Ahead of the May release of his collaborative summer single “Slidin'” with Kodak Black, Jason Derulo partnered with Tuborg Open to give six unsigned international rising artists the mentoring opportunity of a lifetime.
For the experience, presented by Danish beer brand Tuborg as part of the annual Tuborg Open campaign (which is in its sixth year), each artist spent one-on-one studio time in Los Angeles with Derulo, learning key pointers about performing, producing, songwriting and what it takes to succeed in the industry. The artists also individually performed for Derulo at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre and were given constructive feedback.
In alphabetical order, the six participating artists (who each represented different parts of the world) are: Dee MC (India), Halko (Turkey), Iva Lorens (Serbia), Shokhrullo Abdullaev (Uzbekistan), Stoposto (Bosnia) and VEK (Nepal).
Since the 2010 arrival of Derulo’s self-titled debut album, which peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and charted for 34 weeks, the hitmaker has appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 chart 22 times — with two No. 1 hits (his solo “Whatcha Say” and “Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat)” with Jawsh 685). Seven of Derulo’s most popular hits have earned placements in the chart’s top 10, including “In My Head” and “Ridin’ Solo.”
Billboard caught up with Derulo on set in Los Angeles, as the six artists joined forces for a photo shoot and he opened up about navigating the industry, getting re-inspired musically thanks to Afrobeats, and his new single “Slidin’,” as well as his upcoming graphic novel and film — plus his advice for emerging artists.
How did you get involved with the Tuborg Open campaign?
This campaign was brought to my attention with the idea that we would be mentoring different artists from around the world. I thought it was a great idea. I’ve been in the industry for so long, and obviously everybody has their own journey. But my journey was a very specific, interesting kind of journey. I thought it would be cool to to hop in on this and in the process, it’s given me some nostalgia. I remember my beginnings.
But I also thought outside of the six artists that are chosen to be here, there would be a lot of aspiring artists that would watch it and get inspired. I’ve been getting different kinds of questions, because what the world wants and what artists want to know are two totally different things.
What do you feel is the importance of artist mentorship in the industry?
I always say that in a lot of different fields, you get a playbook, so to speak, and have teachers or coaches that help you along the way. But the music industry — you kind of got to make it happen yourself, and there’s no one to guide you. Even for myself, during my journey, I had to figure it out.
If I had someone like myself to guide me through the situation, it would have been a lot easier, and I would have had to bump my head a lot less times. So if I can be that teacher or that mentor for some people for a period of time, I hope they can soak all of the information they can, so they can make this process a lot easier.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you have given yourself?
I would tell myself that I’m on the right track — because you don’t get a pat on the back enough on your journey. You have a lot of doors shut in your face, and it gets tough, because you’re also going for a dream that is the impossible dream. Everybody around you, it’s hard for them to believe, and it’s not their fault. But if people aren’t laughing at a dream, it probably isn’t big enough. Even to this day, I’ll tell people what my goals are and they don’t take it seriously.
I would also tell myself to remain myself. A lot of what I’ve learned has been from pulling from different artists and seeing what’s led to success. I can pull those tools and learn about them, but ultimately be myself.
Was there anyone that really took you under their wing?
My manager Frank Harris was really instrumental in my career and how he mentored me from the music business standpoint. I think I’m more versed in the music industry because of the knowledge that he gave me. I definitely had a hand in the music industry business, for lack of a better term. But from an artist perspective, it was me doing my research, going to the past greats and listening to everything that I could possibly listen to and soaking in from that perspective — from album to album to album, different genres, jumping around to different styles of dance, different styles of music and then essentially putting myself together based on all of my different influences.
We don’t often see artists from countries like Bosnia and Uzbekistan represented in the U.S. How did you choose the participating musicians?
There were some guidelines. They wanted it to be multicultural. I have a global picture of of how I see the world in general, because I’m from Miami. I’ve always had a real global perspective, because everybody in my classes [growing up] was from this place or that. Tuborg is popular in different countries, so you want to utilize those countries.
When you watched these artists perform and heard their demos, what were you listening and looking for? What’s the most impressive thing of this collective group?
I was looking for some sort of spark that an artist has — well as human beings, we all have our special thing. But a lot of times it doesn’t come across in people’s music. I think a lot of times in these competition based shows, they’re not looking for a special thing about a person but they’re looking for the best voice. Unfortunately, that is not what makes a star. It’s a special something about somebody that makes a star. Cardi B, before she put out any music, people were into Cardi B, she had that special something.
That’s why when you’re watching these shows like American Idol and The Voice, no star is coming out of them [except] very few and far between. Kelly Clarkson, yes, Carrie Underwood, yes. But how many seasons have there been? These [Tuborg Open campaign] artists have a long way to go to make an impact in the world, but that’s what I was looking for.
These six artists are unsigned. Do you think there are advantages to being unsigned or do you think it’s always best to be signed with a label?
Now more than ever, people can create a big buzz about themselves. But it’s really tough to sustain a high level of buzz by yourself without the machine. It is definitely possible, but there’s not very many examples of that. If I was placing my bet, I would definitely sign to a label. I come from the school of, ‘Bigger is better.’ I’m like a commercial idealist.
Some artists have the, the idea of, “I want to own everything,” which I do as well. But some artists have the perspective of, “I don’t want a label to take any of my music or my music money.” Then they’re left with this small pool of people that are listening to their music and that’s not my vibe.
Can fans expect collaborations with you and any of the artists you mentored?
Anything is possible, but that’s tough — you’d have to offer something that’s really valuable to me. If I feel like there’s something valuable and we can offer each other something, I’ll do it, for any feature. For instance, I have a song coming out with Kodak Black, ‘Slidin’,” and we’re both Haitian boys, from the same place. It’s cool because he has a totally different audience than I have. I think it’s going to be a record that people are going to be really surprised by.
What’s the best advice you’ve given them so far?
I talked about my live performances and what it takes to put on a full tour, and how I put my tour together. I talked about the importance of having music while while you speak to the audience, because music makes the world look so much more beautiful. A lot of artists will stop the music and not have music and speak without the music, which is really lackluster. But when you have music behind you, anything you say sounds way more beautiful and profound. I thought that was invaluable, because most amateur performers speak without any music and the music makes you look way bigger and better. Like night and day.
Outside of American music, what types of music do you love?
Kompa is what I grew up listening to, so that’s my native music. I really like the Indian vibe, their music scale is different in India and the vocal range is crazy. Afrobeats literally re-inspired me in the last two years. It was deep, I wasn’t listening to music in the gym, car or anywhere — but I started listening to Afrobeats and it changed everything for me. It brought back my [love for] music like I did when I was a kid. Afrobeats has been a huge influence in all of my new music.
Tell us about your new song “Slidin'” with Kodak Black.
If I had to make summer a sound, it would be this song. This song feels like summer, so I think it’s gonna be a big moment for summertime and get people dancing. It’s also empowering for women, talking about a boss woman who’s doing her own thing and has her own. It’s a huge dance bop.
What’s next for Jason this year?
I have a graphic novel called Uzo that’s coming out, an [Igbo] Nigerian name. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years. I’ve always been into comic movies but not comics, so making this has brought me into that world. It has a superhero angle, another Black superhero. I’m turning it into a movie, the script is in the works. I already have partners for the movie so we can film it in the next year. I have a water called Treo. Treo is a fruit water that is only 15 calories with organic fruit. I was the biggest investor in Catch LA. I have about 30 locations of Rumble Boxing in America.