Interview: Brian Alexander Morgan, the ’90s Mastermind Behind SWV, on His History & Return to Music

Get to know the man who's worked with everyone from Usher to Missy Elliott.

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Complex Original

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Everyone remembers the hits—the sweet melodies, the dramatic lyrics, the irresistible grooves—but most know little about the people who actually wrote the ’90s R&B songs we all love. One name that deserves recognition among the greats is Brian Alexander Morgan, the producer, songwriter, and singer who made a major impact in the ’90s through his work with SWV, writing six top 10 R&B singles for the girls, including the No. 1 pop hit “Weak.”

Before breaking through, Morgan was raised in Wichita, Kan., and discovered by Club Nouveau’s Jay King, who signed his group Cachet De Vois to a deal on Warner Bros. in 1987. At the age of 21, he moved to Jay King’s hometown, Sacramento, where he lived and made music for the next 25 years. Aside from SWV, he worked with everyone from Usher to Missy Elliott, while also developing his chops as a house music producer, as heard on Martha Wash’s No. 1 Dance Club single “Give It To You.” Morgan had an impressive run, but things slowed down in the 2000s. He stayed creative by making underground house records and collecting publishing checks from the steady stream of new artists who have sampled his music, including Chris Brown and Drake. 

A few years ago, Morgan was compelled to move to L.A. and give the record industry another shot after developing a working relationship with DJ Khalil, the multi-platinum producer behind hits for Eminem and Aloe Blacc. Since then, he's been busy reconnecting with old friends, exploring new sounds, and collaborating with high-profile songwriters in the hopes of scoring a major comeback. Morgan spoke to Complex about the ups and downs of his distinguished career, and why he's still got a lot left to give.

How did a kid from Kansas end up signing with Jay King from Club Nouveau?

I’ll tell you the story. Me and this girl I grew up with, Lachelle, and another guy named James were in a group, and we were trying so hard to be the next Shalamar. In high school, I would record demos at a studio called Miller Recordings. This guy named Steve Williams, who I met through Lachelle, had a copy of our demo. It was 1987. One night at three o’clock in the morning, Steve calls my house where I live with my mom and says, “Hey, I need ride—come pick me up. I went to this Club Nouveau concert, and I’m stuck here.” Jay King snatches the phone from him, and he’s like, “Yo, would you come get this dude? He’s messing up my pussy.” And then he says, “But by the way—can I keep this cassette that he has of you?"

all of a sudden I’m 2,000 miles from home and I don’t have a record deal anymore. I was determined to not go back to Kansas.

I hope you said yes.

I panicked, because Jay King had just split with Timex Social Club, and I read that they had beef and all these legal woes. So I’m thinking, I don’t trust this guy. I had already been to L.A. to try to get a deal, so I was thinking I was hot stuff. So I’m like, “No man, we’re giving our stuff to John McClain from A&M, we’re cool.” He’s like, “How old are you?” So I’m like, “21.” He said, “And where you live?” I said, “With my mom.” And he said, “And you don’t want to give me this tape? I promise you I can have you a deal at Warner Bros. in two weeks if you just let me take this tape.” So I start looking around my mom’s little tiny house, and I’m like, “You know what? Let me let this dude take this tape.” Two weeks later, I’m washing dishes in my mom’s sink and I answer the phone, and Jay King goes, “Are you ready to be on Warner Bros. and leave Kansas for good?” So he signed us, through Benny Medina, and we moved to Sacramento. The third guy in the group had a drug issue and wasn’t able to stay, so we became an instant duo. That’s how we became Cachet De Vois.

Where did that name Cachet De Vois come from?

Cachet De Vois means “unique voice,” and that was just a little corny little thing to fit in with the Club Nouveau thing. We said, “Let’s have a French name too.” That was just my 21-year-old brain going, “Oh, look at us, we’re in this click too.”

So what was it like once you moved to Sacramento?

Jay King was on tour, and pretty much left me to my own devices. I was recording at Moon Studios, which was the main studio people used in Sacramento at that time. Tony! Toni! Toné! did their first album there. I got to do the whole [Cachet De Vois album] by myself, which suffered because of that in a lot ways, when I listen to it now. But more importantly, it gave me the experience in the studio, and I had full control, writer-wise. It was a learning experience for me.

Since it’s out of print, I had to track down the album on eBay. There’s some joints on there!

Oh, Jesus Christ! [Laughs.] You did your research. You know, one of those songs, "Only You," got recut by Aretha Franklin and Joe Little from the Rude Boys—remember the Rude Boys? I cut that in 1994. It was Clive Davis’ idea; he flew me to Detroit to record Aretha and Joe Little singing that song, but it never came out. I still have a copy of it. I’m sittin’ on that one!

Save that for the B.A.M. box set. So, your album came out around the same time as Club Nouveau’s second album, which was a pretty monumental failure compared to their platinum debut. How did things change after that?

When the album tanked, Jay King lost his production deal with Warner, and we got dropped. That was bad for me, because all of a sudden I’m 2,000 miles from my home and I don’t have a record deal anymore. That was the beginning of my real lesson in this business. I was hugely depressed, and also determined to not have to go back to Kansas. I started writing, and trying to get a solo deal for myself. I met Robert Brookins, who was an amazing artist on MCA at the time—you may know him from the duet with Stephanie Mills' "Where Is the Love." Robert was a person who recognized my talent and let me hang out and write with him, and that helped me.

So Cachet De Vois was no more at that point?

Relations between myself and Lachelle got strained because of financial stuff. We lived in a tiny little apartment together, and it was all bad. So we broke up, and I had to temporarily go live with a friend of mine, Alex Hill from Timex Social Club, who did the music and the beat for their hit "Rumors." And coincidentally, there was another artist who Jay King had signed who lived in Alex’s apartment complex, and her name was Chanté Moore.

I noticed you gave her a shout-out in the Cachet De Vois liner notes: “Chante: I can’t wait to listen to your song.”

“Listen to My Song” was going to be the title track of her album on Warner Bros. that never happened. During that time we became friends; she and I kinda became close, but it was bad timing because Jay King was seeing her, and I didn’t want to be anywhere in between that. She probably didn’t know how much of a crush I had on her. So out of that frustration, I wrote a private little song called "Weak."

Performing with Stevie Wonder made me feel like, 'I can still do this.' It helped get my confidence up.

Have you kept in touch with Chanté over the years?

Not so much. I’ve seen her very slightly—I’ll probably reach out soon just because it’s time to.

You never told her that one of the greatest love songs of the ’90s was written about her?

I’ve had that conversation with people in her life, but not her directly.

Well, hopefully she reads this and leaves a comment. What did you plan to do with “Weak” after you wrote it?

I demoed it right there in Alex’s little apartment in Park City in Sacramento, using a [Roland] Juno 106. I felt like I needed to start writing some songs for some major artists, and with “Weak,” I was trying to capture Charlie Wilson’s vibe. For my whole life, Charlie and the Gap Band had influenced me so much, and there was a record they had out at that point called "Wednesday Lover." I was just was fascinated with that record. I was also thinking about his style on [Zapp’s] "Computer Love."

So, you’re writing songs, but things didn’t really start to happen for you as a songwriter until about ’92. What was happening in those three years between the Warner deal and the success you had on RCA with SWV and Martha Wash?

I was recording local people in my apartment, just to pay bills. Producing demos for random people. “Weak” and other songs I had got circulated like a mixtape around Sac. Somewhere in there I got a gig with Bobby Brown at the 1990 American Music Awards, where I played keys and did background vocals during his medley of “My Prerogative” and “Every Little Step.” And because of that, I got a gig with Stevie Wonder. We did the Grammy’s live in 1990 and performed “We Can Work It Out,” Stevie’s version of the Beatles song. We did it directly to Paul McCartney, and that was amazing.


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That must have been a moment.

It made me feel like, “I can still do this.” It helped me get my confidence up. My new roommate got $2,500, and I got $2,500—from our moms! [Laughs.]—and I brought my first MPC, in 1991. That’s the device that changed my life, because all of a sudden, I could compete. Until that time, I had been doing stuff makeshift on various people’s equipment. I was doing stuff at Wayman Tisdale from the Sacramento Kings’ house—he was also a bass player, and he was a Midwest boy, so I could relate to him. But by the time I decided to get that equipment, I was really headstrong and thinking, “What can I do to break into the business with a record that’s going to mean something?” And that’s when I started thinking about this lady whose voice I always loved, Martha Wash.

I was always curious if that came before SWV, since both albums were released around the same time.

Yeah, Martha Wash came first. I remembered her voice from Sylvester’s "Disco Heat" in 1978, when I was 12 years old. But at the time, she was the voice of [C+C Music Factory’s] "Everybody Dance Now," which was a huge pop hit. And the year before, she had the smash "Everybody Everybody" with Black Box. I found out she was suing the label, and part of her suit was to get a record deal with RCA. So when I heard that, I was like, “I want to work with her.” So I decided, “Let me just do four or five songs on this little MPC that I just got,” and see what would happen if I did something like “Everybody Everybody.” I got the music to her A&R at RCA, Kenny Ortiz, and Martha called me personally and said, “I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but your songs are the first songs Kenny gave us that we really like. The spirit of Patrick Cowley”—the guy that used to work with Sylvester who’s responsible for that whole disco shit—“is coming through your stuff.” That really gave me chills. I was just excited to be able to record that voice. She ended up taking like four or five of my songs for that album, and all of a sudden I was producing records and having them released by major people.

Martha’s "Give It to You" hit No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Chart, and it seems like you’ve always had one foot in that world over the years. What was your relationship to house music back then?

This guy from Chicago named Kevin Irving, who moved to Sacramento and joined Club Nouveau later on, he gave me a huge history lesson of what house music really was. He came directly from Chicago, so all of a sudden I had this underground knowledge of house music and what it meant. At this point acid house was huge overseas, with these big, dope hard house beats. Hip-house was happening too. In Chicago, they was rapping on top of house. There was a record by Mr. Lee called "Get Busy" that I loved. So those songs were really influencing me, production-wise. And then when I heard Teddy [Riley] do "Now That We Found Love," with Heavy D over that house groove, I was like, “OK, this thing is big.” So if you listen to “Give It to You,” it’s really a “Now That We Found Love” vibe—house in a New Jack kind of way.

So I know Kenny Ortiz did A&R for both Martha Wash and SWV at RCA. Was he the one who hooked you up with the SWV project?

Kenny had no idea that I had these other songs. But this guy named Jeff Bowens, who used to work for Jay King, ended up working for RCA. Jeff Bowens was playing “Weak” in the RCA office, and Kenny heard the joint. Jeff tells him that it’s this guy Brian Morgan. So he’s like, “I’m already working with him on Martha Wash!” So he calls me like, “You holding out on me—you didn’t tell me you had these songs. I’ve got these girls, man.” So he sends me this FedEx package of these girls singing these demos, and I heard Coko’s voice. And I was like, “Uh oh. This girl gonna be a problem.” And again, I thought about the connection between “Computer Love” and “Weak.” I wrote the song for Charlie [Wilson], but I thought Coko’s voice sounded like Shirley Murdock, who was on “Computer Love” with Charlie. So Kenny is like, “Would you please come to New York and record them so I can get them this deal?” So I recorded the demos, they got the deal, and then we just started making the album, kind of on the same parallel track as working with Martha.

I was so pissed when they kept calling SWV 'New Jill Swing.' I went so far out of my way to GIVE THEM A DIFFERENT sound.

How did "I’m So into You" come about?

When I got back to the West Coast, I had to do a couple more songs, and one of those songs ended up being “I’m So into You.” I had spent some time with Eric Sermon, and I loved what he was doing with Redman and all those guys. I got influenced by that kind of funk mob sound. I loved it. A lot of people don’t know that I’m really a hip-hop head at heart. I came back to Sacramento, and I was like, “I got to do one of them Eric Sermon-type joints!” So I made this version of “I’m So into You” that sounded really hardcore. Kenny heard it, and he was like, “Man, that’s not where I want to go with these girls. Do what you do. Do that soul shit.” So I was like, “OK, how can I soften this back up and make it be more palatable for the radio?” So I got on my MPC, and I chopped up "Clean Up Woman" by Betty Wright for the guitar, and I had these little break records, all of which became the new pieces of the stripped-down version of “I’m So into You.” That record, to me, is important, because it was the definite shift from New Jack Swing to a non-swinging, straight-ahead, 16th beat thing. “I’m So into You” is as straight as it gets—no swinging, except in the hi-hat, whatsoever. I was so pissed when they kept calling SWV “New Jill Swing” when they came out, as a promotional thing. I went so far out of my way to give these new songs a different sound.

That’s interesting, because people rarely talk about what records really moved R&B away from New Jack Swing and into the Hip-Hop Soul era. I guess people talk about how influential Jodeci was.

Right, but even their records back then had more an East Coast swing type of vibe too. “I’m So into You” came out of nowhere with this sound that was decidedly not an East Coast swinging record of any sort. So it was kind of like a crack through the whole thing, like, this is something different. I’ve been told by an amazing friend of mine named B. Slade, “Now, looking back, do you realize that you were the bridge? From Babyface and L.A., Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Teddy Riley, and then there’s you. In between when Timbaland comes.” Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis said the same thing, by the way. But I’m so glad that “I’m So into You” was their breakthrough single and not “Weak,” because people would have thought of them as a ballad group.


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Like you, Foster and McElroy were producers who came out of the Club Nouveau world that went on to produce a successful girl group. They had En Vogue, you had SWV. Did you feel any kind of rivalry with them?

Never! They were always so cool and so nice. Those guys were geniuses. Especially for what they were able to accomplish from their home, in Oakland, just like I did it from Sacramento. But En Vogue was so was big—they were crossing over, and they were doing all the stuff I wanted them to do. They had hits. And I loved their record with MC Lyte, "Dr. Soul."

Were they around when you were working with Jay King?

No, because they were already done with Jay at that point. There was a contentious relationship between them, and I was the new guy that Jay was working with, and they were completely done working with Jay. They found Tony! Toni! Toné! and they were moving on.

So, I’m curious: Did you decide to use your middle name, Alexander, to avoid being confused with the other R&B producer named Brian Morgan? The guy who worked with Kashif in the ’80s?

You are absolutely right. [Laughs.] Especially back then, even when I used my middle name, he was still trying to say that he was doing the SWV records, when he wasn’t. He was getting work based on that album. One time, it came through Pebbles or somebody in the Atlanta camp, and it was like “Oh, this guy Brian Morgan…” and that’s how I got on the Usher project, because they thought it was that guy. I’m like, “No, I’m Brian Alexander Morgan. That’s not Brian Alexander Morgan.”

So what was it like working with Usher back then?

I ended up having Usher come to my house, and we instantly clicked. He’s such a bad ass, talented dude. I wrote these songs, and L.A. Reid liked this song called “That’s the Way” and another song called "Crazy."

But only “Crazy” ended up on his first album, right?

Just the one. What happened was, Puff did not like the fact that it didn’t have the East Coast swing. So he got Chucky Thompson, who ended up being a very good friend of mine, to redo the track. So I started out my relationship with Puff not the greatest. He called me and said, “I don’t like your track,” and basically just changed it without even telling me. [Laughs.] When it came out on the album, it wasn’t the track I had originally done.

It was cool to see you getting some shine in the video for SWV’s "Always on My Mind." Did you feel like that was going to be a launching pad for your solo career?

[Laughs.] Back then, when I saw Eric Sermon, that was the first thing he said, like, “B! Yo, son! That was your jump off!” My answer to that is, I probably never really wanted the solo thing strong enough. I always wanted to sing, always wanted to write, but I really didn’t want to do that solo grind, be out on the road, running all around the country. I’m a producer at heart, and I like to sing. Not the other way around. I just never pursued it, really. I could have, but I just didn’t. Back then there was a lot of people telling me, “Do it, do it,” some still do. What I’ll probably end up doing is some kind of album where I’ll sing on it, but then I’ll have friends of mine all over the album too, like Lalah [Hathaway] and Faith [Evans].

I would be lying if I said Timbaland’s style didn’t affect me. 

You have kind of been putting out some solo records on the low, under the name Bam.

That’s my alter ego. I’ve always been rooted in the house music world. That’s something I do for fun on the side when I don’t plan to make money off it. I just love it. The first one, I put out on vinyl in 2003. And then after that, in 2005, I put this joint out called, "Miss My Luv," and now it’s considered like an underground classic in the Bay Area. I originally did it as a demo for Byron Stingily, who used to be the lead singer from the group Ten City, one of the first house groups to get a deal from Atlantic. That’s why I’m singing it all in falsetto, which people don’t usually associate me with. If you go on and search for my label Thick Recordings, you can find all my house stuff. I haven’t be active in a couple years, but I’m about to do some new stuff.

That’s crazy you’ve got this whole second career going on.

It’s totally a parallel career, which I love. I’m endlessly fascinated by good, solid dance music. By the way, just recently I was talking to Kaskade, who’s huge now on that whole EDM scene. He said, “Brian, do you know I just pulled out my copy of ‘Miss My Luv’ and it inspired me all over again?” He’s from Chicago, but he was on the scene doing his thing in the Bay when I was doing that stuff in 2005. He didn’t know me as the SWV guy, he knew me as that guy doing house music. I’m still happy to call him a friend.

So going back to the ’90s—you produced almost all of the first SWV album, then a handful of songs on the second album, and then only one song on the third. What changed?

The first album was so successful, triple platinum, and it was the last of a dying era where you would see one name on the album as writer and producer. I was an instant target, because I was probably making more money than the girls and their management. Well, everybody wanted to put a quick stop to that, despite their own success. So on the second album, I just got iced out having any singles. I like “You’re the One” a lot—that’s a good joint from All-Star, and they wanted to get into the writing thing. I understood that, for sure, but not releasing any of my singles I think was a step too far. I hear from fans and people all the time that a song like "Fine Time" should have been a single.

And how about the third album?

By the third album, I was pretty hurt, so I was like, “Well, I’ll just take my services elsewhere.” Around that time I signed a production deal at Atlantic, and one of the first things I was going to do was work with Brandy. So I end up in New York, and Brandy’s recording at Puffy’s studio, Daddy’s House, with Kelly Price doing vocal production. I had a demo of "Rain," and I played it for Brandy, Kelly Price, and Deric Angelettie—D-Dot. So we turn it off, and Brandy is like, “This is gonna be crazy!” Somebody went and got Puff, and he sat down and I played it. At that point, I’m not even a blip on the radar. Even having done all that stuff, I still don’t exist in Puff’s world.

SWV was doing their album with Puff at that point?

They had done half the album with Puffy—it was almost done. Shortly after, I get a call from RCA. Somehow it has gotten out that I was doing this song on Brandy’s album. The A&R guy goes, “Man, look, this won’t really be a SWV album without a Brian Alexander Morgan cut. We heard about this song you got...” I stopped him right there, and I’m like, “You guys didn’t release a single one of my records on that last album. Why would I give you anything?” I’m like, “I’m perfectly happy with Brandy doing this record,” and hung up. A couple days went by and something political happened, and then people from Atlantic called like, “They can have that one. It sounds like SWV anyway.” I kind of already got paid to do it through the production deal, so all of a sudden it became all right, RCA wants to pay me again for the same song? So I switched my focus and had one of the easiest sessions I ever had with Coko because she really loved the song.

I know you’ve worked with Missy Elliott a few times—on the Mista record and on Nicole Wray’s "I Can’t See," which is a great one. Where did that relationship come from?

I was actually recording the background vocals to “Rain,” and LeLee and Taj got called over to be in the video for Missy Elliott's debut song, "I Can’t Stand the Rain." There was something going on with rain! So we went over to Missy’s video shoot that Hype Williams was doing. I’m standing there with Missy and Timbaland, the first time in Timbaland’s presence. I’m like, “Wow.” So after that all happened, I wanted to do something completely hip-hop on Nicole Wray’s album with Missy. But Missy liked the ballad thing I did on the intro of "Anything," the record that opens up SWV’s first album. So if you listen to Nicole Wray’s “I Can’t See,” it starts out with that slow interlude and goes into the beat.


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Obviously, the sound of R&B in the late ’90s shifted to that more syncopated style that Timbaland was known for. Did you approach producing and writing records differently in those days?

I absolutely did. I would be lying if I said Timbaland’s style didn’t affect me. Everything everybody was doing sounded mad staccato—it’s a MPC sound, and I loved it. When they did "One in a Million," it showed that they had chops when it came to ballads. They completely reimagined what you could do with a ballad. You could make it choppy and hip-hop. I was like, “Oh, I’m in.” I loved it.

You can hear that a little bit in “Rain,” and most of the other records you produced in ’98 and ’99.

The cool thing that I didn’t know was going to change my life about “Rain” was that people were going to cover it and it was literally going to pay back my publishing obligations. Norman Brown, the jazz guy on Warner Bros., covered it and his album went gold. Then Master P covered it on his album MP Da Last Don on a duet with him and Mia X ["Ghetto Love"]. That joint sold 4 million albums and recouped me in one swoop! I’ve been recouped since 2001 because of that.

That’s amazing. And then of course, more recently, your records have been getting covered and sampled all over the place.

All of a sudden in 2007, Chingy and Tyrese did "Pullin' Me Back," where they redid “Rain.” That was a big, top 10 pop record, and was a moneymaker for me. So that allowed me to do the house record “Miss My Luv,” because I can press it up and fly around, go to Miami. I was like, “My other records are saving my life. I can do house for fun now.” And then in 2011, one of my best friends, Tina Davis, calls me and she goes, “Listen to this,” and it was Chris Brown in the studio doing the vocals to "She Ain’t You," which is [SWV’s] "Right Here." So at this point I’m thinking that the game is really calling me back, for real. It’s like the universe is trying to tell me that these songs are important to the next generation because they keep finding them on their own. So then I physically decided that I was going to try to get back in the game.

So, I’ve seen all these pictures of you in the studio and at labels over the last few years. How did you end up actually getting back in the mix?

One of my best friends in life, Jeff Forman, called me some time around 2010 or 2011 and said, “B, you may not remember this, but in the ’90s, I introduced you to this kid that I was kind of mentoring. He always said, when he got his game up, he would always want to work with you. His name is DJ Khalil.” So I went to a Universal Christmas party in L.A., and I finally met Khalil again. He says, “Dude, you need to move down here, and let’s get busy.” So I started visiting L.A. to work with Khalil, and I saw his process and how he really is a genius. He’s the first newer guy I’ve worked that’s treated me like I had a whole lot left to give and not like I was a novelty or some old school dude.

the universe keeps saying, 'You’re supposed to be here.'

Is that what most people treated you like?

Oh my God, are you kidding me? Yes. A lot of times I discover that when I meet people who claim to like me, who love me and say that I’m their hero, I’ve done this work and changed their lives...they don’t really want you to come back.

They like what you did, but don’t necessarily want to hear what you can do now.

Stay in history and be great, but don’t try to get on my shit and do my thing or contribute to anything that I’m doing. Khalil made me understand that I’m still valuable musically, spiritually, and brought out something that I had not realized was dying in me, which was my competitive spirit. Khalil reignited that in me.

So you were visiting L.A. to work with Khalil. What made you actually take the plunge and move down there from Sacramento?

I was trying to work with Khalil on records for Drake, Bieber, all these people that didn’t work out. I started a relationship with Khalil’s artist, Kobe, and working with him was—and is—a blast. But ultimately, I wasn’t sure that I could take the plunge financially and move to Los Angeles. And then suddenly, I get a call from Universal, and they go, “Looks like you need to clear this sample for Drake.” I say, “Excuse me?” They’re like, “Yes, it looks like 40 is using a piece of [SWV’s] ‘Anything’ [on 'Shot for Me']” So I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to end up on this Drake album anyway, even though we didn’t even work together.”

Another crazy coincidence.

It's like the universe keeps saying, “You’re supposed to be here.” When I saw that first check, I was like, “Oh I’m definitely doing this.” That was the final signal. I packed up my shit and moved [to L.A.]. I lived in Sacramento for 25 years before I decided to make this move, and since I have, everything is exactly what Khalil said it would be. He’s like, “B, all these people that you’ve known over the years, and they’ve never been able to find you, once they know that you’re here, it’s going to open up for you.” That is absolutely what’s been happening. I just reach out to certain people, and they’re like, “You here?”

What kind of stuff have you been working on?

These last five days, I’ve been with Brenda Russell writing for Adele. Brenda Russell is also having her own moment, constantly on the radio with all these new kids, with Flo-Rida and Ariana Grande. That’s Brenda singing [on Flo-Rida’s “I Cry”]—that’s “Piano in the Dark,” bro. That’s Brenda’s piano playing on [Big Pun's "Still Not a Player"], which became “The Way” for Ariana Grande. We’re kindred spirits. She can relate to where I am in life, 25 years in the game, records still getting used by “right now” people.

I know Khalil had a huge success this year with the Aloe Blacc album. Were you involved in that?

I am on that album. I’m playing drums on the title track called “Lift Your Spirit.” I’m singing vocals on that, and I’m singing vocals on another one on there, and I’m playing keys on another one. That’s one of the things I did once I got here. I wrote with Aloe and Khalil in a couple of sessions, and one of those songs he’s going to use on something else.


I heard you made a record with Faith Evans. How did that come together?

I’ve known Faith since like ’95/’96, when she came to my house in Sacramento and we did stuff just for fun, but it never came out. But we’ve been friends ever since then. I’ve never once submitted to Faith for any album ever, and then recently, I played her a boogie-style track I had written for Cee-Lo, and she goes, “Uh no, I need that track right now.” It’s in the style of the D. Train song “You’re the One for Me.” A week later she says, “Come to the studio,” and now it’s the title track of her next album, Incomparable.

How have you approached things differently since you’ve gotten back into the game?

I had a learning curve. I had to make sure that I was doing stuff that was hot, still “right now.” Still stuff that somebody would want to fuck with. So I spent a lot of time just listening, going out to people’s sessions, and listening to what they were doing and why it’s working. Then I started to apply [what I heard] to my whole style. So now, my mind is so open to collaborations that I’ve never done before. I’ve been working with Ne-Yo’s people a lot. Ne-Yo’s right hand man, Sauce, used to be in Somethin’ for the People, and I’ve been friends with him since we worked together on their album in 1995. He did the vocal production on Ariana Grande’s “The Way,” he does all Ne-Yo’s stuff. Sauce is a beast. Ne-Yo also has a great singer and writer named Candice Boyd, and I’ve done some really cool stuff with her in the last few months that a lot of the label people are checking out. It’s all hip-hop stuff. I’m talking about some turn-up stuff—some straight-up club turn-up joints. Totally different from the Brenda Russell/Adele stuff.

Not what I expected!

It’s quite a variety. Aloe Blacc, Adele, Faith. Then Khalil is telling me now that we’re gearing up to start working on Kendrick.

We need to hear some more hip-hop from you.

Oh my God. I’m trying to get a couple of things to J. Cole right now as we speak. I got a couple joints, and the guy he’s working with is a good friend, but their schedule is all over the place. ...And then on the other side, I’ve been working with Priscilla Renea, who wrote “Don’t Wake Me Up” with Chris Brown and “California King Bed” for Rihanna. There’s a record I wrote for Rihanna that’s more of a Lumineers and a Mumford and Sons type of thing. You know “Counting Stars” by One Republic? I was like, “Let me write one of them type of joints.” I did a track that Priscilla heard, and she nailed the joint. That song is called “Echo,” and it’s crazy. I’m trying to get it on Rihanna’s album, and we’ll see what happens. It’s a stadium anthem.

It’s great to hear you’re so open to exploring different sounds.

I’ve been dipping my toes in all these new waters, and the water’s always good. I respect different genres and styles because I have a DJ mentality. I’m always caring and not hating on the new like a lot of the people my age, who don’t bother to know or care what’s happening. That’s just not me. I always care, and I always need to know.

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