Luke James, the man behind the soulful love ballad, “I Want You,” will belt out his songs to crowd goers at the Sixth Annual Global Fusion Festival at Penn’s Landing, July 21. James joins Grammy award-winning R&B singer Brandy, Elle Varner and Kenny Lattimore for the free concert.
Having performed at several Philadelphia locations — at World Live Café with Robin Thicke’s “Love After War” tour and also with Estelle’s “All of Me” tour; opening for Beyoncé at her Atlantic City concert; and performing recently at WarmDaddy’s — James said he’s excited to see Philadelphia again.
“I’m going to be giving you music,” James said.
Inspired by themes of love, passion and pleasure, James’ EP, “#Luke,” explores the complexity of relationships and all of the sensual and difficult emotions it brings. “Made to Love,” the title track to his summer 2012 debut album release, simply speaks to people having the capability to experience love. The upbeat dance sound of “Powerless,” was inspired by the idea of being in a relationship and being completely vulnerable to a point that James said is not equal and leaves someone weak. On the other hand, “Soldier” expresses the feelings of having the support from someone who will battle for your complete happiness.
Influenced by the music his mother played for him such as Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and Prince, James said music has kept him driven.
“For me, it’s spiritual,” James said. “It’s a release. It’s therapy to me. It’s a way of getting away. It’s a mental roller coaster. I do [it] because it inspires me. And because someone inspired me, I want to inspire others.”
James, originally from New Orleans, moved to Los Angeles to pursue his musical talents. Formerly in a duo called Luke & Q, he developed his songwriting craft which led him to author Chris Brown’s “Crawl” and Justin Bieber’s “That Should Be Me.”
“I was a sponge,” James said. “I just hung around and learned the technique, the formula, and started to find my way and develop my own style of writing and what it is I want to say.”
He also found his way to work with Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams and Keri Hilson.
Even with his hands-on experience in the industry and extensive résumé, James credited social media with having an impact on his career. Following a tweet out to Estelle one night, James asked to do a song or be in a music video with the singer. Estelle tweeted him back and the two went in the studio shortly after.
“That was an amazing opportunity that happened,” James said. “She admired the song ‘I Want You’ and she tweeted about me. We exchanged contact information through direct messaging. Social media is great. I’m just super grateful.”
Along with his musical talent, James said he has an interest in acting, the next craft he wants to master.
“I want to take it serious just as I take music,” James said. “I want to be respected in all avenues I decide to go down.”
Elle Varner’s debut album is titled, “Perfectly Imperfect” (RCA Records) but she should have called it “Perfect.” The newcomer’s 11-track set is pure excellence, full of R&B gems that are silky, smooth and jamming.
Her voice — raspy at times, soft at others — is the focal point of the album as it glides over songs and adapts to the different beats, which include hip-hop (“Only Wanna Give It to You,” “I Don’t Care”), funk-soul (“So Fly”) and contemporary R&B (“Welcome Home”).
“Stop the Clock” is flavorful and addictive, thanks to its dramatic beat and the sound of handclapping dominating the chorus. “Refill,” a Top 10 R&B hit, is velvety and could easily be a TV jingle.
Producers Oak & Pop, best known for their work on Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love” and Big Sean’s “Marvin and Chardonnay,” helm most of the songs, though Varner’s father, Jimmy Varner, co-writes and produces some of the tracks, and her mother, Mikelyn Roderick, works as a vocal producer and background singer. Varner, a graduate of Clive Davis’ music school at New York University, co-wrote each song, and she’s got a skill with the pen.
On “Not Tonight,” the twentysomething is magically vulnerable, singing about being too scared to approach a man she’s interested in. She starts off slow, building her vocals and words, and it makes for a touching track. She’s also exposed on “So Fly,” a perky outtake about being insecure about her weight and image. On the song, the big-haired, hipster-looking Varner — in a beautiful tone — asks: “How can I ever compete with 34 Double D’s?”
With that voice, and with this album.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: “Stop the Clock” is a future hit. — (AP)
NEW YORK — Ne-Yo knows that dance and electronic music dominate the charts and radio, and he believes some of the lyrics are weak.
"There's dance songs out there with four words in the whole song, and it don't ever matter," he said. "Because it's not about what the words are, it's about the music, the ups and downs in the music ... and then it explodes — that's what that genre of music is about."
But when he approached that sound on his fifth album, "R.E.D.," the 33-year-old Grammy winner said he took the time to craft lyrics that have meaning. He said the best example is "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)," his current single and Top 10 Billboard pop hit.
"I told myself if I'm going to do this dance music or electronic or techno or whatever it is, I need to do it from a standpoint of making mine stand out from everybody else's, meaning a Ne-Yo dance record is going to have some kind of depth in the lyrics because the lyrics is who I am," he said.
"R.E.D." — out this week — features more dance-sounding tracks as well as R&B ones. The singer-songwriter, who has multiple hits of his own and has also written smashes for others like Rihanna and Beyonce, talks about the new album, songwriting, collaborating with country star Tim McGraw and being a father.
AP: "Let Me Love You" was co-written by Sia and you usually don't write with other people. How did that song come about?
Ne-Yo: I know for a fact that there are incredible songwriters out there, but I just always feel like everything I do comes from a really personal place, and for another songwriter to come in and write a song for me that's going to be as personal as me writing a song for me — I didn't feel like that was possible. But even with that being said, I'm never going to turn down a hit. If somebody's coming at me with a hit, I'm not that dude.
AP: Sia also co-write Rihanna's hit "Diamonds" and she's blowing up.
Ne-Yo: She's getting all this recognition and attention now and she doesn't want to be an artist anymore. ... I don't blame her. Being an artist definitely has its pros and its cons. ... You can walk down the street and have the No. 1 song in the world and nobody bothers you.
AP: You have two children, and I wonder how parenthood has changed making music for you.
Ne-Yo: It's changed the way that I write to a degree. I used to pride myself on how fast I can write a song, how many songs I can write in a small amount of time. Now it's definitely quality over quantity. ... It's that now because the better the song the more likely somebody's going to buy it; someone buys it that means I get money and I can take care of my kids.
AP: What was the energy like when you made the new album?
Ne-Yo: There was almost an essence of me needing to prove something. ... My last album didn't perform as well as my previous three, and I felt with this one, I definitely needed to remind me this is what I do.
AP: Since "Libra Scale" didn't do as well, did you approach this album differently?
Ne-Yo: The approach going into "R.E.D." did have a little bit to do with "Libra Scale." In the realm of what "Libra Scale" was, there was a lot of things that I was trying to do that I had never done before and that I didn't take the time to gain the proper knowledge of before I attempted.
AP: That was pretty honest.
Ne-Yo: I am 100 percent the guy that if I know that it was my fault, I'm going to say it's my fault. ... No excuses over here. ... I take full blame, full responsibility.
AP: You're also very honest on "Cracks in Mr. Perfect," where you sing about infidelity. Was that one easy or hard to write?
Ne-Yo: That was the one record I was a little afraid of. People are going to hear this and change the way they view me. ... It was easy because it's things that's always floating in the back of my head anyway. The difficulty came in with the honesty. Like, do I want to be this honest? Do I want to say to somebody, "I'm a man of my word, but only when I'm not lying"?
AP: How did you and Tim McGraw get together?
Ne-Yo: I actually ran into Tim McGraw's manager in London and ... when we played "She Is," I was like, "This is my take on a country song. Hopefully if all goes well, you'll see me performing this at the Country Music Awards with Tim McGraw or somebody." And Tim McGraw's manager happened to be in the audience and he was like, "We can make that happen."
AP: What are your favorite albums of the year?
Ne-Yo: 2 Chainz ... Elle Varner ... I've been singing Lana Del Rey's praises recently. ... Got to throw Frank (Ocean) in there. ... Superbrave cat to do what he did. (Earlier this year, Ocean revealed that his first love was a man.) When I heard about it, I honestly didn't think it was as big of a deal as everybody made (it). ... If you listen to his music, Frank is the kind of cat that's going to do what he wants to do. ... The dude references "Dragon Ball Z" in a R&B song ... so for him to come out and say what he said ... I'm like, "OK, that just makes perfect sense with who he is." -- (AP)