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Trey Songz Keeps R&B Flame Alive on 'Chapter V'

'If you have to change the way your music sounds to achieve success, it suppresses art'

August 28, 2012 12:15 PM ET
trey songz
Trey Songz
Jimmy Fontaine

Coming off his highest-charting release to date, 2010’s Passion, Pain & Pleasure, one might assume there was additional pressure on Trey Songz when the singer was crafting his latest album, Chapter V (which, according to early projections, is set to land at Number One). Not so, says Songz: as the singer tells Rolling Stone, he was completely unfazed by the expectations while recording his fifth full-length LP.

"It was about the creative for me," the Virginia-born singer says of the laid-back vibe that characterized the studio sessions with longtime producer Troy Taylor, as well as pop-game production kingpins Benny Blanco, Stargate and Rico Love. "If you focus on the actual art, not the results as to how well it's received and how well it does, success will find you."

Songz acknowledges that in the two years since Passion, Pain & Pleasure, R&B has evolved. Once anointed the genre’s savior, Songz has seen himself take a backseat in conversation to more nuanced newcomers like Frank Ocean and the Weeknd. The crooner however, says that with many of his peers ditching their soulful roots for pop riches, he's happy that R&B has a continued shelf life. "If superstars that were made superstars by creating R&B music don't do R&B music, than it makes it hard for the radio stations that live on R&B to exist," he explains. "If you don't continue to make the records that people love, than we'll lose a genre."

The singer (born Tremaine Neverson) is adamant that artists not be persuaded into compromising their aesthetic for current trends, taking a stab at the current wave of EDM infiltrating pop radio.

"Radio stations are playing so many Europop, techno dance records," he says. "There's not enough variety in the music. I understand people trying to gain a different type of fan base or have more popularity or have more of an audience by going to popular radio or what is considered popular music, but we're artists. If the mandate is that you have to change the way your music sounds to achieve a certain level of success, it suppresses art. That's like telling an artist you can only use these colors on a painting."

Songz adds that in the wake of its decline, the music industry no longer fosters creativity. "At the end of the day it's all about profit margin," he says. "It's not that much about the art for (industry) people as it used to be. It's become such a revenue business. It's all about singles and it's all about ringtones. You have people that want to push you in the direction of what's proven to be successful for other artists, and I think that's a shame."

To combat this trend, Songz says he made sure to add a healthy dose of classic R&B flavor to Chapter V, while also continuing his "sonic evolution. We're doing music that's different but still authentic to my growth," he says, citing album cuts such as "Simply Amazing" and "Never Again" as evidence.

One change for Songz on Chapter V was a larger emphasis on guest features. While the 27-year-old linked up with Young Money's Drake and Nicki Minaj for Passion, Pain & Pleasure, this go-round he enlisted the talents of Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, T.I., Young Jeezy, Meek Mill and Diddy.

Working with Wayne, Songz says, was a last-minute decision: "Hail Mary," the track on which the New Orleans rapper appears alongside Jeezy, was written on the album's final day of recording. "Once we got the hook I was like, 'I'm gonna send this to Wayne,'" he recalls. "I knew he would kill that."

The song title, however, was a cause for hesitation: Songz was skeptical of giving one of his songs the same name as an iconic number by the late Tupac Shakur. "We thought about that really long," he says. "There hasn't been a 'Hail Mary' since 'Pac, so it had to be iconic. And it had to be a big sound. I think we accomplished that."

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