We’re now in the month of July, however our Black Music Month feature continues. Singer/songwriter Steven Russell speaks to Aries from UrbanBridgez about his upcoming solo release, writing hits, TROOP, what changes need to be made in the music industry, his essential R&B albums and much more! I have to start by asking, what’s coming next from you as far as singles for other artists?
Steven Russell: I’m working on songs with Chris Brown right now, Leona Lewis, and actually alot of things right now. But you know I don’t usually count my eggs until they’re hatched. You never know what song is gonna stick or what songs will actually come out. But I’m working on alot of things man. I’m trying to stay as busy as possible. You’ve had your share of #1 singles. “No Air,” was such a huge song last year. How does it feel as a writer to hear an artist really bring your lyrics to life & end up with a huge hit from it?
Steven Russell: Honestly it’s amazing man. I write songs everyday, so you’re always working hard to try to write that song that’s gonna be special to somebody. And when it finally happens man, it’s like wow! Usually when you get a hit record, you don’t know how big it’s gonna be. But you know you got a good record, when you got a good record. And we were jumpin up and down in the studio after we finished that record (laughs). So it feels great man, it feels really good! What’s the latest on your solo release and Random?
Steven Russell: My artist name is Random, so the name of my solo album is going to be called “Steven Russell So Random.” My first single is called “Work It.” Like a dance type European record. All of that is already done, so right now I’m just writing and producing for other people. Waiting on the perfect time to release my stuff. What are your future plans with Strange Motel?
Steven Russell: To develop artists. I’m gonna get into Hip-Hop, start signing rap artists. I’m gonna work on my daughter, Teyonie Page she’s an artist on Strange Motel Music. Of course Offich-ill, we’re still recording their album. And the Random record so far. I’m planning to just keep developing artists, I wanna end up being like a SoSo Def or Bad Boy, something like that. I know you’re working on Shanice’s new project, what’s it like when you two get into the studio together? You’ve been working with each other a long time.
Steven Russell: First of all, I absolutely love Shanice! I’ve known her all my life. We’re both from Pasadena, we actually came up together in the music business. And she is still right now, one of the best vocalist that exist in this business! I agree!
Steven Russell: She’s probably the best. Her and Keke Wyatt, Shanice is absolutely the best man. She’s a producer’s dream; she’s just a veteran man. She just happens to be a young vet, ya know. She looks 15 (laughs). The girl is experienced, she’s like a Whitney Houston, you know what I mean. She’s the best, absolutely the best! We got some really, really strong songs on Shanice’s new record. Really strong, people are going to be blown away. I’m loving “War,” we added it on the site with my Black Music Month interview with her.
Steven Russell: Are you getting a good response about “War?” Oh yeah, from friends to the site blog and messageboards, people love it.
Steven Russell: Wow! That’s incredible and I think that song is a smash! She sang her face off on that record (laughs). TROOP is my all time favorite male R&B group along with The Time and Mint Condition.
Steven Russell: Aww man thank you, I really appreciate that! Yeah man TROOP (laughs). You guys were everything an R&B group should have been at that time. From dancing to writing you guys did it all. When’s the next time people can expect a new project from TROOP?
Steven Russell: Well we actually have a single, all of us in TROOP on my solo release coming out. We’re also going to use it for the TROOP record, it’s called “Not In A Million Years.” We did a tour last year like a Soul tour with Mint Condition, TROOP, Ready For The World, BBD, it was one of those type tours. Silk, H-Town and it went really well. But yeah we’re gonna keep doing it man, as long as the fans want to see us. We’re gonna come out, it’s just as simple as that. Everybody in TROOP is well, everybody is working and living their life. Going on tour, whenever we’re in demand. We get out there and do our thing and then return home, ya know. “Sweet November” was a classic from the original, but you guys put such a hot twist on it, TROOP’s version is always going to be a classic to me (laughs)!
Steven Russell: (laughs). That’s really Good! Were you guys ever worried about recording it and getting the feedback from members of The Deele?
Steven Russell: Well I’ve always been really good friends with Babyface and L.A. Reid for so long. I actually got with them before recording the song. I would get their advice on what song we should do. Because there were two songs, the other was “I’ll Send You Roses.” It was between those two and Kenny thought we should do “Sweet November” and L.A. Reid thought we should do “I’ll Send You Roses.” I use to listen to “Sweet November,” that use to put me to sleep back in high school. So we ended up recording it and it was a #1 record! Yeah Babyface actually did the remix with me, the video version. Yeah Babyface produced it. How does it feel to be apart of “Dreamgirls” the film?
Steven Russell: That was amazing man. My first was in New Jack City, so it wasn’t an unfamiliar territory to me. But just to be apart of something so epic and so big was incredible. Actually me and Tank are singing most of the songs throughout the whole movie. I didn’t know that.
Steven Russell: Yeah you know the scene where the boys are doing the Jackson’s parody? Yeah
Steven Russell: Yeah that’s me singing that song (laughs). Yeah we did 61 songs for that movie. I have to ask this for Black Music Month, and because I would love to know as well. What are your top 3 favorite TROOP songs you’ve recorded?
Steven Russell: Top 3, hmmm. “All I Do Is Think of You,” “Sweet November” and “I Will Always Love you!” Ha! That’s my favorite one (laughs), real cool!
Steven Russell: (laughs) Yeah I had to throw one of the ones I wrote in there. What would you like to see change about the current R&B music played on the radio?
Steven Russell: The first thing I would do is change the guys who are signing and releasing music. The guys who are signing artists saying this record is hot, I would get rid of those guys. I would get a bunch of music producers and real songwriters who’ve had a certain amount of experience in the business and those guys would A&R my projects & sign my artists. Once you change the record company system as far as whose signing acts, then we get artists again. We get Marvin Gaye’s and Stevie Wonder’s, we get those type of artists again. Instead of people who just wanna keep a job. See music is not as important as it was when Berry was doing Motown. It was about the music then and making people feel good, because people was suffering. But people are still suffering, but you don’t have music to make you feel like everything is going to be alright right now. You listen to music right now, you’re not going to get any medicine. There is no medicine in R&B and that’s the reason it’s in the state it’s in. As soon as we get medicine back into it and telling women how much we love them and cherish them and wanna take care of them… As soon as we get back to that, R&B is back! And I don’t mean old school and it sounding like it did back in the day. I mean current, fresh, 2020 R&B with good meaningful songs with substance. Soon as you take substance out of something, you have nothing. I hope it gets back there!
Steven Russell: Me too man! Me and alot of my producer friends and alot of the writers I work with, we’re on a mission to make sure that we’re putting the real and keeping the real in it. Even when we submit songs to people, like “Take You Down” (Chris Brown), that comes straight from my influence from Melvin Riley (Ready for The World). Their music raised me, (sings) “Here we are all alone in the room,” that’s Melvin Riley “Girl I know where to start and what we came to do.” That’s Ready For The World baby (laughs). That’s just that style, I’m saying that to show the R&B hasn’t went anywhere. Because you still love it, if it comes through with someone like a Chris Brown, who is a true artist and master at what he does. When you get that combination, music has life. When you have mediocre sons on people you’re not even going to pay to see at a concert. Music is going to die! Right now if you heard the Jackson 5 was coming to your city, everybody in that town is going to see them. And The Jackson’s haven’t had a record since the 80’s (laughs). “2300 Jackson Street” (laughs)
Steven Russell: (laughs) But people are going to see The Jackson’s. That’s what R&B needs, it needs life again. What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to face in the music industry?
Steven Russell: Early on making the transition from artist to writer and producer. That was a struggle because I’ve always loved to be on stage and making people cry and feel good and stuff. So to not be able to do that and accepting that part was over was really hard. Another obstacle is just trying to balance out being a creative person and being a business person. Something I’m still working on.
Steven Russell: Any serious person I’ve learned, you need a serious team behind you! It’s hard to do stuff by yourself. Some other obstacles have been me being so heartbroken coming from TROOP. Being kind of a loner and not really trusting people kinda gun shy, know what I mean. So that was a big struggle for me to like open up, get management, you know it was just kinda weird man. I was just in a box for so long after TROOP, after our last big hit. Just getting over stuff that scared you in the past. God is good, all the time! Off the top of your head, what are your top 3 essential R&B albums, you think everybody should have?
Steven Russell: Everybody should definitely own Heatwave “Central Heating” album. Everybody should definitely own “Thriller” and “Off The Wall (Michael Jackson), I’ll make those two (laughs). And definitely need to own Stevie Wonder, “Songs in the Keys of Life.” The Commodores “Easy” and “Brickhouse” albums. Parliament, it’s so many it’s hard to pick a top 3. The music I was exposed to man, everybody influenced me. From George Clinton to Herbie Hancock, from Michael Jackson to Johnny Mathis. Everybody influenced me, from Chicago to Tears for Fears, we had so many artists. And so much to draw from, so it would be hard to pick a couple. Any last words for your fans?
Steven Russell: I just wanna say to all of the fans who still love TROOP, I have my first time ever solo release coming out. I would love to have the support, I would for my fans to come out and support. What keeps the music alive, if you support me, I’m going to continue to deliver to you! That’s a promise to my fans!

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