The R&B singer Tamia recently released her sixth studio album, Love Life, which also happens to be her highest charting album ever: No. 2 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and No. 1 on R&B Albums. Billboard chatted with the singer about the spurt of creativity that fueled the album’s creation, the stellar single “Sandwich And A Soda,” and her 20-year career as an R&B artist.
There was a six-year gap before your last album, but you managed to get this album out in three.
The last two projects I did completely independent — that’s a lot of work, doing all of that with a small team of people. Now linking my label with Def Jam, obviously the benefits to that are a ton more people to help you in the process. It’s the best of both worlds, because I’m working with Def Jam but I’m also still independent — it’s a joint venture. I get to work on the project the way I always did, but then I have a machine to help.
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Has the way you approached making an album changed over time?
I always unplug from everything for at least a month or so. This was a little different, I got a chance this time to go to a studio, and we rented out the two rooms and went back and forth — almost like a writing camp session. I was writing and recording kind of all in the same shot. I found that with that it was very creative. I finished this project in 10 days, which was pretty scary and exciting — I didn’t really know how to feel about that. I came home and told my husband [basketball star Grant Hill], “I’m a little nervous because I know I’m finished, but it’s crazy to say I finished this in 10 days.” And he’s like, “Well, Jay Z did Blueprint in a weekend.” So I’m like, “Okay, I’m done.”
Is that the fastest you’ve ever done an album?
Absolutely. Because sometimes you can write a song and you can be stuck for days. Or you could nitpick a song to death actually. For me to hear a song, write it, record it, and do a little bit of nitpicking — but to really have something done that I’m proud of in a short period of time, it’s like Quincy [Jones] used to say: There’s just magic that happens when you’re writing music sometimes. You’re like touched by God and everything just kind of works. And this is what happened with Love Life.
Let’s talk about “Sandwich And A Soda,” your first single. What’s the story behind that song?
I did realize that people judge books by covers and songs by titles. I knew when I put this out people would say, “What? Sandwich and a soda? What is that all about?” To me, “Sandwich And A Soda” is really what love life is about — you have to be able to have a good time with your partner at the end of the day. You have to be able to have one and want to spend time with that person. It’s about having a good time, driving with the windows down, holding hands.
The track is very modern but also very classic.
Absolutely. Pop and Oak [the producers on the track] are amazing. They have a way of making music that is authentically musical but still very current. It’s also about the melody as well. I could literally sing that song with a stand-up bass and it could sound really good.
Were Pop and Oak also a part of that writing camp?
Yes, they were there. They brought the idea for “Sandwich And A Soda,” they were like, “This is kind of a rough idea. I want you to hear it, let me know what you think.” And the guy was saying, [sings] “I’m the type of girl to kill to love you down,” and I was like, “Okay!” And he goes, “I’ma fluff your pillow, baby, bring you a sandwich and a soda,” and then I was like, “Let’s go — we have to develop this!” It was great. They’re great writers and great producers.
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Another one of the songs that stands out to me is “Like You Do” – there’s almost a G-funk feel to that track?
It’s very classic R&B. Slightly ’90s. I think that’s why I was drawn to it. When that beat drops in, you just want to do a body roll.
How do you feel like R&B has changed over the course of your career?
First off, R&B doesn’t get as much support as a lot of other genres. I do believe there’s a lot of great R&B out there. If we’re speaking mainstream, it doesn’t get the platform that other genres do, and it is a shame. The more we support it, the more people will demand that R&B gets a better platform and people will get the opportunity to perform at things like the Billboard [Music] Awards. This album is my sixth, and it signifies 20 years in the business. There’s a little “20” I put on it to remind me how fortunate I’ve been and how amazing people have been supporting me throughout these years, whether it was independent or on a major label. It’s been great to continue to grow musically and as a person — and to enjoy this ride. I feel like it’s only just begun.
This story originally appeared in the June 27 issue of Billboard.