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Bryan-Michael Cox Interview: Upcoming Usher Album, Joint EP With Johnta Austin & Dominating R&B In The 2000s

R&B producer Bryan-Michael Cox can easily be considered an R&B legend already with all of the hits he’s created over the years for the likes of Usher, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and Jagged Edge. However it doesn’t look like he’s ready to relax as he’s ready for another run at the top. This all started two years ago when he produced on Ella Mai’s debut album for the song “Dangerous”. The song had those classic B-Cox vibes that we grew up loving and now he’s ready to take R&B to another level with his work on upcoming projects for Usher and Jagged Edge. YouKnowIGotSoul had a chance to talk to Bryan about his upcoming work on the highly anticipated Usher project that’s set to come out next year along with Jagged Edge’s new album. He also talks about his work on Johnta Austin’s “Love, Sex, & Religion” as well as future plans with him which includes a joint EP as well as a possible Ocean 7’s reunion. Lastly Bryan-Michael Cox reflects on his dominance on the charts in the 2000s with records like “Be Without You” by Mary J. Blige and “U Got It Bad” by Usher.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about creating the new Usher and Ella Mai song “Don’t Waste My Time” with Jermaine Dupri.

Bryan-Michael Cox: It came together organically like most of the music we make him with does. We were just in the thick of it making joints. Keith Thomas who is Usher’s A&R, he came by the studio to see what we were doing. He heard the track and asked who it was for. We didn’t have anybody in mind for it at the time. He was like “Usher needs that joint” and we started putting the song together with Vedo.

YouKnowIGotSoul: We noticed the Hi-Five “I Like The Way (Kissing Game)” sample on the record.

Bryan-Michael Cox: To be perfectly honest, it’s not a sample. In the Roland TR-808 box, that’s a pre-made beat in there already. Certain pre-programmed beats are already in there, so it’s not a sample at all.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your work with Usher in the studio right now. Jermaine Dupri has mentioned that this is “Confessions 2”.

Bryan-Michael Cox: I think people are going to be very impressed with this new album. We’ve been working on this for awhile. It seems like forever, but it’s a good thing when you’re making that gumbo and you’re slow cooking that thing. I’m super excited about this process. We’ve grown a lot together in this process and I think people are going to enjoy the album. Snippets have happened already online and I know there’s one that everyone keeps asking about which is the song “Believe”. That song is amazing. He has an amazing album. His fans are going to be very pleased with album. It’s taken us through a lot emotionally.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Are you and Jermaine Dupri doing the whole project?

Bryan-Michael Cox: We’ve done a lot of songs. He’s working with a bunch of different people though, but we’ve done a lot.

YouKnowIGotSoul: What are your expectations for this project with an album title like “Confessions 2”? We know the chemistry between you, Jermaine Dupri and Usher, so our expectation is that it’s going to be 2004 again and Usher is going back to the top. *Laughs*

Bryan-Michael Cox: I just think that it’s going to be great. At the end of the day, it feels good. I don’t know if we’ve confirmed that title yet. I know that’s been tossed around and at some point, Usher wanted to change it. I do know that the music feels good and the energy feels amazing. You can’t redo what you did, so we’re not trying to do that. Even if it’s called “Confessions 2”, we’re trying to create a new movement. We feel really good about the music we’re making. Quincy Jones once said “If you feel good and five people in the room feel good about the music too then there’s a good chance that the rest of the world will feel good about it”. We feel good about it. The reaction to the single has been amazing and they haven’t even gone hard at radio yet. The fact that they haven’t even pushed the single like that and we’re getting the love that we’re getting, I think people are ready.

YouKnowIGotSoul: We kind of look at you and Jermaine Dupri as the bridge to Usher to let him know what we want to hear. Obviously you’ve seen a lot of tweets from fans about what they want and don’t want from Usher, so what are the conversations you’ve had with him to get to this point?

Bryan-Michael Cox: We talk about what we normally talk about which is life and direction. Usher is a quintessential artist. He’s ever evolving and a brilliant mind, so he wants to do something different. Sometimes being that brilliant, you can second guess yourself. You can definitely overthink things sometimes. For us, it’s our job to help him through that process. We may talk for three hours before we even start to have any type of writing session. He’ll play stuff that he’s getting and likes as well. A really important piece to this puzzle is Keith Thomas because he’s Usher’s right hand man. If Jermaine and I are a bridge to the fans for Usher, Keith is our bridge to Usher. Even though we have a direct relationship with Usher, when we’re just throwing ideas around, we all depend on each other to help bring whatever we’re trying to bring to the middle. We get so much music and everyone wants to be apart of this project, so the process has been amazing. We’ve done a lot of albums over the years, but this particular album just feels good. I can’t give you a technical term, but it feels right. It doesn’t feel forced or we’re trying anything. It just feels right and ideas are just flowing. Usher sounds amazing and he’s committed to the vocals. He’s always been committed, but he’s committed in a way that I think people are going to be very impressed with.

YouKnowIGotSoul: We were excited to see you on Ella Mai’s project back in 2018. It seems like during the last decade your focus was developing new acts as well as working with the usual artists like Mariah Carey and Jagged Edge. It was surprising to see you on a major artist album, how did that all happen?

Bryan-Michael Cox: Ella reached out to me on Twitter and was like “You’re one of my favorite producers. I’m signed to DJ Mustard and I would love to work with you”. I ended up reaching out to her manager Mekoyo and I happened to be in Los Angeles. It was really organic and easy. We had a good time making the song “Dangerous” with Prince Charlez. She was pretty much finished with the album when I came in and I wanted to do more records. “Boo’d Up” was just bubbling, so they knew they had a hit on their hands. I was like “This is amazing that I caught this”. I just happened to flip over to my DMs and I rarely do that. You have your DMs for people that you follow and DMs for the people that you don’t. I flipped over and saw her tweet and we made it happen. We made “Dangerous” and for her, Ella’s reference ironically was like Day26 and Danity Kane. Some of her favorite joints were from “Making The Band”. It wasn’t like she was referencing Mary J. Blige or Mariah Carey records. She did that too, but she was like “I love the work you did with Day26” and it was so random that she hit me because of that. I have a good relationship with her and I’ve talked about going back in with her for the new project. She’s already started on the new project and hopefully I’ll be part of this one too.

YouKnowIGotSoul: To me “Dangerous” sounds like a classic B-Cox record and there’s a bridge on the song which is rare today. Are you just sticking with what you know and what’s made you successful?

Bryan-Michael Cox: I’ve adopted other techniques and been a little more diverse this year than I’ve been the past couple of years with the DVSN and Future joint with 1995 as well as the record with Jadakiss. I’ve been able to stretch out, so I’m doing a little bit of everything. The thing with “Dangerous” is she requested that kind of vibe and she wanted a bridge. That song gives me a little bit of Day26’s “Exclusive” vibe. That’s what she wanted, so me throwing a bridge on there was easy. I go into the studio everyday and I try to approach the music based on how I feel. Me and Jermaine do a lot together and we talk about music consistently. He may text me at 3 AM about something music related. It’s a constant thing. When I sit in front of laptop, I’m just trying to do what makes me feel good. I want to be deliberate about the idea. I’m used to making hit records. In the process of that, what makes me feel good? Being able to be diverse and work on a Robert Glasper album or all the different things I’ve been able to do, I just like to do what makes me feel good.

YouKnowIGotSoul: One of the biggest complaints we hear about this generation’s R&B is the lack of vocal capability. Do you feel it’s your responsibility to push these artists and show them how it should be done?

Bryan-Michael Cox: Absolutely. I feel like people take the wrong approach and they criticize the kids instead of saying “Let’s work together. You can teach me something and I can teach you something”. We have information that they need and they have the youth and audience to get the message heard that we need, so let’s bridge the gap. There are a lot of artists that I like and that have strong potential, but how do we get people to look at our genre with reverence? How do we get R&B back to the main stage? It is our duty to pass this information on and not criticize. We need to embrace the young artists and I’ve always been an ear for a lot of these young artists. It is our duty 100%. You don’t hate on an artist, you help them.

YouKnowIGotSoul: You were part of Johnta Austin’s “Love, Sex, & Religion” album which we waited ten years for. Talk about the project as well as the single “Love Culture”.

Bryan-Michael Cox: Me and Johnta consistently work, so we have so many songs in the vault. We’ve been making this album for ten years and “Love Culture” is one of those things that came really recent. I did that song last summer and initially we were going to give that song to BJ The Chicago Kid. We sent it to him and they said they liked the song, but everyone was just dragging their feet with recording it. One day we were listening to it and I was like “Johnta, you need to keep this song”. He went back in with Troy Taylor and they did the vocals over. Me and Johnta have an undeniable chemistry. There are certain people in your life that you’ll always have energy with and Johnta is one of them. It’s just so natural and it’s never work. We just go in the studio and it happens. I’m very proud of this project and I’m proud of the work we did on it. He’s getting love with this single and it’s going to do something. I think it’s going to do well because people love the song. I’m super excited to see what happens with it. Me and him are actually working on an EP to start the whole Oceans 7 movement again, so we’re going to do the “Texas Ranger and Sinatra” EP. We have a few songs locked in for it already. Hopefully you’ll get the EP by the summertime and I’m hoping that’ll open up us getting into this Oceans 7 concept. We haven’t done a Oceans 7 mixtape since 2009 and it’s a concept everyone’s been asking for. Me and Johnta are taking it upon ourselves to start putting a project for ourselves and then that will open up the concept of getting the Oceans 7 back together in the lab making a project.

YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve also been in the studio with Jagged Edge recently as well. Whenever you work with Jagged Edge, the music is just great. What are you guys working on?

Bryan-Michael Cox: Jagged Edge has an album they’re working on called “Jagged Love Story”. They’ve been working on in it for a minute. I’ve always stayed in constant contact with them. Brandon and Brian are my dearest friends. They had ideas that they were working on and they brought them to me to finish up. We’re also working on new ideas. We worked on three new ideas that I’ve got to finish and they’re fire. With them, it’s the same thing, I’ve been working with them for so long. It’s the easiest work ever. I can’t make a track fast enough and by the time I get the track finished, the song is done for the most part. It’s crazy because Jagged Edge and Johnta Austin are the ones I’ve worked with the longest. We all started working together in 1998 and we’re still working now. We’ve been able to maintain and keep a fresh sound over the years. Our chemistry is the most natural thing ever. I’m excited about this new Jagged Edge project. I’m doing everything in my power to help move it around. I still feel like they don’t get their real just due like they should. They should be way more respected than they are. They’re still a group and never changed members. Look at every group of the 90’s, they’re a shell of themselves. There’s two different Blackstreets and Dru Hill and 112 have new members. The fact that Jagged Edge is still intact, it’s still the same members and sound. They still have a very youthful look and connect to the young people in a real way. Jagged Edge doesn’t feel old school, but they have hits from 20 years ago. We need to give Jagged Edge their props.

YouKnowIGotSoul: When you look at Jagged Edge’s discography, they have some serious records!

Bryan-Michael Cox: No doubt! Making Jagged Edge albums are the best for me. It’s the easiest work I’ve ever done and it’s the best because they’re my favorite group. Working with them, their tone and the way they write, I love everything about them. That’s what makes it even easier. Artists like I’m connected to like Jagged Edge, Usher and Monica, I’m actually a fan of their talent. I’m excited when I get into the studio with them. If I become a fan of someone like Ella Mai, put me in the studio with them for a week and we’ll get an album done.

YouKnowIGotSoul: I want to take it back to the era of yourself, Kendrick “Wildcard” Dean and Adonis Shropshire when you guys took over R&B from 2006-2009. How does that era compare to what you’re doing now? Was it more fun then?

Bryan-Michael Cox: It’s just a different era. We were pretty much working on everything. I had been building this momentum from 1999-2005. I didn’t even realize it was happening. From working at Noontime to co-producing with Jermaine Dupri, when we got to 2006 and “Be Without You” by Mary J. Blige happened, there was a split that happened and everyone went their own way. Johnta was signed to So So Def and Jermaine started working with LRoc and No I.D. I had always done my own thing too so when I realized there was a split happening, I put my team together and I was going to try to capitalize off what was happening with the success from Usher, Mary and Mariah. The first thing we did was “Making The Band” and that made me put a team together because I needed to get songs fast. “Making The Band” was the first and I did a song deal with Interscope and Sony. At that point I just started working on everything and my schedule was so booked. I needed that synergy of people like Kendrick, Adonis and Donnie Scantz. I was doing so much work that it was crazy. Adonis was signed to Puff, so he comes from a school of that camp school. I came from that too because I was signed to Noontown. We worked on a bunch of things over and over again. Then the temperature of the music business changed and of course personal things happened. The run ended and then we had to figure out the next move. I’m a person that keeps all my relationships intact. Even though I was working with Kendrick, Adonis and Donnie, I never let my relationship with Jermaine fall to the side. If he called me to do whatever, I was going. Years go by and those relationships stay strong. I came back to Atlanta, Adonis moved to Los Angeles and then personal stuff happened. I had a baby and Adonis got married, that kind of slowed down our momentum.

YouKnowIGotSoul: When we look back at the amount of placements you had during that time period, it’s crazy!

Bryan-Michael Cox: I think one year we placed 72 songs which is unheard of. It was the craziest thing in the world, but we were going strong. That’s when I fell in love with Los Angeles because I was able to work at a high level on multiple artists that were high level. Albums were coming out, so it wasn’t like these songs were sitting. We were in with Tyrese and the album came out a month later. I was also on “Making The Band” so I was on TV every week. We were also in the beginning of the YouTube thing and I built this cult following through “The Studio Exposed”. All of these things played a part to me still being here today.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Who are you currently working with?

Bryan-Michael Cox: I did a few things with Kiana Ledé. I have a really incredible song with her and I hope it fits the direction of her album. If the song comes out, I guarantee it’ll be a smash. Me and No I.D. did a few things on Queen Naija. I’m working with DVSN consistently, I have a few joints on that one. This Usher album is taking a lot of my brain power. I did a joint on Jadakiss’ new album. Me and Jermaine Dupri are working with Smokie Norful. We’re also working on the new Omarion and Bow Wow album and Jermaine cut some of the vocals this week. I’m hoping to get back in with Ella Mai and Mariah Carey. Johnta and I had talks with Mary J. Blige’s team and hopefully we’ll come up with some things. I’m also working on Monica’s new album. She’s getting everyone on it. She has me, Jermaine, Polow Da Don and The Neptunes on the album. I think it’s going to be a big album for her. We’re working and we’re open for business!

YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you worked with JoJo last year as well?

Bryan-Michael Cox: We did a bunch of songs with her. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think she may keep one or two. We sent the files for two songs, so I think she’s going to use those two. I love JoJo and she’s an amazing artist. I think she’s fantastic.

One comment

  • A_TNdlovu says:

    I loved this interview. So informative and eye opening. So, does this mean that Usher’s album is coming out next year and not this year, as initially thought?

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