Keyon Harrold Is Equal Parts Music and Magic on 'The Mugician': Exclusive

Deneka Peniston
Keyon Harrold

The Mugician may be Keyon Harrold's sophomore release, but it's not his second album.

The trumpeter, who has worked with Beyonce, Eminem, Jay-Z and others -- and, most notably, with Don Cheadle on the Miles Davis film "Miles Ahead" -- actually had the follow-up to 2009's Introducing Keyon Harrold "pretty much done" during October of 2015 when a thief broke into his car in New York, taking his laptop as well as seven hard drives with material from throughout his career. But Harrold didn't break stride. Rather, he saw the theft as a sign from above.

"It was the kind of thing where I could either cry and get super-depressed or say, 'Y'know what, the universe says that wasn't supposed to come out,'" Harrold tells Billboard. "A lot of the songs were about heartbreak and stuff like that. I had just gone through a relationship, a divorce or whatnot, and my life was kind of up in the air and I was basically airing out those feelings on that record that didn't come out. I look at it as God saying, 'I need you to approach it in a different way.'" Meanwhile, none of the stolen material has surfaced anywhere.

"I'm pretty sure whoever took it didn't know what they were getting," Harrold says. "It comes up anywhere over the next couple of years, if someone turns up these songs, it'll be great. But at that moment it wasn't what it was supposed to be."

Harrold was able to save a pair of tracks, "Stay This Way" and "Wayfaring Traveler," for The Mugician, 12 track set that comes out Sept. 29 with a guest list that includes Robert Glasper, Bilal, Big K.R.I.T.Gary Clark, Jr., Pharoahe Monch and more. The rest of the material was created fresh, and "The Mugician" track came from a pre-panel discussion breakfast with Cheadle while promoting "Miles Ahead."

"Don and I were having a muffin, just talking, and he was saying, 'I really appreciate you. You did a great job on your role in this movie. It was pretty magical, like you're a magician,'" Harrold recalls. "I was like, 'What?' Then we started this wordplay about musician-magician, and when we got on stage (at the panel discussion) Don introduced me as 'the mugician.' And I thought about it and said, 'I'm gonna have to write something along those lines...'"

The track itself is a bit of a sonic hodgepodge, with licks echoing Davis and a reggae element courtesy of The Wailers' Josh David Barnett. "I had to be very creative and I wanted it to be aggressive," explains Harrold, who played parts for both Cheadle's Davis and Keith Stanfield's Junior. "That's what working on (the film) was for me; It was aggressive and it was my own thing. As much as it was about Miles, it was also about me being myself as well. The character Junior was basically the way I played, so I wanted to approach ('The Mugician') this way."

Harrold will be touring to support The Mugician, both immediately around its release as well as during the early part of 2018. After eight years he's happy to have another album out under his own name, and he's certainly feeling the push created by "Miles Ahead."

"It's definitely something that helped propel me to another place," he acknowledges. "I've been working in the industry for a very long time with so many different people. I've always had that credibility as a player but it was finally a time where I was able to close a chapter, pretty much, and really go forward in my own career vs. making other people sound wonderful. That's great to do, but I think it's my time now."

Check out the title track from The Mugician ahead of it Sept. 29 release via Legacy Recordings/ Mass Appeal Records below.