Hit songwriter and R&B artist, Rico Love is ready to switch up the game. His debut album, TTLO (Turn The Lights On) is showing that R&B hasn’t completely lost it’s way. Ready to tell truths and show emotion, Rico took the time to chat with us in part two of our interview (see part one here) about why vulnerability in music is so important, transitioning to being in the spotlight, and the lesson he learned from Usher that he’s carried with him throughout his career.
ESSENCE: I saw on Instagram when you were in the studio or in the house with Usher and he talked about how you were his very first artist. Is there one piece of advice or one jewel that he dropped on you that you will carry around forever?
I was on tour with Usher back in 2004 with the Truth Tour with Usher and Kanye West and we had this show in Cincinnati. Worst show ever for Usher. Nobody would’ve known it was bad, the crowd didn’t know but we knew. After the show, we’re sitting on the bus, we always have pizza and laugh and stuff on the buses, but what we realized is 35 minutes go by and we’re not moving. An hour goes by and we’re not moving. Another hour and a half goes by and we’re not moving. So I get out and go back in the venue. The venue is supposed to be shut down—there’s a curfew on the venue. I go back in the venue, Usher’s on a treadmill, singing his whole show. After the [two-hour] show was over, he’s singing his whole show on a treadmill at 7.0 speed. I was like, “What are you doing?” He said, “I had a bad show. I need to make sure I’m on my sh-t. Everybody deserves the best show ever.” I was like 20 years old I remember seeing that and being like, “Ain’t no excuses.” You gotta want to be the best. If you don’t want to be the best, it ain’t good enough to have the attention. It’s not good enough just to be rich. It’s about giving your best every single night. I’ve had the most, utmost respect for him from that point forward.
ESSENCE: Now, you’ve written and produced for so many big artists including Usher and Beyoncé and the list goes on. How difficult was it for you to transition from being behind the scenes to being out front? Were you hesitant at all to do that?
I wasn’t hesitant at all. What happened was, [a lot of artists] wanted me to write a lot of gimmicks and I was sick of the gimmicks. If you look at my catalogue and you look at the records I’ve written, and you look at the success I’ve had, I think we can all agree there were songs with substance and emotion. I don’t have a plethora of club songs. I don’t have a plethora of turn up records and a lot of that. I had a few. I’m not going to say it like I’m exempt. But for the most part I feel like I tried to write things that really meant something. Then we started getting to this phase where everybody wanted a club song that was really not about anything. And I started getting frustrated with the process. I wrote a song for Brandy called No Such Thing As Too Late on the Two-Eleven album and a song called Hardly Breathing and Paint This House and these were really smart songs and they weren’t getting chosen [as singles for radio play]. It wasn’t like I left songwriting on a low note. The last big hit record I had was called Odios on Romeo Santos’ album and it was like number 1 [on the charts] for 20 weeks and that was the last song I did. I was just like, “You know, I’m going to focus on my own sh-t” I haven’t written songs for people in two and a half years. Because I wanted to do things differently. It wasn’t fun anymore. The actual process of writing songs is so much fun to me—the producing vocals, the comp-ing vocals, that’s the fun part. But It felt like a lot of people wanted the popcorn records and wanted to turn up and have a certain beat. I don’t do that type of music. The politics behind it and the whole popcorn sh-t frustrated me. I would rather write a song. So, I was more comfortable stepping over to the artist side and making records that were important to me.
See, it’s not enough for me to make incredible songs to perform in front of all white crowds and be this great underground artist that only white kids get. I need my people to support it because the message is for them. My music is great content and subject matter but the greatness is the message in itself because when you are teaching somebody how to get attracted to quality, then you inspire them. “He looks like me, he talks like me, he acts like the guys from my neighborhood and I’m still comfortable with the fact that he’s an intellectual, he has something to say.” That’s the same way—in no way would I ever compare myself to Tupac but I think he was the greatest example of that. He was one of us! He would talk what we talked and if somebody tried to run up on ‘em, he was fighting and at the end of the day he was saying, listen man, they trying to kill us and you can’t let ‘em. That’s the heroes we need and I want to be one of those people. I think the only way to do that is to do it myself and to make these type of records.
ESSENCE: Vulnerability seems to be missing in R&B music now. Do you think that that will ever come back to R&B?
Men, we deal with so many things but we think we are too macho to talk about it and that’s only in urban music. Ed Sheeran don’t have no problem talking about it… Nick Jonas don’t have no problem saying, “I still get jealous.” It’s like when white people say it, “Great song.” When we say it, urban radio won’t even play it. I always give people this example. When I say, “I’m sick, she’s loving somebody else, I’m going through it,” they’ll say, “Oh, that’s soft.” But everybody who lives in the projects has been up at four in the morning and has heard the toughest dude you know next door banging on his girl door. “Open the door! I love you,” it’s the same thing. I just put it in a record. We reject that when a man says it like it’s the weakest thing in the world. Hundreds of thousands of years, civilizations have been destroyed, kingdoms have been destroyed, people have died, kingdoms have been blown up to smithereens over the love of a woman. But to us as Black people, it’s like, “man I ain’t about to be sweating her. I ain’t about to write no song about that.” I’m so comfortable in myself and who I am as a man I can put it on paper.
And another thing is all these blogs they make so much money off of drama. People love that clicking on their personal stuff. Why you going to let them make money off your personal stuff but you don’t talk about it. I’m making records about turn ups and y’all barely give that attention. Okay, but now if I make a record about my personal life, I know that people are interested. I don’t have to give all my business but I can give a piece of who I am. You know why? Cause it’s giving trust to the room. If I lay out my heart on this album I’m letting you know I’m giving you a piece of me. Something that’s embarrassing, something that I shouldn’t even admit, some of the mistakes I’ve made. Now the listener feels like they know me.
You can listen to Rico’s album, TTLO here.
Check out Rico’s latest song, Weak below: