Exclusive: Melanie Fiona on Her New Album ‘Next Train’ and Adapting to the Streaming World

Around this time in 2012, Melanie Fiona was promoting the release of her sophomore album, The MF Life. The album would become well-received by fans and critics, debuting at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and earning Fiona a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Wrong Side of a Love Song.”

It’s been six years since the Toronto native dropped The MF Life. Although the album is a timeless body of work, fans are ready to hear new material; Fiona is too. “I’m not going to let another year go by without the album coming out,” she tells Rated R&B. “I’m really anxious to get this music out.”

Fiona has been crafting her third album (originally titled Awake) for a few years now. In 2015, she dropped two tracks — the Caribbean flavored song “Bite the Bullet” and the socially conscious track “I Tried.” As the creative direction evolved, Fiona renamed the album to Next Train. “I feel like Awake has just become my lifestyle and not my album anymore,” she explains. “I didn’t want to kind of limit it to just one moment in time.”

Instead of focusing on a specific period of her life, which she doesn’t knock other artists who do it, she prefers to make her project more evergreen. “I’m still performing music from my 2012 album and my 2009 album,” she says. “I feel like it’s always about a classic, timeless conversation.”

Fiona’s current single “Remember U” hits home for anyone who has been in a relationship. The reggae-influenced song is about an ex-lover who tries to come back in someone’s life after doing them wrong the first time.

“I can’t, fall back in love again / You broke this simple heart / That used to beat for you my friend / And I say that you’ve got some nerve just to come back and say that you’re sorry,” she sings on the raw track.

Rated R&B caught up with Fiona about Next Train, how she is adapting to the streaming world, who she salutes for Women’s History Month and more.

Photo credit: Zigga Zagga Studio

Why did you change your album title from Awake to Next Train?

When I was putting the finishing touches on the album and started deciding what songs I wanted to put on the album, one of the last songs I recorded was a song called “Next Train.” I looked at all the songs I put on this album and I was like, “It doesn’t feel like ‘Awake’ anymore because now I feel woke [laughs].” “Next Train” was the last song I recorded for the album and that came with so much strength and so much power. It felt like a collection of songs that became about reflecting on where I’ve been to move forward to be where I am now. The songs are very truthful and it just felt right. Train…I think of steel, moving, progress and destination. It’s a journey and that just felt more present to who I am now.

You released a couple of songs in 2015, “Bite the Bullet” and “I Tried.” Did they make the album?

“Bite the Bullet” is on the album. “I Tried” is not on the album but it is out and people still love it and listen to it. I just felt like there were just so many other records that I have evolved from.

What was it like working with Top Dawg Entertainment artist SIR on your album?

Listen, that’s my brother. When I started working with Andre Harris, SIR was in the room of his house. He was just this quiet dude sitting on the couch. I sat down and we started rapping and we wrote “I Tried” right there on the very first night we met. I just remember feeling that I had found a new musical counterpart. This was before he had released his new album. I just have admired his work and his talent since 2013. He’s someone very special and just naturally gifted. He really helped bring out a different side of me in the writing process.

Who else did you work with on the album?

The features are still to be determined. On the album, I have worked with Sebastian Cole, Carmen Reese, Lil Eddie, Jerry Wonda, Jack Splash, Andrea Martin, etc.

Do you have a release date yet?

I don’t but I’m going to say this year, for sure. I’m really excited to reveal more elements of the album before it comes out.

Speaking of getting music out, how do you feel about Best Buy’s plans to stop selling CDs in its stores?

It’s interesting because historically a lot of my album sales are physical copies. I think that I attribute that to the demographics of people who do go out to buy CDs and who do buy tickets, which I’m so fortunate now. I think what’s happening is that quickly, since 2012 to now, there has been a huge shift in how people consume music. It’s very digital. I think that is something that will be missed — having a physical copy and signing CDs…having the artwork and people having something tangible. It’s something really special but time has changed.

Streaming has clearly taken over. Do you feel any pressure now to focus on streaming rather than physical sales?

It’s definitely become something that’s at the forefront of my mind for sure, especially in this time now and getting ready to release new music — seeing how instant your data is, your reach is and how instant the plays are. It’s crazy. I feel like there’s so much pressure. Everyone’s so judgmental based on this statical data. I try not to get caught up in that. I was even shocked to see how many people actually follow me on Spotify with no music out in six years. I’m looking forward to playing in this landscape. There’s an upside to it, you know? You can just upload it right away and get the music to your fans immediately. I love that instant correspondence with my fans. I don’t want this shit to stress me out, ever. I love this too much and I don’t ever want it to become a hindrance because things are changing.

“It Kills Me” has over 25 million views on YouTube…

They’re watching. They’re there. People have been discovering my music for so long and that’s the beautiful part about it. There was a time when you had to rely on the radio to hear a song. If your song came out in 2009, it lived and died by 2011. Now with streaming people can go back and find your whole catalog of music. I think there are so many songs people haven’t discovered because they were only focused on what radio exposed them to. [Streaming] gives all my fans and new fans the exposure to all the B side records because those are the joints. For me, the ones that never see radio are the ones I’m excited to perform and have people discover.

What are your top three non-singles to perform?

I don’t think it was a huge single but “A-yo” is one of my favorite records to perform off The Bridge. I love that record so much. “This Time” was a single but I wouldn’t put it up there with “It Kills Me” or  “4AM.” And then there’s a song called “What Am I To Do” and “Rock Paper Scissors” off The MF Life that are so fun to perform because those are fan faves.

Photo credit: Zigga Zagga Studio

Toronto is bringing a new wave of R&B acts like PARTYNEXTDOOR, Daniel Caesar, and Dvsn. How does it feel to see a new generation of Canadian singers making a mark in the U.S. market?

I am so proud because I know how it was when I was doing it and what that struggle was like; that struggle is not as heavy anymore. All of those people in which I know personally still live in Toronto, which is beautiful because that means that the world is coming to them and they don’t have to leave to go to the world anymore. Shout out to Drake, really, who changed the game because nobody was checking for us hard until he came along. That’s a longtime friend of mine and he broke the stigma.

How has motherhood changed you?

It’s kept me so busy [laughs] because now I have to think about what time I need to be back to put the baby to sleep — no longtime late night studio sessions. It’s a balancing act but it has enlightened and enriched my life so much more than I could’ve ever imagined. It just makes me feel complete and I want to continue to create so he can be inspired by that.

What else is on your mind right now?

I can talk about so many things [laughs]. I just think that the future is bright. Something that I’m really looking forward to is using my voice this year — not just musically — but socially, emotionally and consciously to inspire people on many levels. I’m really living the motto these days: “I have to live to give.” I just feel like we’re living in a world right now where people can be so consumed with self that they forget that you have a responsibility when you have a platform. It can’t just all be self-serving and so that’s kind of my motto and my approach to 2018… to live to give and to create and aspire to inspire.

With it being Women’s History Month, who is a woman who inspires you?

Lauryn Hill. I just identify with the lyrical content, the approach, the awareness, the level of artistry that she created by breaking boundaries and being like “No, I can do all this. I can rap, I can act [and] I can sing.” She was everything. Shout out to Lauryn Hill to leaving a legacy from one album that we’re still celebrating. It’s never been matched. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill educated a lot of people on what music is supposed to feel like.

I also got to give it to Whitney [Houston]. I was four years old singing love songs that I had no idea what they meant. She was singing about very adult content but I was moved to sing at the top of my lungs with that voice from a young age. It taught me the importance of vocal ability, emotion, and storytelling. She didn’t write many of her records but she could tell that story. That tone and that voice was a great teacher for me as a child because I identified with the emotional aspect of music.

Connect with Melanie Fiona
Instagram: @MelanieFiona
Twitter: @MelanieFiona

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

How Pleasure P Found Strength Through Pain

It’s nearly impossible to talk about Pretty Ricky without mentioning Pleasure P. As the only vocalist, he naturally stood out with his alluring voice that brought a grown and sexy feel to the provocative R&B/hip-hop group’s sound. The Miami-based group made an impressive debut in 2005, scoring two Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 — “Grind on Me” (No. 7) and “Your Body” (No. 12) — from their gold-selling debut album, Bluestars.

The group saw even more success with their sophomore album, Late Night Special, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2007. The LP featured their top 20 hit “On the Hotline” (No. 12), which was certified platinum just five months after its release. The mid-tempo track, which samples The Isley Brothers’ hit “Between the Sheets,” also peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Ringtones chart — yes, back when people actually purchased ringtones for their phones. Whew, what a time!

Despite all the success Pretty Ricky was having at the time, there were issues behind the scenes, which resulted in Pleasure P exiting the group. In a later interview with VladTV, he explained he left the group because Joseph “Blue” Smith, head of Bluestar Entertainment, allegedly stole millions of dollars from the group. “He was controlling,” Pleasure P said in a 2015 interview. “He stole everybody’s money including his own son’s money. And I just wasn’t happy there.”

Pleasure P’s abrupt exit was certainly a gamble at the time but it ended up working out his favor — well, sort of. His debut album The Introduction of Marcus Cooper (2009) debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It earned him three Grammy nominations, including Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (“Under”) and Best R&B Song (“Under”).

Pleasure P’s winning train began to derail in late 2009 when he was hit with child molestation allegations, which he tells Rated R&B are “one-hundred percent false.” He adds,“The reason why I haven’t released an album since 2009 [is because of a] child molestation rumor put out by some people who I know who was just jealous of me because I was number one. I lost everything.”

In 2012, he attempted to rebrand by using his birth name as his stage name (Marcus Cooper) and put his past behind him. He signed with Swagga Entertainment/eOne Music where he released — what was supposed to be —  a comeback single called “I Love Girls” featuring Tyga, who was in his prime with hits like “Rack City” and “Faded.” The two met while on tour. “We had a cool relationship,” Pleasure P says. “He was in the “Boyfriend #2” video when he wasn’t shit, you know what I’m saying?”

Pleasure P adds, “[Tyga] told me to put out the record, so I told my label to put out the record since he was on board. My record label put out the record and serviced it to radio. They spent some money on radio. It’s time to do the video, Tyga says he can’t do the video.” Pleasure P says Tyga’s excuse for not being able to do the video was because he had just “did a song with Chris [Brown].” However, he believes it was another reason why Tyga backed out. “It was really because of the rumors,” he speculates. “I understand why, but I don’t at the same time because if somebody tells you something about somebody and you don’t talk to them personally and they’re supposed to be your friend, I look at that totally different. He put me in a fucked up situation with my label and the album never came out.”

Over the years, Pleasure P has released one-off singles and a mixtape — but nothing more than that. Now, he is ready to make an even stronger comeback. In March, he released “‘You Changed” as the lead single from his upcoming album that is slated to drop later this year.

In our interview with Pleasure P, the singer opens up about his trials and tribulations, his upcoming album, reuniting with Pretty Ricky and more.

What’s the story behind your new single “You Changed”?

Tank and J. Valentine flew to Miami to see me because I recently did a show with Tank and I was like, “We gotta get back in [the studio]” because Tank is responsible for “Under” and “Gotta Have You” from The Introduction of Marcus Cooper album. He flies in and he listens to every record. I didn’t play him “You Changed” first. I played the songs I thought would be the single. When he heard “You Changed,” he was like, “That’s the one and I’m gonna tell you why.” The reason why he said that is because it’s very emotional and it’s something that I went through personally. I thought about it. I was like, “Anybody can make a typical bedroom song but this song is very personal because this is stuff I actually went through.”

What happened in your personal life that inspired the song?

When I was in a relationship, I was on the giving end and she was on the receiving end. It was just a one-sided relationship. After a while, it was like — I had to get the fuck out this relationship because this person isn’t going to change based on how she was raised.

Do you have a title for your new album?

Yes, it’s called Pain.

Are you still in pain from the past?

I’m restored now. This is just shit I’m getting out. I think I’ll be fully restored when I’m back to where I should be in terms of the R&B world. It was taken away from me on some fuck-shit because people were jealous of me because I was winning at the time and they weren’t winning. I feel like I deserve my spot because I’ve always delivered good music and to this day what am I doing? You’ve heard “You Changed.” I’m giving them fucking good music. I don’t sound like anybody. Ain’t nobody going to mistake me for sounding like anybody. [Some people may say], “Oh he kinda whiny. He this, he that.” That’s my style. That’s what took me to the Grammys. I don’t got to be a churchy singer and do all these runs. I didn’t grow up in the church. I express myself the way I know how.

With everything you’ve experienced in the past, do you find it hard to open up or allow people to get close to you?

No, I don’t because I actually got a sixth sense for the bullshit. Once I see the ways of a person, I can tell if they’re good or bad. I rather have a person around me that I know what they’re trying to do versus a person I don’t know what they’re trying to do. If I know you’re a thief, I know not to leave my money around you. Everybody has their ways, it’s just balancing your life out with knowing how to deal with each individual.

It’s been nine years since your debut album, do you feel any pressure to live up to the success of it?

If you look at nine years ago and what I’ve been through, of course, I don’t feel any pressure because I’m so much better. I’m wiser. I sing better. I hear music better.

 

Are there any collabs on the album?

The only feature I have on the album as of now is Flo Rida. That’s like my best friend in the whole wide world. The reason why I don’t rely on features too tough is because of the Tyga situation and another artist who did the same thing to me — didn’t shoot the video with the second label. When you look at the Introduction to Marcus Cooper album, the only person featured is Yung Joc. I know he’s a good performer, rapper and a good guy. I’ve been to his house he’s been to my house. He’s not going to stand me up for some video or some Hollywood shit.

A Pretty Ricky reunion album has been teased for a few years but we haven’t heard many details surrounding it. What’s the status of that project?

The Pretty Ricky album is done. We haven’t put it out yet because we’re doing a “Scream Reunion Tour” for everybody who was on the “Scream Tour.” We’re going to do it in July. We’re going to put the final Pretty Ricky album out around the tour.

What was your experience working on that project with the other guys from Pretty Ricky?

We’re all grown now and we put a lot of personal shit to the side. Rico Love is executive producing it. I would do my part and call whoever in to do their part. It’s just kind of been like that. Spectacular is in LA now and he has a social media marketing company that monetizes Facebook and different things like that. With him being busy with his business and I’m busy doing my album and working on other people’s shit and building my new label, it’s kind of hard for all of us to be in the same room together.

Who are some newer artists you’re checking out or surprised you’re listening to?

I be in the studio so much that I don’t really realize what’s going on [Laughs]. I listen to Kodak Black, Migos, Khalid and 6LACK. Tank was putting me on H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar.

Follow Pleasure P on Instagram @PleasureP

Exclusive: Justine Skye Sheds Lights on ‘Ultraviolet’

Justine Skye has spent the last few years developing her sound and is now ready to take over. In January, the Brooklyn native finally released her long-awaited debut album, Ultraviolet. The album follows Skye’s three EPs Everyday Living (2013), Emotionally Unavailable (2015) and 8 Ounces (2016).

The process of creating Ultraviolet wasn’t that smooth. Skye ran into some creative roadblocks, which resulted in her completely scrapping the project and going back to the drawing board. “I wanted to make sure it was perfect,” she explains to Rated R&B. “I wanted to make sure it was true to who I am and that I could tell the story.”

The album includes production by Hit-Boy, Austin Powerz, Frank Dukes, Fred Ball and Jeff Shum; guest features include Jeremih (“Back for More”) and Wizkid (“U Don’t Know”).

Despite all the pressure that comes with an artist releasing his or her first album, Skye tries not to let it get the best of her.

“It’s not about all of the opinions and what everyone else is thinking, saying, telling me what I should do,” she says. “It’s really about how I feel and what I’m happy with. It’s really not about how many records you sell. It’s about how many people you reach and how many people actually feeling what you’re saying.”

Rated R&B caught up with Skye at her Ultraviolet Tour stop in Washington, D.C. In our interview, she talks about her debut album Ultraviolet, her evolution as an artist, her role in the upcoming film Green Dolphin and living stress-free. She even reveals a dish that has her “Back for More” and something “U Don’t Know” about her.

Watch the full interview below.

Exclusive: Trevor Jackson on New Album ‘Rough Drafts Pt. 1’ and Role in Film ‘Superfly’

Trevor Jackson is an open book. The entertainer just released his new album Rough Drafts Pt. 1 via Born Art/EMPIRE. The 15-track project, which Jackson wrote and recorded in his living room, is a raw look at his process of becoming a better person both professionally and personally.

Rough Drafts represents the beauty in imperfection,” Jackson explains to Rated R&B. “I feel like this day in age so many people want to be something they’re not or be something they’re not ready to be yet.”

The 21-year-old realizes all his past mistakes were necessary in his growth. “I feel like every step is essential to becoming who you’re supposed to be in this world,” he shares. “I’ve embraced that and realized all the times I made mistakes or that I’ve made wrong turns or I’ve been confused, those have always been necessary things in order to get to a better version of me.”

On top of his music, Jackson is also making major moves in film and television. The Indianapolis native currently stars in Freeform’s hit sitcom Grown-ish, a spinoff of Black-ish, which was picked up for a second season just four days its premiere. This summer he will star in the remake of Superfly as Youngblood Priest, directed by Director X.

Rated R&B caught up with Jackson at his tour stop in Washington, D.C. In our interview, he dishes on Rough Drafts, his role in the upcoming film Superfly, touring with his colleague Justine Skye and more. Watch the interview above.

Connect with Trevor Jackson
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/trevorjackson5
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/TrevorJackson5
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/OfficialTrevorJackson
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/trevorjackson5

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