Just a short time ago, one of the most successful musicians to work in pop and R&B, the legendary Janet Jackson, surprised her millions of fans around the world by announcing not only that she has a new album in the works that she’ll be releasing as an independent artist (a first in her decades-long illustrious career), but a new single as well.
“Made For You” sees Jackson going in a different direction, as the song, which features Latin superstar Daddy Yankee, borrows from a number of sounds she hasn’t dabbled in before. The final product is a true treat for everyone who listens, and it’s yet another sign that Jackson isn’t going anywhere.
CEEK VR spoke with Harmony Samuels, one of the producers and songwriters behind the comeback track, about what it was like working with a living legend, how the partnership came to be, and what other pieces of music he’s particularly proud of from his impressive back catalogue of smashes.
CEEK VR: How did this song end up in Janet Jackson’s hands?
Harmony Samuels: About 18 months ago, I met a young man named JQ. Well I’ve known JQ for years, I’ve known him for about 10 years, but we have never worked together on anything in the music industry. We had known each other via mutual friends and growing up in London. About 18 months ago, JQ saw me at a Clive Davis party
and mentioned that he wanted us to do some work together. As we all do in LA, I thought it was cool and I gave him my number and said reach out when he was ready.
A few months after that towards the summer he reached out and said, “Hey, I’m working with Janet, I’m going to be A&R on her new label Rhythm Nation and I really want you and her to work together,” and I was like “Janet who?” Lo and behold, it was Janet Jackson. I said I was down, and I was really excited about it obviously. It was just a discussion but I told him I was in. Moving on swiftly, we ended up meeting Janet a few months later after that. That’s when we had our first encounter with Janet. She was preparing for her tour last year. We sat in a room, the anticipation was high and the excitement was real and this beautiful, graceful woman walks in and just gently speaks to us. First thing she says was whose birthday is May 16th, which is my birthday, I was kind of shocked she knew my birthday and I said me and she said great we share the same birthday, which was an amazing way to connect.
Then, she explained what she wanted from her record. She explained that she wanted energy, love, peace, and unity. She also expressed that she was no longer 25, but she was also a mature woman with a child and her perspective on life has changed and she just wanted to bring a fresh look, a new look to bring people together. I was very very very moved by what she said, but I also was very like “Whoa, no pressure!” Moving forward, we created this writing camp, which we called a few writers in and I went to the studio and we took out two rooms in my studio, London Bridge Studios in LA, and we started writing songs. As we’re writing these songs we started trying different styles, like dance, R&B, hip-hop, and then something happened. I was like, I just need to do something amazing, something different, something that catches the audience. Something that would make the people look at Janet a little differently, but still relate to her by how they know her. So doing my research I realized she had never done afrocentric music.
Being from London and Nigerian, that’s my cultural background. I lived in that type of scene also creating music for Destiny’s Child. I created a Afrocentric record called “Say Yes”, which did incredibly well on the gospel scene. So taking that same approach, I sat down and contemplated what it would be. I remember one morning, it’s like the fourth day into the writing camp. I’m taking a shower and this was really on my mind, I was really focused on it. So I just sent a prayer up like “God please, give me an idea,” and He gives me that guitar line. That first intro guitar line that you hear on the record was where it started from. I remember jumping out the shower like “This is it!” So I sang the melody into my phone and I rushed to the studio and as I rushed to the studio I tell the crew like this is going to be the track. We build it, and this song basically is born later on that night. The moment Janet heard the record, she loved it and said she had to make this her record.
The one thing I love about Janet, and kudos to Janet and Randy, they really made it their own thing and they pushed and really came up with some ideas for it. Also went over to Jimmy Jam Lewis to make sure those vocals were sitting right and it was a great experience and we all worked together as a team and now we have an amazing record which touches all cultures. Daddy Yankee was a genius play that Rhythm Nation put together I thought that it was the perfect partnership and it was the perfect look for her cause he’s a legend in his own right, but he’s still very relevant and cool. So yeah that’s how “Made For Now” came about.
CEEK VR: What makes this track work with two artists who are so different from one another stylistically?
Harmony Samuels: I think what makes this work is the message and obviously the track itself. The track is a very Afrocentric-leaning track, but it has a lot of different styles like, reggaeton, a little bit of Caribbean, calypso, soca, so the styles coming together actually made it reach across the board. I think that’s what makes the world come together, and Janet wanted to do that. Daddy Yankee bringing the whole Latino market into the fold, me bringing the Afrocentric groove and beat, and her just being such a universal star, icon and legend. All three factors...and the message.
The message was something that she wanted to make with “made for now, not tomorrow,” meaning, “Let's focus, let’s pay attention to what's happening right now instead of trying to always figure out the future. Let's figure out ourselves right now, together.” And I think thats what makes it so special, I think everybody, from Daddy Yankee to Janet, genuinely wanted to impact the world and when you’ve got two or three people that agree, special things happen and this is an example of it. This is why I think it works stylistically and why I think it felt so organic for it to happen.
CEEK VR: What does it feel like to be working with such a legend, and on her first independently-released song?
Harmony Samuels: It feels amazing to be working with such an iconic legend, period. Whether she was independent or not, it was a moment and she could have picked anyone. I was honored to be in the room and to know that I’m working with her and she knows me on a first name basis. It's such a pleasure to be around such a hardworking woman and she has an amazing love for people, a big heart for people. She really helped me understand my purpose as a music producer and I’m very excited about the future of working with Janet and Rhythm Nation and everything that it holds.
Her being independent actually made it a bigger deal, because what it proved is that even when independent you can still rock as a major and she showed out. This song did amazing things on a major level as an independent, so I don’t feel like we felt any form of independency at all. In fact, I felt like it was just as major as any situation that she would’ve been in. Maybe a little bit more, I don’t know, but it was definitely impactful and I’m definitely excited to be standing next to her in this season.
CEEK VR: Of all the songs you’ve written, is there one you are most proud of?
Harmony Samuels: I feel like this (“Made For Now”) might be the song. I feel like this might be the song I’m most proud of because of what the song represents. The song impacts the world on such a global level. The message behind it. The way it’s unified people. The openness and the energy it brings. The fact that it’s making people feel happy and taking the weight off people’s shoulders and that’s what I always wanted to do with music.
When I did “Say Yes” with Michelle Williams, Kelly Rowland, and Beyonce, I felt like it had the same impact. But this just feels like another level and I’m really, really, really excited about this song. I’ve definitely
worked on some great songs, like “Lose To Win” by Fantasia or “The Way” by Ariana Grande. “Say It With Me” and “Oh My Love” by Chris Brown. We’ve done a lot of great stuff, but this song definitely has really shown me that we can touch the world on a deeper level and push for an amazing change. I’m excited.
CEEK VR: Is there a song you wrote that you wish was bigger than it ended up being?
Harmony Samuels: Yeah, I think most of my career I’ve definitely had songs here and there that I wish were bigger. When I worked on the F.A.M.E. album, myself and Chris Brown loved “Say It With Me” and another song called “Oh My Love” and he really was trying to push for it to be a single, but it ended up not working too well at radio.
Another song, Ciara’s “I Bet,” was one I felt could’ve been bigger. It ended up doing very well, she ended up going platinum with it, but I just felt like we could’ve hit it a little harder. And you know a couple of other songs, “Lose To Win” by Fantasia and there’s a couple songs here and there that I feel like could’ve done better or I wish would’ve done better. At the same though, I’m always grateful. I think being able to have the opportunity to live and make a living from making music is a blessing, and whenever a song doesn’t hit as well or do as well you just have to look at it like, “Okay, on to the next one,” and do it again. You just keep trying, you never give up. So every one of those records whether they’ve done extremely well, whether they’ve done okay, are all good signs of a healthy career.
CEEK VR: Is there an artist you would still love to write for in particular?
Harmony Samuels: Yeah I’d love to work with Jay-Z, I think he’s amazing. Chance the Rapper, I’m a big fan. I think Rihanna is incredible. Kendrick as well, Kendrick is one of my favorite top five. Those are guys that I would really love to work with. I had the honor of working with Kendrick via another artist, but I’d love to work on a one-on-one basis with Kendrick. J. Cole, I’m a big fan too. I love Ella Mai, I’m working with her right now, but I think she’s awesome too.
CEEK VR: You also have your own label and you’re developing artists. What does it take to build someone up and bring their music to a larger audience?
Harmony Samuels: Having your own label is definitely not the easiest thing in the world. It’s very, very time consuming. You have to care and you have to have patience. It takes a lot to break an artist. I’ve definitely done it on the scale of artist that are signed to labels, but signing them to your own label, you have to care even more. You have
to be patient, you have to be understanding. And as much as you’re living out your dreams, you’re also vicariously living through theirs. And you have to pay attention that their dream doesn’t become your dream, then you start forcing them into something that isn’t naturally them. So you have to pay a lot of attention and also I’ve learned that it starts with the mindset, and once you’ve built their mindsets to feel like artists, I feel like it’s then that you start to get the best out of your artists.
I always like to make sure the artist feel confident. When they make confident music that they really love and expresses who they really are, it really opens them up to receiving something good. It also allows them to believe in themselves and believe in what they’re trying to do. Believe in their walk, believe in their purpose,
and believe in their artistry. So it starts with us, it starts with the team, it starts with the belief system, the mindset.
But it's way more time consuming. It’s way harder producing a record, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love what I do and I’m honored and blessed to even be in the position to sign acts.
CEEK VR: What’s next for you?
Harmony Samuels: Developing this label, and we’re trying to lock in some other artist that we’re looking at right now. Really pushing the BOE L.O.U.D brand. Also, scoring movies. We have a movie coming up called Killers Anonymous featuring one of our artist Rhyon Brown, next to Gary Oldman and Jessica Alba, which is coming out next year. I’m really looking forward to that. And just working across the board, working with talented people like Amber Riley, Machine Gun Kelly, and we’re working with so many different people, as well as Janet. We have a busy year, 2018 and 2019 coming up and we’re really excited about the partnerships we are having with everybody. We’re working with this young guy called Rotimi, who plays Dre in Power. And also working on Empire the TV show, really, really excited about investing in that. So we’ve got our work cut out for us, but we’re having a good time and 2018 and 2019 are looking like promising years...