The year 2015 will mark songwriter-producer Rodney Jerkins’ 20th in the music business. His first 19 have seen him produce or co-produce 16 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 for the likes of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and others, including four No. 1s. And next year is shaping up to be a banner celebration. The Los Angeles-based Grammy winner recently wrapped executive-producer duties on Mary J. Blige‘s Capitol Records debut, The London Sessions (due in December), and in July launched his new label, Evolve, in partnership with Capitol Music Group.
How did The London Sessions come about?
It was the day after Mary and Sam Smith had taped the live video for “Stay With Me.” Steve [Barnett, Capitol chairman/CEO] and I pitched the idea of putting her with the best producers and songwriters in London, including Sam, Emeli Sande, Disclosure and others. That was in May. In July we were in London and recorded the whole album in 24 days.
What was the biggest change you saw in her?
Her growth spiritually. Listen to her vocals: It’s the clearest and cleanest she has ever sounded. Everyone is saying it. This is probably the best place she has been in a long time.
Who will be the first Evolve releases?
Evan Ross for early next year — I never clinged to the fact that his mom [Diana Ross] is a legend. If you’re good, you can hold your own. And we closed a deal with super-talented YouTube comedienne-singer Smokahontas.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of Billboard.