“I’m never gonna stop until I get my props,” Jamie Foxx passionately sings on “Peep This,” the title track to his 1994 debut album.
Although he was known for his comedic work, specifically on the hit variety show In Living Color, the renaissance man’s mission was to convince the masses that he could do more than crack jokes — he could sing, too. Not to mention, he wrote every song on the album.
Unfortunately, Peep This didn’t receive the commercial recognition it rightfully deserved. The album reached No. 78 on the Billboard 200 chart. His single “Infatuation” peaked at No. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100. The underwhelming chart performance didn’t define Foxx, though.
He shifted his attention back to acting but continued to showcase his musical talent in years to come. He lent his vocals to the theme song of his sitcom The Jamie Foxx Show, which debuted in 1996 on the WB Network.
Throughout the show’s five seasons, Foxx intentionally incorporated his musical talent because he believed in the craft that he had been perfecting since childhood. In an interview with Oprah, he talked about how his grandmother envisioned his future in entertainment.
“I won a classical piano scholarship to United States International University [in San Diego],” he said. “I’d been playing piano since I was five, when my grandmother said, ‘This is how you’re going to make your money.'”
His grandmother was correct, too. One of Foxx’s career highlights is nabbing the leading role in the 2004 film Ray, where he portrayed the legendary soul musician Ray Charles. Foxx’s enthralling performance scored him an Oscar for Best Actor at the 77th Academy Awards.
Two weeks before the film’s October 2004 release, it was announced that Foxx, who appeared on Twista’s Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper “Slow Jamz” with Kanye West, had signed a deal with Clive Davis’ label J Records.
With his new deal, Foxx started working on his sophomore album, which was initially titled Southern Gentleman, before being renamed Unpredictable. He took a slightly different approach to Unpredictable compared to Peep This. This time, he recruited more producers and songwriters to help shape what would become a musical masterpiece.
He told The Associated Press that he “didn’t want to do a ‘Jamie Foxx thing'” on this album. “The Jamie Foxx thing is how you get into your own thing, you sing your own songs, you write these cushy songs and try to be safe,” he explained. “We just linked up with the hottest cats. I let them know my ideas, and they would let me know if it was cool.”
In celebration of the 15th anniversary of Unpredictable, Rated R&B spoke with a few of Foxx’s collaborators (Sean Garrett, Mike City, Mr. Collipark, RL and Harold Lilly) about their experiences crafting some of the singles, as well as some standouts.
“Unpredictable” featuring Ludacris
Written by Derrick Baker, Harold Lilly, James Scheffer and Ludacris
Produced by Harold Lilly, Jim Jonsin and Bigg D
Selecting the first single can sometimes be tricky, especially for a comeback album. Fortunately for Foxx, “Unpredictable” featuring Ludacris was the right move. The title track, co-produced by Jim Jonsin and Bigg D, was released on October 18, 2005. The sample from New Birth’s 1973 song “Wild Flower,” heard in the intro, laid the foundation for how the song would turn out.
Acclaimed songwriter Harold Lilly — who had placements with Brandy, Monica, Toni Braxton and more — remembers the first time he heard the instrumental. “I got the track from [the executive producer] Breyon Prescott. He said, ‘Harold. If you nail this, it will be the first single,'” Harold tells Rated R&B. “The intro on the track felt like one of those intros to a blaxploitation movie. When the beat dropped, it just felt like I already heard the song before. It wrote itself, to be honest, and the rest is history.”
Lilly didn’t feel any pressure when penning the song for Foxx; instead, he felt motivated. “He’s our Sammy Davis Jr. — just a full entertainer,” he describes. “Everybody knew how talented he was when it came to music. He could sing, play, produce and perform. The key was to put a record in the space where everybody can sing along.”
“Unpredictable” became a dominant force on the Billboard charts. It peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100, which secured Foxx his first top 10 hit as a lead artist. By June 2006, the single became certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
“Extravaganza” featuring Kanye West
Written by Mike City and Kanye West
Produced by Mike City
There’s a lot of history behind the Kanye West-assisted “Extravaganza.” Producer and songwriter Mike City tells Rated R&B that the piano-laced tune was played for Foxx about five years before working on the album.
“He had me on videotape singing the song, so he always remembered the song,” City recalls. “I was supposed to put an album out way back in the day, but I was just so busy working with all these different artists. It was supposed to be one of my songs.”
City vividly recounts when Foxx called him in the middle of the night asking about the song. “I was like, ‘Go ahead with that dude,'” he recalls. “So then I remember one time, he and Breyon was like, ‘Yo, we need you to come up into the house.’ I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ He’s like, ‘Just come. It’s really important.’ We got to work on this record when I went up there, and they were like, ‘We need that ‘Extravaganza.'”
It took a while for Foxx to persuade City to give him the record. “They went on for like an hour,” he says. “I wouldn’t give in. Jamie was like, ‘Man, listen. I’m going to win the Oscar. Trust me. Give me that record. I already know the record. I’m going to sing it out in public like it’s my record. You ain’t going to be able to put it out cause it’s going to be my record.'”
At first listen, “Extravaganza” sounds reminiscent of an early John Legend song — from the production to the vocal cadences. “It’s all full circle because that was my record,” says City. “It was my demo. But I did, ‘I Wish’ for Carl Thomas, and if you remember, John legend was heavily influenced by Carl Thomas.”
Though “Unpredictable” was the first single, “Extravaganza” was initially planned to be the lead track. City recalls the video shoot was set to happen in Miami. However, flights were canceled due to Hurricane Katrina.
“The video didn’t get done that weekend,” says City. “That’s the same weekend that [Kanye] said, ‘George Bush doesn’t like Black people.’ So, Jamie ended up doing a video a whole year later, but the song never had a chance to become a hit after that. Had the song come out as the [lead] single when it was supposed to, you’re looking at like a top 10 pop record.”
Written by Mr. Collipark, Prentice Sprye and Sean Garrett
Produced by Sean Garrett, The Practice Team: S. Dot and Mr. Collipark
Foxx was no stranger to love-making music. We had previously heard slow burners on Peep This, such as “Infatuation” and “Experiment.” For “Warm Bed,” Foxx slightly cranked up the tempo, bringing a little more rhythm to the bedroom escapade. Producer Mr. Collipark — who was known for his club anthems such as Ying Yang Twins “Say I Yi Yi” and “Wait (The Whisper Song)” — remembers his experience pivoting to an R&B-leaning sound.
“I just remember me just trying to get my feet wet,” Mr. Collipark tells Rated R&B. “Even when you listen to the song, you can hear the influence of the hip-hop stuff that I had done. I had wanted to work with Sean [Garrett] for a while. I basically sent him the beat and he wrote it. He was working with Jamie already.”
Interestingly enough, Mr. Collipark says that “Warm Bed” was going to be the follow-up single to “Unpredictable.” “He wanted to go with ‘Warm Bed’ as opposed to ‘DJ Play Another Love Song,” Mr. Collipark adds.
“DJ Play a Love Song” featuring Twista
Written by Jamal Jones, Jason Perry and Sean Garrett
Produced by Polow Da Don, Sean Garrett and The Practice Team: S. Dot
When songwriter/producer Sean Garrett (Usher, Ciara, 112) was tapped to work on Unpredictable, he admits that he had to put a lot of thought into “DJ Play a Love Song.” He intended to create a universal song.
“I felt like Jamie Foxx was kind of like a cultural fixture,” Garrett explains to Rated R&B. “His conversation had to be one of what goes on in the culture. ‘DJ Play a Love Song’ was a record that he could speak to the audience and not just a specific audience. The chorus was a concept that I felt like would be very appropriate in him launching his conversation to the culture.”
“DJ Play a Love Song” was selected as the second single. Although it didn’t generate the same commercial success as “Unpredictable,” it still peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart and No. 45 on the Hot 100. In December 2006, it was certified gold by the RIAA with over 500,000 singles sold.
“Three Letter Word”
Written by Earl Kugh, Earnest Smith, Harold Lilly and Michael Snoddy
Produced by No I.D, Harold Lilly and Michael Snoddy
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Foxx dubbed “Three Letter Word” as one of the album’s best songs. The stimulating tune hears him crooning about his sex addiction. “The whole thing has so much drama to it,” Foxx said. “You know when you hear a song and you can already see a video for it? It’s like that. It’s about this guy going to rehab because he’s oversexed, and he’s trying to figure out how to get over it.”
Lilly tells Rated R&B, “I remember at the time we were all fans of R. Kelly’s music. I remember Jamie wanting a dope ballad. Again, it was another record that I felt like I heard already. The dope part about that record is Tank is on the backgrounds. That day in the studio, we were laughing and joking and Tank killed it. We might’ve been in Miami because I think he was shooting Miami Vice.”
“Get This Money”
Written by Mike City
Produced by Mike City
“Get This Money” was the second song City contributed to the album. Interestingly, before it reached Foxx’s hands, it was recorded by another male R&B act. “I did that song with Ray J first,” City reveals to Rated R&B.
Like “Extravaganza,” when Foxx caught wind of the record, he wanted it immediately. “Jamie heard it and was like, ‘Give me that record.'”
Though it was long before Foxx started experimenting with club bangers like 2009’s “Blame It,” City’s intention behind the song was to make a symphonic tune that could entice an exotic dancer. “We wanted to do a soulful strip club record,” he explains.
“Do What It Do”
Written by Charlie Bereal, Tank, Jamie Foxx and Kenny Bereal
Produced by Jamie Foxx, Charlie Bereal, Tank and Kenny Bereal
Foxx devoted a lot of time and effort when he prepared for his role in Ray. Given the film’s success, it was no surprise that he found other ways to capitalize on it. He performed his vocal rendition of Charles’ “I Got A Woman” on Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” which reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 in September 2005.
He even imitated Charles’ voice on Ludacris and Field Mob’s “Georgia,” which peaked at No. 39 on the Hot 100. So, it was only right that he added his famed Charles impression to his own song, “Do What It Do.”
Kenny Bereal, who was also Foxx’s neighbor, remembers the charming tune coming together organically. “We all lived in the same neighborhood, so we used to just go over Foxx’s house to work in the studio,” describes Bereal. “The way the song came together, man, we just sat in his studio, started to vibe and it just came together so natural.”
Bereal gives credit to Tank for putting extra sauce on the record. “Tank would be at Foxx’s house all the time, too,” he says. “When he got his hands on it, he took the vocal arrangements and everything to another level.”
Written by Daron Jones and R.L. Huggar
Produced by Daron Jones and R.L. Huggar
“Storm (Forecass)” is another steamy record on the album created by RL of Next and produced by Daron Jones of 112. The song plays on the concept of a special type of precipitation that forms from stimulating activities in the bedroom.
RL had been an associate of Foxx’s years before officially working together. “When I was in LA in like 2000, 2001, I was working on a project and he would come by a Babyface’s studio every day — just hanging. We would just tell stories. He would tell me his stories about Prince and I would tell him mine.”
When it was time to write “Storm (Forecass),” RL — who was also a fan of Foxx’s music — pulled his inspiration from Peep This. “I wanted to give him something that was a continuation from his first album, which was really him,” RL explains to Rated R&B. “I was looking at him as an artist, not as the comedian and movie star.”
Foxx’s comedic style also inspired him. “I know that with Jamie’s comedy, it’s intricate in a way. Sometimes they have a double meaning. When I was writing the record, I wanted to come from a place where it wasn’t comedy, but still had that double entendre. The whole idea came from me being around him, talking about Prince, sharing different stories about different things, and me just listening because when you’re around greatness, that’s what you do.”
15 Years Later
With Peep This, Foxx proved that he should have been taken more seriously as a musical act. Though some people slept on the album, Unpredictable gave Foxx the official stamp of approval as a singer. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with 597,000 copies sold in the first week — off the lead single’s strength. Mary J. Blige, who appeared on Foxx’s cover of Mother Finest’s 1978 classic “Love Changes,” claimed the number one spot with The Breakthrough.
The hype behind Unpredictable continued into January 2006, when it eventually peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 after the second week of sales. It also scored Foxx three nods at the 2006 Grammy Awards: Best R&B Album, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (“Unpredictable”) and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals (“Love Changes”).
Two and a half decades later, Unpredictable can be played without skipping any tracks. Some may even call the album an R&B classic since it has proved it could withstand the test of time.
“I think that a lot of emotion went into that album, which made it timeless to me,” Bereal declares. “He surrounded himself with some very talented songwriters and producers from that school of true musicianship. There were some really talented vocalists around him during that album that made it come out fantastic.”
City echoes Bereal’s sentiments. He points out, “When you listen to Jamie you could tell that he, outside of his musical upbringing, ran with the right people to give him that sound and everything. He’s just extremely talented.”
The props that Foxx once yearned for on his debut came into fruition on Unpredictable. From the impressive sales to the Grammy nominations, Unpredictable is the album that gave Foxx his flowers from the music industry.
Now peep this, who would’ve thought a comedian, who had tried his hands at music early on, would return years later as an Oscar winner with a chart-topping album? That, indeed, was Unpredictable.
Stream Unpredictable, the Grammy-nominated album, by Jamie Foxx below.