Phabo’s first album ‘Soulquarius’ was filled with R&B Gems like “Slippery” and “Supermodel”, which highlighted his unique style and his incredible writing ability. Pening hits for the likes of Kehlani and even opening for artist LAYA on her Tour, we were excited about the growth he has experienced as an artist and how it would advance his music forward. Phabo’s Second full length album ‘Don’t Get Too Cozy’ just dropped (6/16/23), and it did not disappoint our expectations.
Working with legend Troy Taylor on songs “Before I Let Her Go” and “Luv Songs (Unruly)”, and with one of our new school favorites Ambré on “NYL”, the project is a true expression of the up-and-coming R&B superstar’s burgeoning talent. Songs like “The Wind” and “Swing My Way “ all capture the passion, vulnerable lyricism, and essence of this project (as Phabo told us in this interview). Fans of R&B wanting to dive into a more modern sound without it feeling too unfamiliar will find that ‘Don’t Get Too Cozy’ and the stories Phabo tells on it are the perfect entry into this world. Gearing up for his tour coming this fall, we highly recommended getting familiar with the R&B artist now as he continues to grow further.
We had the chance to talk to Phabo about the making of ‘Don’t Get too Cozy’, his experience working with Troy Taylor, overcoming his fear of becoming an artist, and more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell me a little bit about some artists and albums that really inspired you to start making music. You have one of our favorite pens right now, so tell me some that inspired your pen as well.
PHABO: Alright so out the gate, my dad was a songwriter who I guess decided that the path would just be a little bit too treacherous trying to raise a son, his first child. He went and got a more professional job and whatnot, but I ended up going through a closet and found stacks and stacks of notebooks. That’s how I discovered my dad wrote, I had never been told that [before]. I found out he’d go and get his music printed. He’d go somewhere to make sure that he got it written out so that you could play it on piano. He had parts for it, trumpet, all that. That kind of grew into curiosity, so I grabbed a tape recorder and started recording on there just to hear myself. Then he made this tape at the crib, it had Eric Benét, Brian McKnight, and I want to say Barrington Levy. So I’m growing up with Reggae, R&B, and then Gospel. My cousin is B.Slade, formerly known as Tonex. I’m just seeing it all around me like, man, he got “Make Me Over” going crazy in every church across the United States. Growing up in his church (he was the MD at the church), I’m just always literally looking up to this dude. From there I remember getting into rap a lot, super heavy, but I came back on the other side of that listening to Ty Dolla $ign cus’ he’s another raspy voice singer. He was so appealing to me because of his voice texture. The texture and the candor in his voice. I’m so used to hearing the pure voice singers like Justin Bieber. There’s no rasp there whatsoever. Ty grew into me leaning into Drake’s music senior year of high school. I combined all that together and it gave me the confidence to do my music.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I saw an interview a while ago where you said you were a rapper first and you transitioned to singing. I saw the Soulection where you mentioned this transition from writing into becoming an artist. I’m curious, were those two transitions similar? And how has it shaped you as an artist?
PHABO: Both of them are very similar because both of them are stemming from insecurity as an artist. When I was telling people I was a songwriter I really meant that, but the only reason why I chose to do so was because I was afraid of being all the way on the forefront, in the center of attention. When I speak to certain background singers, there’s some that really love their job and they can feed their family by just playing in the back. But, there are some background singers that really want that moment. They really want to come through and outside the master, you know I’m saying? I didn’t want to go through that either, so I never really agreed with that mindset all the way. But, I do know what it’s like to write a song and present it to an artist and the artist cut it and not drop it for four years – five years. That feeling gets tiring. Eventually you get to the point where somebody is gonna come up to you and tell you “Yo, why don’t you drop? Why are you waiting?” Why don’t you go and do it yourself?” Now, the interesting part for me was whether or not I was gonna stand on it, you feel me? So, it’s like I dropped the music and the way people sold it to you, like you’d go number one and all that, it doesn’t happen. So now you’re on SoundCloud with 300 plays for mad months and you’re number watching. You’re watching it climb by like three and four, nothing crazy. That can be very discouraging in and of itself. I just needed to stand firm on something, even with the rapping to singing. The only reason why I wasn’t singing was cus’ like I said, people like Tonex are who the bar is set at in my family. In my family, whether people admit it or not, we’re very judgemental when it comes to music. Somebody messes up on the organ or the keyboard at a service no one says anything, you just look across the church and you see eyes. They hit you with the eyes, it’s like, “Whoa, okay. I don’t know if I’m ready for the pressure of this, but I know nobody can rap in this family so I’m gonna do that”. But, R&B was always calling because like I told you I grew up on it. My dad was a singer. My cousins respected my dad’s voice but I wouldn’t get that same respect as my dad. So, I think both of them are one in the same because they both stem from not fully believing that you could take it all the way there out of fear. I overcame the fear in both arenas and I’m glad because I get to see the fruits of my labor a little bit more
YouKnowIGotSoul: Compare your journey between making Soulquarius and Don’t Get Too Cozy. How were the two different? Do you feel more confident in it?
PHABO: Making the first album… okay, boom. You peep Spider-Man? Making the first album was like discovering my hands are sticky and they’re sticking to everything, and I’m like “What the f*** I got these powers?”. This second project’s like, “Okay cool, you know your power. Do you wanna swing from Manhattan all the way to Guam or do you just wanna make sure that everyone understands your story a little bit more? The origin story of where you came from and this, that, and third. So much rather than continuing on going to the Marvel universe too deep, I think we’re going into the origin story a little bit just to tell that before anything in future drops. I wanted to make sure that I was obviously linking with my same homies: Louie Lastic, Max Hunter, Dan Foster, all the homies – ghetto kids. I just wanted to make sure that was there before I started telling deeper things. I get to talk about my dad dying for the first time and I was very strategic about that. I didn’t want that on Soulquarius.
PHABO: I didn’t want that on Soulquarius because I lost both my grandmothers while I was working on that album. If I throw a couple more in here, this s*** gonna be a big ass obituary! I didn’t want that energy, that’s not the story I’m trying to tell. I also didn’t feel comfortable talking about my Pop just yet. I feel like on this one, I was very intentional with talking about relationships deeper, not being as vague, on that tip. [I’m] talking more about different experiences where I messed up more. I was a little bit afraid to speak on fuckups on Soulquarius, scared to be vulnerable all the way. I think I’m much more vulnerable on Don’t Get Too Cozy. I didn’t want anyone to feel cozy with the Soulquarius mindset you get me? This one’s kind of like I’m shaking s*** up a little bit more. There’s an aggressive tone in my voice on purpose, cause I don’t want anyone cozy listening to the project.
YouKnowIGotSoul: 18 tracks man is a lot, and we’re gonna talk about the state of the consumer later, but if you had three to four songs you would recommend to somebody that really captures the essence of the album, what would those be for you?
PHABO: “The Wind” for sure. I’m trying to kind of explore and discover what this new space is of being an artist and just braggadociously being popular like “I’m the new kid on your campus” like, “stuck on stupid, got to lead and you can’t lose it”. That’s just all me talking about me. Just literally feeling like I’m the s***, even when I may or may not be. I don’t wanna get that song up too crazy, but yeah. That’s like one of them ones where it’s self-reflection. “Luv Songs” is another one that’s just full R&B. I feel like that could drop in 2002 and it still be just as popping as we rocking with it right now. I think that’s mainly because Troy Taylor had such an influential process in my song making on that whole Atlanta trip making “Before I Let Her Go”. “Luv Songs” is one of those songs we did on the Atlanta trip and Troy sat with me the entire process. You just gotta look at Troy, If he don’t like it, he gonna let you know real quick. He let me rock and when he lets you rock, it gives you confidence cus’ you know just how on you he can be. I f*** with Troy.. He got that out of the song and we had to bring it to the world. I like “Swing My Way” a lot. Even though it’s an interlude, I’m curious what people are gonna think cus’ I purposely left an open verse on there, not related to a TikTok challenge. Maybe people are like “ I created a remix” and I’m open to that. “NYL” with Ambré. That’s that song where the part two of that, you get to feel that aggression. Also the homie being on there, Ambré, and the timing of everything. These songs feel crazy because we were working on them during quarantine. Mind you, we’re dropping on the same day, that’s completely coincidental. That song is something to me outside of streams, outside of writing, outside of anything. It’s like I was listening to “NINTENDO $HAWTY” on SoundCloud and here we are, I got a song with one of my favorite artists. So, I say those four man. They mean a lot to me, straight from the heart for real.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk a little bit more about working with Troy Taylor, especially on “Before I Let Her Go”, and what you learned just from being around him because he’s a legend.
PHABO: Troy is amazing. I think you come in with a certain thinking before you meet anybody. I try not to judge a book by its cover, but even when you don’t you kind of have a preset way in which you view someone. His cataloging alone, you know… I was very meek. I was very scared to speak up and I’m never like that in the studio, so I had to just kind of check that. I’m working with Troy and with everything I’ve told you, apply that to my voice. So now I’m trying to be too cute, too pretty. I’m singing it as it would be heard to the world once it’s mixed and mastered, trying to sound like the records and whatnot. Halfway through the session he stops it like “Whoa, what’s going on?”. I’m like, “No, I’m trying to blah, blah, blah”. He has me do it again. I sing it again and he goes, “Ah, okay. You’re one of those singers that needs auto tune. Had I known that I would’ve just put it on. I just turned it up, I didn’t know that.” So now I’m mad. Now I’m tight in the studio. I’m like, “Nah, nah, nah start it at one!”. He starts it at one and I hit the note. He pauses it, he goes “There you go”. I busted out laughing cus’ the way he get it outta you bruh, it’s unlike anything. I want you to know it’s consistent whether you’re Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross or whoever, he don’t give a f***. I’m like damn I’m in bootcamp right now? But nah, it was a blessing man. Once you get that formula, once he trusts you downstairs, he just goes upstairs and lets you run your sessions. It was the first time ever running my own session, anything like that. I’m super grateful for the fact that I kind of came into the game spoiled, like it was always an engineer in the studio. That was my setup at first. I think Troy reiterated like you need your own shit. It does handicap you in a sense if you don’t have that home set up, so I definitely suggest getting that set up.
YouKnowIGotSoul: That sounds like a crazy experience to learn all that from him. We’ve known him for a long time and people see the clips he puts on IG, so it’s cool to hear that’s how he really is.
PHABO: A million percent. I love just legends that are giving you game and they’re teaching you how to do this. Now I’m in sessions with other people and I’m vocal producing them like Troy, fake Troying it *laughs*. But yeah, I f*** with Troy so heavy. I’m so appreciative.
YouKnowIGotSoul: One that you didn’t mention before is ”Proud to Be”. I feel like nobody writes songs like that anymore. What was your mindset for that? Who did you work with? Just give us a little bit of background on that song.
PHABO: Yeah, “Proud To Be” produced by the homie M. Mind you, M, he doesn’t exist. I wanna put that on this call real quick cus’ he may or may not hear this and he’s kind of floating in the ether. He’s very mysterious when we’re in the studio. Soon as the space bar plays, you might look back to say something to him and the door is just slowly closing, he’s already dipped. He’s one of those. So for him to agree to rock, it’s a blessing. It was one of the late entries to the project too, I want you to know that. I was in the studio and he played it, and the beat was just so like “ooh wee”. That’s why I said it on the track, like I had to. It’s just funky. I was just free styling for real like, “Ooh, that would be dope if I pulled a shorty’s Benz out, cleaned the whip up, waxed it good, then I parked the Benz up. Pardon me, I had to clean my lenses”. I’m just on some s*** like, man, you so fine. I wanted it to look like Ms. Parker was watering her grass type s***. You just outside cleaning your rims like “well damn.” Really, the song was originally called “Spoiler Alert” and I changed it to “Spoil Her Alert”. Then “Proud to Be” was the ultimate joint because I kind of wanted it to go into “Your Loss”. On the track list I wanted it to read like “proud to be your loss”. .But yeah, me and M knocked that out. That was a quick 20 minute joint and he liked the freestyle so much [that he was like] don’t change nothing, this how we rocking. There’s another like minute and 30 on that song too. I might have to drop on a deluxe or something,
YouKnowIGotSoul: “Geneva” is a standout track. It’s unique, it’s something I don’t think a lot of people will expect from you. Talk about making that.
PHABO: Yeah, thank you for that. Shout out the homie Irv and Louie. “Geneva” is a very interesting song as a black R&B artist, because I feel like a lot of us are extremely talented in so many different genres. Believe it or not, there’s more people that have a “Geneva” in their back pocket than you would believe but it’s like, are you gonna stand on it and have faith in the fact that you probably won’t get that top 40 support on a top 40 song that could go number one like that without major label support. You get what I’m saying?. I got hella “Geneva’s” in my back pocket, but I’m always apprehensive to share ’em with the world. Cause rather than people just giving you that run that you need off of that song, they just take it box you in. So me sprinkling that on this very R&B project was very intentional. I wanted to showcase my pen. I wanted to showcase just the versatility of my voice. I wanted to use my character voice a little bit more on this project. While I was recording Soulquarius I did “Geneva”. It was one of the ones like when I got the ATL character voice going and I’m real nasally that’s Caviar P by the way. So when I heard “Geneva”, those words came to me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You mentioned “NYL” before, but give me a little bit more detail on making the song with Ambré. Was it on Zoom because it was made during quarantine? Did you guys link in the studio?
PHABO: It was one of the rare times we didn’t link in the studio. We both worked with Louie a lot, so I had cut the record and I got a text from Louie. He was like “Ambré wanna hop on this song and all that extra s*** you doing on the record. Yeah, cut that out.” *Laughs* Nah, like I said, it was a dream come true cus’ that’s really like my partner and she’s a legend in this. Really the definition of cool. When it comes to that cool s*** she doesn’t have to try hard cuz’ she been that but at the same time with the heart of an angel. The contrast of the two is crazy. She’s a blessing. I can go on and on about her and Destin for real. For this record, I wanted to get away from Baltimore. At the time, “LNF” was my biggest song, so the “flew to Baltimore to see my baby” was being said at every show. I was like okay cool, on this song I wanna say I left you in Maryland, like off the rip. That’s how I’m starting the track. That was one of the ones I did around that “Geneva”, “Scorpio Moon”, “LNF” time too. All those were done in the same few weeks. I wanted to start it off creating a new setting, kind of like altering, pivoting towards New York. At the time I was in New York and I was just hella inspired by everything from dollar slice pizza to Fordham Road, just everything. I almost bought three belts just cuz. New York hit me like a ton of bricks. I have to do pull ups on this light pole, cus’ why not? I have to get a chopped cheese from Duke Ellington at four in the morning. I have to! On a roll bro! *Laughs* I love New York. New York got on me and it stayed on me. The turning point for me was when we were going over the Brooklyn Bridge playing Faith Evans “I Love You”. I’m getting goosebumps talking about it. I wanted “NYL” to feel a lot like that moment. Just from the chords to the harp in the background, to everything. That was Louie, me, Max, Dan, that was the home team on that one. That was Blake Strauss on there too. The homies. All in all, I think that it’s gonna feel very familial. It’s gonna feel like a very good gumbo pot. Everything came together from setting, to intention, Ambré came with a crazy ass verse, everything on that one is just amazing. It checked off everything for me. I’m just grateful to give it to the world.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell me a little bit about “Out of Touch” with Shaé Universe.
PHABO: Man, shout out Shaé. We got that song done as soon as she touched down in LA from London. Knocked it out in like 30 minutes. The homie Malik Ninety Five was playing the beat for us. Dante produced on the beat as well. It’s playing and Angie Stone, India Arie, Jill Scott is coming to mind. Conversational R&B soulstress is coming to mind. I immediately got out the way and I kind of slipped back into songwriter mode, so now I’m just focused on writing Shaé’s parts. That’s all I really cared about and conveying what that conversation would be. I’m saying s***, like “You should do it like this” and she’s like “You should do it like this with a like that on it”. I’m like “Hold up! Like this plus like that? Yeah, I’m done talking. You got it. Get in the booth right now. Go”.While she’s talking, I’m thinking of things that a dude would say back to whatever that is. It’s only possible if we’re in there having a conversation. It’s only possible if the vibe is right. The producers and the engineers let us rock, and we really did our thing. Then when it came to the harmony, she’s the harmony goat. I am the harmony lamb. We are together as one, like it’s just crazy. You know, you kind of get burnt out here. So many stories of people having egos in the studio or divas, Shaé don’t have any of that. Even if she did, you’d never be able to tell, cus’ she’s literally as professional as they come. You think she’s been in the industry for 20 plus years. That’s the poise that she moves with and you can hear that on the track. I f*** with her as a person, as an artist, as everything. That was one of the late entries to the album that had to make the album because it was just “that”, it was “that” for sure.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Was it a little intimidating to have 18 tracks on the album?
PHABO: The intimidating part was dropping Soulquarius and having 16 records on it, so I already got that out the way. Anybody that’s listening to this and who listened to that, they’ll know that the only difference is I titled the track an intro. The Alex Vaughn track [on Soulquarius] was an intro, we just didn’t title it that. There’s interludes on this project too that we just didn’t title. As social media starts getting to the songs, they’ll be like, “Ah, I wish this was longer”. I took some notes from A Seat at the Table by Solange where you kind of just looked up and the albums over. There was no warning, cus’ she gives you no warning. I feel like that’s the beauty in it. When you tell people something’s an interlude they then have the power to be like, “Yeah, no, too short for me”, or somebody might be an interlude head and they’re like, “Yeah, this is my favorite”. I didn’t wanna have any preplaced disposition on my music. So, I guess I never really thought of it as being longer due to the fact that it’s only two minutes and 17 seconds longer than the last project. The optics of everything is what I wanted to challenge. I wanna see if people are really listening.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I love that perspective on the whole thing. Lastly, what’s your goal?
PHABO: My goal is to be able to remain as authentic as possible. I’m glad that I’m in a space right now where my artistry has been appreciated. Right in the nick of time. I didn’t feel the need to go do a crazy drastic rebrand where I dye my hair a crazy color. I don’t got no problem with people that do that. I’m just saying, me personally, me going against all that Phabo stands for just to feel something. I never got to that point and I’m grateful for that. I think that allows me to drop music that’s true to me, only true to me. I really don’t care what’s on the radio or anything like that. I can enjoy that music separate from me. People who listen to my music, I just want them to know there’s nobody else that took the steps that we took. There’s nobody else that applied the same principles that we applied to it. There’s 808’s always knocking on my shit. I want n***** to know we go through like three to four weeks of mixing on those just so that they knock the right way. I want all that to be felt. I never wanna stop caring about this. I never wanna have a bad example of what they expect at the Polaris way. As long as we can keep going and keep building and keep dropping timeless projects on the people, I want to get to a point where I can help other artists. I have a big heart. I know people with small hearts say that all the time, but I definitely have a big heart. I would like to, when the time is right, just really pull other artists up and really support them cus’ I see it so clearly. I know when it’s all said and done, after the timeless records have been dropped, we’ll be at the top and in a position to pull other people up and show them the Polaris way. Period. You feel me? That’s what all this is about. We’re going towards one common goal, which is just to be a long standing force that people talk about for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years to come.
“Casamigos” Official Video
Photo Credit: Randijah Simmons