The longevity of any genre or artistic medium is based on its ability to evolve. In particular, within the canon of Black American Music, Rhythm and Blues has stood at the forefront of musical innovation. From Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ brand of Doo-Wop in the ‘50s, to D’Angelo’s Hip-Hop influenced brand of R&B in the ‘90s, what has become evident is that the only constant for R&B is that it will change.
In the 2019, R&B is on the move again. This time, a new generation has taken the genre into their hands, offering their interpretation. Today, you’ll find a lot more 808s on the low end, “trap” snares, and singers blurring the lines between singing and rapping. But, despite musical changes, the soul, passion, joy, and blues remain foundational.
On Friday, July 12th, producer and musician, GMJR released his debut album Tw3nyy Six // The Superfriends, which features some of the most talented voices in contemporary R&B. A Brooklyn native, GMJR has been playing drums professionally since he was 12, and over the past few years he’s gotten the chance to travel the world in support of artists, like Tina Karol, Elhae, and others. Just last year, GMJR was nominated for a Grammy for his work on Musiq Soulchild’s Feel The Real. Following the release of his debut album, I got a chance to talk to him about his inspiration for the project, working with Eric Dawkins, the value of collaboration, and a bunch more! Here’s our conversation:
Stanley: This is a really unique and ambitious project, considering the number of artists you’re working with. When was the idea for this project conceived? What was your goal, big picture outlook coming into this project?
GMJR: Maaan, this project has been a dream of mine for years. I’ve created a few teams on this journey and I’ve wanted to create somewhat of an “X-MEN” or “Justice league” in the music industry. As a kid, I thought having powerful group of creatives was the ultimate win. Fast forward, years later, I’ve connected with some of the most amazing artists while pushing my brand. It was the perfect space, timing and opportunity in this season to actually get this done! I’m so happy that this project is here. The unity has brought listeners from all parts of the world, and from every fan base of each artist. Instead of each artist solely pushing themselves to success, why not come together every now and then and be a powerful force!
Stanley: What was the creative process like making this album? Did you kind of give the vocalists an idea/topic, or was that left completely up to them?
GMJR: Honestly, all I did was have an arsenal of music sitting on my computer. Lol. Once I knew that this compilation was going to take place this season, I immediately gathered about 20–30 tracks and sent about 3-6 tracks per artist. They all picked their favorites. Luckily, they were all different lol. That’s when I knew that this was supposed to happen. Everything literally fell in place. Days and weeks later, after sending the music, I got emails of everyone with zip files of completed songs and vocals. Of course, I had to update sounds and some of the music because they were smashing these records. I knew everyone I chose for this album could write and record, at least get access to recording. That helped with the time and stress of the process lol. I appreciate each and everyone of them! So grateful.
Stanley: The album is really cohesive, both sonically and lyrically. In particular, one of my favorite sections was the transition from Because of Them — to Congratulations — to Boyz. It all felt so seamless. And having heard Congratulations as the lead single, then hearing Boyz on the album, Boyz somewhat felt like a response, and it just made so much sense. I guess my question is just how did you do it? Lol
GMJR: Listen, it literally just happened that way! Lol. It all just came to me after listening to the album from top to bottom about 65 times in many different orders. Once i heard it in this sequence, i knew exactly how i wanted the transitions to be. I paid much attention to the lyrics and made sure that this was basically a story being told. If you listen again, “You Owe Me” and “Official” goes together sonically and lyrically. Then i wanted to paint the picture lyrically with “Mood” into “Because of Them.” I felt that this was a good story to mold together as well. The transitions between “B.O.T.” Into “Congratulations” was one of the very last things that came to me INSTANTLY before mixing and mastering. Lastly, “Congratulations” and “Boyz” was an awesome conversation that needed to be displayed. This was so perfect. So unplanned.... The day i found all of this was a day of laughter. I was tripping thee entire week.
Stanley: There are a ton of really great artists on the project, but Eric Dawkins’ names stands out, as he’s one of the elder members of the features, and by all means an R&B legend. How did you build a relationship with him?
GMJR: Eric and I became family through Periscope!! Every now and then, he’d check out different creatives that come would come on his live broadcast and play their material. Almost like a live submission broadcast. Eric is the guy to give people an opportunity to work with him. He’s so genuine and so open. I appreciate him for giving me a chance. I sent him an email of music while he was on Periscope, and the rest was history. We instantly became close. He’s an amazing hero to many of us! I’m still honored to this day. We have new music on the way too. That’s all I’m gonna say.
Stanley: You’ve played drums for a lot of artists. What have you learned from being around them?
GMJR: Ive learned to always be open, have patience, be authentic, and remain professional. God is amazing because with most of the artists I’ve played for, I was also blessed to be the musical director as well. Talk about patience! Lol... Those seasons were definitely challenging because i was constantly learning. Every artist did things and felt things differently. Some situations were aggressive. Some were laid back. The one thing I’ve truly gained from past opportunities was to stay solid in everything i was called to do. With any artist or opportunity, you want to make sure you keep it tight so that you are trusted, and that the artist and the team can count on you to deliver.
Stanley: If anything, what do you want listeners to take away from this album?
GMJR: I hope that every listener is inspired and influenced by the music, the energy, and the unity of this album. Ke’Andra, one of the featured artists off the album, likes to promote this album as a movement. I definitely feel like this is a fresh movement, and that we should all take this formula in as a fresh new wave of R&B unity. Such a strong and bold checkpoint that this album is currently making. Be moved and create something just as strong!