Unless you've lived in a thermonuclear bomb shelter the past few years, I can pretty much guarantee you've either heard one of Rico Love's own songs, or a banger he wrote/produced for your favorite artist. While he began his career writing/producing chart-topping singles for A-listers like Beyonce, Usher, Nelly, Chris Brown, Fergie and others, Love finally decided to partner with Interscope Records to start his own label, Division1, and prove to the world he could succeed as a solo artist as well.
Propelled by the success of the hit single, "They Don't Know," Rico Love's 2014 EP, Discreet Luxury, took off fast and set the stage for the release of his debut album, Turn The Lights On. With TTLO recently hitting store shelves, Rico sat down with EARMILK to discuss the record and his transition from the page to the stage.
EARMILK: So, Turn The Lights On is finally out. How does it feel to drop not only your debut album, but a project that is so personal and concept-driven?
Rico Love: I feel like you've been writing your first album your whole life. It's like you're explaining everything that you've lived up until that particular point – how these things affected your way of thinking, how you view the world, how you react to people, how those people affect the truth. So I believe your first album is your most important.
EM: We all know by now that "turn the lights on" is your signature catchphrase. What does the album title mean for the project as a whole?
RL: The lights represent success, represent attention, represent all the things that happened from my hard work. Basically the idea of the album is what are you gonna do when the lights come on? The lights are on, attention is on you. How did success change you? How did the lights being on in your life, so to speak, change the way you view relationships, the way you view love, the way you view infidelity, monogamy, all those things?
EM: What was it like working with Raekwon on "Bad Attitude"? Were you a fan of his and/or Wu-Tang Clan as a kid in New York?
RL: Man, it was incredible. First of all, I believe in doing things that are best for the song. A lot of times people will force someone on a record because they're hot right now, or "Oh, I need this person to give me some looks" and all this stuff. I believe in just doing what's best for the song. I believe a great song is the key, regardless of whoever's on it, and I just heard the beat and I was like "Yo, The Chef's gotta be on this."
And shout out to DJ Kay Slay for introducing me to the Chef like a year or two ago, and we always stayed in contact and every time I see him he really shows me love and he said he's a huge fan. And, you know, the fact that Raekwon is on my record means that he really cares, 'cause he doesn't just do that – he's very selective about the people he engages with musically, as he should be. But yeah, when he heard the track he went crazy; he was like, "I'll write a verse for you tonight." And I always tell people, again, you've been writing your first album your whole life and these type of moments mean more than just throwing a guy on there because he's particularly relevant right now. I believe Wu-Tang will be relevant forever, and having him be a part of my first album is legendary.
EM: Growing up, you lived in both New York and the Midwest. How did this influence your career and musical taste?
RL: Just being able to adapt to change. I think more than anything, versatility teaches a kid so much. I never got comfortable and I still never get comfortable anywhere. I grew up being best friends with somebody and then leaving for six months and coming back and never seeing them for the rest of my life, you know? So in my mind, I was never able to get comfortable – I was always able to adjust and roll with the punches.
And my musical taste is wide; I love all types of different things, and I think it's because I was always moving around and kinda like subconsciously trying new things, developing myself in different ways, and I think it was a gift and a curse. It was tough, but it helped mold who I am as a person and musician.
EM: TTLO is predominantly R&B, but you mix in some hip hop as well. As a rapper/singer, how do you go about alternating between both genres?
RL: It's predominantly me singing. I think 'cause I'm black and I sing it's automatically R&B, but if you really listen to the songs, there's only one R&B song on the album, and that's "Trifling." You know what I mean, listen to the production, listen to the lyrics, listen to the arrangement, and honestly tell me, "does this sound like an R&B album?" I think it's closer to what Billy Joel has done, to what Elton has done, I think it's a mixture of more like Lionel Richie. I mean, I love R&B. I think everything I do is derived from urban/R&B/hip hop culture 'cause that's what I grew up on. But when I listen to the production, I think to myself, "If this is a white kid singing this song, nobody would call this an R&B song." I think 'cause I'm black it's automatically R&B, and I'm not saying you're wrong for thinking that – it's something that we all think.
As for the singing and rapping, I don't even plan it bro. Like whatever it calls for, you know? That's the way we gotta be musically, that's how free we gotta be as creatives. There's certain things I had to say on the second verse of "The Affair," I couldn't say in a melody, I couldn't sing it – I had to rap it. There were certain things I had to say on "For The Kids" that I couldn't sing – had to rap. It's never forced, though. I do what I think is necessary for the song.
Louis C.K. has a show on FX that I think is genius, and what's funny is, his ex-wife, the mother of his kids on the show, is black – but his kids are white. And they're not adopted. And they asked him once, "Why did you do that?" And he said, "'Cause she's perfect for the role." He said there's something about a black woman telling a man he needs a job that kinda resonates a little bit more, and he said it was perfect. And when I heard that I said, "He gets it." Because there are no rules. There are no limits. This is music, and we are creatives. We just wanna live in the moment and really say things that come to us. My job is to give you something that you can connect to and relate to – whether I need to rap it or sing it, whatever I need to do, I'm gonna make sure that point gets across, and that was my goal with this album.
EM: You spent a good portion of your career writing hits for the best in the business. Was there a defining moment when you decided to pursue your own solo career?
RL: Yeah. I wrote "Mr Wrong" for Mary J. Blige, "4AM" for Melanie Fiona, and "Heart Attack" for Trey Songz in the same week – and they were all about me. I had never in my career written songs that were about me, and I started realizing like, "Man, it's time for you to say something 'cause you're really going through something right now." And I felt like this was the moment. And then on top of that, I wasn't happy with being powerless in the business. I wasn't happy with writing so many songs for artists and doing whole albums with Usher and Kelly Rowland and Brandy and all these people and not being able to control the music after it comes out. It's not a fun place to be in, you know what I mean? So it was really those two moments combined – me starting to write something connected to me and me being frustrated with not having power.
EM: One thing I love about TTLO is the narrative that unfolds as each track tells a different chapter of the story. The final track, "The Proposal," seems to end on a melancholy note. How did you want people to feel at the conclusion of your album?
RL: You interpret the way you wanna interpret it; does it work out or does it not work out? That's up to you. It's like one of those things with The Sopranos – at the end it's like, "What happened when it went to black?" And I wanna do that, I wanna give people a blank canvas for them to create their own ending, you know? And I think that happens so much in relationships. People go through all these emotions and turns, and then you get back together and you think to yourself, "Alright, well where are we now? We might as well get married – we got this sh-tty ass relationship anyway and that's what everybody else is doing." It's also my way of being a little smart ass too.
EM: I saw you live at Summer Jam in Oakland last October and you killed it. How does it feel to perform after songwriting for so long?
RL: It's incredible man. I love performing more than anything. I love writing songs, but performing is number one. That's like the most fun you can ever have, is on a stage. And on a stage, you can't front – you know it's real. When you see me on that stage, you don't think I'm a poser, you don't think, "Aw man, this guy's trying to be an artist." That's the one place you cannot hide, the one place where the people know if it's real or not real. Period. They look at you and how you're moving and interacting with the crowd and see how you're finessing on the stage and they say, "He's supposed to be on that stage," or "He's not supposed to be on that stage." I think it's safe to say I'm supposed to be on that stage.
EM: Staying on the topic of performing, do you have a tour planned for TTLO?
RL: Yeah, we're putting together some beats. We're trying to put together something for August. I wanna give the album some time to live, and then I wanna go out August/September.
EM: Well that about wraps it up. Anything else you wanna say to all of the Rico Love faithful out there?
RL: Man, I need everybody to spread the word. Like, I'm nothing without ya'll talking, and I'm seeing that this album is starting to take a life of its own. I'm not getting much help from record companies, and I get it, you know – they're gonna spend more time on the artists who have proven themselves to sell numbers. I believe I have a classic album, I believe this is some of the best material released in a long time, and I put this album against anybody. The heavy hitters. Anybody. I just need everybody to keep talking and spreading the word because word-of-mouth is the best promotion of all-time. When you get in the car and play something and somebody says, "What's that?" That's the best promotion ever. When you speak on something with such conviction and belief and you tell your coworkers and your classmates and your family like, "Yo, this is the most incredible work I've heard in a while and I appreciate the fact that he worked his ass off for this album and didn't take it lightly like most people and put out just any type of bullsh-t fluff music." I think that should go a long way, but I basically just need you guys to preach the gospel for me. That's what I need.
But don't do it for me; do it for music, do it for your children's sake, do it because the rest of these people don't even care about what they're putting into people's brains. You know what I mean? We focus so much on what we eat 'cause we don't wanna ruin our bodies, but we don't care what we put in our brains, which is way more stronger than the body could ever be. So I just wanna give people food for thought and things that really inspire them and I need them to fight for me the same way I'm fighting for them in the studio.
You can stream Turn The Lights On below. The album is also available on iTunes.
Turn The Lights On
- Division1/Interscope Records
- May 19, 2015