Last year the Virgin Islands haling singer/songwriter/producer landing one of the summer’s hottest R&B joints in the form of ‘Boo Thang’ with Kelly Rowland, sealing production credits on 2 tracks on the holy grail of hip-hop releases, Kanye and Jay-Z’s ‘Watch The Throne’ and touring the US from top to tail, building a loyal following of fans.As 2012 is shaping up to be equally as fruitful, we got the chance to chop it up with Verse to discuss everything from the state of R&B in the industry today, to his favourite ever song, advice for artists just coming into the game and how to make money as an artist with no driving force from a label.
First off, for those who don’t know about Verse Simmonds, give us a brief insight into your story up to where you are today.
Oh man, Verse Simmonds. I was raised in the Virgin Islands, that’s where I grew up at and I’ve been doing music pretty much all my life. In ’03, I started a production company called The Jugganauts with my partner Sham ‘Sak Pase’. To date, we have written and produced songs for Rihanna, Jay-Z, Kanye, Chris Brown, Busta Rhymes and Ashanti just to name a few and I’ve been doing my solo artist thing all my life as well, but most people just got to know me first from ‘Buy You A Round’ which I put out in 2009.
Since then, I’ve put out a few mixtapes (‘Sextape Chronicles 1 & ‘Sextape Chronicles 2) and I have a brand new one out right now, hosted by DJ Drama, called ‘Sex, Love & Hip-Hop’. Last year, I put out another single featuring Kelly Rowland which was ‘Boo Thang’. A lot of people were really receptive to it, a lot of people really liked it so you know, I’ve just been on the grind man. I’ve been on the road as much as possible and at times, that’s what bought me to where I am at today.
What state do you see R&B being in right now and where do you think it will go from there? I saw an interview with Claude Kelly recently where he said it was on “life support” which I’d say is a pretty accurate definition.
Well, I’d like to be the one to revive it if that’s the case! But he is right, a lot more people think there’s a bigger pot to cash out on and leave R&B behind to become part of the pop world. I think it’s something music goes through, it evolves.
Upcoming R&B artists right now are missing that step that’s going to take them from being an urban artist, growing with their fanbase to then taking them over the top so for me, it’s just about trying to make sure I build that foundation of where I’m starting from, and obviously I’m from the Carribean, so my music spans more than just R&B. As I said though, I love R&B music, it’s always been a passion of mine and I’ll continue to do it as long as I’m in this music industry.
There is a whole new wave of R&B acts with a very new sound making major moves right now with the likes of Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Jhene Aiko at the forefront. Do you see this as the future of the genre or could you see a comeback for more traditional R&B?
Oh no no, it has to be a switch to it, it has to be different to what traditional R&B used to be because as I said, music grows and it evolves all the time. Every 10 years or so, you can actually see the difference in every genre in how it grows and evolves into something else and R&B is exactly the same. I think one of the major problems is that people feel as if R&B has to be the same, it to feel the same, it has to sound the same and I don’t think that’s the case. People want a new form of R&B that they can listen to, they can ride to and that’s refreshing and not boring.
With the mixtape era and “free” becoming the more widely used business model for artists trying to make a name for themselves, what other revenue streams do you think upcoming artists should be looking into and how have you managed to embrace this shift in ideas?
The thing about mixtapes is that they’re really just a form of promotion for yourself. Labels don’t do as much as what they used to do before, they don’t build you from the ground up as they used to so what a mixtape has been able to do is allow artists to still be able do their craft and be able to get out there on the road and make money from it, even if they have no backing from their label.
At the end of the day, it’s really about keeping a consistency within the music: making sure you have consistent music coming out, consistently good music that people want to hear from you. As far as what revenue streams open up for you is of course the shows as well as being able to merchandise whilst you’re on the road. The greatest part about the mixtape era that’s going on right now is the fact that I could put out a mixtape today and push it myself, get people to hear it and do shows and build up a fanbase off the back of it, from the road to the internet, without having to wait on a label to do so.
What it allows is artists like myself to continue to work without having to wait for a label to say “ok, it’s time for you to go now” and when you take it up on yourself to really just attack your craft, you build on the most important part of this music industry which is the fans. People forget that sometimes; it’s really really all about the fans. It’s about the demand that people have for you so being able to put out mixtapes builds that demand and lets the labels know “hey, alright we need to pay attention to this guy and maybe get behind him”.
What can we be expecting next from Verse Simmonds in terms of albums, mixtapes or singles?
It’s only been about 2 or 3 weeks since I put out ‘Sex, Love & Hip-Hop’ hosted by DJ Drama and that’s been doing really well.
I have the first single that I’m pushing off that mixtape called ‘Bad Mutha’ and that’s featuring Snoop Dogg; hopefully we’re shooting the video in the next few weeks. I’m going to be shooting a lot more videos from this mixtape as that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 2 or 3 years is basically putting out these mixtapes, shooting the videos for them, getting out on the road behind them and building a real core fanbase and that’s why as of late, a lot of people have been seeing me and hearing more and more about me is because for the past few years, I’ve been on the road.
I’ve been really pushing, really promoting myself and so really what’s next for me is putting together another project. I’m trying to decide whether or not I’m just going to focus on the album because I have started it already or if I’m going to put out another mixtape, just to make sure that the fans are all the way locked into my movement and what I have going on. With that being said, I think the next move for me is actually going to be putting out another mixtape, I’m not exactly sure when but it’ll probably be somewhere closer to the end of the summer, if I do.
In terms of production on the album, will it all be in house or can we expect some other producers on there too? Did you work on anything with Darkchild whilst you were signed to him?
I used to be signed to Darkchild a minute ago, I haven’t worked with him for the past 2 years now but I do have some records that we worked on that I’ve been holding on to, which I may release. As far as other producers, I really keep a tight circle: it’s the Jugganauts, which is me and my partner MelonMoose, who also produced Rihanna’s Man Down and some other records for Justin Bieber. This new mixtape, I have some records with a producer names SK who has also worked on a lot of big records with Trey Songz. I like to keep it balanced by having the right amount of new energy on a project as well as seasoned people on there. It helps to keep it embodying the time it’s in.
Since the transition to BuVision/Konvikt, are you still planning on releasing the same album as you would have done on Darkchild and what has the experience on both labels taught you (or confirmed to you) about the industry?
Being signed to any label: the first thing it’s taught me is really that it’s not really what you think it is when you’re growing up and thinking “hey, I wanna be signed”. Once you get signed, it’s really just the beginning of the whole process and you have to go 10 times harder than you’d gone before. You could feel like you was on 100 before you got signed and after you got signed, you’ve got to crank it to 1000 because now you’ve actually got a clock that’s ticking against you so that’s like the one thing I learned about being signed to a label.
On the transition to BuVision and Konvikt, it took a little time to get it done but once we got it done, everyone was really happy with it. We took the situation over to DefJam and I’ve been having a good time with it thus far but as I said, nothing’s really changed for me because for the most part, me and me team have been the ones pushing ourselves to make sure we get to that next stage so anything that anybody can add onto what we’ve already built is always a plus for me .
Coming from an insider at Konvikt, are we ever going to be hearing Akon’s ‘Stadium’ album!?
Haha, that’s a good question man! Yeah, I know he just did the video for ‘Hurt Somebody’ which was on his mixtape but it was to get ready for the ‘Stadium’ album so I expect that stadium album to come out later this year.
Good. We’ve been waiting for it for a while now!
Yeah yeah yeah! I’ve been working on him with on some of the stuff and it has probably been the most anticipated project for the past 2 years. He’s definitely been in the studio, we’ve definitely been in the studio working on that project and I think he’ll be able to release it later on this year.
Since coming into the industry, who has the most inspirational artist or person you’ve worked with and why?
That I’ve ever worked with? Akon would probably be one of the most influential people I’ve ever worked with because we both come from a background that isn’t the US and we both have a similar approach to music. Another thing that influences me about him is his humbleness as an artist, as a person. When you meet him, he’s real down to eath, it’s not really a real big Hollywood commotion kinda thing, it’s just like “hey whassup, I’m Akon”, it’s real humble and that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned just from being a part of the camp.
How do you go about making a hit; from the inspiration, to the production and writing, to having the finished product?
You know, there’s really not a set process for me, I don’t have certain lights that have to be lit or have to be dimmed. I don’t to make sure my M&Ms are green or anything like that man! At the end of the day, the process of creating music is a totally organic one. Me and my partner just sit down with the instruments and we try to come up with the best music possible. We take whoever has the best idea for a beat, start writing around and that’s what I’m going to go with and hopefully everybody likes it. I don’t really have a set format for creating a record and I’m gonna keep it that way because I think if it gets to scientific, that’s when you lose the realness and music is just supposed to be something you feel, you listen to, get energy from and when creating it, it grows from the drum or the keyboard and just evolves into a whole body of work so there’s no set way for me.
What is your favourite song of all time?
All time favourite song? There could be so many but Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ is probably one of them. That’s one of my very favourite songs. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Beres Hammond, he’s also a very great artist from Jamaica that I grew up listening to and he has a song called ‘No Disturb Sign’ that I really loved growing up but there’s so many people, it’s hard for me to really say.
What advice would you give to all of the upcoming artists and producers trying to make a name for themselves in the industry?
To any upcoming artists, my advice is always make it about the fans. Don’t make it about yourself, the money or anything else. Make it about the fans and once they see that you’re willing to sacrifice to give them a quality project, they’ll follow you, they’ll get behind what you do and what you stand for and that’d be the biggest thing I have to say to any artist out there.
As far as producers go, I would say find an artist that you can get behind. Build your own artist, somebody that you start with from scratch, that you could build an empire with, because at the end of the day, it’s so crazy because everybody is kinda in their own clique and they have their own go to people so it’s not that easy to get on a Jay-Z and Kanye album, it’s not that easy getting on Rihanna’s album, it’s not easy getting on Chris Brown’s album but if you actually believe in a talent as a producer, your best bet would be actually getting behind that talent and trying to help them create something that everybody else wants, that you will also be a part of.
Finally, what does the future hold for Verse Simmonds?
The future for me: I hope that I’ll just have positivity in my career and the people around me. I’m really big on that. I have, as I just said, released this new project that I’ve been getting a lot of good reviews from and so for me, it’s just about putting together the next few projects and making sure they’re better than everything else I’ve done. My goal is to always better the last thing that I did so hopefully as I said, this year I’ll be releasing another mixtape or I’ll be releasing the actual album at the top of next year, so they’ll be the next few moves from me.
Any final words or shout outs?
Oh most definiately! I want to shout ya’ll out for having me on this interview, I appreciate it! Also, make sure everybody follows me on twitter, that’s @versesimmonds as well as online at versesimmonds.com and that’s about it! Oh, make sure you download ‘Sex Love & Hip-Hop, it’s free and it’s on DatPiff, it’s on LiveMixtapes, hosted by DJ Drama and there’s also a No DJ version that’s out as well so everybody make sure you download that and I just appreciate the love!