What was the inspiration behind penning "Fine China"?
We were in the studio everyday for about two months. RoccStar and PK played the beat and I immediately thought about Michael Jackson. So they said, "Go in the booth and do some Michael-type stuff." I was just coming off the top of my head and was able to come up with something. Michael could do no wrong, so that was what my parents allowed me to listen to while I was growing up; and then Chris put his spin on it and kept it real and relevant.
How important is it for a song to have a good hook?
It's the most important thing. People that are songwriters don't understand the power of the hook sometimes. With me and my songs, I try to make every single section a hook. The verse is of course the verse, but my melodies in all of my verses are potential hooks. I feel like you can give anyone the right ingredients, but they don't necessarily know how to make the right dish. You have to give people something to hold on to and to remember.
What's the vibe like between you and Chris in the studio?
It's always different because you can bring two writers or producers together that are incredible, but if they don't get along or have chemistry in the studio, it's completely different. With that in mind, we've been writing for so long that we kind of grew a brotherhood. Also with Sevyn [Streeter], we had different aspects and perspectives, from the female point of view as well as the male point of view. We all encourage each other. It's a positive experience.
You've also been working with Usher on his upcoming LP. In his remix of Rocko's "U.O.E.N.O," Usher mentions he has some more "confessions" for his listeners. Do you think a "Confessions" part II is on the way or is this just another confessional album?
I would say part two; part two sounds good compared to what "Confessions" was. What he kept expressing [to me] was his desire to give people the real and a glimpse into his life. That's what the first one was. He was talking about his relationship with Chilli and people connected with that. People gravitate to that because everyone is going through the same problem within their own lives. It makes the music a little bit easier to adapt to and relate to.
What sound is Usher going for this time around?
Usher is at a place where he's more comfortable. With his other projects, I think he was like, "Okay. I'm going to do this because I think people may want to hear this." But, I think this time around, he's going to do what he wants to do in his heart and that's R&B, the stuff that got him here in the first place. He's done so many genres of music and excelled in every area, so now he's like, "Cool. What's left for me to do? I've done everything. So, I'm going to take it back to R&B, timeless music."
Considering the current state of R&B, do you think Usher will be able to successfully implement that?
I definitely do. He has always done R&B, even on the last project. We did "What Happened to U." All of those were R&B, but with a different beat. We were able to experiment on "I Care For You," with some next level, futuristic, dub step type of music, but still with the touch of smooth R&B within the melodies. [The album] is definitely still very commercial. It's going to be for the radio and the club. He's still Usher. He has to lead the pack.
Aside from your songwriting efforts, you recently dropped volume 3 of your mixtape series, "Born II Sing." What inspired the whole 'Godfather' theme for this version?
It was the message from the movie. Don Corleone was basically "the guy." He was the one everyone turned to. I decided to brand that because so many people come to me for songs or ideas or advice with their music. That's how it feels sometimes. When you're the creative guy and so many people come up to you for certain things, and now that's it's time to work on my project, I'm like, "Who can I call when I want to work and I need help from other writers?" I have to call on myself. It's a different vibe each time, but it's a lot tougher on me.
So you're the godfather of songwriting?
What's one piece of advice you've taken away from working alongside all of these industry heavy hitters?
Whatever you do and say musically, people are going to hold it against you. Once you say something and your music goes out, it's your brand. It's going to represent you. No matter if I'm the songwriter or not, when that person is up on stage performing my song, that's the message that people are getting from you. So whatever you're singing about, it's something you want people to remember you for. You have to give people the real and what you want them to know you for. It's about being true and genuine to yourself.
Check out Eric Bellinger's "Born II Sing Vol. 3" mixtape: