We recently caught up with legendary producer Warryn Campbell for an interview. During our conversation, we touched on his the new partnership for his My Block Records label with SRG/ILS, what’s coming up from the label, creating hits for Musiq Soulchlid, Brandy, Mario, Dru Hill, Tyrese & more, his hardest song to create, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about what you’ve got coming out on your label My Block through your latest partnership with SRG/ILS.
Warryn Campbell: There’s quite a bit going on. You’ll see Erica Campbell has a new single out called “Positive”, but we’ll also drop another one right before her album in September. She’s coming, but we also have The Walls Group out of Houston, they are coming with a new single. They will drop an album in July. We also have JoiStarr, my baby sister, she has a single out now called “Love Story”, it’s an amazing song. She’s getting ready to go on tour. There’s a lady from Oakland, her name is Lena Byrd Miles. She’s been all over the place too. We just did a My Block segment at the Trumpet Awards recently. She’s coming with a new single called “W.O.W.”, meaning “Walk On Water”. We’ve been quite busy.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve been doing such great music for so many years, and it’s always quality. How do you keep up that motivation?
Warryn Campbell: Well you know burn out is real. It doesn’t matter how great you are or how much success you’ve had. If you’re not careful, at a certain point you’ll burn out. I’ve watched some of the greatest producers on the planet, I studied their movements, and watched how they really not do everything. Just wait for the right thing. That way you can control the burn out factor. I have a lot of buddies who do what I do at even higher levels than me, and they go so hard, and after so long they tap out. After that, there’s no more. I tend to go on little runs where I do a lot of music, and then I sit back and learn, there’s a lot of new technology. This is something that no matter how much we accomplish, we will never master. It’s never going to be a point where I say I mastered this. I’m always going to learn something. I have a buddy of mine, who is literally right next door to me, he’s another master producer named DJ Khalil. I go over next door, we decided one night to collab, we have never collaborated before, and we’ve been neighbors for 17 years! He’s showing me things in Ableton I’ve never seen before. So I have to take time to learn. So I think that’s why I can take time and come back, because I never stop learning.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You created the “Life On Earth” album with Musiq Soulchild years ago. Talk about creating his single “I Do”.
Warryn Campbell: I remember that song being in my laptop as a file and it was called “5 am Musiq”. I came home from a session one night. I don’t have a home studio, I don’t want to bring my work home. I just have an upright piano and a laptop. I pull out the laptop and start fooling around. At 5 am I come up with this thing. I think it would be good for Musiq. When I have an idea for Musiq, I send it right away. It seems like he’s never asleep. *Laughs* He hit me right back and said he loved it. I sent it with a note saying “I Do, I Do”. He got the idea, he penned it. With Musiq Soulchild, his mind, I don’t know where he gets the stuff from, his mind is just so crazy. He really is one of the most creative artists I have ever worked with. In terms of arranging, and he wants to try something that I’ve never done. I can’t take all of the credit, Musiq is just a really creative guy. Sometimes I’m following his creative lead on a lot of that stuff. This is what I always say. Everybody in their mind, they sound amazing in their own head. Getting what’s in your head to come out of the speakers is the trick. Some artists I have a better chemistry with to get it to come out of the speakers. With Musiq I think we had a great run and chemistry. I see the sounds and here we go, we are hearing what he was thinking.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Share the story “Just a Friend” which you created for Mario. We’ve heard that it was originally recorded by Usher. What happened there?
Warryn Campbell: We wrote that record, I want to say in Summer. My publisher Big John Platt, he sent it to LA Reid, Kawan Prather heard it, he loved it for Usher. We go to Atlanta and cut the record. I had known Usher for years, but we never worked together. I got to see his work ethic up close. It was the craziest thing. He woke up at 5 am, he was learning to breakdance at the time. He worked out with the breakdance coach, then the regular dance coach, then the gym, and then another dance rehearsal. By the time I arrived at the studio, Usher is already sitting in the booth, on the microphone, and the mic is on! He said he was ready to go! We knocked it out, we were in that studio six hours, and cut the record. I found out a few months later that Usher is shelving that record because “Pop Ya Collar” leaked. He said he was going to swap that album and get rid of the songs. I hadn’t had a conversation with him. But I heard that was happening, and I knew we hadn’t solidified the deal with that song. I hadn’t signed paperwork. I’m in a meeting with Clive Davis, him and his whole staff, I was doing a signing day, my sister JoiStarr was signing to J Records at the time. We stayed over for his staff meeting. The entire company meets and we go over records. He plays the record I did for Luther “Take You Out Tonight”. He plays a song called “Tamika” by Mario. The meeting is over and I walk up to Clive, and said Mario was amazing, and I think I had a record for him. I had it on a DAT Tape at the hotel. I got to the hotel, got the Dat Tape, and all of the sudden remembered Clive does not like to hear songs without having the lyrics. So in the hotel I had someone type it up for me. In the first 30 seconds, he said that was it, he loved it. He stopped it at 2 minutes and 20 seconds, and asked to add another part, like a breakdown. Brought Mario in, we cut the record, it was a perfect fit. As we were getting ready to drop and release that album. Clive came to L.A. and had me come see him at his hotel. He started laughing and said when I got there, I’d see a friend coming out. Usher is walking out of the hotel! I asked Clive what he was doing there. He had came to tell them he was going to use the “Just a Friend” record! *Laughs* But we couldn’t take it from Mario, it was his time to shine.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Do you think it would have even worked as well for Usher as it did for Mario?
Warryn Campbell: Maybe if they left the version that we originally created, with Biz Markie rapping on it. That version never came out. The version Usher did with him was really fly. I think in terms of age, it worked better for Mario, it seemed more like a younger kid song. Usher was a man at that time, I think it was a little young for Usher anyway.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Reflect back on creating “Shame” with Tyrese. That was one of the most important R&B songs of the past decade.
Warryn Campbell: It’s funny. I had come home on a Sunday, and I got all of these messages on Twitter, saying Tyrese was looking for me. Even tweets from Tyrese, asking if anyone had his number. Now me and Tyrese are boys, we go way back, we were born in the same hospital! Tyrese for sure has my number! Sometimes in Iphone you can lose a contact and you won’t find it until that person calls you. So I picked up the phone and called him, and he picked up the phone and said “Warryn!” He said he couldn’t find my number in his phone. He told me there is a song I did with DJ Rogers Jr. that he let him hear. We had a done a few songs that never came out. He was signed to Motown, and then Kedar left and then they dropped their artists. It was a song called “Shame”. I asked him if he was sure DJ played it for him, that was going to be his signature song. So I talked to DJ Rogers. When Tyrese heard the song, this was nine years after we recorded it! So what you hear Tyrese doing on that song, he basically listened to what DJ Rogers did and did it verbatim. Musically, I literally did nothing else. I didn’t add anything. I took the track that I created nine years before, and Tyrese sung over that. Even the background vocals I did, I think he added Jennifer Hudson over top of that, but the rest is still there. Tyrese had the good idea to add Wah Wah Watson on the guitar. He’s a legend who passed away. That’s probably one of the last records he did of note. That was huge. Tyrese nailed it. He made a whole movie out of it. There are some parts where DJ Rogers is in the video as well. It was one of those things where it’s a forgotten song that was on my hard drive, just sitting there. I have thousands of these types of songs on my hard drive. Who knew? It’s weird how that works sometimes, people remember songs you did. Right after that, got a call from Jill Scott to ask about a song we recorded three years ago, to put it on her new album. I literally didn’t have to do anything but give Tyrese the files. I’m playing every instrument except for the guitar. I’m still not satisfied because I wanted live strings on that song, but it’s too late now! *Laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: What are the top 3 favorite songs you produced?
Warryn Campbell: “We Major”, Kanye West featuring Nas. “He Is” by Brandy. And the third is “Shackles” by Mary Mary. It’s just the memories connected to those. Watching Nas on “We Major” sit there and right his rap, and inside the rap, he said “Ask the man to my right, should I freestyle or write”. He was talking about me! I was just standing there watching him. I hadn’t introduced myself yet, he didn’t know I did the beat. I was just standing there! He didn’t even know my name. *Laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell us the story of how you created “He Is” for Brandy.
Warryn Campbell: It was a four bar chord change that was in my head for a very long time. I just kept hearing it and hearing it. I sat down and played it for three or four years, those chords. We started working with Brandy and did all of these records. One day when nobody was in the studio, I said let me try something. I was putting everything together. I loved the way it sounded. I turned it up really loud, we were at The Record Plant in Hollywood, it was blasting all through the halls. I had it on loop, for literally two hours, just walking around the studio. Harold Lily shows up to the studio and hears it, and I’m upstairs doing something. I come back downstairs and he’s written the whole song! That memory connected it for me. We got back upstairs, and we are talking and hanging out. I go back downstairs to turn it down, it’s been playing for two hours, and Deborah Cox is standing in the studio. I forgot I had a meeting with Deborah. She’s sitting there listening and saying she loved it and can’t wait to record it! I had to tell her it was for Brandy! You think about it now, it feels like mini movies to me. I love the song but I love the story attached to the song as well.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Of the singles you produced, which was the hardest to create.
Warryn Campbell: I’m going to say “How Deep Is Your Love” by Dru Hill, which came out in 1999 on the Rush Hour soundtrack. We were at a studio called Larrabee West, in Hollywood. We had both studios booked out, I was in one room, a producer named Dutch was in the other room with Nokio. I was in the room with Woody from Dru Hill working on a song called “Angel”, I was in there cutting a cello player. Our manager calls, me and Dutch had the same manager as Dru Hill. He said they had an opportunity, they needed a song for the soundtrack immediately. I had a cassette with me of these chords. I pulled those up and started playing them, for Dutch and Nokio. We put that in, Dutch and Nokio worked on the percussion and stuff, I go next door and grab the cello player. It was hard to put together, I put him on there. Sisqo goes in the studio and freestyles that whole verse. Now we wanted a rapper on there, and they got Redman. He had to fly out from New Jersey to L.A. and does the verse on the record. Kevin Liles is there and wanted to make sure me and Dutch have shout outs on the record. He goes and grabs Redman out the car to come back. We got the song done, mixed it, it’s great. They wanted to shoot a video in Hong Kong. Redman can’t leave the country for whatever reason. I wasn’t supposed to go. They called me and asked me to go, to put a bridge on the song, since the video couldn’t have Redman. When I get to the studio in Hong Kong, there is nothing there. We finally got the gear together. The language barrier between us and the studio people was very difficult to put together. The fact that it went #1 was very significant and rewarding because it was so difficult.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Name a song you produced that you felt should have been a single?
Warryn Campbell: Yes. A song on Kelly Price’s second album called “Mirror Mirror”. The song was called “Good Love”. This is the track that got me on the album. I had kept sending Kelly songs and not hearing anything back. Finally, I sent the tape for this song and wrote on the tape “C’mon, this is the one!” That’s the one that did it. Later, Kevin Liles told me he felt he definitely should have made “Good Love” a single.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Is there a song you produced that you were surprised did become a single?
Warryn Campbell: A song I did for Missy Elliott, “Teary Eyed”. When you think of Missy, you think of Timbaland, he’s the guy. You don’t want to catch any bricks when you get a single. For whatever reason on this particular album, this was the “The Cookbook” album. It was singing, it was mid tempo, they spent a lot of money on this video. She’s blowing up cars and all types of stuff. I thought to myself none of it would matter. Her fans want that uptempo dance. If they don’t have that, they won’t care about this. I was shocked they picked that. I thought it was going to be my first brick. It didn’t tank, and it’s a great song, but it didn’t do amazing.