Sunday evening [January 31, 2016], Bryan Michael Cox and company came together for The Revival showcase in Atlanta, Georgia. Curated in an effort to infuse the culture of R&B back into a city and industry taken over by the inescapable dominance of Hip Hop, The Revival featured a refreshing lineup of emerging artists and headliner Rico Love who took the stage before a crowd that included the likes of Keith Robinson and Big K.R.I.T. All the while echoing one common theme: bringing back the essence of R&B.
Host and co-creator of The Revival, Mylah Windham, developed the evening’s mood with a soulful cover of Sade‘s “Cherish The Day,” setting the stage for the talent that would follow.
First up to bat was 18-year old Jayla Darden: living proof of how much power can lie within such a petite frame. Singing selections off her latest “118” EP, she casually graced the stage with a lovable innocence, letting elements of bass and percussion dictate her gestures.
Crooner Victor Jackson composed his set with Ryan Leslie’s “Addiction,” Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It” and his original “Bus Of Love.” Equipped with a seemingly endless abundance of energy and smooth vocals, Jackson displayed just the right amount of attitude in his performance and you couldn’t help but love it.
Taking the stage before featured artist, Rico Love, singer T’melle dominated the venue with a performance packed with dynamism and power. Now recovered from the 2002 car accident that left her unable to walk on her own and took the life Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes, T’melle certainly proved the theory of the “comeback kid” correct, and shows no sign of slowing down.
Singer-Songwriter Rico Love closed out the evening with a lively set that included the songs “Bad Attitude,” “Bitches Be Like,” and his now definitive “They Don’t Know.” A lack of energy couldn’t be detected. Making the stage his own, the industry veteran cemented the evening’s vibes with good old-fashioned R&B. Closing out with his latest “Days Go By,” Rico Love reiterated a stirring thought: “Radio is teaching kids these days—they forget about love and how important it is.”
The line comes after the show’s creator opened up on the same topic three hours earlier. It was about 30 minutes before showtime that we caught up and sat down with seasoned hit-maker Bryan Michael Cox as he lent us his thoughts on the current state of the industry and his experiences and interactions with the newest generation of music along the way.
First off with The Revival. What was the thinking behind it? What made you come up with the concept?
Really the whole thing came about through a conversation with Mylah Windham. We were trying to figure out how we can inject some energy back into R&B music in general, starting here in the city of Atlanta. This seems to be the urban music hub and since a lot of the music coming in from Atlanta has been predominantly Hip Hop the past few years, we don’t really have any new R&B artists or any new R&B flavor coming from the city.
But, there’s a lot of R&B artists here who do a lot of live shows, do a lot of things around the city. We have a lot of established R&B artists here. So, they’ll pick up the young talent, go take them on tour, things of that nature. You know I came up in the city as a producer, a songwriter. You know, I’ve been here since ’97. So, I’ve seen a lot of these artists, over the years, not really have a place to really curate, you know? I mean outside of the legendary Apache Café, things of that nature, that’s been going on forever. Things of the underground.
I wanted to do something to see if we could bring that kind of energy back into the forefront, and not really rely on established artists, but rely on emerging artists of the city, and maybe every now and again, wrapping it around an artist who is a little more established.
With the line between R&B and Hip Hop becoming more blurred, and the emergence of R&Bass and Trapsoul taking over, what’s your take on that evolution?
I think sound always evolves. You’re always going to get a hybrid of something. When I was coming out in the 90s, that’s when the Hip Hop and R&B hybrid really came very popular, with Puffy and Mary J, Jermaine Dupri. What was happening was that the sound went from New Jack Swing to actually being called Hip Hop/R&B. You had people singing over samples, taking samples putting a bunch of chords over them, creating this whole thing.
So, when that sound was popular, the people who came before us were like ‘Oh that sound is trash. Y’all just sampling our stuff’. I think every generation is going to evolve, and there’s always going to be some old school cat like ‘What is that?’ As a veteran in the music business, you have to embrace what the young artists are doing and give them guidance. Like ‘Okay, this is what you guys are on, let’s figure out how we can make it better’.
A lot of times we have the tendency to push the young creatives away because we don’t feel like their talent matches up to ours. But, it’s not even about that. It’s about the fact that they’re creating their wave. A lot of these kids I knew when they were actually kids, now they’re the adults creating the culture. I knew Metro, I knew Southside, I knew Sonny Digital. Now, they’re the ones creating the sound, and it’s up to me and people like me to embrace them.
Have you found it hard to keep up with it all?
It’s difficult because a lot of it sounds alike. It’s seems like it more about who made the record versus who’s on the record. My generation has a lot to do with that also because, with us, the producer became a superstar. But, there was still a superstar artist. That’s one thing that I feel is lacking. There’s not like THE artist. Nobody is really moving the proper amount of units to really hold their claim of the culture.
Outside of like a Rihanna or somebody like that. But, Rihanna has been around for 10 years, Beyoncé has been around for 20, Usher has been around for 20 plus years. Chris Brown, Trey Songz—they’ve been around for 10 years. People kind of underestimate that. They’re all vets even though they’re still young. So, I mean I’m really like ‘Where’s the young Usher? The new Usher? Who is the superstar of this generation where the numbers really reflect the actual fame.
You know, people are still talking about records I made in 2000. Are people still going to be talking about records from 2015? That’s the question. You have an artist like Adele come and do something that’s completely traditional, nothing like what’s on the radio, and just blow it completely out the water. So it becomes this whole ‘Do you follow the trend? Do you create your own lane?’ It’s about how do we make it stick?
So many records have flat lined, and you don’t even care in a year. Unfortunately, that’s what’s been happening. These records are throwaway records, and we have to find a way to make people care. You can still play Usher’s “U Remind Me” and still feel some type of way. There are songs that came out two years ago and if I throw them on right now it’s like “Why is He playing that?” When I DJ, it’s crazy how quickly I have to update and change my list. If I miss a beat, and play the wrong song, kids are like “Why you playing that? That was last year.”
Aside from the talent here tonight, are there any new artists that you feel we should all be listening to?
There’s a new artist by the name of DVSN. I been on that wave for a minute. Really dope, and the following is still pretty small, it’s not really a huge following. So, if anybody gets on it now, get on the wave now. Because, in a year, everybody’s gonna be rocking with him. Of course, with everything that’s happening with Bryson Tiller, I like what’s happening there. I think there’s a lot potential. It’s organic, it’s natural. It doesn’t feel like it’s forced. I like that about it. It fees like that’s who he is, and the music reflects it and it’s dope. I’m glad that the mainstream is catching a wave with that.
There’s a young artist by the name of Alex Isley, she doesn’t have real huge following either, but she’s super dope. She writes, produces, sings her own records. She’s kind of like a one-woman band. Naturally, everything that we’re doing with Mylah. There’s also another young woman who I’m also working with named Sonyae Elise. She raps, sings. Super–WOW. You know? We took one of her records and shot a short movie, it was really epic. Ro James–who I think is a phenomenal artist–definitely an artist I’ve been watching for a while now. He’s finding his lane and he’s killing it.
There’s a lot of young artists that I see now with real, live potential, and I’d like to see what that all blossoms into. I’d like to see these artists become stars. Because we don’t have any real R&B superstars outside of like an August Alsina. He’s probably the closest we have to one. But, for the young generation, I think that what’s lacking in August’s music is love. I think that’s what’s lacking in all of R&B right now. You know, Chris Brown’s music–who I think makes incredible music. But, I think that if he catered toward women more–that’s what R&B music is all about.
Drake isn’t a big artist for no reason. He caters to women. He does his Hip Hop thing well. He kills it. But, he knows exactly what to do. J. Cole is another Hip Hop artist who caters to the women, also. But, what about the R&B singers? With August–making records talking about the struggle and all that–but not making records for the women–there’s a problem there. You know?
My question to women is like: Do y’all care? Do y’all like dudes talking crazy like ‘I’m a f*ck you back to sleep’? Or would you rather somebody be clever? I use that record as an example because that record could have been a beautiful moment. It’s still a beautiful moment for [Chris Brown], but it could’ve been an even more beautiful moment had they wrapped that up in a really nice box in a respectful way for women.
I know there’s a time and place. Sometimes, women want to be fucked sometimes. But, for the most part, if you’re selling this shit, you got to sell the love. You’re a singer. Sell that. You rap, too. Talk that shit on your rap shit. I just think that the “Back to Sleep” record is a moment that could’ve been like Miguel’s “Adorn.” But, it’s still going to be a hit–it’s a hit. The melody is good. It’s going to work.
But, I think that he limited it once he did that because he won’t be able to cross over with that. If he had said ‘Love you back to sleep’. We know what the f*ck that mean. We know you talking about f*cking. We know. The problem with the generation is that R&B guys are like rappers, and rappers are like R&B cats.
I used that as an example because I’m looking at the numbers, too. I look at who is selling the most records. Who is gaining the most influence. Women buy records, man. You can talk about the real shit, and you should. But, you have to be clever. What happened to being poetic? That’s what R&B was about.
All these artists, who I think are phenomenal. Chris Brown is one of my favorite artists. August Alsina, all these guys are my dudes. I just feel like they should inject some love into their shit. Does art imitate life, does life imitate art? The energy you put out is the energy you get back. That’s what life is about.
So, if there’s a void, is there any hope of hearing more from you in the near future?
Oh, it’s happening. What’s interesting though is that you have to take the time as a creative and just kind of figure out what your s*it is. For me, you just got to figure out what’s true to you. When you do that many songs for that many years, you’re bound to get to a place where you’re like ‘I need to sit back and recharge’. I had a son. Got myself into a relationship that ultimately ended. But, it really matured me in a good way. From a creative perspective, that is what is now driving me–the battery in my back.
But, every conversation I’ve had with every artists is about this. Ironically, every artist gets it. Let’s stop chasing singles. Because that’s not how we made these records in the first place. We made these records in one space by living life, talking life. You write twenty songs in two or three weeks, and then you narrow it down to three songs. That might be the foundation of the record.
Right now, so many people are so busy chasing a single. For some people, it works. For Atlantic Records that works. They are brilliant at chasing singles–and they get them. But that’s the only label that I’ve seen that does it and does it well. In the same breath, they’re putting out artists like Charlie Puth who are going to be here forever. They understand the balance better than I think most labels do. Superstar artists need to make bodies of work.
All the artists I talk to–young and old–I tell them “Listen, inject love into this s*it”. We don’t have the music–the young ones especially. What are they going to listen to in 20 years. When they’re 45 years old? That’s what we have to figure out.
I look at life crazy. The statistics of marriage–you look at back then, shit was probably still f*cked up. But, there was still a lot of love being generated through entertainment and music. What’s the soundtrack? That girl that you first like–what’s the music that goes on in your head? Is the music ‘these hoes ain’t loyal’? For me, it was Jodeci like “Feenin'” is playing in your mind. So, what are we presenting for these kids as a soundtrack? That’s the key.