Interview: Adrian Marcel Talks Debut Album ‘GMFU’ + Wants R&B Artists to Step Outside Box

Trust the process.

Oakland, Calif. native Adrian Marcel — whose mentor is R&B legend Raphael Saadiq — made a splash in 2013 with his mixtape, 7 Days of Weak. In 2014, he released his debut single “2AM” featuring rapper Sage the Gemini on Republic Records. The club-friendly track was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in October 2015. At the time, Marcel was promoting his debut album, GMFU (Got Me Fucked Up) with intention to release it at the top of 2016. However, things didn’t go as planned.

Following his departure from Republic, Marcel finally released his oft-delayed debut album in April. The album is loaded with 16 tracks including “Mobbin,” which features Too $hort, Lil Boosie and M-City Jr.

In an interview with Rated R&B, Marcel discusses the evolution of his debut album, the need for R&B artists to step outside of the box and more.

Check out Adrian Marcel’s interview below.

RATED R&B: You recently tweeted, “Don’t call yourself a singer or real R&B if all your songs are in the exact same key and tone. I lose respect almost instantly!” Do you feel like R&B artists generally put themselves in a box?

Adrian Marcel: I think R&B artists put themselves in a box. I think we tend to kind of feel like we have to be something else or we have to be the trend. For me, I’m kind of jumping out of that. I feel like there was a moment when I kind of got drifted that way but with this new project, GMFU, it’s me saying “Got myself F-d up” because the only way I can get distracted is by me. I have to allow that to happen and I think that’s what’s going on. So, I’m just focused in on the real fundamentals of R&B and soul music.

RATED R&B: Your debut album GMFU is out now. What was the process like for you creating that project?

Fun. Extremely fun. It was effortless — not to say it wasn’t hard work. It was a lot of hard work that went into it. It was just the people I wanted to work with, the people that wanted to work with me. It was a stress-free environment. It didn’t take a lot of effort and we when we get like that, that’s when we give the most effort.

RATED R&B: Although you describe the process as effortless, were there any challenging moments or obstacles you faced while creating the album?

Absolutely. Of course, when you’re dealing with other entities and other creatives, there’s always that time when we’re not on the same page or we aren’t kind of agreeing on this or the timing of this. It was things like that — again, doing this independently, there is no big budget. There is no major label or major machine that is doing that part of the work. There were a lot of conversations with producers and even other writers that we teamed up with. This is people’s lives. This is how they make a living. This is what they do. It was like, “Hey. I’m jumping out on a wing here. It’s something different. It’s not going to be like anything that’s out right now. This is what I see. This is the vision of how I think it will go and if you believe in that, let’s rock.” The people that are on this project are those people were like, “Yeah we believe.” So we had ups and downs on trying to figure things out but it all worked out how it was supposed to .

RATED R&B: You announced the title of your debut album a few years ago when you were signed to Republic Records. However, it ultimately got released this year. Did you feel any pressure about releasing the album years after it was announced?

To be honest, before we stepped into the label doors we knew that we wanted our first real project to be Got Me Fucked Up (laughs). It was just something that we knew we wanted to do. We kind of always played an underdog role in my opinion — from the beginning. The way we went about things was very underground. I guess the direction and point of it always changed. I think now GMFU has a real purpose that made sense. It was almost to me like — and I’m not at all comparing it to Confessions — but what that album at the time stood for for Usher and the timing of what was going on in Usher’s life and what he came from before….and for me, that’s what it was. It was like, nah this is so perfect because now it’s not a broad statement. Now, this is very personal.

RATED R&B: How did the creative concept change over time?

Honestly, I think the concept kind of change a little bit. I think for the better. I think that at the time, listening to so many other voices and so many entities that we’re the important part of this creative process. I think we were headed in another direction but now it just came full circle in what we were talking about. We made it more about self rather than the statement that it was.The statement is a little aggressive and for me it’s more self-aware.

RATED R&B: Out of the 16 songs on the album, which is the most personal to you?

“Eastside Story” because it was only two people who had anything to do with it — me and Jan Hancock. We produced it. We wrote it. Arranged it. Recorded it. It was the first record that we recorded in the process of doing this album. We had records already that were kind of sitting on but this was the first one we did for the direction of Got Me F-d Up. It was like, OK, “I want to be as real as possible. I want to be as raw as possible.” There’s a reason for every line and there’s a point to every line. I just put my truth in there that right now coming off of this label at this, we are happy — this is a good step — but it’s a scary step. You’re talking about being independent. To me it was the most personal song and that’s why it went last because I wanted it to be the last thought.

RATED R&B: How do you keep up with the world’s short attention span?

I’m always recording. I’m always working on new stuff. You’re absolutely right. Today, music just goes in and out. I feel like it has something to do with the music as well. Music should sustain itself. If it’s real, if it’s honest, if it’s relatable, if it’s universal, if it’s easy to understand — whatever the points of it that it has to be — music will sustain itself. People are still listening to Marvin Gaye. People are still listening to Stevie Wonder. People are still listening to Maxwell. People are still listening to their older hits. They’re timeless records. The focus for us was to make timeless records that we can continue to listen to — that I can continue to listen to. Just as I get bored with something else, I get bored with my own stuff even faster.

Stream GMFU on Spotify below.

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.

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.

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