Eric Bellinger Talks 'Rebirth 2' Album, How BJ the Chicago Kid Challenged Him & Why 'R&B Is Not Dead'

Jack Guerra
Eric Bellinger

Since 2010, Eric Bellinger has been a growing force within the music industry for his songwriting contributions. Artists like Usher, Trey Songz, Teyana Taylor, Justin Bieber and even Selena Gomez have all called upon Bellinger’s pen for the smooth, enthralling flavor he brings to his words. His extensive work with Chris Brown pushed his name further into the industry and it even earned him a Grammy for his work on F.A.M.E. But despite the success behind the scenes, Bellinger wants to find those same victories as a full-fledged solo R&B artist.

Bellinger’s journey into the artist realm began in 2013 when he released the Born II Sing mixtape series. The “Type a Way” singer followed that up in 2014 with his debut studio album The Rebirth, which rose to No. 23 and No. 15 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and R&B Albums charts, respectively. The peak positions of the album allowed the Compton native to see the possible lane he can carve for himself as an artist and he took heed. From that point on, Bellinger put in the time needed to craft his artistry by releasing three more studio albums, two extended plays and three mixtapes.

Fast-forward to 2019, and Bellinger is writing the next chapter to his story with his newest release, The Rebirth 2. The album is the follow-up to his debut and serves as a celebration of the five-year anniversary of The Rebirth. “I want to take it back to the basics with The Rebirth 2,” Bellinger tells Billboard. “[With this album] I’m getting across that R&B is not dead. It’s much more alive and I got really simple hooks but they’re all potent. When people press stop, they'll still be singing the song they were just listening to.”

The double-disc album features 32 songs -- 16 on each side -- of pure R&B infused with a touch of hip-hop’s gritty vibes. Marquee acts such as Chris Brown, BJ the Chicago Kid, Ne-Yo, Jeremih, Nipsey Hussle and Dom Kennedy all make quality appearances on the meaty endeavor.

Billboard spoke with the futuristic singer about his new album, how the film Ready Player One inspired it, his formula to releasing double-disc albums, why BJ the Chicago Kid gave him competition in the studio, and what an artist really needs to be the true king of R&B. Check out our conversation below.

Looking at the album cover, you can see the Ready Player One inspiration. What role did that movie play in the process of making this album?

Ready Player One is my favorite movie, man. I play it in the studio on repeat when I'm recording. I just have that joint on silent, you know, just to give me the visuals while I was creating. We were just thinking outside the box, trying to think in the future. So I decided to release the whole album in virtual reality on top of the regular streaming way. I just thought it would be so dope to just take advantage of that since no one was really paying attention to that.

How are you incorporating virtual reality into this album?

What I basically did was create a digital world for people to watch as they're listening to the music. I just wanted to do something to take people away from their cell phones and social media. I feel like all that is a distraction and once you put those VR goggles on you can't see or do anything. You just have to really focus on what's going on in front of you. People are not only getting the music to listen to but they're also getting the visual aspect of it.

So I put the goggles on and I’m listening to the album. What will I be seeing?

Two different worlds. I have one that's like a futuristic Ready Player One-inspired world for disc one. For disc two, I have this dope ass landscape consisting of space and the cosmos. You're passing by Earth and the different planets. It's really cool and this is my own thing. My team and I actually built both of the worlds. It's going to be available on the Oculus store, the app store on your phone. The Rebirth 2 VR Experience app.

How did you come up with the formula of releasing two discs for The Rebirth series?

I came up with the formula during the creation of the first one. When I put that out five years ago I was doing so many albums and different things. I had four years of music that I wanted people to hear but I also had so many new fans that had absolutely no idea what I had been doing in those four years. We can bring people up to speed and the older fans will have a dope playlist that they can go back to.

What were some of the changes you had to make on The Rebirth 2 to really have it stand on its own?

I know I needed to get some features and I needed it to go crazy because as an artist nowadays, the past, maybe five major artists that have been broken like a Kendrick Lamar or Big Sean, these guys have co-signs that are very substantial to their career. Even Drake with Lil' Wayne. For me, I don't have a co-sign and I'm not signed to anyone, I'm signed to myself. I knew features were somewhat of a co-sign as well. Maybe I don't have the co-signs I wish I could have but these cats actually jumping on songs with me is giving me the approval of their fans.

You touch on a lot of topics that revolve around love and relationships on this project. Where or even how do you find your source of inspiration to write about these similar records in so many different ways?

I like to call myself the human thesaurus, bro. For me, every song that you've heard on my album, Usher's album, Chris Brown's album, Alanis Morissette's album, anybody, really, we're talking about love, heartbreak, I love you, I hate you, I miss you—it's the same exact storyline every time. But it's about how can you say it in a way that we've never heard it. For me, it was like I needed to put something together that will make people want to make it a daily listen rather than feeling like they've heard it already.

How would you best explain the relationship between you and Chris Brown and how was “Type a Way” created?

The relationship with me and Chris has been going on for years now. I've been working with him since the F.A.M.E. album and you know we got the Grammy for that. I have several records throughout Chris' discography including this new album that he's working on—-I got multiple songs on there. We've always been working for his album so this time around it was my turn. Chris always asked when he would be able to get on a record with me on a project of mine because I was always helping him with his records. We went through a lot of songs and this one was just the one that was a no brainer.

How did you get to work with Nipsey Hussle on “That’s Why” and how did you manage to create a song that he’d feel comfortable on?

It's funny because we actually wrote that song to a beat called "Self-Righteous" that Bryson Tiller actually ended up using. Nipsey and I went in for his album and I did the hook and he did the verse. Next thing we know, Bryson dropped that song. We were upset trying to figure out what we were going to do. I told Nipsey not to worry because I have so many producers that I work with. I shot the acapella to my boys Southwest and they remade that entire beat. I went back and added verses and brought it to Nipsey. It was originally for his album but the way I set it up and fixed it around, Nipsey was happy with the end result.

Was there any competition between you and the other singers like Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, or BJ The Chicago Kid in trying to grab the spotlight on the specific song?

BJ for sure because he's a singer singer and I'm a singer singer, too. All the other songs were simple in that I'd do my part and the other person their part. On "Back It Up" you can tell it's one of those songs where two male R&B vocalists are really meshing, going back and forth, intertwining the ad-libs, harmonizing with each other. When we finished it in the studio I went back after he left and I told him 'Just so you know bro I went back in and went crazy.' So he had to back go in and go crazy himself. For that song, we had like three sessions because we kept going harder each time until we found a common ground.

I like to really take advantage of the gifts and talents that we were given. R&B is it right now and Jacquees did something to the game whether they want to admit it or not. People are hungry and fiending for some R&B, so let's give them some R&B.

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What do you feel today’s R&B is missing?

It's missing its swag. I feel like everything is corny. I feel like R&B songs are too R&B—-they're too pretty with these soft ass beats and soft ass lyrics. With rap, it's hard to make a catchy rap song but I feel like the rap songs are much more edgier and harder that people rather listen to rap. People are not going to want to listen to that corny R&B song that whoever put out. When people play me beats that are too R&B I tell them to play me something harder.

Speaking of Jacquees calling himself the king of R&B, what do you think a person needs to do to really be the king of R&B?

Decades. Decades of success and hit records, like give me a top 10 record maybe for yourself and somebody else. I also think consistency. With Jacquees saying that, it was interesting because R&B isn't really about that. R&B cats won't promote they’re the best like rappers do. It was interesting for him to say it because it really got the whole game in an uproar. Now we're checking your receipts.

But when you come over here and you doing the covers and shit, it's like come on you can't say you're the king. I feel you stirring shit up and stirring up the pot because that's the day and age we live in. The trolling and the 6ix9ine/Soulja Boy antics is what gets the people riled up. I’m independent, written for myself and others since 2010, everything I've been doing I can say I'm the king. But I just feel like being the self-proclaimed king isn't a real title. I want to be the people's champ, I want people to say it not me.

Which do you prefer being out in the open as an artist or being behind closed doors as a songwriter and producer?

Now, I feel like being out in the open as an artist is what I like more. I used to love it 50/50 because the writing is what got me where I'm at but the artistry is a totally different feeling. It feels like high school football again when I make a touchdown and the fans and cheerleaders are going crazy. That instant gratification when you're on stage and people are singing your words there's no feeling like that. We’re not in 1998 anymore when people bought the album and read through the credits.  

You’ve achieved a lot as a songwriter and producer already. As you continue to make your strides as an artist what are some of the goals you want to achieve in 2019?

I would love to have like three top 10 songs. Give me like a number one song on the Billboard Hot 100, not the urban side either. I want to get my acting started. I already did a movie and I got a TV show that I wrote. I got a book that I started and I also have artists that I'm trying to develop with the label. With me doing this for so long, I do feel like I'm ready for so many other ventures. I think this year I'll be balancing myself while focusing a lot on the music because now is when people are really getting it and paying attention.

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