Grammy-Nominated Producer Deputy Wants To Evolve The R&B Landscape

The landscape of R&B is changing, but producer Jamil Pierre, better known as Deputy, has his finger on the pulse. With credits on tracks by Mikhala Jené, Rihanna, and Ari Lennox, the prolific artist has helped craft a multitude of alternative R&B and melodic hip-hop hits.

This year, Deputy is nominated for two Grammys — Record Of The Year and Best R&B Song, for his work on Victoria Monét’s “On My Mama.” As his resume holds, Deputy has become a go-to collaborator for women in R&B.

Deputy’s love of music traces back to his childhood in Brooklyn, where his days were spent inside his grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s homes, soundtracked by soap operas, and “easy listening” radio stations. Some of his favorites included Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, The BeeGees, Phil Collins, Cyndi Lauper, and Madonna.

“I didn’t know half of what they were talking about at the time,” says Deputy. “But the melodies were pretty cool. As a kid, it just developed this love for music.”

As a young talent with an old soul, Deputy always sought to create songs with which, he could form an emotional connection. Having worked on the business side and the creative side of the industry, Deputy has covered his bases, but still has visions for the future of music.

We catch up with Deputy shortly before the Grammys to discuss the current realm of music, and how one of the biggest hits of the past year came together.

One of your first experiences in the industry was working as an intern at JIVE Records. What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned while working on the business side?

Hits keep the lights on. I say that because I was able to see the artists, at that time, come to the office and see how the energy of everyone who worked there changed. Once those artists came into the office, I just noticed everyone’s energy was different. “Oh, Justin Timberlake is here” or “Oh, Britney Spears is here.” Just seeing that made me realize hits make the building move.

You signed to Roc Nation in 2009 as a producer. What made you want to realign your focus from the business side to the creative side?

I did my internship at Jive Records because it was my way to get into the industry. My goal was always to be a music producer. I didn’t know anyone in the industry to get my feet in the door. Once I quit my job at Morgan Stanley and I found that internship, it was just my point of entry into the industry. The purpose is always to be a music producer.

Having worked with Ari Lennox, Rihanna, and Victoria Monét, how do you feel about the current landscape of R&B?

A lot of my R&B songs are with women, but having a balance with a male presence would be fire to just, add something new. I think for me, I would like to inject something new. A new sound, something that’s disruptive and urgent. I love what we’ve done with the genre so far. And I think that we’re at a space right now, where we can add something else to elevate something different.

I get what you’re saying. You don’t necessarily imagine a male-dominated landscape, but you want to bring back that era of the male singers crying in the desert, like in the ‘90s

Yes. 100%. Like, there were a lot of men who showed vulnerability. They showed vulnerability within the music. People wanted things. No one wants anything anymore. Back then, people cried for things, like, “I cry for you. I’ll give you the stars, and moon, and whatever.”

How did you first connect with Victoria Monét?

I first met her a few years ago at a random studio session. I was like, ‘Hey, what’s up? I’m Dep” A few years after that, her manager reached out to me for a session. It was somewhat of a random reach out because I didn’t really know her manager like that. Our very first session was for [the title track to Monét’s 2020 EP] Jaguar, which sparked the whole Jaguar era. But yeah, it was just basically her manager reaching out, saying, “Hey, would you like to do a session with Victoria?” Knowing who she is, and how crazy her pen is, I definitely said “Yeah, let’s do it.” That one reach-out turned into this amazing moment four years later.

Part of the catchiness of “On My Mama” is that Chalie Boy sample. And me, being from Dallas, the original song, “I Look Good,” was always in rotation. So I’ve gotta ask, how did you end up using this sample?

Victoria was writing her verses, and as she’s writing, I’m in my head too. At this point, the beat is the beat is done and it’s just really left for her to do the writing. So, I’m just there chilling, while she writes and she starts singing the verse, so in my mind, I’m like, “Oh my god, this is crazy.” At the same time, I’m hearing “On my mama, on my hood.” Then I’m like, “Yo, Vic, it would be dope if we use [the sample]. I could see her looking at me, and I’m like “We need to do this.” Her genius after that was pretty much just taking the song and interpolating it into her own way. But it really just came off of me just vibing with the track while Victoria was writing.

What was your reaction when you learned the song was nominated for two Grammys?

The day the nominations came out, I was still sleeping. My phone was blowing up, and I didn’t understand why my phone was blowing up. And bro, I was really tired, and I was ignoring the calls. So when I finally realized why everyone kept calling me, it was definitely a surprising moment. I felt extremely grateful. I felt excited. I felt acknowledged. Not only for me, but for Victoria herself, just understanding her journey as a songwriter and as an artist. Seeing her get her flowers was an acknowledgment that she deserved. I didn’t even know the nominations were happening that morning, but it was a grateful feeling for sure.

What do you think is the biggest issue artists are facing today?

Social media, I think, on several levels. Some artists are extremely talented, but they’re not social media savvy. And we’re now in a climate where your personality and your activity on social media precedes everything that you do with your music. So now. you’re known for your antics, you’re known for your colorful personality outside of the music. And some artists that are really talented, they don’t have that other side of the brain working for them where they can do both. So I feel like some artists don’t get a chance to benefit from being amazing artists that the world knows because they don’t really have the personality or they haven’t yet figured out how to be social media savvy.

On the flip side of that, I feel like the artists that are social media savvy, I feel like some of them might lean too much on social media, in terms of the engagement that they get, and may not realize that sometimes that’s not enough. When it’s time to go on tour, your tickets might not be selling as much as you thought, because your social media tells you one thing, but when it’s time to sell tickets, it’s a whole different story. I think social media in some ways affects the artists and if an artist is able to do both, then great. But it can be misleading and it can be a tool. You just have to understand the different pitfalls that come with that.

“On My Mama” has proven to be a viral hit, in both its audio and its visual form. Which avenue do you think is the most valuable for artist? Spotify? YouTube? TikTok? Or something else?

A lot of songs are discovered through TikTok. And it’s crazy, because your song could come out today, and somehow, someway, somebody does something funny a year from now, or two years from now, with that same song, and a challenge or whatever the cool thing is at that point. TikTok can allow you to have a resurgence, even if the song came out two years ago. So I feel like TikTok is probably one of the platforms that allow a lot of discovery to happen for artists and their songs.

What are you most looking forward to with Grammy season?

As of right now, it’s a lot of anxiety — a lot of great anxiety. But I mean, I’m just looking forward to just being in a space with peers that I look up to, and peers that are my friends. And just enjoying the moment with them. And being acknowledged for all the hard work and all of the years that I’ve put into my craft and getting to this level. To be a part of such a prestigious award, like Record Of The Year, just getting that acknowledgment, I want to live in that moment, and I want to enjoy it, and I want to be present.