Unlike some artists that have come and gone after the peak of their popularity, Steven Russell has managed to keep Troop relevant on the charts with his writing. Although not the center of attention anymore, the voice of Troop is on your favorite songs by artists such as Chris Brown, Omarion, Marques Houston and Mario. YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with Steven Russell to talk about his new solo album, the possibilities of a Troop reunion and also his transition from being in Troop to being solely a songwriter.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk to me about the new album that you put out last year “So Random” and what made you decide to do a solo album as well as the creative process.
Steven Russell: “So Random” was my first solo release ever since my days in Troop. It was a long time coming. As long as I was in Troop, I never thought about doing a solo record really. My goal in my life as a child was to be like Babyface, Gerald Levert and all of those guys who sing and put out albums forever. I just decided there was no reason for me to wait any longer. I didn’t have to wait for anybody to like it. I just decided to do it. I had a lot of songs on hold from writing songs for so many people over the years. There were always songs that I kept to the side and I used all those songs and put together a really decent album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I was listening to that album and I found it interesting because it has a nice mixture of the traditional R&B that we’re used to along with songs with different sounds to them. Talk about that and how it has been received.
Steven Russell: Well, I’m a diverse writer. I was influenced by all kinds of music, so I didn’t want my album to be just a straight up R&B album just because that’s what I’m categorized as. There’s a little Pop-Rock on there, there’s definitely Pop records and like you said, there’s traditional R&B which is what I came up on. I wanted the album to be diverse. That’s why you hear that element of different genres of music on there. It’s being received really well. I’m selling a lot of records in Japan as we speak. Japan is the biggest partaker in the “So Random” event at this moment.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We’ve heard reports of Troop possibly reuniting. Do you think Troop is going to work in an industry where it’s really dance driven right now?
Steven Russell: We’re in rehearsal two or three times a week. That’s just an indefinite thing for Troop. We’re always together a couple times a week. We are in talks of doing a new album, but it’s a single driven industry right now so we’re just going to focus on coming up with a couple of really great records. I think it would be received well because we have a huge fan base. As far as the production of the records, we’ll definitely make sure that it’s fresh, something that our fans can get with just as well as the people in the club dancing and having a ball. We’ll make sure it’s pleasing to all those people.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I just want to hypothetically ask you: If Troop really did end in 1998, would you have been satisfied leaving the legacy with that album?
Steven Russell: In the sense of the material that’s on the album, yes. The fact that we weren’t on a major label and the album didn’t get the kind of exposure, no. As far as the songs on the album, I thought it was a pretty decent album just to continue the legacy that we had before. Thank God we didn’t end there.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the legacy of Troop. I heard a Fat Joe and Chris Brown song recently and I know it samples a Troop song. Just kind of talk about the legacy knowing that even 10-20 years later, people are still sampling Troop and the group is being mentioned everywhere.
Steven Russell: It keeps the saying true that a great song means everything. Over an image, over that “Here today, gone tomorrow” stuff. A great song will keep you around forever. I have people walking up to me, showing me grown kids. I met a 19 year old kid the other day that was raised on Troop Music. The girl was crying. Her dad played Troop so much in her life until she was a big fan just like her dad. I don’t think the music Troop put out will ever go away.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Of course once Troop finished their album, you started writing for different artists such as B2K. You were also writing with The Underdogs. Talk to me about your creative process.
Steven Russell: Yeah I did start focusing more on getting my music out there after the last Troop album. The creative process for me by myself is really just me coming up with a nice musical composition first off. Then a concept that I believe is interesting and that people will gravitate to. Then I sing a few melodies down off the top of my head because the sky, the heavens are opened for so many things to come if you ask for it. I sing just randomly off the top of my head until I get a melody that was meant for this project that I’m doing. I just write it from there. I still to the concept and make sure I have a good storyline and make sure I have an outstanding hook.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Is that the same as when you’re working with The Underdogs?
Steven Russell: With The Underdogs which I’m still a part of, we actually have the new Chris Brown out “Turn Up The Music”. Just wanted to put that out there. The Underdogs are back full force. Harvey Mason Jr, Damon Thomas, Mike J, Pretty Mike, Dewain, Steve Russell. *Laughs* Anyway, the process is a little more interesting with The Underdogs because there’s more people involved than just yourself. I find that I get more excitement and fun out of writing with other people than I do by myself because there’s so much more magic that happens when everybody is at their best and their peak of creativity and thought when we’re sitting in one session like that. So much magical energy takes place that it’s really hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it. It’s an amazing accomplishment to sit in a circle of guys and all of our intentions and main goal is to reach a certain place. It’s an amazing accomplishment to write with The Underdogs.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I came across a video on YouTube not too long ago. It was yourself, Eric Dawkins, Harvey Mason, Damon Thomas and Tank. You guys were working on a song called “Say No More”. Can you kind of talk to me about that song?
Steven Russell: That was one of the many that we did that year including “Naked” by Marques Houston and “O” by Omarion. During that time, we were writing 2-3 songs a day. That was a song that was written for one of those projects. Like you see in the video, we just go through the process of beating it until we get it exactly the way we want it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I was listening to your album and there’s one song on it which is “Gots To Be”. I know you wrote the song and now it’s known as a B2K song. As I was listening to that song, I noticed that the only thing different between your version and their version is the lead vocals. Your backgrounds vocals were also on the final version by B2K. What was the transition like from being the main artist of a song to just being in the backgrounds and no one really knowing who you were until they checked the credits?
Steven Russell: After Troop, I still loved to perform. I still loved to be up front, but I did find enjoyment in producing young acts and giving myself to young acts like Chris Brown, B2K, Marques Houston and Mario. I got excitement out of that, hearing them sing something I wrote co-wrote or that I did vocal arrangements to or I did the music to. It wasn’t a bad transition because when the songs play on the radio and I know I’m a part of those backgrounds. That means the Troop sound still works. I’ve got 12-20 year olds loving my voice still. Even though they don’t know that’s Troop that they’re listening to in essence, I got a kick out of it. I thought it was cool. B2K did an amazing job on “Gots To Be”. For me, I thought the song was really a dope song and I thought grown women loved to be appreciated in that same way, so that’s why I recorded it on my album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’m a big fan of your writing. If you could give me the background on these songs:
Troop’s “Spread My Wings”
Steven Russell: I was headed to New York to work with Keith Sweat on his second album “I’ll Give All My Love to You”. Troop actually recorded that separately. I remember the session like it was yesterday. I went in and I did my part with the producer Chuckii Booker which is a good friend of mine still. Chuckii had the song and he took me in. We did my parts and all of my background parts. I had to run to the airport while Allen McNeil was on his way to do his leads and his backgrounds. Everybody did that song individually, but it turned out to be one of our biggest records ever.
YouKnowIGotSoul: B2K’s “Why I Love You”
Steven Russell: I was in New York in 2002, I believe. I was sitting with a good friend, he was the head of Urban music at Columbia, Dave McPherson. I actually happened to meet Michael Jackson the same day that I did that song. That song is very special to me because I met Michael Jackson that day and then that afternoon, me and a good friend of mine Troy Taylor who actually has the artist Trey Songz signed to him. Me and Troy went in the studio and my friend Dave McPherson who signed B2K, he told me he wanted a song that simply said “I love you”. Nothing complicated. When I got to the studio, my buddy Troy started playing the keyboard and came up with that beautiful composition. That’s where the melody came for “Baby that’s the reason why I love you”.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Chris Brown’s “Take You Down”
Steven Russell: Before we even got to Chris Brown, I was asking a neighbor of mine who was about 17-18 at the time. I’m always asking him what the new sayings in the streets, just so I can take notes and when I write songs I can use that stuff in my lyrics. That particularly day he told me “Take you down”. If a girl wants to have sex with you, she wants to “Take you down”. Of course my light bulb went off and I wrote that down in my little note of ideas. Maybe one or two weeks later, we were working on the new Chris Brown album. Myself, Lamar, Damon Thomas, Harvey Mason and James Fauntleroy were just sitting around. I think Chris Brown was even sitting in the session. We were just sitting around like we usually we do, just coming up with melodies and ideas. The music made me think about Ready For World. They were a group that came long before Troop did that really influenced us like New Edition. Anyway, we started singing Melvin Riley melodies like “Here we are, all alone in this room.” That’s like Ready For World. Young kids would never know what that is. I started singing that melody and everybody was like “Yeah we got the first line, that’s it!” We started working on the chorus and I put out my little rollerdex and I said “Take You Down” after so many people said so many different things. Damon Thomas then started singing “Take you down, I really wanna take you down” right off his head so we knew it was magic right there. That’s how “Take You Down” came and of course from there, we just beat the song up until we got it to where it ended up.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Mario’s “Could U Be”
Steven Russell: That was on Mario’s first record. Damon Thomas was the creator behind the concept of that. He’s such a great piano player so we always tease him about how he’s always putting in so many chords in one song. “Could U Be” happened to be one of those songs. We were teasing him about all the chord progressions in the song and he was like “Trust me, just write to it!” We had Mario coming in. Me, him and Harvey Mason sat down and carved out “Could U Be” and that happens to be one of my favorite songs to this day. Damon still teases me about that right about how he told me it was going to be a hit.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Omarion’s “Midnight”. Talk to me about that one because that was a really creative song that you guys put together.
Steven Russell: Yeah that song was really creative. Eric Dawkins was the head behind that song. The Underdogs at any given time, we have six rooms going with six different, extraordinary talented producers. At any given time, somebody would come up with something amazing. That day, Eric Dawkins had that amazing track. Me and him were sitting in his room. We were going crazy over the track. That’s how “Midnight” came about. A couple of friends like J. Que and I think Keri Hilson might be on “Midnight” as well. She may have wrote that with us as well. That’s how that song came about. We were just sitting around and we just came up with this nice idea. We had Omarion in the studio that day, so by the time it was our time to record “Midnight” was ready to go.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I noticed around 2009 The Underdogs kind of went their separate ways. What were you doing during this time?
Steven Russell: In 2009, I started promoting my album especially. I really started going around doing shows before I released the album. I started doing shows with a couple of the guys from the group Troop and I just started writing and producing on my own. I produced Elliott Yamin and I produced so many artists that year just to do what I do. That’s what everybody did. When we all broke up, everybody continued to write and produce on their own.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You guys came back together to reunite. You guys are working on Chris Brown. Who else are you guys working with?
Steven Russell: We’re working with a new artist named Asia. We’re working on stuff for Rihanna and Justin Bieber. We’re working on the entire industry right now. I don’t like to speak on it before it happens, but we really are in the process of putting our mark in the industry right now with a bunch of great songs.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Steven Russell: To anybody aspiring to be in the music business in any form or fashion, just remember it’s a business. You got to spend a lot of time doing what you want to be a master at it. I know there’s a lot of young people that like to be all over the place at this studio or that studio with this person or that person. Being more excited about the names that they’re around than what they’re actually putting out and that’s a big mistake. I’d just like to remind these youngsters to stay focused and stay put. Get with a creative team or something that you can vibe with and create there, not just run all over the place because usually people that are just all over the place are putting out a whole bunch of things that they really haven’t mastered any one specific thing. To be great at something you have to spend time doing it.
Check out Steven Russell’s solo album “So Random”