally being appreciated.”

Before landing his position as Blige’s full-time A&R, Fourcell had to pay his dues. Born and raised in New York City, Fourcell vividly remembers his ear sprouting for music early in his childhood. “When kids were going outside and playing games, I was coming in to watch videos,” he recalls. “I was addicted to BET’s Video Soul and The Box. I was driving my mother crazy because I would have to call in to request songs. I was doing that shit all day.”

Fourcell remembers requesting songs from artists like Notorious B.I.G, and Junior Mafia to Aaliyah and R. Kelly, who all emerged from the 90s, an era Fourcell is proud to call “the best decade in music.”

Fourcell’s obsession with the climate of music in the 90s helped him realize his career aspirations. “As soon as the 90s hit, I knew all I wanted to do was be involved in music – especially from the creative standpoint,” he says.

Not only was he passionate about the creative aspect of music, he also was interested in the business side. He admired music moguls like Puff Daddy and Jermaine Dupri, who were both pushing hip-hop culture to the next level.

While his life wasn’t engulfed in the luxury existence of his favorite music tycoons, he remembers, “just looking at it from a perspective of loving the music and the lifestyle and being from New York City.”

After stepping inside the Def Jam Recordings office in New York, and seeing his favorite artists’ lifestyle, Fourcell quickly realized his calling — the music industry. “It changed everything,” he reveals. “I’m not doing anything else for the rest of my life. It has to be this.”

From there, at the age of 17, Fourcell started his intern gig at Def Jam during the era when Roc-A-Fella Records and Murder Inc Records dominated musical landscape.

While at Def Jam, Fourcell’s philosophy on music from his upbringing and working in the label’s office influenced his feelings on what good music was supposed to sound like. “I feel like coming from where I came from helped perfect my ear,” he says. “Back in the day, I was always in the middle of talented people who just loved music the same way I did. So every time I was around artists and songwriters, it helped level my ear up.”

Fourcell also credits his association with Roc Nation’s Senior Vice President Lenny Santiago who he had a chance to work closely with on crafting records for Rihanna’s early projects, along with other notable accomplishments. “I was able to help out with delivering lyrics, and facilitating between mastering and mixing on projects for Ghostface Killah, Fabolous and Ne-Yo,” says Fourcell.

After graduating from SUNY Fredonia, Fourcell landed an internship at Mary J. Blige’s record label Matriarch Entertainment.

His internship eventually evolved into an A&R position. His first project he worked on was Blige’s 2011 album, My Life II: The Journey Continues (Act 1).

Instead of overseeing the entire recording process of the album, Fourcell acted as an apprentice where he learned the ins and outs of making an album for a major artist. Although his role wasn’t as prominent as it is now, he was still able to secure a placement with platinum-selling producer Harmony Samuels on the “Irreversible,” which is featured on the deluxe edition of the album.

Fourcell’s hands-on experience with My Life II allowed him “to see what the responsibility of it [full-time A&R] would be like.”

Following My Life II, Fourcell became more involved while working on Blige’s full-length soundtrack to the 2014 film,Think Like A Man Too. “It was the first time I put a writing camp together,” he says. “To have done that for her on that project was dope because we came out with three records that made the album.”

From Blige’s 2014 release The London Sessions to her forthcoming album, Strength Of A Woman, Fourcell has become the “Be Without You” singer’s right-hand man. “It’s all just me and her now,” he states . It’s just me telling her to take a chance to work with [different people] and her just trusting me.”

Before Blige’s divorce news hit tabloids, her Strength of a Woman was already in production, according to Fourcell. Blige’s new album was birthed after The London Sessions was unable to connect with her fans unlike her previous material. Yet Fourcell applauds Blige’s evolution as an artist. “[The London Sessions] is still urban, and more advanced which is how we look at Mary,” says Fourcell. “She’s not an old artist that’s ready to give up and retire. She needs to be involved with the biggest and best people. It just sucks that people didn’t accept it. It’s fine and cool … no one is down and out about it.”

Even though her UK based project underperformed, Fourcell sees it as a win for himself. “I would not be A&R that I am right now if I never did that album,” he says. “That album completely changed how I hear everything. Going to London advanced my ear like no one will ever know.”

As the recording process for Strength Of A Woman got on its way, Fourcell and Blige relocated from the East Coast to Los Angeles. Fourcell recalls hearing singer-songwriter Prince Charlez’ name in conversations with industry friends.

Through a mutual friend, Fourcell consequently went hiking at Runyon Canyon in L.A. with Charlez. From there, their musicianship blossomed to the point of Fourcell bringing him to the studio while Blige was working on Sam Romans’ “Overthinking” track.

“I snuck [Prince Charlez] in because they wasn’t trying to hear no new artist or writer yet,” he reveals. “I had him go in and do a session with a producer by the name of XSDTRK (Soundtrack) and they did this record called ‘Love The Way’ that was amazing. [Blige] lost her mind. It was the first song we recorded for the project and it kind of started from there.”

In an interview with Arbiters of A&R in June 2016, Fourcell shared possible release dates for the new album. “The album is expected to drop in either August or September,” he told the podcast hosts.

Not too long after, news broke about Blige filing a divorce from her husband. With half of the album completed, Fourcell felt it became “very necessary to do more sessions,” due to the energy changing. “It’s therapy for her,” he explains . “I knew who and what needed to happen from then on. Now we need you to work more with Jazmine Sullivan. I need Prince Charlez more than ever right now because I knew what was going to bring the best out of her.”

With August or September releases out of the question, Fourcell tweeted in late December, “Might be safe to say the album is officially done tho.” He remembers being in New York and being on a time crunch to deliver the album to Capitol Records due to a different release date. “We finished this one song at Platinum Sounds that [Blige] did with Jazmine Sullivan,” he recalls. “That was the last song that they told me I had to deliver for the album to be complete. At that point, I went through the tracklisting with Mary and we felt comfortable with where we were at with the sequencing to start mixing process but that was a lie. The album wasn’t done.”

Fourcell admits he talked “very prematurely” when it came to the all release information. However, he says there was always an initial plan but things changed. “In the middle of the situation she [Blige] got a divorce, so it derailed everything. It put everything on pause.” he says. “From the song we wanted to go with to the time we wanted to go with … to everything.”

Although the album’s release date changed and the sessions increased, it didn’t stop Fourcell and Blige from remaining a team. “Everything that you see was a combination of her wanting to go and do it or me bringing it to the table and making sure she was straight with it and loved it,” says Fourcell.

One of the most surprising tracks, when it comes to features, is “Glow Up.” The star-studded track features DJ Khaled, Quavo (from rap trio Migos) and Missy Elliott. Both Fourcell and Blige worked collectively to bring these artists together on one track.

“We knew we wanted a feature on it,” says Fourcell. “There were a couple of names we threw on the table but it was her idea to get Missy [Elliott] but it was my idea to get [DJ] Khaled and Quavo [from the Migos]. She loved it. That’s how we work. We work best when it’s a collaborative effort. It’s not her doing it on her own completely, and it’s not me just doing whatever. She has to always be involved because if she doesn’t love it or feel it then it’s not going to work. ”

Fourcell describes Blige’s song “Glow Up” as “the best example of what Mary J. Blige sounds like in 2017 on rhythmic radio – without taking her out of her element”.

Although he felt the track was risky, he also believed this song and project needed to reflect the current climate of music. “I think what makes [Blige] more relevant than a lot of other artists is that she able to capitalize off of what time we are in,” he says. “Putting Quavo from Migos on this [record] because they are so huge right now kind of speaks towards ‘oh she made a record in 2017, this is not 1997’. Yet we are able to balance it by putting Missy on it because she is somebody who is iconic and just as legendary too. Then you have [DJ] Khaled who sticks in the middle. It was all about the balance. It had to make sense.”

Fourcell goes on to call “Thank You” a “Grammy moment.” He also says “Telling the Truth,” co-written by Daniel Caesar and features Kaytranada is “dope.”

“I like for her to experiment,” he says. Mary really took a chance trusting me with bringing Kaytranada to the table. He’s very much still urban … sampling the good urban stuff but almost has like a dance feel to it. So I wanted to hear her on something like this.”

Before Fourcell even asked Kaytranada about working on Blige’s album, his people were already reaching out for a collaboration for his next project. Although Capital Records was on Fourcell about turning in her album, he took this opportunity to make magic. “Me and her were on the side like ‘Listen, if this record comes out crazy we’re keeping it for [Strength of A Woman],” he laughs. “We were quiet about it because we couldn’t tell the label we were still recording because they would have killed us. So we said it was for his project.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQM4oTXl1V8/?taken-by=anr_eddie

Fourcell’s idea worked and for a good reason too. “It was seemingly perfect,” he says. “It was honestly the last session we did for the album and my favorite session because it was when she was ready to start talking about what she was going through and how she was feeling. She connected so well with Daniel [Caesar] who is like 22 or 23 but still he was a huge fan. Then when Kaytranada pressed play, she lost her mind. Her and her sister LaTonya were in the studio and they kept singing it. So everything was perfect.”

The Kaytranada collaboration wasn’t originally slated to be on the Strength Of A Woman track listing, however, due to the response from Blige and her sister, Fourcell rearranged the order and took a record off the album to accommodate their warm reaction.

While the award season hasn’t officially kicked off, Fourcell believes Blige’s lead single “Thick Of It” should take home the prestigious Best R&B Song at next year’s Grammy Awards. “I’m not saying there isn’t another song better [on the album], but I feel [Thick Of It] is so 2017 to me,” he explains. “The song is an amazing record. In my opinion, it’s the best way she expressed herself written wise. From the way the hook is structured to how the whole process came about … it’s classic but it’s still modern.”

Once Strength Of A Woman drops, Fourcell has a final message for Blige’s true fans and even her naysayers. “It’s the perfect example of throwing it in anyone’s face that said Mary can’t make music in 2017 because she’s done and she’s over,” he says. “This album will prove that Mary J. Blige has made an album in 2017, 25 years after debut and still made an amazing record that still stands the time. We didn’t make it a dated album. It doesn’t feel like What the 411? but it feels like what she was on there . You’re going to be extremely pleased with the album.”

Aside from Blige, Fourcell continues to work with budding artists, producers and songwriters like Shawn Butler. He plans to sign artists to Blige’s Matriarch Entertainment imprint. He also plans to remain an important figure in the music industry as A&R as he develops emerging artists and songwriters in the coming year and years to come.

Antwane Folk is the editorial assistant at RatedRnB.com.

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Mary J. Blige Lands Leading Role in Horror Thriller ‘Body Cam’

Mary J. Blige plans to take Hollywood by storm in a leading role. The R&B legend will star in Body Cam, a horror thriller slated to be issued by Paramount’s Paramount Players division.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film, which stars Blige as an LAPD police officer, captures several officers being tormented by a malevolent spirit that is connected to the murder of a black youth at the hands of two white cops, all of which are caught on a body cam video that was destroyed in a cover-up. Blige, who is rattled by the nightmares, investigates the cover-up.

Directed by Malik Vitthal and produced by Matt Kaplan, Body Cam is described as a combination of films Get Out and End of Watch. The spec script was written by Richmond Riedel, and rewritten by Nicholas McCarthy and John Ridley.

Aside from preparing for her first major acting part, Blige is filming Netflix’s comic adaptation series The Umbrella Academy.

In March, Blige starred in Sherlock Gnomes as Irene Adler. She received several prestigious accolades and recognition including two Oscar nominations for her role and contribution to Dee Rees’ film adaptation of Mudbound.

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.