R&B savior Eric Bellinger knows rhythm and blues, and his expertise has landed him songwriting credits for some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Usher, Brandy, and, yes, even pop sensation Selena Gomez.
The likes of Justin Bieber, Trey Songz, Chris Brown, and Tyrese have all leaned on Bellinger to pen and create their chart-topping hits. In 2011, the Compton native won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album for his contributions on Chris Brown’s album F.A.M.E. Last year, he earned songwriting credits for his work on Wale’s platinum-selling hit “On Chill” featuring Jeremih as well as credit on Chris Brown’s Indigo.
Considering the plethora of celebrated accolades under his belt, Eric maintains a level of modesty that is to be admired. He is certainly one of the few keeping R&B pure in all of its glory and understands how to unite rhythm to blues, while keeping the essence of love sonically innate.
R&B great Brandy once reminded him that she was a fan of his during a studio session and Usher once summoned him to Atlanta upon hearing “Lemme See,” which would go on to live on 2012’s Looking 4 Myself and become a Hot 100 smash.
As one of the more consistent R&B leaders out there, within the past year he released three projects: The Rebirth 2, Cuffing Season 3 and Saved By The Bellinger, collectively racking over 500 million combined streams. As 2014’s “I Don’t Want Her” and 2019’s “Type A Way” featuring Breezy has shown, he is fully capable of creating hits for himself.
Now, he’s preparing for the April 24 release of his next album Optimal Music with longtime friend Neiman Johnson AKA Yoshi, with features from Wale, Young Thug and Jeremih.
With Optimal Music debut track “Say Less” already out, R&B’s guardian angel spoke with Uproxx about his journey of being called on by some of the biggest acts in the music industry while still maintaining his own sense of individualism and keeping R&B holy.
It’s been a wild week! How are you coping right now with the lockdown?
I’m doing good. I’m enjoying the time home with family and I honestly needed a reset more than I knew. I go so hard and like, it actually took this to really charge up again.
What type of things are you doing in place of what you’d normally be doing and what have you replaced your time with?
Actually, I finally finished my own studio just in time. We didn’t have any idea that this was going to be happening but I’ve been able to just be at home working like normal. It’s a blessing for me because I don’t really have to leave the house for what I do. I know how to engineer myself and everything. I just kind of go in there and just get to it.
Are you having like people come over too, or are you just…
Nah, I just do it myself. For example, I’ll email my entire Pro Tools session to my engineer and he’ll mix it from his house. Then, I’ll hit my boy that does my artwork, and he’ll send me the artwork. Everything has been going down like through email. We’re still working. Producers…they’re sending me beats through email. I think this is going to be a time that can separate the creators and the innovators from the spectators.
Very interesting. That was my next question…how are you collabing? So, through email, you guys are texting each other and bouncing off ideas in that way?
Yep, exactly. Being a songwriter it’s like, I’m able to just kind of freely go crazy but it’s dope because I don’t really make the beats as fluid, so I am somebody who likes to collab when it comes to making beats. Any of the beats that I’ve produced, I’ve always done a co-production with someone. Lately, the producers have just been sending me packs and emails of packs and different types of sounds. I’ve been able to just kind of take my pick through the beats, not only from the multiple beats that each producer would send, but multiple producers.
It sounds like you’re going to be making a lot of music. You’ve got the studio built up and I saw you got that “Mask On” song.
I was just having fun at first, it was so funny to me like I couldn’t record lines without laughing. This is funny but I was like, nah, let me just keep it serious because I just really wanted to help spread the awareness.
Love it. I also came across a photo of you wearing a hat that says “Make R&B Great Again.” I just want to talk about that for a little bit.
I think you’re one of those main people that really works to keep R&B pure so what’s your opinion on R&B right now and where would you like for it to be?
I think there’s some great R&B out there, but I think it’s not up to the artist at this point to make it great. I think it’s really up to the powers that be. I think it’s really controlled by media and the labels and the different budgets. Radio isn’t going to just break an R&B song when all of their songs are uptempo. All of the songs are kind of driven towards just a little bit more uptempo, so the ballads and songs don’t really have a home at radio. Same thing for all the different TV stations, you know how they used to have 106 and Park, and like all of the things that were breaking R&B artists — the platform is just no longer available.
I don’t blame it on the artists completely, because I do think there’s some great music, but it’s just really hard to find it because the agenda has been something other than just substance and talent. People are more so entertained by all the shenanigans that go on just from the viral noise that we hear, and it just took away from the music. I think not only do we as a culture of R&B need to stand together more as well. I think we look divided as a genre. But I do think that the labels and the blogs and the higher-ups have a lot to do with making it great as well for the people, for the consumer.
It’s interesting you say that. I have this theory that once Midnight Love went away, R&B kind of went on the decline. I look at the timeline that Midnight Love was off BET and when there started to be less R&B on the Hot 100 charts and you see it.
Once there was more trap music and you started seeing bedroom playlists were like Lil Uzi Vert and Future, you see the girls and ladies, they like their little trap. They don’t necessarily want the smooth grooves and society was a little bit softer. Then, everybody wanted to be hard, everybody wanted to be in savage mode. The R&B community as a whole just kind of took a hit because the smooth guy… And the girls was more so into the bad boys. It was like, all right, well either I’m going to transition to this false identification of someone.
What I did was stay true to the music. Stay true to my love, stay true to my heart, which is real music, which is singing about one woman, which is glorifying women. It was saturated by the more so the bad boy-esque “I’m fucking you” and “I’m fucking your home girls” and “I’m calling an Uber X for you.” It’s so disrespectful I’d rather be the last one standing. I feel like the times that we’re in now, I don’t even say the last one standing. I used to say the last of the dying breed, but now I like to say first of a rising breed. I really feel like it’s a big time, a turnaround for R&B right now.
R&B was like more like silky smooth, and then like in the 2000s you saw R&B artists kind of start to look like “rappers.”
It was silky smooth, right?
They was talking about loving their woman, and I’m sorry for cheating.
Exactly. It’s like, threesomes, girlfriend, boyfriend number two, side dude nation. All of these other agendas were kind of pushed to the forefront when it comes to R&B. So not only did we lose talent, but we also lost the essence of what it stood for.
Period. I know you got Optimal Music coming out April. Why are you calling it Optimal Music? What does that mean?
Me and Neiman just kind of came together and the word optimal just kind of was like the highest level, the furthest level of getting the most out of it, the most positive end result, just kind of pushing the limits of capacity of greatness because we have the best of the best. This is the optimal quality of the beat selection, from the music to the vocals. I think when you have a bunch of people that come together to work on something, if it’s oftentimes better because you have more brains. Two heads is better than one, but what if you have ten heads that are all working and operating at the same level?
Neiman really, really did his thing. I’m proud of him for just kind of taking the lead on this one and spearheading a classic, because we’ve always worked so great together and now we’re 10 years in the game so the knowledge that we’ve obtained together, it’s even crazier now than what it was back then. To come together with me as my best friend, my brother, and to create an album based off our similarities and our love, it brought us back to a good place. To come back around 10 years later and to drop this album together, it’s really going to be something special.
On October 10th, 2010 we dropped Born II Sing Vol. 1 on 10-10-10, really. Of course, we’ve done so much work together throughout but this is the first one we really came together. It’s literally been ten years now being 2020 so it’s crazy.
I also want to talk about some of the features that you have on the project, Jeremih specifically because I feel like he’s another person that is holding R&B together right now. I just need to know what’s it’s like when you two guys together in the studio?
It’s honestly like one of the funnest type of studio sessions, because we’re both people that create fearlessly. And we’re both people that like to create and not do what’s already been done. So when it comes to not only those two things, but also him being a student of the game, being from Chicago, watching the greats like R Kelly and actually growing up around that, and for me, growing up out here in the NWA era, like loving everything about Dre, and Ice Cube, and Eazy, and then…
I go to church every Sunday, you know what I’m saying? So the combination, like my combination, his combination, alone, is crazy. And then when you’re with a person… It’s like iron sharpening iron, you know what I mean? I’m not just going to do what I would normally do by myself because Jeremiah’s right there. But now I’m going to try to come with something absolutely crazy. And then he’s going to go in like, I can’t let him just go crazy. It’s like you get to go back and forth and bounce back and forth. And I think that also puts an extra battery in your back.
So you guys kind of bounce off each other with each other’s strengths and bringing out different sides to each other.
For sure. Yeah, he calls it shooting. He’s like, what’s up? We going to shoot? You know, like a basketball player shoots two shots, you know what I’m saying? Like he’s like, yo, what’s up? We’re going to come through, let’s shoot. Literally the same concept is like shooting shots. Like some you’re going to hit, some you’re not. But if you go in with the attitude of work experiment thing?
I want to talk about the Young Thug feature as well because he’s very melodic with his voice. I know that there’s probably some Young Thug on a few R&B playlists. What was it like working with him?
Young Thug has been one of my favorites for a long time. I like really, really love to rap, but I never wanted to be a rapper. I never wanted to. I just wanted to make sure I was always known as the R&B singer. But I love to rap though. Having Young Thug on the song is real big for me. I was excited when he sent a verse over for me to listen to. He killed it, everything that he was saying on the phone. It’s just dope how he’s able to just say what he wants and force the melody to fit the way he…
What type of song is it? Is it a love song?
No, this is like a club banger, like take over the club. If we ever open up out of quarantine.
I know you’re from Compton and I feel like you’ve accomplished a lot. Most people at this point probably would move to New York or out to Calabasas, somewhere all hidden. And I noticed, I see you at a lot of events. You out here and your wife is from LA as well, right?
Yep, yep. We both from LA man. I love it. I love LA, man. I really, really love LA. I travel so many places, and I’ve been blessed to travel since my first hit single, which was “I Don’t Want Her” and that was in 2013 or 2012. I was able to actually tour internationally off that song. So for my own career, I’ve really been traveling and I don’t think there’s no place like LA, I really don’t.
So there’s like no desire to ever leave. You’re here forever.
I’m here. I like other places, but I like getting back home especially since I’ve built my dream life here. I’ve really built a life that I’m proud of. I’ve really gotten to the point where I feel successful. I’ve gotten to a point where I’m happy and… not content or satisfied. I’m happy. I’m really happy. I think you need to, once we feel like we’ve reached that place, maybe it’s content but not satisfied.
Anything that we do from here, it’s just a blessing. I don’t want to go anywhere else because my cars are here, my house is here, my family’s here and I’m rooted right here. I know the streets like the back of my hand. I know all the little spots where you can get the fire food, the massages, whatever you need. I’m stuck at home. I’d rather sleep in my bed rather than the hotel bed.
In 2014 I found out about you through Usher promoting your project The Rebirth. I just remember listening to that and being like, Whoa, this is so good. What was your relationship with Usher then, and what is it now and how has he helped you or mentored you?
I was just with him actually. He shot a video recently and I got like a dope ass little cameo vibe where me and him are chilling. He still calls me when he does videos or whenever he’s in LA. I think the first song that we did together was “Lemme See,” with Rick Ross. That song really put me in good graces with him because he could tell how much I was a fan. He could tell how much I studied him. He could tell how appreciative I was when I was in the room. I always take that approach, just to respect everyone and treat everyone with love. He really embraced me early on with that. I’m talking about to now, birthday parties and we chilling on New Year’s Eve. He was like, come with me to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s house. It’s kind of the life that I would have hoped for.
So, you grew up being a fan of Usher?
Oh yeah, for sure. That was it. It was just Usher. I just wanted to be like Usher. It’s crazy. You know when he heard “Lemme See,” I wrote that one without him being there. He was like, yo, who is this? Get him to Atlanta right now. That was the vibe and it’s been real brotherly love ever since.
So wait, you went to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s house for New Year’s?
Oh my God. Yeah. It was the craziest party ever.
Tell me all about it!
That was crazy, man. It was like everybody that you ever looked at and been a fan of, they were right there dressed up, suited up. They dancing on the dance floor right there. You could bump into somebody, you could bump into Mary J, you could bump into Diddy with your elbow on accident. To actually do these things, that’s why I think I feel so good. I’m already living my dream. Me and Nipsey [Hussle] had an incredible conversation that night and it’s just dope to be able to get in these rooms and these places off your talent and not off of anything other than you deserving to be in those rooms, working hard to be invited.
I love how humble you are.
I really look up to these people. Like I met Brandy for example, who’s my favorite singer ever… When I’m trying to direct her or vocal produce her in the booth, of course everything she does is incredible to me. I remember one time I was like, “Yo, that was good,” and she was like, “Yo, you can’t tell me every take that I do is good. You got to step out of fan mode and understand that you’re here because I’m a fan of you too. I love what you do. Now, let’s get to work.”
At that point I was like, wow, okay, cool. I got to be the person that I was called to be, rather than just being there because they called me.
Optimal Music is out on 4/24.