Recently, for SU’s Spotlight Artist, I spoke with one of the most demanded songwriters in the music industry, Al-Sherrod “A-Rod” Lambert. A-Rod is responsible for the success of Ariana Grande’s “The Way” single and Michelle Williams’ “Say Yes” featuring Beyonce and Kelly Rowland. However, the songwriter is ready to begin his solo career and share his music through his voice. The Grammy-nominated A-Rod shared with me a few unspoken things that go on in the music industry. He also referred to the infamous interview between Sway and Kanye stating, “I can understand his frustration, even when he was talking to you guys and he was getting all animated. I understand that because in his mind he understands where he is going and he sees that is different ways and it’s like, on the outside they are trying to catch up to where he’s already at.” Read the rest of the interview with A-Rod and he was he had to say about Odd Future and his least favorite song he has written for someone.
To start tell me a bit about A-Rod? Where did you grow?
Well, I’m from Newark, NJ. Essex County kid, right there in Jersey. I grew up typical, for the area. You know, I was on welfare until I was 18 and had parents who struggled with drug abuse problems. That life, where it’s definitely not a fairy tale and it was challenging, but through family and God, I persevered through that, went to college, got a couple degrees, and finally through Church. My family was a very musical family, music was always calling me so, I came to LA to get into the music industry.
Ok cool, so everyone knows you for being a songwriter, why don’t you tell us your favorite song that you have written for someone’s album?
Hmm, so far, I would probably say, “Say Yes.” The Michelle record with Beyoncé and Kelly. Not just because it’s a Destiny’s Child record, but also because it’s something that I truly believe in. I believe that when you have a God in your life and you really believe in that, believe in that positivity, believe in that life, that pretty much anything you want to accomplish you can accomplish, regardless of the situation, regardless of where you are come from. With that God, and that love, and that life, Christ really puts a “yes” on something no matter what it looks like, it’s going to come to pass for you in that favor. So, that’s my favorite one so far.
Ok, this one might be a little more difficult, but could you tell us your least favorite song that you’ve written for someone?
(Laughs) Least favorite?
You can’t like all of them, right?
Ah man, my least favorite?
I’m not trying to get you in trouble, but I’m just curious?
I know, right! That’s hard, that’s a good one. I’ve never had to think about that, give me a little second. Least favorite song that I have written? I don’t have any songs that I would say, I don’t like, but out of them all that have come out, maybe…I don’t know, I don’t know.
(Laughs) Alright, since you have been Grammy-nominated, what has been the most difficult thing about songwriting for popular artists? Are their demands going up, is it hard to work with their labels, what?
Yeah man. Labels are tricky situations. Politics in general in the music industry, right? Especially in urban music, that we don’t even talk about that much, which is a lot of backroom deals being made, a lot of people getting paid based upon who’s going to make money off of a song, on the back end. So, you have certain people push for certain songs, not because it’s the best song for the artist, but because it’s going to line their pockets. Sometimes, that’s really difficult to get past. You might have one of the most beautiful songs anyone has ever heard; that doesn’t mean that it is ever going to get to the artist. There’s only 12 songs on the album and there’s 11 people who have to make the album because someone’s who’s involved with picking who makes the album, is involved with the people. Everybody has a crew nowadays and everybody has to get paid. So, if you don’t necessarily know the artist personally, or know the management personally, or you don’t know the A&R personally, it’s really kind of hard to get on certain projects. As you get hits, that kind of gets better, but still with hit records, it’s hard to get past that mentality. You really just wish that the best songs make the album or a project.
Ok, currently, you are working on a solo career, I think I read it on Rated RnB; could you tell us a little more about that and what made you want to pursue a solo career?
Well, the solo career is something that has been a part of my whole life. I would go away from it and try to stay away from it. Like, “yeah, I want to make my own music.” Then go away from it, then I would do something. Like make a project or a mixtape, then I would go away from it, like “nah I don’t want to do that, I just want to be in the background.” Then I would end up getting pulled back into it and this time it’s really…I think it’s time. I have things that I want to talk about, that I can’t necessarily write for an Ariana Grande, that I can’t write for Michelle, or for a Chris, or someone like that. There are things that I just can’t say in that span, that I can say for myself. That’s really what it is about. To be able to talk about the things that I want to talk about or spread my ideas, upset people, and inspire people by my story and by things that I’ve been through. Growing up in the hood, experiencing things in college, experiencing the streets. That’s what it’s really about for me and it’s about bringing back artistry. Because my whole project, Av Divinci and The Weirdos Back Home is going to be the name of the band, it’s kind of like The Roots meets Frankie Beverly and Maze meets Andre 3000’s ‘The Love Below’ album. Yeah, that vein of music is really kind of different from things that I’ve written for people, but it’s about you want to come to this live performance, you want to see this person do his thing. You want to hear the music live because that’s the only way you are going to get the most out the experience by listening to it. It’s like really early festival music.
Could you tell me the name of the project and group again?
Av Divinci and The Weirdos Back Home and the project is going to be called, ‘Welcome to the Av.’
So, you talked about making this festival music, are you going to be staying in the R&B realm or you going to do pop, or what? What’s the genre that you are going to be focused in on?
It’s a mash up of everything that has affected my life. Everything that I have been inspired by growing up, whether it’s pop, whether it’s rock, whether it’s hip-hop, whether it’s gospel, R&B, you know? Reggae, it’s going to be a mash up of a bunch of different things. It’s singing, but then it’s not, it’s rapping, but then it’s not (laughs).
That’s cool. So, do you have any news in regards to a debut single that will be coming out anytime soon?
Hopefully, the single will be out before the end of the summer, but I’m not rushing anything because I’m doing everything really, really, really organically. I go to the studio when I am inspired to go and to write and to record, but I don’t want to put a time frame on it. Originally, I wanted to put something out the top of the year, but I didn’t do it and I’m glad I didn’t do it because I’ve made so many new songs this year that I feel like fulfill the vision that I want to sound like, that I want to speak to a different level. So, I’m just really going with information rather than a time limit.
Ok cool, so in relation to your debut album are you going to be making any request for people that you’ve written songs for to appear on your album, as a favor?
Um, I’m not sure. I have some friends that are interested in being a part of it. I’ve had some friends that I have played stuff for and are like, “dope, I want to be a part of it,” but I’m not sure I’m going to do that. I really want to use people who no one knows.
Honestly, like when I think about what Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean and that whole movement was able to do together, as truly unknown people, you know what I’m saying?
That’s the kind of thing that I want to happen and what I want it to be. Really, really organic and really grass-roots, like, “ok, it doesn’t matter about the name, it’s about the song.” I want genuine fans. I don’t want to buy followers on Twitter and Instagram. I don’t want to hit up someone who has 12 million followers, or 4 or 5 million followers like, “hey can you Tweet this and Retweet this?” If they hear it and like it then great! But, you’re not going to get the text from me like, “I want you to Retweet this,” so that someone who really doesn’t care about the music at all is just going to Retweet or Follow just for the sake of doing it. I want really people because that’s what really makes artists successful. I mean, I want to get back to what makes superstars. I want to get back to what made your favorite artist. Why are you buying a certain person’s album versus just get a single from someone else? The reason why people put out singles and their singles sell millions of copies and they put out albums and nobody buys them because people don’t care about the artist. No one’s involved with who that person is. So, I want people to get to know who Av Divinci is, who he is and what he’s about, and to grow with me. So, when I put out something later on and I do a show later on, people show up.
Ok, so just a few more questions. So, now that you are focusing on your solo career, do you see any differences within the music industry being on the other side as the artist?
Well, it’s so early in it, but what I can say it is definitely…sometimes it can be like a lonely experience. Everybody doesn’t get it and everybody has to understand is that you have all these ideas in your mind about what you want to be and what you want to sound like. Sometimes people don’t get that vision. I can even understand someone’s frustration like a Kanye, right? I can understand his frustration, even when he was talking to you guys and he was getting all animated. I understand that because in his mind he understands where he is going and he sees that in different ways. It’s like on the outside they are trying to catch up to where he’s already at. It’s like, in his mind, his passion, and what he believes in, it’s kind of hard to try to convince people to believe in it because everybody, especially in this industry right now, it’s the music business, it’s about what’s popping. It’s about “I like that song, every song sounds like that song on the radio right now, so that’s how I’m going to make money.” “This artist looks like this; this is how I’m going to make money.” So, it’s like when you’re trying to do art, you’re trying to keep it true to what the art is and what you want to bring back to true artistry, sometimes it might not look like to someone a profitable situation to get involved in at the moment. You got to go out and really strike out on your own and really do your own thing at first and then people will catch up.
I’m sure and that’s the case with any artist that’s ever been successful started off that way. People didn’t jump on Jay Z right in the beginning, especially labels and stuff like that. Like Kanye, Ludacris, Outkast. All these different bands, people, and artists didn’t just automatically accept it as like, “Yo, that’s next and that’s what’s up. This is profitable for us and something we want to be a part of.” You have to believe in yourself and as an artist you have to have that work ethic. That’s something you have to do as much as a background person. I’m just writing a song. All I got to do is show up at the studio and just write the song. As an artist, I gotta make sure that the way I perform it, is correct. I gotta make sure that I’m hitting the gym and getting my body ready, not just to look right, but to be able to perform all the time. To able to dance around and move. You’ve got to put a lot into being an artist and it gives me more respect for artists, like a Beyoncé or like somebody who really molds their craft, like a Babyface because there was a lot he had to put into that to get to that point.
Finally, how do you want to be known as A-Rod, the musician? Do you want to be known as a vocalist? An entertainer? What do you want your legacy to be?
As a musician? I wanted to be known as someone who constantly wants to make classic music. That’s been my goal before I got my first placement. I’m not trying to chase a placement; I’m trying to chase a classic. So, A-Rod, the musician. I want him to be remembered as someone who wanted to affect people’s live so much with his music, that 20-30 years later it’s still lived on. There was something that he said, something that he did resonates, right? That’s the soundtrack to the time period of change, the soundtrack to some type of revolution, that’s what I want it to be. Like Marvin Gaye, he represents a time period, he represents a sound, a consciousness, a thought. That’s what I want my music to do later on. Stevie Wonder does the same thing, a Babyface on the writing side, he’s a legendary person because his music affected people so much and that’s what I want my music to do.
Take a listen to a couple of A-Rod’s Billboard Chart topping songs.