Hear What Happens When Two R&B Stars Step Into The Reggae Zone
Both Musiq Soulchild and Syleena Johnson are Grammy-nominated soul singers with rich, powerful voices and a significant number of hit singles to their credit. Syleena sang the hook on Kanye West’s early hit “All Falls Down” while Musiq is known for romantic R&B jams like “dontchange” and “sobeautiful.” The two connected with Jamaican-born, Europe-based producer Kemar “Flava” McGregor to record a song for a compilation album and woumd up recording nine songs over the course of nine days. These songs became an album titled 9ine. (Oddly enough, Eddie Murphy and Snoop Lion recently released plans for their own reggae album by the same title.) “Coming from a Reggae background,” Kemar McGregor stated, “it was a great experience to work with Musiq and Syleena, because it gave me a chance to blend pop, reggae and R&B into a fresh, new and groundbreaking style. Musiq and Syleena blended their vocals to give ‘Feel The Fire‘ an infectious pop-reggae sound. This is exactly the sound I wanted because as a reggae producer, I personally think Reggae needs a new sound and fresh style.” Reshma B spoke with the singers to see how they enjoyed the experience of making their first reggae album—and they kept it very real. Seems like a case of the hotter the battle, the sweeter the victory. Run thatt… Interview and Exclusive Album Stream After The Jump…
RESHMA B: It’s really exciting that you two are doing a whole reggae album with Flava. Can you tell us how that happened?
Syleena: Well it just happened! We were in the studio to do a song for a compilation CD. We just really liked what we did so much and we decided it would be awesome if we did an entire album together.
Was “Feel the Fire” the first song?
Syleena: No, the song that we did for the compilation actually happened to make the album. It’s called “Promise.”
“Feel the Fire” is very romantic. What’s “Promise” about?
Syleena: Well pretty much all the songs on the album are about love and happiness so everything is about love. “Promise” is about a couple that is having problems, kind of sort of, but they promise to stay together and they promise to go back to what brought them in love in the first place.
Although you’re not considered reggae artists you both sound so natural on the song. What’s the connection between soul and reggae?
Syleena: Well reggae, soul, and R& B—whatever you want to call it—all of that came from back in the day from our ancestors, and hip-hop was direct from that as well. All of that is black culture music and it’s pretty much all the same. I know that it’s different cultures but we talk about the same issues. Musiq and I just really felt like we wanted to cross genres and see what it would be like to merge what we do with what’s known as Caribbean style. Since we love reggae music so much, we just figured “Wouldn’t it be awesome to kind of pep up R&B and soul music?” Because reggae makes us happy. Most of the time soul and R&B is very sad—sad love songs most of the time. So we wanted to use happiness with soul and R&B. We wanted to just pep it up, you know—tone wise, not so much tempo. But just the tonality of the entire record will make you happy and make you want to be in love. So that’s kind of where we were going with it.
Nice. And you guys seem like you’re really comfortable working with each other.
So it’s a long-standing relationship I’m assuming. What’s it been like working with Musiq on a whole album?
Syleena: Well it was a very smooth-sailing process. No drama until the album was complete and then we had drama…
Syleena: The drama was the producer. He was a nightmare to work with afterwards.
Syleena: Yeah, devastatingly. Surprisingly he changed. He flipped the script afterwards and it really prolonged the process. Actually we were supposed to come out July 9th we were done with the album in March.
Syleena: So it was just really difficult trying to get him to cooperate on things. But before the album was done he was awesome to work with and such a great guy but—I don’t know, the business can do that to people. It was a difficult process from that point on and it’s taken us a long time to get to this point so we’re really excited about that. Now everybody is on the same page and everybody is all good. Me working with Musiq has always been a joy. He’s never a problem. He’s a great guy and it’s real simple working with him. Smooth sailing. He’s all about his artistry and so am I, so it works.
Syleena: And he’s a good friend, I’ve known him for like 12 years so.
It sounds like at least the creative process between you guys was really smooth. You kind of hit a wall with Flava but that seems to have been ironed out to a certain extent—so we are definitely gonna hear this album in September?
Would you ever work with Flava again after the experience you had?
Syleena: Oh, Absolutely not.
Are you guys on talking terms?
Syleena: We’re on talking terms but professionally I just feel we have different views and it was just too much of a hassle to deal with him. I absolutely cannot ever work with him ever again.
Fair enough. It’s interesting that you finished the album and there were no creative issues. Did the problem have to do with other issues besides the music?
Syleena: Umm… It was ego, ego issues. It was weird. We were good beforehand and then things just took a turn. It started with mixes and then just spiraled into other things and he just became very disrespectful. I don’t want to get into it cause I’m not into bashing people. I’ll just say at this point we’re all on the same page. But in the future I will never work with him ever again.
OK—Wow. Hopefully that hasn’t put you off working with other reggae producers.
Syleena: Oh absolutely not. You know, there’s a reason for everything. Thank God that he was brought into my life. It doesn’t take away from his musical talents. He’s awesome, his music was awesome, his tracks were awesome. And it has actually put something in me that really wants to continue on in the future with more reggae music. Maybe even some dancehall, but definitely with a different producer. Definitely not with him.
You’ve worked with all types of producers, including Kanye West. And right now everybody from Kanye to Selena Gomez is coming out with some reggae and dancehall flavor….
Musiq: [Joining the conversation late] Evening? It’s Musiq.
Hello Musiq. Glad you could join us.
Musiq: I’m so sorry.
Syleena: Yes you all can never be on time for anything.
So I was just about to ask why do you think reggae is so popular now?
Syleena: I don’t know. I didn’t know it could be more popular than it always has been. I didn’t really think when we did the record we were thinking, ‘Oh reggae music is popping now—let’s do it.’ We were just thinking, ‘We love reggae let’s do a reggae album. This sounds great.’ It wasn’t really like ‘Oh, this is the new hip happening thing.’ I just always thought reggae was consistently a popular genre.
Cool. So Musiq? How has this whole experience of recording a reggae album been for you?
Musiq: Oh it’s definitely been awesome. It’s just amazing how everybody’s talking about us working on this reggae project like it’s something that’s so far off but it was something that was very natural for the both of us because we both love music. Reggae just so happened to be the genre of music that we were presented with at the time. It could have been anything and the fact that we have a true respect and admiration for each other, that just made it happen that much quicker. It didn’t really take that much time at all. So it’s very interesting to me actually just to hear how everybody is responding to it. But I guess when it comes to how things are presented in this industry everything gets so compartmentalized. No one wants to cross those parameters. They feel like you’re just supposed to stay in one lane and that’s it. But when you really love music you’re not genre specific at all. You know, it’s a very suggestive and emotional thing so it all depends on how you feel at the moment. And at the moment, reggae music was in both of our paths and we both chose to go along with it and it’s been fun. It’s been really really cool.
I know Syleena has explained to me that you guys had some kind of misunderstanding working with Flava, but you have come through that. Would you consider working with other reggae producers? Has your experience been great enough that you’d do another album or another song?
Musiq: I will definitely continue to make reggae music. I also will definitely choose to work with other produces as well. I think that it’s important to keep things interesting. I think it’s important to have variety and not the same thing over and over again. Even if you have the best chemistry with a producer it’s good to incorporate other producers as well just so that it kind of breaks the monotony. To you and whoever you’re working with it may seem like you’re doing something different, but to other people to the untrained ear—and I say untrained as far as people who don’t really think music all the time—it can end up sounding the same to them. Because they’re not really in tune to all the nuances. So I think it’s always important to switch it up and work with different people.
This is a question for both of you guys. Where did you first hear reggae, and how has that influenced your music as soul singers?
Syleena: I’ve always been influenced by reggae. I even collaborated with a reggae artist named Assassin back in like 2004. And I did a song with Elephant Man—it didn’t come out. So I’ve always been in love with reggae music that’s why it wasn’t really a stretch for me. I was never in a position where I could do something this awesome. So I guess the time was now.
Musiq: I was listening to music at a very very young age. You know, roots music—well a lot of people call it “conscious” now, but I really dig roots reggae. I dig dancehall as well. So as I said before reggae music is not a stretch. No genre of music is a stretch for me, you know. But I guess it’s a stretch for people to be prepared to accept it from me. But it’s all good, you know I don’t mind the challenge.
Syleena, you said you collaborated with Assassin. Kanye just did a collaboration with him on the Yeezus album. So what was it like working with him?
Syleena: Oh wow, Kanye West? That’s deep that he just did a song with Kanye. That’s dope. It was awesome working with them. I worked with Assassin in maybe like 2004. And it was great working with him. He actually reminds me of an R&B artist or almost like a hip-hop artist. He’s somebody that could go into the booth, who didn’t write lyrics, who was very passionate about the craft. Like a really talented dude. He didn’t write down anything. Elephant Man as well—he didn’t write down any lyrics just really really talented. They were gentlemen. They were nice guys. They weren’t jerks or anything. So working with them was cool. It was great being part of another genre at that time. I’ve always liked Shabba Ranks and Maxi Priest and stuff like that and on up to Sean Paul. But to be able to be a part of it at that time was cool. It was expanding my repertoire as an artist.
What were the songs that you did with Elephant and Assassin?
Syleena: The Elephant man song was… Remember the song “we’re shooting for the stars”? We took that melody and made a song and it was like dancehall. It was real fast, and I forgot the name cause it never came out. But the Assassin song is actually on one of his albums that came out during that time. I don’t remember the name either. But if you Google it I’m sure you’ll find it.
What would you like listeners to feel about your album?
Musiq: Well the album just so happens to be categorized as reggae music because of the sound and the elements that we’re using, the components and the arrangements and the cords. Anybody can listen to it and they can obviously tell that that it’s part of the standard of music that is classified as reggae. But I think that, if I can speak for Syleena, we both entered into this project to make good music. It just so happened that we were making reggae music but our message is always the same. It’s about love, it’s about communication, it’s about getting along with one another—not only in a relationship, but also as people, interacting with each other as human beings and just being uplifting and inspiring and also having a good time with life. So it’s just a really good album I think that people will be able to put on and listen to from top to bottom. Because it’s a feel-good project. We infused a lot of positive energy into this project so I really can’t wait for people to get it.
Final question: Who are your favorite reggae artists?
Musiq: Umm, I actually worked with one of mine—Damian “Junior Gong” Marley. I worked with Damian Marley on my album on my video. We did a song called “Iwannabe.” It was actually really really cool. He’s one of my favorite reggae artists of today. And I mentioned Shabba Ranks and Bob Marley—you know the names of major reggae artists—but I dig all types of people you know: Elephant Man, Barrington Levy, Buju Banton… I just love reggae music. You know Sizzla. There’s a lot of them out there that I really dig.
Syleena: Well I really like Bob Marley of course. I don’t know. I really like Sean Paul. I like Beenie Man, but my favorite of all time is Beres Hammond. I just really like him.
Oh wow. I would love to hear collaboration with you guys.
Syleena: Me too. I love Beres Hammond. That’s actually one of the first reggae songs I heard, was “No Disturb Sign.” I was in my first year of college and other than Bob Marley, that was when I first fell in love with reggae. I didn’t even really know it was reggae because it was so R&B ish. I don’t know. I just connected with it.
Well you know Beres actually started out as a soul man and then carried on to do reggae. So yeah I can see a great mix there…
Syleena: I know, that would be awesome. Or the three of us, that would be even better. Maybe we can do a remix or something from this album.
You have to reach out to him!
EXCLUSIVE ALBUM STREAM: