5 Questions: Leela James On Her New Album, Joining R&B Divas LA, And More
Emil Lendof

If you haven’t yet heard of Leela James you will surely be introduced to her in 2014. With a new album in the works, joining the cast of R&B Divas LA, and returning to the ESSENCE Festival Superlounge stage she will be front and center from all facets. Find out what she has in store on her forthcoming album, why she decided to do reality T.V. and more.

You’re gearing up to release your fifth studio album. What would you tell your former self, going into the industry on your first album knowing what you know now?

Hmm. Team and business. In the beginning… my first album came out in ’05 and I was on Warner Brothers and prior to that I was signed in 1999. It was like four or five years before they even released that record so by the time that record came out it was so old. It was pretty much my demo to get the deal with a couple of new songs that had been recorded for the project and I was just so fresh out of the water. Hungry! Not that I’m not hungry now. But everything was just like “Ooo. Ooo. Ooo.” That and I don’t feel like I took the time to look at everything else around me. I was just like “I just wanna sing!” And I didn’t pay attention to the people and the paperwork, the business and a lot of that just wasn’t handled properly and I feel like as a result some of my stuff just kind of went by the wayside. I would say that now I’m more so…as much as I love the creative aspect of the music industry and working on music, I’m more so also ‘Okay, is this taken care of?’ and I need this. You know, you kind of got to make sure that your business is right. Because its the music BUSINESS at the end of the day. People don’t really even care about you like that.

So tell us about this new album.

The new album is called Fall For You. It consists of several new songs that I wrote and I’m excited about because I actually was extremely involved in the writing process and the production so its very personal. There are some vulnerable moments I feel like on the album. I worked with Anthony Hamilton on the first single “Say That.” That was fun because we always wanted to do some songs together and we have recorded songs together, actually, they just never made it out. So this one finally came out and that was cool. I worked with Rex Rideout. J. Rilla He’s also a new producer, really talented. Tim & Bob did a couple of tracks, so I’m really excited about the whole album.

You talked about the single with Anthony Hamilton and it was an amazing duet. If there were somebody you could bring back that has already passed on to do a duet with, who would that be and why?

Marvin Gaye. [No explanation needed.] I mean, you heard the duets with Tammi Terrell.

You’re on the new cast of “R&B Divas L.A.” So what about that franchise made you want to be a part of it? And why do you feel like you’re good for reality T.V.?

Well, clearly the industry has changed as far as how you are exposed. The platforms are just not what they used to be. So you have to think outside of the box and be more creative with marketing and branding and the opportunity presented itself. We kind of went back and forth. My team and I thought that it was a great platform for me to expand my audience and get them to come into my world of Leela James and the new music that I have because I’ve been around for a minute and some people may not realize that and give people some insight into who I am because I’m really not new to this. Plus I’m actually a real rhythm and blues singer so I think I really fit what it’s supposed to represent. Now I’m not a diva as far as I don’t believe in being mean to people and all that kind of stuff or the negative stereotypes and titles. But I do feel like I’m entitled to respect.

You know ESSENCE is big on beauty and your hair is always fabulous so what is one must-have product for your hair?

Must have product for my hair? A brush [LAUGHS] I need a brush right now. [Laughs] I always tell people conditioner. I love conditioners and gels and I am a huge Dr. Miracles fan. I like all his line of stuff.

She just premiered the video for the titled track. Fall For You will hit stores July 8th and catch her on the Superlounge stage at ESSENCE Festival July 4.