YouKnowIGotSoul had a chance to speak with producer Neff-U and find out about his journey in the music industry. Known only by name to a lot of folks, Neff-U opens up and shares a lot of great information with us. In this interview, Neff-U talks about his experience working side by side with the likes of Dr. Dre, Ne-Yo and the legendary Michael Jackson. He also lets us in on what he thinks of the state of music right now and explains what it will take for music to be where it should be.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Many people may not know this, but you actually started out working with Sunshine Anderson. How did you get that opportunity?
Neff-U: It was through a dear good friend of mine Erick Walls. I met him in college. He left college before I did and moved to L.A. and hooked up with Sunshine. He gave me a phone call and told me I should come up to L.A. and that’s how everything got started.
YKIGS: Did you work with Sunshine Anderson at all? What was the whole situation like?
Neff-U: Sunshine was actually really cool. My first shot was because they asked me to go on tour with her and once I finished meeting her, I remember meeting Macy Gray. Macy Gray was meeting Sunshine Anderson. So it was a situation where Sunshine’s musical director didn’t show up, so Macy Gray looked at me and asked me if I could make the band sound better. That was an opportunity for me, so I said yes and she said I had the job. That was one of those divine connections that happened at the right place at the right time.
YKIGS: After that, you of course started working with Dr. Dre and the Aftermath camp. How did you connect with Dre?
Neff-U: A guy was coming from Boston scouting out musicians and writers. They took the trip to L.A. and they wanted a CD of mine. This was during when Dre was working with Truth Hurts. Dr. Dre heard the CD and he wanted to know more of my work. That’s how my journey with Dr. Dre started.
YKIGS: You’ve worked with many big names in the industry so far like Dr Dre, Ne-Yo, Eminem and 50 Cent. What kind of things have you picked up on from being around these people?
Neff-U: Well Dr. Dre is definitely a mentor to me. He helped me understand the importance and physics of sound and how it works. How you choose the right sound is very important. Me being a musician at heart, he showed me to express the ability of patience, style, grace and sound. Being a gospel musician growing up in the Church, he introduced me to Parliament, George Clinton and very funky stuff. He helped me transition from a gospel sound over into a funk sound. It’s like he almost helped me fuse it. It was really great because you have a lot of gospel musicians who can’t cross over, but he helped me fuse it to where I could still do gospel beats, but I was able to put some BBQ sauce on it.
YKIGS: How would you describe your production sound?
Neff-U: I would call it “Sounds from Heaven” because when you hear me, there’s no genre of music. And every time I put my hand on a piano or keyboard, I always pray to God that he will direct my fingers and heart, so everything I play will have a purpose.
YKIGS: What was the feeling when you found out “Stay” by Ne-Yo on the radio? I believe that was your first solo placement where it became a single.
Neff-U: That actually wasn’t my first single placement. My first one was a one I did in college and it was for the “Men In Black 2” movie. It was called “Nod Ya Head”. It was a single and also the theme of the movie and also the theme for Burger King. That kind of caught me by surprise because I never thought a song I did that long ago in college that Will Smith would want it to be his single. It was really cool.
YKIGS: What it is like working with Ne-Yo?
Neff-U: Ne-Yo is awesome. He’s very talented. He understands it’s all about the song and that melody is king. He has a great ear for songs and he’s a great lyricist. He has the ability to listen to somebody’s story and perfectly craft it out for them in a great song. One thing that made me respect Ne-Yo, I remember we were doing a session with an artist. Ne-Yo was actually the writer at the time and I played some music and the artist asked Ne-Yo what he thought of the music. Ne-Yo looked at me and said “I know him, I know he can do better.” So when he said that, it was really awesome to work with somebody that not only sees the best in you, but won’t let you settle. That’s the moment I knew he was going to be legendary.
YKIGS: You’ve also produced some tracks on the latest Michael Jackson album. Were you actually in the studio with him when he made those songs?
Neff-U: Yeah I was with Michael for many years. The songs everyone heard on the album, Michael had been crafting them for many years. He’s the kind of guy where he will work on a song for seven years and work until it’s perfect. Working with him was the ultimate because he had no limitations on what he could do because he would never limit himself to who he was working with. He always approached things like it was his first time. He was very excited to go new places and try the different music. He was constantly creating new sound. Michael was very in tune with what was going on so the art we both thought of was to be close so people could link to you, but be far enough so you can be innovative and fresh. Even though it’s good to be innovative, you also need to leave some type of stream for reality because you don’t want to lose them. Once you stream and get them, then you can take them to places. First thing you need to do though is gently take them there.
YKIGS: I have a couple of songs I would love to get the background on or anything you remember from the studio session:
YKIGS: Brandy “Say You Will”.
Neff-U: Brandy is a great artist. One of the first of many artists that I met. She used her voice as an instrument and to watch her, it was a privilege to see her do vocals like that. She made every note, she made every harmony and made every movement in the song “Say You Will”. She made it count. To see someone take a song and treat it so gracefully, and not only put herself in it, but be passionate as well. It’s a song that still makes me smile and it’s such a happy and beautiful song. That’s what she is. She’s a good-hearted, beautiful person. We had the chance to place her in that song.
YKIGS: Did you get a chance to work with Brandy after the song?
Neff-U: Yeah I actually did. We started working together at the time when I was working with Babyface. We were doing something as well. He came by the studio and we just hit it off. This was during the time when she was fusing her rap and singing. To her, it was just taking advantage of the gift God gave her by using her voice in many different ways. Taking her instrument and playing it in different ways, so to watch her transition and expand with the new sound of her voice, she was incredible. She brought out the best out of me and I did the same for her. She’s a real special person. She’s a person I definitely can’t wait to see winning again.
YKIGS: Musiq Soulchild “Millionaire”.
Neff-U: The actual track was done in my bedroom. Also, Ne-Yo’s “Stay” was also done in my bedroom. It was one of those times where I heard the song in my heart and I got up and made it with my keyboard and computer. Musiq heard it and loved it. Harold Lily, who was the writer, him and Musiq started thinking of the melodies and we crafted a beautiful song.
YKIGS: Ashanti “In These Streets”.
Neff-U: I call her the ultimate hard worker. She is such a hustler. That song came together, we were just vibing and it was one of those perfect accidents where you just fool around on the keyboard and she’s singing melodies and I started playing and she started singing and the music just created itself. We kept going and we found the perfect accident.
YKIGS: Who are you currently working with now? I know you did some work on JoJo’s latest mixtape.
Neff-U: One person I’m really excited about is Alicia Keys. It’s going to be special. The things that are coming out and the things that Kerry is doing and what’s happening in the studio is God sent. My thing is I’m able to work with beautiful people who also have hearts. I know musicians and artists will understand me when I say this: “Sometimes to get beautiful melodies, you got to be positioned right in your heart. Sometimes you build gifts.” That’s something I learned from Michael. You have to be in a place of selfness but you have to have a forgiving heart and you need to know it’s not about you. You have a super power and that super power is to help heal the world. If you’re a musician and have the talent, you have to position yourself to give. There’s a lot of people that need us right now. They need great songs, they need to smile and dance and they need real emotions. Alicia Keys is one of that I’m working with. There are some artists I’m working with as well, but I’m really excited about her. And Natalia Kills, look out for her. She’s coming very soon. She’s an artist on Will.I.Am’s label. I’m really excited about her. She’s definitely bringing a new sound. She’s a great music artist, she’s new and I’m excited! It’s a really good thing.
YKIGS: Anything you’d like to add?
Neff-U: Sure. You doing this interview and the people depending on you to ask questions to pursue their music art and know what’s going on in the heart of music. What is that you guys are looking for and what are you expecting?
YKIGS: Oh you’re asking me? *Laughs*
Neff-U: Yeah I’m asking you and I’m asking you because it’s our job to serve you. It’s our job to give people good food. So I want to ask, what do you want to hear emerge in this game?
YKIGS: Just for music, I just want it to be real and authentic. Music with good lyrics and substance. A lot of times on the radio, songs that are catchy and trendy overtake songs that are real. I think it’s a shame because there are a lot of talented people who deserve their shine, but they don’t get that opportunity because everyone is so worried about the next catchy hit, that they forget that music should be real and should be something everyone can relate to.
Neff-U: Totally agree, until you know right now. Our world goes through so many changes. You look at an artist like Curtis Mayfield, Michael and some of our great legends, they wrote about their time in history. Their songs were like history books. So it’s like you have so many things that are going on, what I’m trying to help bring forth with our music community is the style of music. What’s the new sound? What is our new style? I know we’re repeating a lot of things, but what is that new culture of music that is going to emerge. We have so many things to talk about, so many people are losing their homes and I know in times like this, a hero always emerges. We just need to bring the community together and realize it’s not about us. We have history to write about and I think when people are real about us, that true sound will start to carve out.
YKIGS: Is there a place where the fan can contact you?
Neff-U: @RonFeemster. I’m really getting new to this twitter thing, but I’m realizing it’s great to communicate and let people know what’s going on. I have a lot of things I want to share.
– Working w/Amber Riley from Glee and artist ZZ Palmer.
– Worked w/Keke Palmer on “Be The One You Call”.
– Currently working with Goapele and Mateo–“Their music is very special and will bring a fresh sound”.
– If any artists want to contact him they can reach out through his management company, Advanced Alternative Media.