When Tremaine Neverson, better known to us as Trey Songz, dropped his debut album Just Gotta Make It back in 2005, many decided he would be the one out of the other two R&B newcomers (Chris Brown and Ne-Yo) to fall to the wayside. And we couldn't really blame them. Despite a strong single, dude didn't dance, wasn't penning smash hits for pop artists, and he favored baggy jeans and Timbs over fitted denim and tailored shirts.
But looky here. Five years later, Trey is all but running R&B. While his contemporaries were getting arraigned and writing Disney showtunes, Trey bettered his craft, matured his image (no more corn rows and timbs) and found his lane. Turn on any urban radio, sit for about an hour and you'll hear at least one of the three singles from his third album Ready. By now you've seen our April/May Trey Songz fashion feature, and you've learned how to get the look. Now hear what Trey thinks of his new image, his current spot in the game, and why he can't be put into any kind of musical box...
Interview by Damien Scott
Complex: How'd you feel about the looks for the shoot?
Trey Songz: I liked them a lot, we put a lot of different things together. I felt that the fashion was very new for me but still along the lines of what I've been doing, with a more mature look. I don't really see a lot of people doing what we did.
Complex: Were there any pages that stood out for you as favorites?
Trey Songz: Man, we had so many good ones. I loved the shots with the suitcase and the ones with the shirt sleeves rolled up like I had a pack of cigarettes in there or something. I don't love one look more than the other though.
Complex: Speaking of suitcases, we included a lot of accessories in your shoot. In life, what items do you always have with you?
Trey Songz: Before I cut my hair I used to have a lot of hats. But I've changed my whole image, my whole style. I'm big on watches and I don't know how many I own but I don't do too many accessories. I don't really do glasses. It's a good look but I'm not big on wearing clear glasses for fashion. And I don't wear too many shades because my fans love to see my eyes.
Complex: Right. [Laughs.]
Trey Songz: For real! [laughs] I wear sunglasses and I get asked to take them off.
Complex: What brought about the change in your style?
Trey Songz: For me it was a maturity thing. Change is a natural form of progression and I feel people have watched me grow in this game, from being a young man to a man. It's just a representation of becoming a man. Style is a display of character. It's also a great way to express yourself and the ladies like it.
Complex: Who are your style icons?
Trey Songz: I don't really look to any one person. I happen to be a sample size [laughs], so I get a lot of things that haven't come out yet. But I think style is about what's comfortable for you. People try their hardest to impress everyone else but if you feel good, you'll look good. It's like singing a song you don't feel right singing. If it's not in the right key, it's not meant for you to sing and no one's gonna believe you. But if you feel good in what you're wearing, you'll look good. I think that's what's most important.
Complex: What are some of your favorite brands?
Trey Songz: Dolce & Gabbana. It fits me perfectly. I'm lean and my arms are long for my body and Dolce clothes fit me perfectly. Usually if I get a suit from them, I don't have to get it tailored.
Complex: Any others?
Trey Songz: Gucci. There's this new designer, Lord Dewayne, it's actually a couple, and they've got some fly stuff that I've been interested in. You'll probably see me in it soon. And of course, the classic brands never get old: Levi's jeans—the soft ones, I hate hard denim. It's uncomfortable.
Complex: It seems everyone these days has a fashion line. Is this something you'd want to do? To move into a designer role?
Trey Songz: I love the fashion world but what's important to me is that if I do this, I'd have to do it in a way that nobody else is. If I do get into clothing, I'd get with the best designers, people who know what needs to be done differently and how to be fashion forward.
Complex: How would you define or describe your style?
Trey Songz: "Young Boy Fresh." [laughs.] I wouldn't call it "Grown Man Style" because even if I have a suit on—and I don't know if it's me being young—there's something about it that keeps it young and innovative. If I'm wearing a crazy suit, I might have some nice tennis shoes on. They might be hella expensive, but they're not hard bottoms. If I'm wearing tuxedo pants, it might be with a vest and not the whole tuxedo. Just simple things. I pay a lot of attention to detail, I think that's important.
Complex: Let's get into the music a little. Now seems to be your time. If we look back at your first album and look at your peers and asked people who was going to be the biggest R&B singer out of the new class, no offense, but I don't think many would have said you. But turn on the radio now and you got three singles playing.
Trey Songz: I owe it all to God, man. It's hard work and dedication. I don't play the game for anyone to bet on me 'cause I bet on myself. And that's a sure bet.
Complex: Right. I remember you saying that you don't dance like your contemporaries 'cause that's not who you are. And amazingly you've held true to that. Has it been hard to not fall inline with everyone else?
Trey Songz: It's just like when you asked me about my clothes, I believe that if you aren't true to yourself, people can see that. I'm no dancer. I got rhythm, I can dance if I need to but I'm not Chris Brown. He's an amazing dancer. If I'm not going to be amazing at it, I'm not gon' do it. I'm gonna do what works for me and you're going to feel it 'cause it's me.
Complex: Is that advice you'd give to younger artists who are just starting out?
Trey Songz: I urge younger artists to know that you don't have to be anything you don't want. You can do whatever's comfortable for you. From the music I make, to the things I do in my life, I'm true to my R&B core. I have the capability to make pop records and crossover but that's not my aim. I'll make the records I make and I'll perform the way I perform.
Complex: On your latest, Ready, you seem a lot more comfortable as an artist. I think it brings together the best parts of your first two albums.
Trey Songz: There's a lot of thought that goes into everything. A lot of people will ask, How can a song like "LOL:-)" be on the same album as a song like, "Say Ahh" and "Panty Dropper"? What's important is that people realize that I can't be put into a box musically. I've studied all forms of music, I know probably more Jay-Z songs than the biggest Jay-Z fan. I've studied R. Kelly to the Isley Brothers to Stevie Wonder to Sting and Sade. You don't have one personality everyday. You don't have one mood. That's the way I look at music: There's not just one type of song I can sing.
Complex: Was the label more confident this time around to leave you to your own devices?
Trey Songz: There wasn't much A&Ring going on. Not too many hands in the pot. The first two albums involved a lot of people. It took a while for the label to understand the artist I was. And I owe a lot of that freedom to the social networking platforms, being able to touch my fans directly and show the label that I know what it is that needs to happen.
Complex: What were you listening to when you were making the album?
Trey Songz: I'm a huge R. Kelly fan. He's a master of bringing emotions to songs from every lane and every aspect, you know the same guy that sings "Ignition" and "Feeling on Your Booty" sings "I Believe I Can Fly" or "You're My Angel". You believe him on every track.
Complex: Do you consider yourself as musically diverse?
Trey Songz: You have to earn your spot. Once you earn your spot, people don't like to see you move out of their comfort zone for what they expect. Whatever it is you are in their eyes, they want you to stay being that. But think about Marvin Gaye who sang "Sexual Healing" and "Ain't That Peculiar" and Stevie Wonder who made all different types of music and Al Green who made secular music as well as gospel music. In order for you to change, you have to force it on them. It's a process to get to be allowed to be yourself, but you can feel that on this album.