Artists often talk about how having children changes their lives, but Ciara started gestating her sixth album just three weeks before the birth of her first child. She took a break after her son arrived, but wanted to get back into the studio to capture the magic of new motherhood. And she says that with help from producers like the Southern-bred Polow da Don, Nineties R&B revivalist Harmony Samuels and pop wizard Dr. Luke, she perfected the balance she found on 2013's Ciara, merging sounds what she describes as her "urban pop-slash-R&B-hip-hop record." More importantly, the Atlanta singer created it as a memento of her past year as a first-time parent. "I feel like after having this baby, there's nothing I can't do," she says.
Apparently, that included saying goodbye to the father of that baby, rapper Future. The couple got engaged in October 2013 and welcomed their son Future Zahir Wilburn in May 2014, only for Ciara to call off the wedding just three months later. Lead single "I Bet" hints at the reason why: "Is that your bitch over there, giving me the ugly stare/the one with the silicone ass and the Brazilian hair?" she sneers amid background ad-libs from a convincing Future stand-in, Rock City's Theron Thomas.
Ciara remains bubbly, though, when she talks about what the next few months have in store: the album – titled Jackie – and its May 4th release, her first tour in six years and the May 26th debut of NBC variety show I Can Do That. On Monday, she also dropped "I Bet" remixes featuring Dutch house producer R3hab and fellow Atlantan T.I. Days prior, she talked with Rolling Stone about how Diane Warren, Dr. Luke and motherhood helped shape her new LP.
Jackie is named after your mother. Has she heard it yet?
First I told my dad that I named the album after her. My dad's my nanny, so he spends a lot of time with me in L.A. when my mom's in Atlanta. She was coming to see us, so when I saw her, I told her. She was like, "What!? You named the album after me?" See, I think that she thinks she's my executive producer sometimes: "You need to have these four beats. They need to be by this person and that person." So when she heard Jackie, I think her ears perked up even more because she knows that that must have required a certain type of work ethic. "The album's named after me, so that's what it is, automatic."
Do you actually address parenthood in Jackie?
The whole inspiration behind the title, naming it after my mom, is that I can now see the world through her eyes. My fans have grown up with me and seen my life change over the years, from a young girl with "Goodies" to a full-grown woman and now mom. So with this album, I wanted for my fans to connect with me as it relates to this new chapter in my life. From pre-baby to post-baby, there's a big difference.
What has parenthood been like?
Being a mom is the best thing that has happened in my life. Having my son has made making decisions much easier. Having my son also gives me clarity as a woman. I never understood when people would say, "I would die for my child," but you become so selfless. I've had purpose, because I've always wanted to be successful, but having my son is the cherry on top. He makes me go harder, in achieving all that I've dreamed of.
Do songs in Jackie touch on that?
Around the time that my son was born, I redid, line by line, "Hush, Little Baby." It's called "I Got You." I sang it for him on my album; he was actually there with me. Also, Diane Warren wrote this song called "I Got You." It completely sums up how my life has changed with being a mom. I cried when I recorded it. It's one of those classic Diane Warren songs that will be around for many years. And while I have my situation and my son, the message in the music can speak to anyone, in many different situations.
What was recording that like?
That song is actually co-produced by Harmony Samuels. It was so beautiful. Diane Warren is a legendary writer. A legendary person. You're going to remember every bit of the session you have with her. She's so vocal – you know that you're with someone who knows what she's doing. With this song in particular, all the instruments are live. Nothing is from a computer or a machine. There's real violins and real cellos. It's one of the best songs that I've recorded to date.
Dr. Luke also has a specific, albeit different, approach to music.
This was my first time working with him. He was the first producer who I worked with for Jackie; I worked with him three weeks prior to giving birth. Then we waited until after I had my child. I wanted to go into the studio as a mom, because that's what the title's message is all about – what life is like as a mom. So I made sure to make time for my child before I went back to the studio and I started off with him. There was this special energy, and I think that all had to do with the timing.
I was able to get the best of both worlds – an urban pop-slash-R&B-hip-hop record. I had the sound and producers that I wanted, because I had a specific vision. There's Dr. Luke, then Harmony and also Polow da Don. There are a few others who contributed – the Underdogs, and other cool talent like Ester Dean and Lunchmoney Lewis – but I think that Dr. Luke, Harmony and Polow were the ones who helped see me through my vision. I was very specific.
"I Bet" doesn't fit within Jackie's overarching theme. Why is it the lead single?
It is a real song. Not every song on this album is super autobiographical, but at the heart of it all, it talks about things that are real. Every song is needed, though I felt like that song really stood out because of the timing, with how I wanted to tell my story with my music. I felt like it connected with people, like when I was in the same room with L.A. Reid and Harmony, looking at this list of songs. Music is, really, a way for people to draw some form of strength. You never know what a song can do for someone.
When you read the headlines about "I Bet," they all assume that song addresses a specific, past relationship of yours. Is this true?
I was inspired by my life experiences. We always have cool conversations in the studio, though I have to give Theron a lot of credit because he's an amazing writer. We talk about real things – whether it's about my life or a guy's perspective – and pour that into the song. It's a song for everyone.