Interview: Producer Warryn Campbell Welcomes The Music World To His Block

Warryn Campbell Essence Music Festival 2013-1

If you check out the writing and production credits for producer Warryn Campbell over the years, you’ll find some of the biggest names in the industry including: Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Mario, Musiq Soulchild and Brandy just to name a few. However, perhaps his biggest achievement to date has been working with Mary Mary from their origin and helping to craft their sound which has moved Gospel music closer to the mainstream. After spending years creating music the way others have asked of him, he now has the opportunity to do things his way after creating his new label “My Block”. YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with Warryn and discussed his start in music on Death Row Records, playing in Brandy’s band, his approach to creating Gospel compared to r&b, his own upcoming album, and much more.

YouKnowIGotSoul: What made you decide to participate in the reality TV show for Mary Mary?

Warryn Campbell: One of things that was appealing to me was the fact that I’d get to showcase and brand my label My Block Inc and my artists Mary Mary and JoiStaRR. They kind of let us know up front that our show would have a closer peek into our lives, but at the time, they would showcase the music and how we made it. It was more of the music which was cool. Of course, there’s a lot of family stuff in there as well which for us, we have such a large family that it’s entertaining. But the center of everything is the music and that’s the best part.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your label and what made you decide to start it because I know that’s more work for you.

Warryn Campbell: Starting my own label was kind of the plan from the beginning. When I was a little kid, I always wanted a label. I was a huge Berry Gordy and Motown fan. I read every autobiography and every book on Motown. I just always wanted to do that. Being a producer and songwriter is something that I love and enjoy very, very much, but even though I had success with artists like Kanye West, Brandy, Luther Vandross, Mario and Alicia Keys, the difference is that I didn’t own the product that I was selling. It wasn’t mine. I wasn’t attached to it. They were songs that I sold and somebody else owned it. I thought this was the perfect opportunity, while I’m in the prime of my career, to use my talent and own it and leave the legacy for my children. I just want to leave something to the game when I’m done. Like Berry Gordy is done and retired, but we still have Motown like a lot of artists that he built and the things he created. I want to leave that same legacy and that’s what we’re shooting for.

YouKnowIGotSoul: I read that you started out with Death Row. How did you get that opportunity come about and what kind of role did you have there?

Warryn Campbell: When I was at Death Row, I was very young. I was still in High School around 16-17 years old. When I got there, I was a session player which literally means a guy who would have a drum machine and he would have a kick and a snare drum, and I’d come and play everything else. I played the bass, the keyboard, the organ, the piano, the strings and all the stuff that made the record what it was. What I was doing was I was writing and didn’t really know it. After a year or so doing that, I realized what a writer was. I just started writing a lot of stuff over there. There was some stuff that came out and some that didn’t, but I learned a whole lot. It came out because one of my mentors, DJ Quik, he was a guy that taught me a lot of stuff that I know about production and making beats, he was being managed by Suge Knight at the time and he was producing a lot of stuff over there. So, I was over there working with him. Things went from there. I met Suge, Daz, Tupac and Johnny J. I was an integral part of all of that, just playing the keys. Even when they went out live and did shows, I would go out and do Saturday Night Live with them. It was a really cool time. I learned a whole lot during that time.

YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve also done a lot of Gospel throughout the years. Is the approach different when you’re doing Gospel versus R&B?

Warryn Campbell: People tend to think because my affiliation with Mary Mary because that’s a group that I founded and do a lot of music for. Do I do a lot of Gospel? I actually don’t. I do some because Mary Mary was so popular and other Gospel artists would ask me and I come from the church, so of course I have that background. But the bulk of my work has been in R&B and Hip Hop and I do a few Gospel things. The approach has always been the same. The reason Mary Mary stands out is because when I decided to do Mary Mary, at the time I was doing Dru Hill. I figured I should take the exact same approach musically as I did with Dru Hill and even from some of the Death Row stuff I was doing. Like the first big hit of Mary Mary was a song called “Shackles”. The drum sound to that song was some sounds given to me from DJ Quik from some of his records on his album. I took the same approach that we used on those records, we just made the lyrics Gospel. But musically? It’s the same thing. That’s why they stood out.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the work you did on Musiq’s “LuvanMusiq” album and the creative process behind that album.

Warryn Campbell: That was an amazing process because Musiq is very integral part of everything that happens. Sometimes you have an artist who lets you do the track, you bring the track in and he’ll write to it. Or you’ll bring a track in, you’ll get another writer and the artist would just sing it. Musiq, his creative process is amazing because he’s involved with everything, so while I’m making a beat, he’s there. He’ll be like “What about this sound?” or he’ll beatbox and say, “We should make a rhythm like this.” It helps kind of guide where I should go so we never miss and I’m never off the mark as it relates to what he’s looking for because he tells me what he’s looking for. He can articulate it perfectly because he’s a very musical person. He knows chords, sounds and all that stuff. That makes the process that much easier for a producer because I know exactly what he wants and whatever is in his mind, I can make it come out of the speakers because he’s there to make me do it. He’s an amazing person. He’s an amazing musician. I don’t just consider him an artist, he’s a musician.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the “OnMyRadio” and the sound of that album.

Warryn Campbell: There was definitely an intention to try something new. While Musiq is known for being a soul guy, he is a very huge early Hip Hop fan like 80’s Hip Hop. He wanted to try some of those things and incorporate that into what we were doing which I thought was cool. He came in with these ideas about using beatboxing. You could tell even from his first hit, the intro had a beatbox on it. That’s his ear. That’s what he loves. We were just trying to accommodate his ideas that he had. I think it turned out great. We had a great time artistically. I don’t know what I did commercially because I generally don’t keep up with that kind of stuff, but as far as us having a great time in the studio and creating stuff that we liked, we accomplished that. We had a great time.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk to me about the creation behind Brandy “He Is”.

Warryn Campbell: That song was created through a chord progression that I had been playing on the piano probably since I was 14 years old. The chord progression the song uses is something that I made up in school. I was in the 9th grade and I was in the piano room playing and I made this little tune up. I would play it from time to time. Fast forward to whenever we wrote the song, I was in the studio and I was like “You know what? I’ve never used these chord before.” I was putting together a beat and I put them down. I recorded them and it sounded really cool, so I started adding layers on top of it. I added rhodes and bass and after a while, I was like “This sounds really amazing!” I remember being at the Record Plant Studio in LA, and for some reason, I had a lot of artists coming through that day to meet with me or hang out with me. I remember Alicia Keys came through the studio. She heard the track and loved it. It wasn’t finished yet so I was like “It’s something that I’m just fooling around with.” Then Deborah Cox came. By the time she got there, the track was finished and I almost gave it to her because she wanted it. She was like “I love that. I want that!” I was like “Let me listen to it a little more then I’ll get back to you.” When Brandy got there, she loved it so much, so she was like “Let’s write it right now and sing it right now!” That’s how we came up with that. Me and my writing partner Harold Lilly sat there and wrote the song. She sung it that night and that’s what happened. It almost didn’t make it to Brandy though.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your experience working with Brandy.

Warryn Campbell: Brandy is one of my first jobs. I was in Brandy’s band after I finished with Death Row records. Actually in the middle of Death Row, Brandy did a tour and I went on tour with her as a keyboard player in her band. On her first album I was with her and we just became really good friends. In the meantime, I started developing as a songwriter and producer. I just missed doing the “Never Say Never” album. I was still in the development phase at that point and I was very young. I really wanted to be on that album. Since I wasn’t on the album, I quit her band. *Laughs* I felt like as a songwriter, I was like “You know what? I’m supporting an album that I’m not even on as a songwriter and I want to be a songwriter.” I didn’t want to be out there playing and being in bands for the rest of my career. I wanted to do other things, so I quit the band. She wasn’t at the rehearsal when I quit, so I happened to be at home and at the time I still lived at home with my parents. I saw her car pull up and she was like “Why’d you quit?!” I was like “Brandy, I’m a songwriter now. I can’t just be on the road and I don’t even have a song on this album. I just don’t feel right doing it.” We remained friends and she made sure that I was on the next album with “He Is” and the album following that with “Who I Am”. We’ve always been very close. She was at my wedding. It was just a great friendship and still is.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your work on Mario’s “Braid My Hair”.

Warryn Campbell: That’s a funny story. At the time, Mario was like 15. We were in New York working and they went to pick Mario up from school to come to the studio. I guess nobody told him he was coming to the studio. He was getting ready to get his hair braided, but they picked him up too soon and it was some girl at school that was supposed to braid his hair. When he got the studio, his hair was all over the place. I had just got finished with the track and Mario walked in. I said, “Hey Mario! Why is your hair sticking up like that?” He told me this story about how he didn’t know he was coming to the studio that day and there was a girl that was supposed to braid his hair after school. He was talking about how she looked and how pretty she was. He made getting his hair braided sound almost like a sexual experience. It was so huge to him. Right about that time, Harold Lilly walked into the room and I was like “Tell Harold that story again.” Harold heard the story and was like “Man, give me five minutes.” We stepped out of the room for five minutes and he wrote the chorus. When Harold wrote a chorus that he thought was great, he had a thing he would do. It’s funny. He knew he had a hit record when he got excited and he would throw things around the studio. Me and Mario were in the hallway wrestling or something, and all I heard was a bunch of loud noises. Harold had kicked the chairs over, opened the water bottles and poured it all over his head. He was just going crazy. He was like “I got a hit record!” He sung me the chorus and we continued on and we started finishing the rest of the song. I wrote the bridge and the breakdowns. The rest is history. That all came from an actual occurrence of Mario needing his hair braided.

YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you’re also working on your own album. Talk to me about that.

Warryn Campbell: My album is my baby. It’s my fun album where I get to do all the music that I want to do and I’m not constrained by another artist saying “I want this.” This is an album where I’m doing things that I want. It’ll be sort of in the vein of the old Quincy Jones albums like “Back On The Block”, “The Dude” and “Q’s Jook Joint” where it’s really music and he’ll have special guest friends of his to sing on the album. Right now, I have Mario, Musiq Soulchild, Amerie and I have songs from other artists that I’m doing. It’s basically my music and different styles that I like to experiment with because I do pretty much all of the genres. I have some stuff that sounds very soulful, a couple of Pop things, some Jazz stuff and some vintage classic Rock. That’s one of the eras I love. I love the old Rolling Stones sounding records. It’s like I’m having my own Block Party and I got my friends coming to help me sing. I’m not rapping or singing on it. I’m just doing all of the music. It’s a really musical album. We’re going to have a lot of fun on there.

YouKnowIGotSoul: What made you decide to put out your own album?

Warryn Campbell: Really, I was in the studio and I had all of this music that I knew commercially, maybe it wouldn’t fit on one specific artist. I could sell this stuff to Alicia or Beyonce with this music that I created just because I wanted to, but it was in me, so I wanted to get it out. So I said “You know what? This probably something that I should do myself.” At the end of the day, every artist has some stuff they have to get out and especially in my line of work, I’m usually writing or producing for other people. I was like “Let me do something that’s mine that I can say I wanted to do.” I’m like Burger King most of the time; I let people have it their way like “You want it like this? I’ll give it to you like this.” This time it’s like “I’m giving it to you how I want it.” That’s the whole thing behind it.

YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?

Warryn Campbell: Make sure you check out My Block Inc. We have a new artist named JoiStarr coming. She’s going to be the next big thing that I’m going to put my stamp behind and effort into. So make sure you support that!

One comment

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