Trey Songz: The Billboard Cover Story
Five years ago, a newly signed
And that's when the strategic array of singles began. In March 2009 the heartfelt "I Need a Girl," which reached No. 6 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and sold 247,000 downloads, was released. The playful and catchy "LOL :)," featuring
PATIENCE AND PERSISTENCE
In the current singles-dominated paradigm of the music business, it's rare for an artist to break through on his third album. Labels no longer have the patience or commitment to nurture and develop artists the way they once did, especially in the fickle worlds of R&B and pop. But five years after Songz' debut, Atlantic's determination has paid off, and the artist is ready to become the face -- and abs -- of male R&B.
"Trey did it the old-fashioned way -- one fan at a time," Kyser says. "If you're a real artist, people will wait for you. He put so much work into that it's now paying off."
With "Passion, Pain and Pleasure," common sense would dictate that Songz double up on crooning winking pick-up lines. ("I Perfected Sex"?) Instead, Songz has opted to tone down the material and work in a less prurient vein -- a ladies man, sure, but one who might still be there the following morning.
While the new album's lead single, "Bottoms Up" featuring rap starlet Nicki Minaj -- No. 23 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs -- is good-natured club fun, most of the other songs recorded thus far for the album are more heart-pounding than arousing. "Love Faces" is a piano-based ballad produced by Troy Taylor and written by Tremaine & ChefTone (with whom he's collaborated on "I Invented Sex" and "Say Aah"). The nostalgic "Please Return My Call" finds Songz longing for a lost love, as does second single "Can't Be Friends," produced by Mario Winans.
"I do feel I can give people what they enjoy while still building what I want to build," Songz says. "Because, the truth is, as much as I'm a business man and as much success as I had with the last album and as much as I'd love to duplicate and surpass that, I am an artist, and creativity is what's most important to me. As artists, we sometimes have to sacrifice success for creativity."
KWL Enterprises senior manager JoJo Brim agrees. "Nothing serves you greater than your own truth," he says. "It's this honesty about Trey that's kept him steadily going this entire time."
Before "Passion, Pain and Pleasure," Songz released a new album every two years. But part of the plan behind keeping the momentum going this time around is to release "Passion, Pain and Pleasure" only one year after the release of the still-active "Ready." "I couldn't release it before because I still have records in rotation on radio from 'Ready' that won't go nowhere anytime soon," Songz says. "But I didn't ever want to wait two years in between any album. I don't want to do this at a slow pace. You only have a window, one moment, and someone else can take my moment. I'm not about to allow that."
Timing is of the essence, says Dionne Harper, Songz' product manager at Atlantic. "In this new climate, you can't be too dormant," she says. "You worry about oversaturating, but we felt, timing-wise, this made sense with all the things he's got going on, from tours to TV shows and hit singles."
At press time, the album still wasn't finished -- "He's one of those guys who records up to the minute you start manufacturing," Greenwald says -- but Songz has already begun promoting "Passion, Pain and Pleasure" through his BET docu-series "My Moment," which will air on the network until week of release. He's also embarking on a short arena tour, kicking off in August and running through release week. R&B singers Monica and Dondria will be joining him on the road.
"I want to keep performing and making my stage show better," Songz says. "These days, if you can pack a venue, then you're considered successful. So I want to keep a strong touring base by becoming a strong touring artist."
Songz is also launching Trey's Angels Fan Club in September, Harper adds, "which will reactivate the whole ultimate fan experience, offering members exclusive access to Trey."
In addition, Songz, along with Melanie Fiona, are the new faces of Jay-Z's Rocawear "Next" campaign. And, in conjunction with the "Bottoms Up" track, "Bottoms Up" shorts will be made available to fans through his official site, TreySongz.com, along with other merchandise.
Cliché or not, Songz has proved that slow and steady wins the race and that good things come to those who wait.
"I'm having a very special moment -- I'm at the best point of my career now and it's only going to get better," Songz says. "I have people's attention now. This is the fun part for me."