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.”
Might be safe to say the album is officially done tho !!!!
— Eddie (A&R Eddie) (@EdDLoVa) December 29, 2016
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.”
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.