Maintaining the evolution of a legacy artist can be a daunting task for some A&Rs. It’s something that Eddie Fourcell always has at the back of his mind, considering he experiences nerves going into each new album for Mary J. Blige, the ever-so vibrant and relevant Queen of Hip-Hop & Soul.
Having a clear understanding of how Blige has shown up for culture for nearly 30 years with humility, selflessness, and grace, Fourcell realizes why his job for her to reinvent herself in this new normal is urgent.
“You need someone that has a strong voice and is a healer because the world needs that strength. I think that Mary J. Blige is that to a lot of people, especially to our community and our culture,” Fourcell tells Rated R&B.
Signifying Blige’s latest comeback and 15th studio album Good Morning Gorgeous, out Feb. 11, as a “rebirth,” Fourcell credits it all to timing and breaks in vicious cycles of inequality.
“How the roles have changed in how people value women and Black people, it kind of changes our importance. Now they emphasize how important culture is in general, and she’s always been at the forefront of the culture. So it kind of feels like there’s way more pressure now because of that,” says Fourcell.
“Also, the shift in importance of Black music, R&B music, and her always being the anchor for that. It’s her time now.”
In Rated R&B’s exclusive interview with Fourcell, he takes us through the creation of Good Morning Gorgeous, what songs he’s most excited for fans to hear, and more.
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Mary J. Blige was in a different headspace when she recorded Strength of a Woman, which turns five this spring. What were those key things she shared ahead of starting Good Morning Gorgeous that you helped in your search for producers and writers?
It was a process because we started the project years ago, in the middle of her needing to start filming the first season of [Power Book II: Ghost] and us not having time to finish and do it consistently. We were searching for a new home as far as a place to partner with to put the project out. That’s always an interesting place because a lot of labels are hesitant to take chances on legacy artists.
Obviously, Mary is different because of how relevant she is. She still is a legacy artist in that the streaming world treats them a little bit differently because their streams look a lot different than, say, a younger hip-hop artist.
We finally got to a place where we had a conversation with a partnership [300 Entertainment] that made the most sense. We finally had that window of time to record consistently. One of the things that we knew we needed — that was a no-brainer — was continuing in the same vein of always making sure the records were urgent.
I remember from the beginning telling people that I wanted the producers to treat her like she was a rapper. If you don’t preface that to the producers, they’re going to always try and bring you something that they feel like Mary should do because it’s slow. I wanted it to feel heavy. I wanted it to be so hip-hop and so street.
One of the things that we had coined early on, just to tell producers to put them in that mind frame, was that we wanted the sound to be like “street elegance.” It’s like another take on ghetto fabulous. It’s hard and aggressive, but it’s still expensive.
Some of the producers we knew we wanted off the bat were Hit-Boy and D’Mile, who both understand that. I feel like certain producers understood the assignment. Others took it into their own hands and still gave us some quality stuff, but knowing that’s what we wanted kind of helped the structure of what we were looking for.
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In 2019, it was reported that Mary J. Blige had three albums in the works. Was it really three albums or three albums worth of material?
It was three albums worth of material, but it was really three albums. So with that said, different projects were in the works, but we went back in and still did new songs. So it feels like there could be three projects left, but like I said, everything is about time because if the records might not work right now, they can work another time for something else that we have going on.
D’Mile, who secured his second career placement with Mary J. Blige in 2005, reunited with her for the first time in more than a decade for the title track. How does it feel to be the connector for them again while involving his Oscar-winning pals, H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas?
That was incredible and was for the culture. I always wanted to realign Mary with the younger culture of R&B that are doing an amazing job. I feel like D’Mile is at the forefront when it comes to crowning him for everything he’s done for the younger R&B generation or the more progressive generation coming up.
He’s an incredible musical producer. I felt like I owed it to him also because he took a chance on my younger artist, Joyce Wrice, who is nowhere near the caliber of a Mary — but that’s not the only reason why. I knew that he understands the texture, the sound and the feel of what Mary is.
As you said, being from 2005, I feel like that was like at such an early place. I think even he knows how much he’s grown and progressed. It was just incredible for him to come back and do multiple records on this being as important and the most relevant he’s ever been in his career right now as well.
Surprisingly, urban radio has taken a liking to “Good Morning Gorgeous,” gaining the title as the most-added song on the format, as well as already a top 40 win. What do you attribute this early success to?
It’s a number of things. The actual song itself is so powerful, so universal [and] so relative, [that] it speaks toward any age [or] any demographic. Even though the word gorgeous is used, it’s not necessarily just for women. It’s more of a metaphor and it’s self-reflective. When you have a real song of that much depth, the impact is profound.
Even before it went to urban [radio], I heard that there were gospel stations picking it up because the word Lord was used two or three times in the song, which I hadn’t even realized myself, but that’s how powerful the message was. Something like that was beautiful. A song that strong, with lyrics with that much depth, definitely reaches far.
You also have the message of lyrics and concept of Mary in the form of very dope melodies that were lent on by H.E.R., who’s an incredible musician herself and having a great moment in R&B as well.
Then it’s about having a good partnership. So, for this album, we partnered with a dope label that understood the assignment and how to get her out there by making sure that radio was taken care of because she’s such a traditional artist and that was important coming on board.
At first listen, “Amazing,” featuring DJ Khaled, instantly put listeners in the mind of a Beyoncé-esque vibe. Since we were sort of cheated with success for their underrated duet “Love a Woman,” is pitching a possible remix featuring the two on your vision board?
It wasn’t before (laughs). But I mean, I guess it’s a possibility. To be honest with you, when we spoke about collaborating with anybody for the song, it was more so Rihanna because it has such a Caribbean sample. So that was discussed — not really Beyoncé — but I mean, I’m not mad at that either.
Considering how many tracks without a rap feature are labeled explicit, Good Morning Gorgeous may very well be her most expressive album. What inspired this serious tone? Did it have anything to do with her Power character, Monet?
I think her character definitely inspires it, but I think it’s also where she’s at in life. You hear her talk about [how] she just feels free. She’s just in a great place, being expressive and wanting to be unapologetically her.
Maybe back in the past, she felt like she had to tone something down or be a certain way. But there’s no rules, and I think she knows that. You can see how comfortable she is in her skin [and] in what she’s doing. She’s putting the work in and she’s seeing the results. I think that expression is a result of where she is spiritually.
The album’s closing song, “Need Love,” features Usher, who collaborated with Blige on “Shake Down,” from her Grammy-winning album Growing Pains. What triggered this reunion?
Actually, it didn’t come from us. But when it came, we were open to it, of course. Nobody’s ever going to say no to Usher. That’s a no-brainer. The song originally was just Mary. We didn’t intend to put anybody [on] there, but J. White produced that record and I think, at the time, he was working with Usher when we had it. He played it in one of his sessions with Usher, and Usher just immediately hopped on it without even telling us. We found out later. He killed it.
What song are you most excited for fans to hear from Good Morning Gorgeous?
That’s a good question. I like the way you worded it. That’s kind of hard. I would say two because there’s different perspectives on it.
I think the real B-side heavy Mary fan is gonna be excited to hear “Love Without The Heartbreak.” I would say that because it almost could pass as an interlude. In fact, it was considered as an interlude at first, but, to me, it’s cleverly written. She wrote this with Anderson [.Paak]. I love seeing her and Anderson work in the studio because it’s literally magic.
The story behind “Love Without The Heartbreak” is so clever to me. It’s so expressive. It’s so aggressive. It’s so sad, but it’s real. It’s one of those [where] production is so limited, but the keys touch your soul a little bit. It goes back to those records that real Mary fans love, like those songs that weren’t built for the radio.
It was just built for ad-libbing, expressing and cursing. It’s talking about all the things you would do differently when you were in love back then. It’s reflective. Being a Mary fan, you want to hear her talk like that — being real, being vulnerable, [and] not holding back. The production and Anderson is crazy on there.
One that I’m excited for fans in general to hear, especially after seeing her character on Power, is one of my favorite songs on the album: “On Top” featuring Fivio Foreign.
Nicole, who works on our team, was always stressing me out about, “Yo. She needs to get on a drill record.” I’m a huge fan of U.K. hip-hop, and drill is like the sound that we were inspired by from them. So this record, she sounds effortless on it to me. It feels like something Monet would do, but Mary would do (laughs).
It’s fire to hear her on that more so because, to me, it doesn’t feel like why is this woman doing this? It’s almost like a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t Mary do this? There’s certain things that Mary could do that it’s like, “Oh, shit. That makes sense.” It’s so New York. It’s so aggressive. It’s so hip-hop soul.
I know that the first two singles released were under three minutes. This is obviously different than anything Mary has ever done musically. How did she adapt to reducing herself in a sense to convey her message?
Honestly, I don’t think that was super intentional. I think that was kept in mind. “Love Without The Heartbreak” is one of the longest songs. It has a bridge and a breakdown.
For something like “Good Morning Gorgeous,” even that session in itself was incredible. That was probably, of my career working, the fastest written record ever. There was a purpose and an intention in that session, and everyone was professionally a great musician. It was no playing around. It was like, “This is serious. Here’s what I want to say written down on paper. This concept is something I’ve been wanting to talk about for so long.”
H.E.R. on the bass, Lucky [Daye] on the melodies, and Tiara helping out. It was just so magical. It came about in literally two hours. It was like intentionally done in that short time. I just think that people now, when they create, there’s a sense of consciousness of knowing that these songs don’t have to be super long and get to the point if the hook is good and it’s memorable.
Even with “Here With Me” with Anderson .Paak, they were inspired by those people, too. Anderson makes records like that. One of my favorite releases from Anderson is NxWorries, the project that he did with Knxwledge. Those songs are like one minute and a half going into the next two minutes. It’s because it’s more of a feeling and a vibe. So I think he brought that to this party and inspired it.
She knows people’s attention spans are not here to just be doing the same old same old. So it’s kind of incorporating those little elements of how today’s generation listens but still keeping the same up with what the traditional people would want to hear.
Read more on Mary J. Blige’s Good Morning Gorgeous album here.