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Before Usher got divorced and made his subsequent comeback to the game, or Chris Brown's personal mishaps overshadowed his professional triumphs, Songz slid in and brought sexy back in a way that Justin Timberlake couldn't even imagine. His 2009 album 'Ready' found the Virginia native stepping into a more seductive territory, cutting off his trademark cornrows, wearing shirts less often and raising the stakes on what an R&B artist should be. When he sang 'Gotta Make It,' listeners connected to the hunger and believability in his lyrics. Now more than five years after putting those words to song, the 27-year-old has not only "made it," but remains grounded in both his career and philanthropic aspirations.
After taking nearly a year off from the spotlight, Songz is ready to return to his hard-earned throne, but this time it's not just about the music. Aside from delving into acting, by way of his forthcoming silver screen debut in the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D' film, Songz also dropped two mixtapes last fall, 'Let Me Hold Dat Beat' and 'Anticipation II.' This month, he embarks on his Anticipation 2our to promote the aforementioned project -- a move not often made by an established artist. The BoomBox got the singer to speak on his tour, the advice he gave Big Sean, his relationship status and his brother's work on the 'Chapter V' LP.
You've been under the radar for a little bit. What's been going on?
I've kind of been real lowkey for the last few months. I went on a million tours throughout my career and most recently, my own tour. I went to Africa last summer, I've been creating this 'Chapter V' album, which I just finished. [The] 'Anticipation II' [mixtape] was something that came about, I never really planned to do an 'Anticipation' tour. It was basically while I was making this 'Chapter V' album, I'd be on my Twitter and my social network, and my fans would [say], "Where's the album? What you doing?" So I kind of decided to do the 'Anticipation II' [mixtape] last minute. I probably had one or two songs when I decided I was gonna' do it, songs that I thought I was going to keep for the album. We dropped a mixtape [and] it turned to 'When are you doing shows? When are you going on tour?' it's not usually the regular process for an artist to go on tour without a current album. In giving my fans all that music, I figured I'd go and perform it for them. Of course I'll be performing some of the hits, but there'll be records I'll never perform again.
Why did you decide to add Big Sean to the Anticipation 2our bill?
That's the homie. I met [Big Sean] in Detroit when I was promoting my first single ['Gotta Make It']. He was actually doing Freestyle Fridays at the radio station out there, we had a connection. I spoke to him about my grind and where I was in my life at the time. I wasn't really nowhere; I had a deal and I had a first single that wasn't doing amazingly well but we shared a moment. I talked to him about going hard and never giving up.
Since you've known him for so long, how does it feel to see his success and be able to add to that by bringing him on tour?
It's an amazing feeling. He basically started his movement from the ground up, grassroots. He was very present in the mixtape game and he had fans that appreciated his music before he had a smash on the radio. I think he's a leader of the new school. His fan base is very much a cult kind of movement, I have kind of the same thing with my fans, and I figured we'd bring them together. Most of all, we get along. He's a great guy. I'm really proud of him, and happy for his success. It's more about inspiration, this tour, than the obvious, because we both came from nothing to get to where we are.
You seem to enjoy helping give newer artists a shot. What are your thoughts on older artists, like Common, who would rather start beef instead?
I feel like it's hip-hop, man. Either way, it's the culture, it's combative. If people lose the urge to want to defeat somebody, it's not urgent anymore. Everything we do in some sense is competitive. Whether it's school and you want to get the highest grade on a project, or it's running track, you want to beat these guys. Music is no different. You want to show these guys you still got it. In this case, we're talking about Common [versus Drake]. I think they're basically challenging these cats like, "You got it? Show me you got it!" I think it's good for hip-hop.
You mentioned finishing up your 'Chapter V' album. How is it different from your previous work?
'Chapter V' is basically an album that represents my past, present and future, musically. So what that basically means is you'll have what you know me for -- the classic R&B records from 'Can't be Friends,' 'Love Faces' to 'Can't Help but Wait,' the records that represent those sounds. There's also records that represent hip-hop that you've heard me on, the 'Can't Get Enough' or the Lupe [Fiasco's] 'Girl I Want You to Know' or Drake's 'Successful,' as well as the 'Say Ahh' [and] 'Bottoms Up' vibes. [I] go to a new space that people might not be familiar with. I actually always have a song that represents this piece of me like 'Black Roses' [on the 'Ready' album] and 'Blind' on the 'Passion, Pain & Pleasure' album, that represents this alternative space that I'm always interested in. [I'm] inspired by Kings of Leon, Maroon 5. I listen to so much music and this album will definitely show you my inspiration.
Who are some of the producers on 'Chapter V'?
Troy Taylor, he's always a producer I work with on my albums, since the very beginning. Rico Love, we have two songs together. My little brother [A-Wall Neverson] actually is making his producing debut on this album. He actually was on my television show, 'My Moment,' two years ago. He made the album. I'm very proud of that.
You're known for a lot of sexy songs. As a singer-songwriter, are those all personal experiences?
As a storyteller, not even a songwriter, or as an author or writer, you have the ability to tell a story very vividly, whether you've lived it or you haven't. Some situations are definitely direct experiences, and some are fairy tales. Some are just a story I might of heard from a friend of mine that I wanted to get out there. 'Can't Be Friends' is an experience that I've been through, not per se to every specification of the lyric, but I find a way to make it appeal. I look at life differently in a lot of ways. Something that may be a passing thought for a lot of people may be a thought that stays in my mind as a song concept.
So is this the time when you want to tell me about your relationship status?
[Laughs] How you slide that in there like that?! I'm single, baby. I'm single.
OK, moving on then. Can you tell me about the Rocawear fragrance campaign you're working on ?
We've had a partnership for a couple of years. It started with the clothing and the campaign was titled 'Evolution.' I feel like I've evolved as an artist with every step of my career, and I plan to keep doing so, and I think that Rocawear has done the same. It's a partnership that works and it's synonymous in the way we move.
You're also very much into giving back in the form of charity. How did your Angels with Heart foundation come about?
It's my foundation that was basically started by the fans. I've always given back to my community since the beginning of my career. This is something that's more precious to me because it actually started with fans giving gifts to me on my birthday, when I was on tour. I did a video clip on my iPhone encouraging them to, instead of spend money on me, find something that you can do for the betterment of your community, and send video clips in. That was basically the first spark of light that I got into how much I could possibly change the world and change people's thought process. The videos I got back were amazing and we actually have Angels with Heart International Day coming up, which is actually the same kind of thing.
I've seen everything from fans running for breast cancer awareness, to feeding the elderly, going door to door giving turkeys around Thanksgiving time, because my birthday is actually around Thanksgiving. I've seen them do amazing things, and the first initiative -- I have to keep going on because I'm so passionate about this -- that we've ever done with Angels with Heart, was actually in my hometown [Petersburg, Va.], where we shut down three barber shops and had young men get free haircuts all day long, and young girls get all dolled up, looking like princesses. We went through the recreational department in my city, which is actually what I used to do when I was young while my mother was working, and we filtered out the people in need and we fed about 300-plus people that evening. I had a benefit concert in November, where the proceeds went to the foundation, and the latest is the 'Inevitable' EP -- proceeds go to Angels with Heart, as well as with the single, 'Sex is Better Than Love.' If you buy that on iTunes, there's a contribution [that goes] towards Angels with Heart.