Vanessa Laker Meets Kelly Rowland: The Interview!

It’s easy to see why Kelly Rowland’s glowing from ear-to-ear because, not only is she looking her best, the former Destiny’s Child member has a career which is rocketing sky-high. The R&B diva is currently taking the UK by storm as a new judge on The X Factor, dazzling viewers with her demure glam outfits, while mentoring her girls…

With her new single, ‘Down For Whatever’, and her third solo album, ‘Here I Am’, released later this month, life’s pretty good for Ms Rowland.  Vanessa Laker had an exclusive chat with the Grammy-winning star, at the W Hotel, to talk about her new LP, dealing with drama on The X Factor, her love for fashion, why she’s a fan of Emeli Sandé, plus a lot more.

Vanessa: Hi Kelly! You’ve got a new song coming out called ‘Down For Whatever’. Tell us a bit about it…

Kelly Rowland: ‘Down For Whatever’ came about through RedOne (Lady GaGa, Jennifer Lopez).We were in the studio, it was my first time meeting him, and it was a party from the moment that we met. When I first heard ‘Down For Whatever’, I was just so excited about the record and the UK Universal team heard it and they were like, ‘That’s our first single!’

Vanessa: In the US, you’ve released ‘Motivation’ and ‘Lay It On Me’ – which are more urban-sounding songs – but your UK lead single is much more dance-orientated.  Do you feel that there’s a big difference between your UK and US fans?

Kelly Rowland: Well, I have released many dance songs over here. From having the remix to ‘Work It’, to doing ‘When Love Takes Over’ on a whim, it worked. We’re just following suit. ‘Lay It On Me’ will definitely come out and be a single over here. I think that’s what’s so great about music now and that’s what’s so great about artists, period! Like, look at Chris Brown for example, he’ll have ‘Look At Me Know’, but then he’ll also have ‘Beautiful People’. I think as artists, we’re able to just not have limits and not allow anyone to put limits on us, and that’s what I did on this record.

Vanessa: ‘Down For Whatever’ is taken from your new album, ‘Here I Am’, which is your third solo LP. How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist from your first album, ‘Simply Deep’, all the way to ‘Here I Am’?

Kelly Rowland: Oh my goodness! Well, for one, it’s just being more certain and sure of myself as a woman. I feel like I’ve grown as a woman and I love that feeling, hence the album title, ‘Here I Am’.

Vanessa:  With this new record, there’s this glow and confidence about you. Do you feel that you’ve really come into yourself?

Kelly Rowland: I have, I definitely have. I didn’t know what 30 was going to bring, but it definitely brought a load of confidence and self-assurance, and just feeling like I’ve got my big girl shoes on.

Vanessa: Tell us a bit your new album, ‘Here I Am’…

Kelly Rowland: ‘Here I Am’ is a very grown and sexy album, it’s sensual as well. I found myself being sensual a lot on this record, it just kind of came out. It’s really cool when things just come out on this record. There are moments that make you dance, moments that make you reflect, like ‘Heaven And Earth’, and there are moments that make you wanna just chill with your boo on a nice little night, like ‘Motivation’ and ‘Feelin’ Me Right Now’.

Vanessa: There’s pretty much a song for every mood…

Kelly Rowland: Exactly!

Vanessa: And how are you finding your new role as a judge on The X Factor?

Kelly Rowland: I’m really excited about my new role as a judge on The X Factor. It’s been quite a journey, especially as the weekend’s progress, but it’s been great. I love it!

Vanessa: Over here, The X Factor hype is pretty crazy – as you’ve now come to find out. Did you know exactly what you were getting yourself into when you signed up for the show?

Kelly Rowland: I knew that it was crazy, but I didn’t know that it was on another level crazy (laughs). But it’s all good, I really do enjoy myself on The X Factor and I’m genuinely having a good time.

Vanessa: There are gossip magazines in America, but the British tabloids are a little bit more intense. How are you dealing with the constant press stories about The X Factor and all of the drama surrounding the show?

Kelly Rowland: They’re just doing their job and you can’t really be upset when someone’s doing their job. I learnt that from someone I admire very much. Whether it’s the paparazzi or a journalist who’s twisting the story, because they can take one nice little one-liner and take it and make it their own, it’s just a matter of knowing that’s their job and understanding that it just comes with the territory.

Vanessa:  And just taking it with pinch of salt as well…

Kelly Rowland: Exactly! I don’t let any of that stuff get to my heart.

Vanessa:  You’ve been a revelation on the show and UK audiences have really warmed to you. Just last week you won Ultimate TV Personality at the Cosmopolitan Women Of The Year Awards. How was that?

Kelly Rowland: I know, right? That was very cool and I’m such a fan of Cosmo. I’m such a fan of Cosmo because of everything they do for females. They empower female and they award females for doing different things in their communities – they just make a difference in people’s lives. It was just really great to get an award on a night, where I’m looking at other women being honoured as well, it was phenomenal.

Kelly week 3 Kelly week 2

Vanessa:  Your weekly outfits have taken the fashion world by storm, and style critics have been singing your praises. How important is fashion to you?

Kelly Rowland: I just LOVE clothes! I’m a girl who loves clothes, accessories, shoes, bags and jewellery. I feel as though my style has really evolved as well. When you come over here to London, you just get even more inspired. I also have some wonderful stylists. Between my stylists and my hair and my makeup team, we just sit there and go through magazines – because we’re just fiends for magazines. We’ll sit there and just look at things all day and we’ll have our little magazine parties (laughs). Photography and everyday people inspire us, too.

Vanessa:  Your new judging role means that you’ll be spending a lot of time in the UK. Are you a fan of British music?

Kelly Rowland: Oh, most definitely. Right now I love Tinie Tempah. I love, love, love, Tinie! Oh, and Calvin Harris. Oh wait, there’s this girl, I love her song. OMG what’s her name again? She has the blonde hair…

Vanessa: Emeli Sandé?

Kelly Rowland: Yes! Emeli Sandé, that’s the one. I love her song. That girl sounds amazing live, she can SING. I really like her a lot.

Vanessa:  And when can your UK fans see you performing live?

Kelly Rowland: I’ll be performing at the ‘1Xtra Live Tour’ on December 1 at Brixton Academy, where I’ll be performing some exclusive tracks from my new album. I’m so excited for that!

Kelly Rowland’s new album, ‘Here I Am’, is out now.

Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker)

Vanessa Laker Meets Jess Mills: The Interview!

She earned her stripes on the underground club scene, but following the release of her critically acclaimed ‘Vultures’ EP, Jess Mills is predicted to take the music world by storm. Exuding an emotional, euphoric dance-inspired pop sound, the north London singer-songwriter is on course for mainstream success…

MTV’s Vanessa Laker recently caught up with the rising star to talk new music, playing at Glastonbury, growing up with Ms Dynamite and why old skool garage doesn’t need to make a comeback.

Vanessa: Earlier this year, you released your ‘Vultures’ EP – which was very well received. Were you overwhelmed by the positive reaction towards it or did you feel that this was your time to shine?

Jess Mills: I don’t think you ever know that at all. You just have to believe in the record yourself. You always have to put your best foot forward and, when you’re making music, there’s always a sense that you’re jumping off the edge of a cliff and you don’t know whether you’re going to fly or fall. If you’re lucky, the wind catches you and you sail off – but there is never any guarantee. It’s just really exciting when people do listen to it and they seem to be genuinely getting into it.

Vanessa: When a new artist comes out, they’re automatically compared to a similar artist that’s already out there. But that hasn’t really happened with you, as you’re pretty much going in your own path. How would you describe your musical sound?

Jess Mills: I find it hard to categorize my music, as I’ve never set out to particularly follow any genres. I wanted the music to have a strong dose of freedom of spirit to it. My music is more of an emotion than an actual genre itself. Someone recently described my music as ‘wintery emotive electronica.’ I thought that was a pretty good description.

Vanessa: You’ve been doing music for quite some time now – mainly on the underground club circuit. How does it feel to finally be getting the right type of recognition, which many would say is so rightfully due?

Vanessa: You never think of it like that. I’ve never put a timeline on it. I’ve always known I’ll be making music ‘till the day I die. What’s happened now is a really amazing opportunity to make an album that people really have the chance of hearing. I’m just so lucky and extremely grateful. Even though I write the material, making a record is such a collaborative effort – from the producers, your managers that are working all day, radio pluggers, etc. This is definitely the most exciting part in my career so far, but I have to acknowledge that it is a team effort. When a record is successful, it’s not just down to the artist, it’s a team effort and I’m working with such an amazing team.

Vanessa: Although your music doesn’t necessarily follow any particular genre, which artists and sounds have inspired you?

Jess Mills: As a songwriter, I’m very influenced by The Cure – both in terms of songwriting and sonic landscape. They made some of the most seminal crossover electronic music of all time. Also, Thom Yorke and Radiohead. On a lyrical level, Joni Mitchell. Fleetwood Mac, too! There are just so many.

Vanessa: You played Glastonbury this year, right?

Jess Mills: Yeah, with Breakage.

Vanessa: Playing at Glasto is what every musician hopes to do. What was it like playing at such an iconic event?

Jess Mills: It was amazing! We played a late night, dirty, mosh pit set, so it was wicked. I’ve been going to Glastonbury since I was nine years old, so to now be the one performing on stage was quite a moment.

Vanessa: You and Ms Dynamite are childhood friends. Will we be seeing a Jess Mills/Ms Dynamite collaboration in the future?

Vanessa: When me and Niomi (Ms Dynamite’s real name) get together, we don’t even talk about music. When you get together with your friends, you rarely talk about your professions. You talk about what you’ve done over the weekend, or say, ‘Let’s go out to this party.’ We just generally have a good catch-up.

Vanessa: And what’s this I hear about you and Dynamite doing dodgy dance routines at assembly…

Jess Mills: (Laughs) Me, Niomi and a group of girlfriends would always find a way to embarrass ourselves. We were definitely partial to some dodgy dance routines in assembly. We did ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper’ (laughs).

Vanessa: We now know you liked doing dodgy dance routines in assembly (laughs), but how did you get into music? How did it all start for you?

Jess Mills: I’ve always played music. I’ve played classical piano since I was 5 or 6 and I started singing gently to myself when I was 12 or 13. I was quite private about my singing, although I always took it serious. Even when I was at university, I always knew that music was my chosen path.

Vanessa: Growing up, were you a fan of garage?

Jess Mills: Yeah, I was. I was out at the clubs on the weekends, and obviously Niomi was doing her thing. She first started MCing when we were in our teens, so we’d bolt around London and support her wherever she was playing – sometimes going to three clubs in one night. Back then, garage was a movement that was so specific to London in those days. It was really exciting and everyone involved in that whole scene loved the music so much. A lot of good music came from it. It’s funny, when you listen to garage now, it sounds so retro. 

Vanessa: Yep! It sounds really old skool now (laughs). Do you think garage can make a comeback or is it strictly music of the past?

Jess Mills: I think the genre just evolved. You have to allow music to evolve. I think it’s important not to try and take something from a point in history and try and position it in the present. Everything’s got its own context as to why it had its moment at that time. I don’t think it needs to make a comeback. It’s birthed life into so many other forms of music.

Vanessa: True. It paved the way for grime, funky and all of those other genres.

Jess Mills: Exactly! Now you kind of look at garage in a nostalgic way. I don’t think it needs to make a comeback, it just needs to be loved from a far (laughs).

Vanessa: And lastly, tell us a bit about you debut album. What can we expect from it?

Jess Mills: The album will be out next year. ‘Vultures’ and ‘Live For What I’d Die For’ are a hint of what the record is shaping up to be. It’s not all epic-sounding electronic tracks. There’s an electronic spirit laced throughout the whole record, but there are much more kind of spacious, downtempo and introspective moments. Lyrically, it’s drawing on my life – from tracks about deep loss, to tracks about the biggest heartbreak you’ve ever felt, to the best love you’ve felt, to just having a good time. Emotively, I’m covering a lot of ground and that’s very reflective and representative in the sound and tone of the record. I’m still writing, but I’m really looking forward to finishing it and putting it out for everyone to hear.

Stay up to date with Jess Mills on Twitter – www.twitter.com/JessMillsMusic

www.jessmills.co.uk 

Follow Vanessa Laker on Twitter –> @VanessaLaker

Vanessa Laker Meets LMFAO: The interview!

Their songs are permanent fixtures on the dancefloors and in the music charts, and with their flamboyant attire, LMFAO could give easily Lady GaGa a run for her money in the style stakes. Following in the musical footsteps of their father and grandfather – Motown founder, Berry Gordy – Redfoo and SkyBlu are spreading their ‘Party Rock’ sound across the globe…

MTV’s Vanessa Laker recently caught up with the Grammy-winning electro rappers to talk wild parties, knocking Jennifer Lopez off the top spot and to find out if they really are just as crazy in real life…

Vanessa: Hi guys! So what craziness have you been getting up to whilst in London?

Redfoo: Every night has been insanely crazy.

SkyBlu: KER-RAY-ZY!

Redfoo: Last night was probably actually the most craziest night ever, and that’s saying a lot. I mean, we’ve been busy as hell – we’ve done a bunch of interviews and a few TV shows, and then we did a few live shows – but we did a show at the Cirque Du Soleil, which was bananas.

Vanessa: Cirque Du Soleil is a pretty cool place to do a live show…

Redfoo: It really is. That show got wild! I mean, it was just non-stop shenanigans.

SkyBlu: Yeah, sometimes it gets pretty wild. I stage dived on a table full of bottles and cut my finger. I needed stitches and everything, but it’s all good.

Vanessa: So you guys go pretty hard then when you’re performing?

SkyBlu: We go hard all day, every day.

Vanessa: Cool. So, Laugh My F*%cking A*s Off. That’s an interesting name. How did you guys come up with that as your official group name?

SkyBlu: Grandma did.

Redfoo: Yep, straight up.

SkyBlu: Well, actually, she didn’t do it, someone in the family did. They just described us.

Redfoo: No, grandma gave us the name in a cheque and posted it to us.

SkyBlu: Oh yeah! Grandma’s amazing like that.

Vanessa: How did your nicknames, Redfoo and SkyBlu, come about?

Redfoo: You know how a lot of people choose their names? Well, our names chose us. There’s this thing where names get together and they draw out of a hat. Apparently, Redfoo came out as a little figurine of me and said, ‘POW!’ That’s the guys name I’m going to be.

TWU: Interesting! What about you, SkyBlu?

SkyBlu: Well, my mother was in the air force and she was giving birth on a cargo plane and BAM! Out in the blue sky, came SkyBlu. Straight up! Just like a balloon in the sky.

Vanessa: That’s a very unique story. Speaking of unique, you guys have a very unique sense of style. Have you always been such flamboyant characters?

Redfoo: We grew up in a playful environment, in a surfing community. It’s called the Pacific Palace, which is where they used to tape Baywatch. You know, we’ve always been mucking around and were introduced to the bright lights at a really young age – hence the bright purple trousers that I’m wearing today.

SkyBlu: Shout out to Eddie Murphy.

Vanessa: You guys are clearly quite out there. What’s the craziest thing that’s happened whilst touring on the road?

SkyBlu: So many crazy things happen. Fire extinguishers. We went to [London club] Jalouse the other night and I took the fire extinguisher and just sprayed it like everywhere. It will be on YouTube soon.

Redfoo: He just does stuff like that and once he’s full up on Red Bull, you just can’t stop him. It’s all just crazy.

Vanessa: The staff must have been pretty peeved off that night (laughs). OK, let’s talk music. Your single, ‘Party Rock Anthem’, recently topped the UK charts. What was that feeling like?

SkyBlu: It felt amazing! It was one of the most amazing feelings.

Redfoo: It’s a dream come true. It’s a fantasy come true. It’s more than just a dream, it’s an actual fantasy. You know, it’s like you work so hard to achieve what you’ve always dreamed about and now you gotta work on the struggle. We gotta keep on doing what we’re doing to maintain the dream.

Vanessa: And you guys knocked Jennifer Lopez off the top spot. That must have made the number one even more victorious?

Redfoo: It was actually better when we were behind her, at number two.

SkyBlu: Being behind J-Lo is a fun position.

Redfoo: It’s a very fun position to be in, coming up right behind her, and then BAM! You’re on top. It was like number one for four weeks. We hit that.

SkyBlu: We hit that spot, because we’re G’s!

Redfoo: Yeah, baby!

Vanessa: Now, your 2008 debut single, ‘I’m In Miami B*tch!’, became a full blown anthem – and it still is today. Did you envision it would be so huge when recording it?

Redfoo: Everything we do is a dream, it’s a vision. But when we made that track, it was an experiment. Did Alexander Graham Bell think that when he made the telephone that it was gonna be that huge? So in that retrospect, I don’t think we knew it was going to be a ‘party anthem’ – a crazy thing to get the party started. It was more for us, to go to Miami and have a song that was relevant. We made it for the travellers. It’s a traveller’s song. It’s for wherever you’re at and not where you’re from. It’s where you’re at. Right now, we’re in London, so I’ll say, ‘I’m in London B*tch!’

Vanessa: Your new album, ‘Sorry For Party Rocking’, is out soon. Tell us a bit about that…

Redfoo: It’s out on July 18. It’s a very experimental album. The ingredients were made, the experiment was done. It’s a fun album that you can really rock out to and just have a good time to. The invention is there.

Vanessa: And why did you call it ‘Sorry For Party Rocking’? What are you apologising for?

SkyBlu: For the never-ending party. It goes on and on and just NEVER stops.

Vanessa: Your new single – which features Brit singer, Natalia Kills – is titled ‘Champagne Showers’. Do you have many champagne showers?

SkyBlu: For sure! Life is one big party.

Vanessa: I hear you also have your hands in the fashion industry. Tell us a bit about your Party Rock clothing line…

Redfoo: Party Rock Clothing is every bit of passion. I wanted to dress from head to toe in something that I made: shoes, underwear and everything else. It’s a fun and fresh line.

Vanessa: And you also have a social networking site, right?

Redfoo: Yep! Party Rock People was an accessory for the fans, to show them that we’re part of the people, too. You know, it could have just been a Facebook group, but nah, you can’t control it the way you need to.

Vanessa: And if you guys weren’t making music or weren’t involved in the entertainment industry, what would you be doing?

SkyBlu: Making love for money.

Vanessa: Kind of like a male gigolo?

SkyBlu: A male gigolo!

Redfoo: You have to do what you love to do and making love, that’s a passion of ours.

Follow LMFAO on Twitter – www.twitter.com/LMFAO

Follow Vanessa Laker on Twitter –> @VanessaLaker

Vanessa Laker Meets Keri Hilson: The Interview

Over the last decade, Keri Hilson has made a name for herself as a renowned songwriter, penning tracks for the likes of Britney SpearsUsher and the Pussycat Dolls, to name a few. After featuring on Timbaland’s 2007 ‘Shock Value’ LP, the Georgia native went from behind the scenes to becoming the main star. Two years later and her debut studio album, ‘In A Perfect World’, was released to critical acclaim, earning the 28-year-old two Grammy nominations…

In a time where many artists are keen to adapt to the ‘popular’ sound, Hilson follows her own musical path and has become one of R&B music’s front runners, with no signs of slowing down. Not shy to push the creative boundaries and prone to a bit a controversy, the sultry singer’s ‘No Boys Allowed’ demonstrates her musical growth and style evolution.

The talented songstress recently popped into MTV HQ, where she had a candid chat with The Wrap Up’s Vanessa Laker to talk about new music, female empowerment, fashion, men, controversy and much more!

The Wrap Up: Hi Keri! How are finding your stay in London so far?

Keri Hilson: Hi! So far, I’ve only had the preliminaries to my work here. I’ve done a couple of interviews, so we’re really just getting started, but I love London.

TWU: Your sophomore album, ‘No Boys Allowed’, is currently out. How does this record differ from your debut LP, ‘In A Perfect World’?

Keri Hilson: It’s a lot more self assured. It’s a lot more aggressive. I felt that with ‘In A Perfect World’ I was still kind of finding myself – not just as a musician, but also in love and in life. A lot of the songs were written maybe five or six years ago. Now, I know a lot more about what it is I want from relationships. I feel women tolerate way too much. We don’t get half of what we need from men these days and I just wanted to call guys out, let them know we know the difference between a boy and a man.

TWU: The title ‘No Boys Allowed’ can easily be misinterpreted. What’s the exact meaning behind it?

Keri Hilson: It just means real men do real things. I prefer men to boys. To clear it up, it’s not about an older or younger thing. It’s a mindset, not age. There are 18-year-old men out there and there are 40-year-old boys. 

TWU: This album has a really sexy, self empowerment feel to it. Is this a reflection of how you’re feeling at this point in your life and career?

Keri Hilson: Absolutely! I don’t have the reason, or will, to do music that paints myself perfect. If that means revealing parts of me, that others might not… You know, I’m just a lot less inhibited and I don’t approach music the way I once did a very long time ago.

TWU: Switching to fashion, you’re always pictured on the red carpet looking very glam. How important is style and fashion to you?

Keri Hilson: I’ll be honest; I’m a student of fashion. I say that because I just wear what I feel. I’m not led by name brands and things like that. You’d much more see me in approachable brands, approachable stores and things like that. I mix the high street with the high end, but I’m not all about designer clothes. We call it a ‘label whore’ or a ‘label freak’, and I’m not all about that.

TWU: And how would you describe your own personal style?

Keri Hilson: My personal style is tomboy sheek!

TWU: Being a female in the public eye, do you feel under pressure to always look your best?

Keri Hilson: Erm, there’s a little pressure, but it really doesn’t get to me because you want to look your best. Even if you’re walking through the airport or going to pick up your mail, if you meet a fan and they have a camera, they will take a picture of you and millions could potentially see that picture – if it’s picked up by a blog or whatever. That potential is what makes me spend a little more time on the things I don’t care about, which is the girly s**t, beauty etc.

TWU: Do you feel this pressure to look good is more intense for females, compared to males?

Keri Hilson: I don’t know. I feel like men put in some effort to look effortless, it’s the one thing I’ve realised because I’m around a lot of stylish, fashionable men. Although they get to be a lot more friggin’ comfortable than we are, they’re into fashion; they just pretend they’re not.

TWU: OK, back to your album. One of my personal favourite songs is ‘One Night Stand’ featuring Chris Brown, as it kind of takes you back to that old skool R&B vibe. Did you guys set out and intend to take R&B back to its grassroots with this song?

Keri Hilson: Yeah, that was intentional. That’s the error that I love. I love everything from the 70s, 80s and 90s. I love everything that I grew up on. Well, I didn’t come from the 70s, but my parents made me have an appreciation for that music and the early 80s. So yeah, it was definitely intentional. When Chris Brown and I get together, it’s always a moment in time and I just remember having fun. That’s what it’s all about.

TWU: A lot of contemporary R&B has a European dance sound to it now, but are you a fan of the two sounds mixing?

Keri Hilson: Yes, it has happened and I feel like I’ve watched it happen, because I travel here and you can hear the sound slowly creeping into American music. Now, though, it’s full on and it’s not even just singers, but rappers as well – everyone! I think it’s a really cool sound. I think it was long overdue that the music pierced a gap over the seas. It took a lot of seriousness out of what hip-hop used to be. You had things like gangsta rap and now it’s more party mode. I think it’s a good thing. I mean, I could do with a little more of a conscious rap, I just don’t want us to lose our way, but at the same time, it’s a sign of the times and our economy. During these times, people just want to be entertained, they wanna have fun and music is a reflection of the era.

TWU: Your recent video for ‘The Way You Love Me’ made quite a few headlines and caused a bit of controversy. Were you surprised by the reaction that video received?

Keri Hilson: Erm, I’ll be honest, nothing surprises me anymore. It was what it was, or it is what it is. It was a moment in time. It was (dancer and choreographer) Laurieann Gibson’s directorial debut and we just wanted to have fun with the record. I mean, how many ways are you gonna take a sexual record? But I was surprised – as everybody else was surprised – because when I’m in the studio, I don’t really censor myself, but at the same time, after, as an after thought, you do censor your record. You do go back and change the f-words to other things. I do that all the time. But while I’m creating, I don’t think about the consumer, I don’t think about kids, I don’t think about anything, other than my feelings in that moment. But after I’d switched out all of the bad words, the bad words showed up synced to my video on World Star Hip-Hop. So yeah, I didn’t expect that.

TWU: So you were pretty surprised when you saw the video then?

Keri Hilson: Oh yes, I was surprised. I was just as surprised as the fans were when I was watching it. I was like, ‘OK, now this does change things a bit.’ The language did change certain things, but I’m not ashamed of it, I mean, I recorded it, I did it, you know? All I can say is that it was a moment in time.

TWU: Now your next UK single is ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ and the video for that song is very cool and creative and sees you pay homage to a lot of female singers. Tell us a bit about the video…

Keri Hilson: Thanks! It’s actually one of my favourite videos I’ve ever shot. I got to be multiple personalities that day. It was a really cool video shoot for me. It was directed by Joseph Kahn and the only direction I gave him was that I didn’t want the video to be about me. The song was so much about me, to the surface listeners. What I wanted people to understand is that I‘m just one of many examples of a confident woman. I want to display other women who felt the way I felt and they were great. Yes, they happened to be physically beautiful, but it was about much more than that. It’s about the way they carry themselves, it’s about the way they were groundbreaking – and that they were women. I think as women, we shy away from adversity. Everyone I chose was scrutinised for their craft, for their creativity. From Josephine Baker in the 1920s, being an African American and dancing and dressing the way she did, it was unacceptable in a lot of pockets of society, all the way through to Janet Jackson and TLC. No-one’s success comes without controversy, in the same way no average or non-industry person’s success comes without adversity. That‘s what I really wanted the video to say. I think more women need to have that tenacity, persistence, drive and confidence.

TWU: Music aside, when you’re not working, what do you like to do to relax?

Keri Hilson: When am I not working? That’s the question (laughs). I love the water, I love to swim. I like watching movies and I love seeing my family – that keeps me grounded and gives me some moments of reality. Other than that, when I’m not working, I like to sleep!

Kerri Hilson’s new single, ‘Pretty Girl Rock’, is out on July 4. ‘No Boys Allowed’ is out now.

This interview was conducted for MTV: The Wrap Up!

Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker)

Vanessa Laker Talks To Trina: The Interview

In the hip-hop industry, female MCs tend to have a shorter career span and are widely overshadowed by their male counterparts, and with the Grammy Awards replacing their Best Female Rap Solo Performance category with a unisex one, the path to success for a female lyricist is a very steep mountain to climb…

But despite all the odds stacked against her, Trina has successfully risen to the challenge, carving a glittering career that spans over 13 years and has no signs of slowing down. The 32-year-old Miami native recently caught up with The Wrap Up’s Vanessa Laker to talk new music, the transition of rap, longevity in hip-hop, the decline of female rappers, Nicki Minaj and much more.

The Wrap Up: Hi Trina! You’ve just released a new mixtape, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. Tell us a bit about that project…

Trina: Hiya! Well, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ is a very honest record. It’s a work of art. It was so much fun to make. It was all original music, so it actually has more of an album feel to it. I worked with a lot of great artists, such as Rick Ross, Mya and T-Pain. It’s definitely something for the streets. It’s emotional; it’s sexy and just raw. It’s a very real record. It was such a great CD to make – one of my greatest, actually. I don’t even like to say it’s a mixtape, because it’s so close to an album.

TWU: And how would you say your albums differ from your mixtapes?

Trina: Well, this mixtape actually seems more like an album. Being the fact that I used all original music and I worked very closely with a lot of the producers, I really wanted to go into album mode. I wanted it to feel like an album, I wanted to use all original music and get my mindset ready for creating the new album. That’s how I was actually able to do this mixtape. I knew a lot of the songs wouldn’t be for radio, it would be for the streets and for the clubs. It was just real music and that’s what I love most about it.

TWU: You’ve been in the industry for 13 years now. What’s the feeling like for you when you release a new record? Is it still the same level of excitement, or would you say it’s a different type of feeling now?

Trina: The excitement is always there. As long as you still have that hunger and drive and just stay focused, it’s always there. My love for music keeps me excited. Longevity in this industry is not the easiest thing to do, so to still be releasing music after over a decade is a blessing.

TWU: Speaking of longevity, you’re the only female rapper to have ever released five studio albums. Why do you think other female rappers have struggled with longevity in hip-hop?

Trina: Erm… I think a lot of it is label issues. There’s only a few of us (female rappers) left in the game right now. I think with label transitions and then artists may take off one, two or three years, but then when it’s time to come back out, it’s like starting all over again. So I’ve just been consistent, as opposed to doing shows and concerts all over the world and that’s what has kept my stride going. I’m just always very consistent with releasing new material and like I said, a lot has to do with the label. Then there are so many factors that can cause delays in the release of an album, especially with females, because there’s more work and creativity that goes into a female artist. It’s a lot more expensive. You just have to have a great team behind you and positive people who can keep things moving.

TWU: Ten years ago, there were a number of female rappers in the charts, but nowadays, with the exception of yourself and Nicki Minaj, female rap is practically none-existent on a contemporary mainstream international level. But this rapid decline in female rap has never affected your career. Why do you think you’ve continued to flourish, yet other artists have been less fortunate?

Trina: You gotta stay working, no matter what. I work when I have an album out, I work when I don’t have an album out, and I work predominately throughout the whole year. Even if you’re not seeing me, I’m somewhere working. I’m constantly in reach of the fans, I’m constantly performing, I’m constantly attaching myself to the fans and those that continue to follow, they can see that and that’s what helps me to stay on the relevant side. I’ve never really stopped. If the songs aren’t out, then the remix is out. For a decade it has just been consistent non-stop work; travelling, shows and just trying to stay in touch with the fans.

TWU: Looking at your career, over the last decade, you’ve released mixtapes and albums, pretty much back-to-back. Does it ever get overwhelmingly tiring and do you sometimes feel like you want to take a little break from it all?

Trina: You know, it’s not a tiring thing, this is work. Whenever I need a break, I make sure I can take a vacation or I make sure that I have time to get away from everything, once I’ve worked so much. Sometimes you just have to say, ‘You know what? I need three days off, just for me. No work, no music, no interviews, no nothing.’ It’s a good thing, but the more you work and the harder you work, the better you become at your craft. The more you work, the more I think you gain recognition, the more you stay relevant, the more the fans want more. If you’re an artist and you have fans, they’ll continue to want more. They don’t really understand the thing that you need time off. They always wanna see you, they wanna see you doing something, they always wanna here new music, they always wanna here a remix, or something. So for myself, I constantly and always continue to give more. It’s 365 of the year and I’m continuing to always work.

TWU: As a female MC, do you feel as though you’ve had to work twice as hard as your male counterparts?

Trina: OMG! More like five times as hard (laughs). Hip-hop is the hardest genre of music for a female artist, because it really is a male dominated industry. As a woman, you’re fighting, you’re holding your ground and sometimes it is like a fight. You know when I go on stage and do shows, I’m the only female and there’s like six guys in the show and that just shows you how few females there are in this game. So you definitely have to put in extra work – but that’s (just) how it is. But you know, I’m a workaholic and I LOVE what I do, so I just continue to work extremely hard. But yes, we definitely have to work five times as hard as the guys. 

TWU: Nicki Minaj is blowing up right now and putting female hip-hop on the map again, but rather than uniting the genre and being the catalyst for the revival of female rap music, it’s kind of had an opposite effect. Why do you think that is?

Trina: Women are kind of catty and when someone new comes in, I think sometimes people don’t know how to accept that. Personally, I’m always looking for something new, I love the new talent. I love when I see someone new and when there’s a new female, it’s exciting. Nicki’s doing her thing right now and it kind of reminds me of when I first came out and I was doing my thing. I was really excited for the other females that were out at the same time as me, you know, the Missy Elliot’s, etc. I wanted to be a part of the whole female thing. But nowadays, it’s a little different – which is a shame, but to each to their own, everybody has their own reasons.  As an artist, you’re not going to be everybody’s favourite person. There are people that love me and there are people that don’t care to hear my music, and that’s OK. But there shouldn’t be an issue, we should really just salute one another – that’s how I look at it. When new girls come in, we should have this big female power movement and make the genre stronger, because there are only a few female MCs in the game. For every ten guys, there’s just one girl, it’s so unbalanced.

TWU: Very true indeed. So, how would you say hip-hop music, as a whole, has changed over the last ten years?

Trina: I think now we’re in a decade and era where hip-hop music is really changing. I call it ‘hip-rock.’ It’s more poppy and transitional. It’s more radio friendly and it’s OK to go outside of the box and do what you feel, as opposed to when I first came out in 1998. If you were sexy, you had to be a sex symbol and the music had to be for the streets and for the clubs. But nowadays, fans just wanna hear a great record, no matter what type of music it is. You can experiment and try different sounds now. I’m so happy to be a part of this whole evolution. From my era at the beginning, to now recording the sixth album, where I’ll be featuring a lot more pop records and just experimenting with different sounds. I’m working with a lot of different types of artists and I think it’s nice to incorporate a mixture of sounds, as opposed to just completely hip-hop. It’s a great transition. I think the sound of today is a beautiful one, I love it and I’m excited about it.

TWU: You’ve worked with some of hip-hop’s finest, but which none-hip-hop artist would you like to collaborate with?

Trina: It would be Beyoncé. She’s my favourite of all time. I absolutely love her, I think she’s phenomenal. She’s like a masterpiece. That would definitely be like my favourite person to work with.

TWU: And when will your UK fans get to see you live?

Trina: I’m working on that right now. I’m hoping to do a UK tour real soon. I’ve never been there before and it’s one of my top desired destinations to visit and perform live. I believe I have lot of fans out there, so I definitely have to come out here soon and perform for the UK fans. It would be a dream come true, so I’m really looking forward to that. Hopefully  we can do that by the end of this year. I can’t wait!

Trina’s mixtape, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, is out now.

Vanessa Laker Meets Fefe Dobson: The Interview!

Fefe Dobson may seem like a new name on this side of the pond, but the Canadian singer-songwriter is by no means a new artist. Bursting onto the scene in 2003, the then 18-year-old Felicia Lily ‘Fefe’ Dobson was nothing like her peers. Far from being one of the bubblegum-style type of pop acts that were dominating the charts at the time, Fefe came with a fresh, edgy rock sound, one that immediately separated her from the pack and demanded respect…

The young starlet began playing the piano at the tender age of 13 and started writing music the following year – a skill that would later prove very handy, as she’s penned songs for the likes of Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. Citing artists such as John Lennon and Judy Garland as her musical influences, the Toronto native was definitely not your typical teen musician.

After wooing execs at Island/Def Jam, Fefe went on to release her self-titled debut album in December ‘03. The critically acclaimed pop-rock and punk inspired record debuted at number one on Billboard’s Heatseekers Album Chart and spawned a number of hit singles, making Fefe a household name in her homeland.

After exploring areas such as acting and modeling, fast forward to the present time and Fefe Dobson is back with a new album. Her sophomore LP, ‘Joy’, sees the talented star fuse contemporary pop with her trademark rock sound, showcasing the singer’s growth over the years. The record was released in North America last year and 2011 is the year Fefe is finally launched in Europe and introduced to the UK market.

“It’s really cool. It’s like starting a whole new relationship,” the 26-year-old explains on launching herself in the UK and being considered a ‘new’ artist all over again. “It’s like starting a new slate. You get to start fresh, with no baggage. You get to show people your talents and meet new people, and tour. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

Speaking of touring, during her stop in London last month, I attended Fefe’s one-off gig at the Monto Water Rats, where she put on, what was quite frankly, an incredible show. I had been told by her manager to expect a phenomenal live performance – and although I didn’t doubt him, of course he’d say that, he is her manager after all. But everybody who attended the concert that night would have most probably said the exact same thing.

We’re at a time in music where live shows are proving to be even more beneficial than actual music sales itself. Audiences expect their favourite acts to be just as good live, as they are on the records. Well, it’s fair to say Fefe was even better live. Playing to a packed crowd at an intimate gig in Kings Cross, London, the singer was joined on stage by her full band – a team she’s been playing with for years, and their chemistry is evident.

I’m not too sure what I expected beforehand, but I was thoroughly impressed. This was no watered down show. It was a full on, up-tempo, no holds bar, top notch entertaining show. Watching Fefe rocking out on stage, it’s clear to see that’s where she feels most comfortable: “Live shows are maybe one of the most important elements of what I do,” the singer explains during our chat at London’s Universal Music HQ.

“Not only for myself, but when I go to see a live band, it’s really important for me to connect with that live band,” she says. “If I own a CD, where I buy the songs online, and then I go to a show and it’s not good, it kind of makes me listen to the record differently. If it sounds completely different than the album and they actually can’t perform, it’s kind of a bummer.

“So I put a lot of focus into having a good live show and connecting with my audience and just letting loose and having fun. Because of the connecting aspect, that is probably one of my favourite parts of doing music.”

While Fefe seemed very much at home performing at an indie-type small gig, she’s also just as comfortable on the big arena-style shows. The ‘Ghost’ singer toured with Justin Timberlake during his European tour a few years back – something she could have only dreamed of growing up.

“Touring with Justin was amazing, I always looked up to him,” she gushed. “I grew up in the suburbs of Canada. I came from a family that really couldn’t afford to go to see concerts or anything like that. We couldn’t really afford to do much at all,” she candidly explains, as she reminisces about her tough childhood. “You know everyday I’d go to school in my uncle’s hand-me-downs. That’s how bad it was. I wasn’t even wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs, I was wearing my uncle’s.

“So I’d go to school and I’d be like, ‘Justin Timberlake, one day he’s gonna know me.’ And my friends would be like, ‘Yeah, right! He’s never gonna know you.’ People in school would think I’m crazy and I just thought, one day… And then he took me on tour and I remember getting emails from people that I went to school with saying, ‘You did it, I can’t believe you actually pulled it off.’ So, dreams do really come true.”

While things may be going very well for Fefe now, it hasn’t always been so plain sailing and there have been some bumpy roads on the journey. While ‘Joy’ may be her second officially released album, the singer recorded a previous record, ‘Sunday Love’, in 2006 – which was eventually shelved – and she was dropped by her record company.

But not one to sit around feeling sorry for herself, the talented musician continued to work on new material, with or without a record deal, and never considered throwing in the towel. Fefe’s upbringing taught her how to handle challenging life situations and for her, this was just another hurdle she knew she had to conquer.

“You go through weird stages. At first you sit there and you’re like, ‘Oh gosh, what next? I have to start all over again,’” she touchingly explained, as she relived that dark period in her life. “I had to say to myself, ‘Can I do this? Yes you can do this. OK, what’s the first step?’ It actually made me more determined,” she says. “All through my life, from birth onwards, there have been a lot of obstacles. From being bullied, being poor, being this being that. So every bad element in life, I use it to make me stronger. And the things that seem negative are really positive, because you’re just making your skin thicker.”

Well, the determination and hard work, mixed with natural talent and thick skin, really did pay off, because Fefe was re-signed by her old label Island/Def Jam and under the guidance of Chris Smith, (Nelly Furtado, Clipse) this time around she’s set to go global, with plans to conquer Europe underway.

“This new album is very exciting. It’s basically my journal over the last four years,” she explains. “It’s four years of relationships, lack of relationships. Being set free of negativity. The album title expresses it right there, the joy of letting go of anything holding you back. It’s exciting. It’s a very honest record.”

This new album represents so many aspects in Fefe Dobson’s life. It’s not only a transition in musical terms – her style, sound and song writing has evolved over the years. But it also symbolizes her sheer determination and shows that no matter how many times you’re knocked down, if you continue striving towards your dreams, you’ll eventually get there. The title ‘Joy’ is pretty self explanatory.

Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker)

Vanessa Laker Meets Mann: The Interview

His new track, ‘Buzzin’’, is currently setting dancefloors across the globe on fire, and is shaping up to be one of this summer’s big anthems. With 50 Cent tipping him for huge success, Mann is set to be one of hip-hop’s big breakout stars of 2011. The 19-year-old West Coast rapper popped into MTV HQ earlier this week, where he had a chat with The Wrap Up’s Vanessa Laker…

The Wrap Up: Hi, Mann! Your new single, ‘Buzzin’’, has got a lot of buzz surrounding it and is set to be one of this summer’s big anthems. Did you expect it to have such a huge response?

Mann: Actually, no. I expected people to like it, but when I wrote it, I didn’t expect it to be a single. I actually wrote it expecting it to just be something I put out on the internet and then it actually turned out to be a big song. It’s overwhelming right now, I still can’t believe it. 

TWU: And it’s blown up around the world…

Mann: Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s just very overwhelming. To be over here in the UK off of that song that I made, thinking it was just going to be a leak, is amazing.

TWU: The official remix – which is the main video – features 50 Cent, so how did that collaboration come about?

Mann: 50 heard the record on radio and actually just hopped on it and did it on his own.  He dropped it online, and when he did that, I was surprised. We reached out and he wanted to shoot the video, so we shot the video, and now 50 is a mentor of mine.

TWU: Being a new artist, how does it feel having someone of 50 Cent’s calibre, wanting to jump on your track?

Mann: I feel really blessed. Not a lot of new artists get such a big co-sign. Especially seeing as I’m not even signed under 50 Cent. He didn’t discover me or anything like that, he just really believed in the song and that feels great. We’re not even from the same coast!

TWU: Speaking of coasts, you’re from Los Angeles (West Coast) and a lot of the time, LA hip-hop is associated under the genre of gangsta rap. Was it a conscious decision for you to make an upbeat record for the clubs?

Mann: Very conscious. You know, it’s kinda hard to be a West Coast artist and not be gangsta, because people don’t know what to expect. And for a long time – because I’ve been signed since I was sixteen – I didn’t know the right way to come out as a West Coast artist and represent the West Coast, and not be on that gangsta tip. I think ‘Buzzin’’ was a great mix of keeping it West Coast and also keeping the fresh ideas.

TWU: Back in the day, California was very much so at the forefront of hip-hop, but these days there are noticeably fewer West Coast-based rappers doing hip-hop on an international level, but why do you think that is? 

Mann: Because we had to go back to the drawing board. The gangsta rap and stuff, it played its course. Everything repeats. Like, now in LA, there are a lot of new rappers coming up. There’s a lot of buzz going on in LA with a lot of new artists, and I feel like I’m at the forefront of that. There’s a lot of talent, so the lack of West Coat rappers, that’s probably gonna change soon. 

TWU: Speaking of new artists, there’s a wave of new young rappers, such as Wiz Khalifa and J. Cole, who are coming up and really doing their thing. Which new MCs are you rating and why? 

Mann: I’m a big fan of Odd Future. I’m also a big fan of Kendrick Lamar from LA. I mean, I’m a big fan of Wiz and Currency as well. But for me, as far as new artists go, I think Odd Future are great, just because of their originality and creativity. 

TWU: A few years ago, new hip-hop was bit stale, but right now there are so many new artists and it’s an exciting time for hip-hop music…

Mann: History repeats itself. There was a stage when it had gotten really pop. And when it gets like that, you need something under it. It’s the same thing that happened with disco. You get that other type of music that comes under it, that’s a lot more rough and raw, that people are fiending for, because things have got too pop. It’s just history repeating itself.

TWU: Growing up, which artist inspired you to get into music?

Mann: Mase was a big inspiration to me. He had one of my favourite albums and his videos and his swag was very on point. I was pretty young when he came out, and as a kid, it was okay to like him and my mum wasn’t mad. But he wasn’t corny, he was a cool guy, and that’s a good balance to have.

TWU: Your style of rap is quite unique – it’s rapping meets singing. How would you describe your musical style?

Mann: Really, it’s just music. I like to make music for everyone. I love to rap, but at the same time, I may want to express a melody in a way that rapping can’t do. So I’ll sing it. I think it’s good to have the combination and nowadays, you have to do it all.

TWU: You mentioned that you’ve been signed since you were 16 years old, so how did you get started in the industry? 

Mann: I’ve been performing since I was five years old. I’ve been performing all over LA for years. Then I started dancing, and then I started rapping. I do it all. I just love being in front of people and making people feel good.

TWU: And what’s your association with Sean Kingston?

Mann: We hung out in the studio and he introduced me to (music producer) J. R. Rotem (Britney Spears, Rihanna) and we did records early on in my career. We’re also good friends.

TWU: Before you were discovered on a mainstream level, you made a name for yourself on the underground with mixtapes. How important are mixtapes in the hip-hop world?

Mann: Mixtapes are the most important. Three years ago, when I was 16, they weren’t as important, but then through time, after I got signed, I’ve seen how important they are now. I think after Drake, he kind of set the standard, where every artist – especially in hip-hop – needs to drop something for the fans, to assure them that their album will be worth it. 

TWU: Tell us a bit about your upcoming collaborations mixtape…

Mann: It’s called, ‘Fresh Man On Varsity’. We’ve got a lot of collaborations on there, from Kendrick Lemar to Frank Ocean. I’m trying to get Machine Gun Kelly on it too! I’ve got a lot of great upcoming artists on this mixtape. Everybody’s coming up and this project is about being young and doing things big. That’s what ‘Fresh Man On Varsity’ means. I just wanna reassure my fans and everyone that supports me, that I’m making music, real music.

TWU: And when can we expect to hear your debut album?

Mann: My LP, ‘Mann’s World’, will definitely be dropping this summer. We’re already working on it and it sounds amazing. We’re flipping a lot of records, kinda like what Snoop did with ‘Doggystyle’. We’re just keeping it real old school, but with new ideas and fresh concepts.

Vanessa Laker Meets Jay Sean: The Interview

With a new single and his fourth studio LP looming, Jay Sean recently popped into MTV HQ to have a chat with The Wrap Up‘s Vanessa Laker to discuss growth and new music, being a part of YMCMB, working with Nicki Minaj and why Birdman and Lil Wayne are inspirational…

The Wrap Up:  Hi Jay! How does it feel to be back home in London?

Jay Sean: Hey! Well that’s it, you just put it there – its home. It feels great. The hard thing about being in America is that I’m away from my family and friends and my fans, my UK fans. You see, the UK fans feel it a lot, I know they do. Because you know, they’ve been here since the beginning and I think a lot of them do understand that I’m where work is taking me. At the end of the day, it’s still a job, it’s still my work and I have to be where my employer is based, and my employer is my record company. Cash Money is in America, so all my meetings take place there, interviews take place there, studio takes place there. But I do miss home. I miss home and my people. Even though I’m in the UK right now for work, a lot of stuff gets done in the day, so in the evening I can chill and link up with mates and stuff like that, so it’s good fun. 

TWU: You recently played live at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden, opening for Enrique Iglesias. What was that like?

Jay Sean: It was just a very serial moment. I don’t think many artists in their life get to grace that stage. It’s what we all dream of. It’s pretty amazing to play that stage with my live band and play a full set, and to be handpicked by Enrique himself is not a bad thing. It was very flattering.

TWU: You’ve got a new single, ‘Hit The Lights’, which features Lil Wayne. Tell us a bit about the song…

Jay Sean: ‘Hit The Lights’ might actually be my favourite single to date, just because I feel like it satisfies something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I wanted to write a track which can be smashed across clubs worldwide, as well as (played on the) radio worldwide. That’s not an easy task to do, to try and make one song that can be played everywhere. It’s also just so exciting for me to perform. I get enjoyment from performing it, so I hope that people feel the same when hearing it. 

TWU: This is the second time you and Wayne have teamed up for a single. Your previous collaboration, ‘Down’, went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic and sold six million copies worldwide. Because of this, do you now feel under pressure every time you release a single to have high chart success? 

Jay Sean: No pressure at all. I feel like you can’t beat that, you can’t beat a number one. There’s no number zero. For me, the number one gave me faith that I can write great songs and it showed me that I have wonderful fans who enjoy my music. I just have to try and make sure that every song I do, I’m proud of it and I have to feel like my fans will appreciate it too.

TWU: You’ve got a new album, ‘Freeze Time’, which is coming out soon. Tell us a bit about that record…

Jay Sean: Well, this album, for me, is probably my favourite album, just because I feel like there are songs I’ve always wanted to write, but maybe I lacked the vocal ability to pull it off or the song writing skills to pull it off. For example, you’ve got songs on there that are real proper R&B slow jams, the kind of music I grew up listening to. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got something like ‘Hit The Lights’, which is completely fun and for the clubs and it fuses dance elements together with hip-hop, R&B and pop. Then you’ve got some songs that are in the middle, that are mid-tempo and ballads. I wanted to take the listeners on a musical journey, so one minute you could be dancing, the next minute you might be crying and the next you could be thinking about life and yourself. I really wanted to focus on musical genres, combining them in a way that really hasn’t been done before. 

TWU: What’s the meaning behind the title, ‘Freeze Time’? 

Jay Sean: The reason I came up with that name is because I feel like my life at the moment has been a rollercoaster. It’s crazy. From all the mad things that I’ve been experiencing, to the most wonderful experiences, to the insane things where you have to actually pinch yourself and go, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ Not to mention it happens very fast, and sometimes I feel like I can just press pause on life and just go, ‘Alright, stop for a second, take this in.’ I think we can all do that. You don’t have to be a pop star to wanna freeze time once in a while. Even my parents, I see how they’re so busy working and feel like telling them to chill out and just take life in. That’s what this album is about.

TWU: The first single from ‘Freeze Time’ was last year’s ‘2012 (It Ain’t The End)’, which features your label mate Nicki Minaj. What was it like working with the current queen of hip-hop?

Jay Sean: Oh, amazing! Nicki is an incredible talent. She’s very good at what she does, she’s an amazing MC, but she’s also a lot of fun and when you work with fun people, you have a great time yourself. There are lots of people who would love to work with Nicki, so it was really cool to work with her. But the best thing about it is that I got the chance to work with her before she really blew up. It was just great to have her be a part of this project. 

TWU: This is your fourth studio album, right? Now that you’ve well and truly proved yourself as an artist, do you feel with this LP you have more creative control and are free to experiment more?

Jay Sean: Yeah, it’s about growth. What is the purpose of an album? The purpose of an album is to showcase a body of work. Is to showcase how you feel at this moment in time. Where you’re at.  Where your mindset is at. What you wanna be and tell the word. I feel that nine years into my career, I’m allowed to push the envelope a bit. I feel my fans are growing with me and that’s the nicest thing. 

TWU: In the UK, you’ve been in the music industry for nine years – which in this line of work is practically a veteran. But over in the US, you’re considered a new artist. How does it feel to be a ‘new’ artist all over again?

Jay Sean: I love that. I feel you’re able to step into two different worlds. I feel like when I go to America I’m totally aware of the fact that I’m still relatively new there.  So it gives me fuel, a fire that burns inside, which tells me I’ve got so much to prove and it pushes me, which I love. What’s quite interesting here in England is that to some people I’m still considered a ‘new’ artist. We actually have an internal joke about this, some people are post-‘Down’ fans and some are pre-‘Down’ fans. Some people here only knew me after ‘Down’, so it’s okay and I’m very aware of that. But the good thing about England is that there are people here who’ve witnessed my journey from the beginning and you feel like you’ve got an army of soldiers who are behind you and rooting for you. 

TWU: Cash Money/Young Money is arguably the hottest hip-hop label right now and is a powerhouse in the music industry in general. How does it feel to be a part of such an elite movement?

Jay Sean: It is AMAZING! There is no label hotter than Cash Money right now. There isn’t. They’re taking over the whole scene. You name some of the world’s biggest rappers and people’s favourite artists and they’re signed to this label. It’s a very cool thing. The fact that it’s a family thing and people have so much love and respect for each other is the best part about it. Wayne, Drake, Nicki, myself, Bow Wow, Tyga and all of us who are on this label, we are all fans of each other’s music and when we see each other around, you know we’ve got each other’s back. It’s a wicked label to be a part of. It’s like a family. Birdman – who co-owns the label with his brother Slim – calls me up every other day just to see how I’m doing. It’s not corporate; it’s like a family thing. 

TWU: You’re the only Brit on Cash Money, so how did you end up meeting Birdman and signing to the label?

Jay Sean: They actually spotted me on the internet. I was working with a producer in New York and he happened to know the Cash Money crew, he does work with them. They were having a conversation and he got talking about me. Slim and Birdman were like, ‘Who is this guy? What’s his story?’ The guy told them and he said I’m a global artist who’d been around for seven years now. He explained that I had fans in countries all around the world, but just didn’t have a deal in America. So we sent over some music – they specifically fell in love with the song, ‘Ride It’ – they saw the video, Birdman said straight away, ‘The guy’s a star, bring him over to the States,’ he said.  

TWU: Like you mentioned before, a lot of people only know you for the 2009 smash hit single, ‘Down’, meaning that they only heard of you after you signed to Cash Money Records. But you’ve been in the business for nearly a decade and have sold millions of records worldwide, long before you joined forces with Birdman and Lil Wayne. So, does it annoy when people say, ‘Jay Sean’s only successful because he’s signed to Cash Money?’

Jay Sean: As frustrating as that may appear, I actually love that part of it. I love that I have that experience in my back pocket. I love that I have graced stages around the world and that perhaps people don’t know about it. What that does for me, is it pushes me. It means I never rest on my laurels. It means I never stop trying to push myself and take it to the next level. In life as a whole, if you have it too easy, you get complacent. It’s the exact same thing with Birdman and Lil Wayne. How many albums did those guys put out? They’ve been doing their thing for years. But it’s only now and over the last few years that they’re really getting the right type of recognition and they don’t complain about it. They use it as the fire that burns inside, and it inspires you to say, ‘OK, this is my time and I’m gonna show you all.’It’s something that I love. I’m glad that I had all the years of experience, because having all this happen only in the last two years; it might have been too much for somebody who’s a new artist to handle. So I’m truly appreciative of all the years I’ve had in this industry.

Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker)

Vanessa Laker Talks To Shontelle: The Interview

After putting a law career on hold, Shontelle burst onto the music scene in 2008 with her summer hit, ‘T-Shirt’. Since then, the 25-year-old Bajan beauty is proving she’s a force to be reckoned with. She had a chat with Vanessa Laker to discuss her new album, fashion, touring with Beyoncé, being Rihanna’s drill sergeant and why she loves UK high street brand Topshop, all exclusively for The Wrap Up… 

The release of her debut LP, ‘Shontelligence’, introduced the young starlet to the world, but it’s the sophomore album, ‘No Gravity’, that is really going to cement this rising star’s place. With an edgier and more experimental sound, Shontelle’s new record demonstrates her growth as an artist.

The Wrap Up: You’ve just completed your UK tour with Jason Derulo. How did it go?

Shontelle: OMG! It was so good. You know the UK is always so good to me. Every night, every show was just fantastic. We just did the last show last night at Hammersmith Apollo, it was awesome.  

TWU: I was at the Hammersmith Apollo for the gig and it was a great show…

Shontelle: You were? Amazing!

TWU: I have to say your dress looked amazing…

Shontelle: Oh, thank you. Actually, that dress, I got it very last minute. And that was specifically given to me to do the London show by a designer named, Sherri Hill.

TWU: How important is style and fashion to you?

Shontelle: VERY important. I just love fashion so much. If I wasn’t so busy being an artist, I’d probably try to design a clothing line, or something. I love clothes and I have a ridiculously unhealthy shoe obsession. Shoes and handbags!

TWU: While you’ve been here in the UK, have you had much time to check out the scenery and explore the cities?

Shontelle: Not as much as I’d like to. When you’re on tour or doing promo, you usually see the inside of the hotel and the inside of the car, so you really don’t get to see much. But we did have a day off in Manchester and I had so much fun in Topshop. I always lose my mind in there. I love their clothes. I think probably 95% of my wardrobe is Topshop now.

TWU: You’ve got a new single, ‘Perfect Nightmare’. What’s your definition of a perfect nightmare? 

Shontelle: A perfect nightmare is really just a situation that you know you shouldn’t be in, but you enjoy it. You either enjoy it, or there’s some aspect or a part of it that you love so much and you just can’t let go. So that could be anything from an abusive relationship to an inappropriate relationship. Maybe even if someone was too old or too young, or you were with someone else’s boyfriend or girlfriend.  It’s just being in a situation that you really have no right to be in, but for some reason, you find it really difficult to get out because you enjoy something about it so much. So it’s like, ‘When will I wake up and scream? I know this is wrong.’

TWU: ‘Perfect Nightmare’ is the second single from your new LP, ‘No Gravity’ – which is your second album. How do you feel you’ve grown and evolved as an artist, compared to the first record?

Shontelle: I feel like it’s definitely been an evolution. There’s definitely been some growth. ‘No Gravity’ sounds quite different from ‘Shontelligence’, because ‘Shontelligence’ sounds exactly like what I was at that point – which is a girl who literally just came from Barbados. There was a lot of reggae and Island influence; it was also a lot softer and mellow. But ‘No Gravity’ has a lot more up-tempo and edgy music and that’s a choice I purposely made, because I didn’t really want people to think, ‘She’s from Barbados, this is cliché what we should expect from her.’ Especially as a songwriter and as a music lover, I just really wanted to experiment. So ‘No Gravity’, there’s a little rock in there. It’s a lot poppier, I think. There’s more dance influence. Even my next US single, ‘Say Hello To Goodbye’, that actually sounds like a pop/rock ballad. It more represents where I’m at now. I’m ready to just experiment and have a lot more fun and not take everything so seriously.

TWU: As an artist, do you feel there’s more pressure on the second album, as you feel you have to match – or overtake – the success of the first LP?

Shontelle: Oh yes, the pressure is really on. I’ve been so lucky, because having the first single from my second album just be so successful, I mean, ‘Impossible’ is my biggest single to date! It’s been quite unbelievable for me, because every artist’s worst nightmare is to be a one-hit wonder. You know, just never being able to write another album? So I feel really blessed and lucky, it’s great.

TWU: You and Rihanna grew up together back in Barbados and during your high school years, you were her drill sergeant, right?

Shontelle: Yep! We were both in the cadets together and it was really awesome. Everyone’s like, ‘Wow! You got to give Rihanna push-ups.’ But she wasn’t ‘Rihanna’ yet. Then, she was Robyn Fenty. But yeah, that’s how we first met, through the cadet’s programme.  There was a summer camp and she was the little cadet and I was the drill sergeant.

TWU: You’ve had success here in Europe and in The States, but do you feel that Rihanna has opened doors for other artists from the Caribbean to crossover to an international market?  

Shontelle: RiRi sure did open the door wide open. She didn’t just open it, she smashed it. I’m so happy she got that opportunity, because I think she made it easier for me to come after. Now, people are much more open to the idea of foreign artists being on the mainstream.

TWU: President Obama used your song, ‘Battle Cry’, during his campaign trail. How did you feel when you heard that?

Shontelle: I couldn’t believe it, because that was during the time when I was still fresh. I’d just released ‘T-Shirt’, so I was pretty new. I just felt so honoured, I really wanted him to win so bad and just having him reach out and say, ‘I really love this ‘Battle Cry’ song, I think it really speaks to my campaign and I’d really like to use it’, I was so overwhelmed. I was like, ‘Why are you even asking? Just take it!’(Laughs) He was kind enough to send me a vinyl addition of the compilation with the song, and he signed it. That was a real blessing. I was like, ‘WOW! I’m not even American, but I get to be a part of one of the most historical events in American political history.’

TWU: What was it like touring with Beyonce?

Shontelle: Queen B! That was one of the most epic experiences of my little old career. I learned so much from her. I thought I knew how to perform until I saw her perform everyday. After being on tour with her, you have to step your game up. You literally feel like you’re at the bottom of the sewers or something when next to her. Every night she just blew me away. I’ve done a few tours, but Beyoncé’s tour was the only one that I’d stay and watch every single night. I’m a fan. During the tour, I got to speak with her in her dressing room and I was so nervous. They literally had to push me in. She’s like a living legend. She was just the sweetest, most accommodating, and most present artist to be around. And she gave me such great inspiring advice. She’s amazing.

TWU: And finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2011?

Shontelle: It’s gonna be a very busy year. Next from here, I’m going to Nigeria – which I’m really excited about, as it’s my first time going to Africa. After that, it’s Malaysia – there’s a whole lot of travelling ahead. But I get to go to Barbados in April to shoot an ad campaign, so that’s amazing, as I get to pop home for second. I’ll be focusing on the album, I’m gonna release a repackaged version of ‘No Gravity’, which will feature some new songs. I’ll also be promoting the singles around the world and performing lots. It’s a very busy, but fun year ahead. 

Shontelle: ‘Perfect Nightmare’ – is out now.

Stay up to date with Shontelle on Twitter – www.twitter.com/Shontelle_Layne

Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker 

This interview was conducted on behalf of MTV UK.

Vanessa Laker Talks To Encore: The Interview

The UK has a new urban male group on the scene, but Encore are not your average boy band. The three-piece collective, consisting of singer and noted songwriter Mark Asari, 21, singer/producer Cairo Woodwood, 22, and 23-year-old rapper Pierre Joseph, are bringing a new element to the table. Vanessa Laker recently had a chat with the lads, to discuss their current single, ‘Wind Up’, their upcoming LP and how Jay-Z inspired the band’s name, all exclusively for The Wrap Up

Vanessa: Tell us a bit about your latest track, ‘Wind Up’, and the concept behind it…

Encore: The concept behind the song is basically about being in a relationship where the girl can’t make up her mind whether she wants you to go, or whether she wants to be with you. She just doesn’t know whether she wants you there or not. She just can’t make her mind up. 

 Vanessa: Your sound is a mixture of many genres: R&B, pop, dubstep etc. How would you describe your sound?

Encore: We don’t have a specific sound. We like to describe our music as the ‘Encore sound’. We’re not taking any particular direction. We’re not taking a dubstep or R&B direction. It’s a mix. We’re into a mixture of different genres and they all reflect in our sound. We have so many different influences. We’re like three different artists ourselves, so when we come together the outcome is such a diverse and cross-genre result: From hip-hop, pop, rock, dubstep, R&B, soul, rap etc. So many different sounds influence us. We never want to limit ourselves.

 Vanessa: So, how did you guys get together as a band?

Encore: Basically, we knew of each other before we actually met up. We were introduced by other friends, who arranged a session for us and we wrote a track and then developed from then onwards. In the studio we really gelled together. Two of us already had the same manager and that’s how we pretty much connected and we really worked well together, so we stuck by it.

 Vanessa: And how did the name Encore come about?

Encore: I was listening to Jay-Z’s track, ‘Encore’, which came on by shuffle. And at that moment it just clicked. I was like, ‘This is the name. This is our name.’ It just felt right.

 Vanessa: Despite being talented singer/songwriters, the term ‘boy band’ sometimes tends to have a negative ring to it. Do you feel that because of this, you have to work that little bit harder in order to prove yourselves?

Encore: To a certain degree, yeah. Not that the term ‘boy band’ is anything wrong. But these days, a lot of boy bands are very polished and clean and you can see they’re very put together. But we’re not like that. We’re more raw and quite edgy. It’s very organic. I think just being songwriters, we have to put that extra effort in. And I think putting that extra effort in our writing, in our vocals and in our performances; we’ll prove that we’re very different to what some people may perceive us as.

 Vanessa: You guys are definitely not your ‘typical’ boy band. You write, rap and produce…

Encore: We have a lot of creative freedom in what we do. We’re very involved in every aspect of our career. We wouldn’t really classify ourselves as a ‘boy band’. We’re more of a collective of artists that have come together as a group – more of a group, than a boy band.

 Vanessa: The UK urban scene is really thriving at moment, but which artists are you guys rooting for and why?

Encore: I’m really feeling UK rap. I’m very much supporting the UK rap scene. Wretch 32 is definitely doing his thing right now. Also Jessie J is amazing. She’s a great songwriter, great vocals. She’s very organic. Just a great all-round artist.

 Vanessa: Growing up, who or what inspired you musically?

Encore: Just music itself is what inspired us. But to mention a few artists, people like Michael Jackson, Boys II Men, Usher. The early R&B scene was a big inspiration. Stevie Wonder’s probably one of my biggest musical inspirations. His music and artistry is just legendary.

 Vanessa: You guys were on the road with N-Dubz and Chipmunk. What was that experience like?

Encore: Yeah, we did a few dates for their tour which was pretty great. Just performing to such huge crowds is such a motivational experience and gets you ready for hopefully what’s to come. So it was a great experience and we’re just looking forward to doing more live shows.

 Vanessa: Your debut album is released later this year. Tell us a bit about it…

Encore: We’ve been working really hard in the studio. We’ve got loads of tracks – about 60. So we’ve gotta narrow it down to pick the best few. The sound is very unique, we mix many genres. Being that we’re three quite diverse artists, when we come together that reflects in our music and the outcome is really interesting and very musically diverse. So we’re really enjoying the process and very excited about the record. We’re still working on it, but it should hopefully be out around September time. 

 Vanessa: And what are your plans for the rest of 2011?

Encore: Of course the completion of the album is one of the main things, but we’ll be doing loads of shows. Performing live and lots of studio work.

Stay up to date with Encore on Twitter – www.twitter.com/WantMoreEncore

 Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker)

This interview was conducted for MTV UK’s The Wrap Up