Meet ‘Bertell’

“I asked my mom to drop me off at the Greyhound station. I called her three days later and she was like ‘What’s this weird number in my caller ID?’ I said, ‘Mom, I’m in New Jersey.’ So I talked to her for about twenty minutes, trying to sound excited. Then I hung up and thought, ‘Damn, now what am I gonna do?’ I had nowhere to stay? no family, no friends, nothing in New Jersey. I slept in Newark Penn Station for four days. Then I had to figure out as a man what I was doing with my life.”

There’s not many who would venture so boldly into the unknown. But Houston’s Bertell Young, Capitol Records’ rising R&B voice, has a habit of navigating unchartered territory. A veteran of six, count ‘em six, high schools around Houston, Bertell is no stranger to instability. Prior to that, he’d split his childhood between Melville, Louisiana and the Longhorn State. Hotly recruited for his hoop game, Bertell was the toast of Texas, winning the state championship his senior year. He then enrolled at Howard College in West Texas on a basketball scholarship. It was there that his musical muse, sparked by an impromptu grade school ditty about a classmate’s runny nose, matured.

A basketball scholarship lured Bertell from his familiar Texan haunts to Newark, New Jersey. Though a timing snafus sank that first offer, resulting in his stay at Penn Station, Bertell seized on a tryout against the team’s roster. “I ended up killing everyone they had trying to guard me,” Bertell grins. “I was given a scholarship and the coach actually kicked somebody out of an apartment so I could have his room,” he guffaws. Never doubt a man who’s spending his nights in a train station.

Years later Bertell returned to the Tri-State area. Unfortunately, his good karma had faded; he hooked up with an ill-fated management company that, while Bertell had gone home briefly to visit family, disappeared in his absence. Bertell was left with nothing to his name save the contents of his backpack. Inspiration and optimism faded, and he returned to Houston. But in that darkest of hours, a swath of sunlight cut through in the form of Grammy-winning songwriter, producer, and Houston native Bryan-Michael Cox (Mariah Carey, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, Chris Brown, Fergie). The man known as B. Cox had heard Bertell’s hit with the Dem Franchize Boyz, “Shorty What That Do.”

“When I met Bryan-Michael Cox, I thought he was a new producer,” Bertell half-sighs, half-grimaces. “I didn’t truly figure out everything he’d done until I Googled him about a year and a half later and he had this long list of songs that I’d grown up on. I was blown. He was like, ‘You been with me all this time and you didn’t know everything I’d done?!’ He’s on Billboard’s top 10 list for producers of the decade, and I’m sitting here thinking he’s new. We laugh about that to this day.” Initially, B. Cox set about managing Bertell, but that arrangement went awry. Instead, the two agreed to work side-by-side. Bertell signed to Capitol Records via a joint venture between Cox’s production house Blackbaby Entertainment and Bertell’s own Upscale Music Group. Thus, the wheels were set in motion for Bertell’s debut; in the meantime, he opened for prominent acts such as R. Kelly, Bobby Valentino, Trey Songz, Scarface, and Bun B of UGK.

Fast forward to early 2010 and the verge of Bertell’s debut album, Going Hard. The groundwork laid by scalding street single “She Bad” featuring Bun B, Bertell now drops “Beat it Up,” the album’s first official single. A mid-tempo heater that flaunts Bertell’s unique vocal tone and his knack for keen writing, “Beat it Up” was produced by his partners at Upscale Music, T.A. and Quazi. Full of indiscreet and improbable scenarios –sex while driving, sex in the club—“Beat it Up” is a no-holds barred noisemaker. Elsewhere, look for the full-throated titular track, as well as “I’m Trying.”

“‘I’m Trying” is the first song I did,” Bertell notes. “It identifies my album and made me focus on the direction I wanted to go as an artist. It relates the culture of Houston. In Houston, we’re all fighting for the same thing, but we’re not fighting together. The sad part is that the fight is for one person to win, not for everybody to win. But that difficulty in the city gives Houston its energy and explains why many people come out of it so proudly.”

Another standout is “Open.” “‘Open’ is my David Ruffin [the Temptations] or Marvin Gaye moment,” Bertell asserts proudly, and people will hear that if they compare it to something old and classic.” The mention of credibility sends Bertell into a frenzy, vehemently nodding his head about something he prides himself on: “Music is sold off of believability, so there’s only so many songs someone else can write for you, unless you’re Whitney Houston, that you can sing as your own and sound credible and real. I think people need to get back to writing. Even if someone writes a hit for you, if you don’t know how to deliver the emotion that went into writing it, that’s a failed mission.”

“And I think that accounts for what people perceive as a down period in music,” he continues. “This is the perfect time for me to step in since so many people are negative about it. If I come in and go platinum then it’s not a downtime in music, there’s no recession. It just means that what’s been lacking is the effort in making good music.” That isn’t Bertell feeling himself, that’s his adversity-honed hustle speaking: “This whole experience has made me strong, and confident. But there’s always somebody who can do the same job, ready to step into my shoes. You humble yourself to God, not people, because He can always put someone else in your position to do your job, perhaps even better than you can.” With the epic groundswell Bertell is about to unleash with Going Hard, trying to top Bertell is going to be a Goliathan task.

First Look: Official Tracklisting:
1. I’m Dat
2. She Bad feat. Bun B
3. Beat It Up
4. Goin Hard (Interlude)
5. Goin Hard
6. I’m Tryin’
7. Open
8. Album Skit
9. Dat Good
10. So Fly feat. TA
11. Breathe (Interlude)
12. Breathe
13. I Can’t Get Enough
14. Don’t You Worry
15. Just Wanna Say Thanks

Goin Hard In Stores & Online May 4th!

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