Enlisting the right producer can make or break a record. Knowing the proper way to layer a beat, which sounds to take away, and when a song may need that extra oomph are all on the shortlist of a producer’s responsibilities.
For veteran craftsman Troy Taylor, a native of New Haven, Connecticut, it starts with a love for music and creation. Over three decades, the 51-year-old music producer has transformed a budding artist career into a thriving producer legacy.
Taylor’s resume includes work in countless genres, but R&B is the name of Troy Taylor’s game. With credits ranging from Aretha Franklin (So Damn Happy) and Whitney Houston (Just Whitney) to Jacquees (King Of R&B) and Trey Songz (Tremaine the Album), Taylor, a three-time GRAMMY Award-winner, has lived and worked through the evolution of the music industry.
“Working with Aretha Franklin, I understand now why she is the Queen Of Soul,” Taylor tells me.
Troy Taylor currently leads a movement, represented in the form of the Twitter hashtag #MayorOfRNB, positioning himself at the forefront of a continuously developing genre. His work serves as proof he is a strong contender to hold the key to the ever-changing sound of R&B.
“It’s not dead because pop artists want to do R&B,” Taylor says of the genre. “Ariana Grande, all of them. They grew up on R&B more than pop, and they cherish R&B... I just want to get back to chords, arrangements, and harmony. That’s what I want, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m already prepared and geared up to do it.”
As for how the streaming era has changed the format of the song, Taylor had this to say: “I have to go back to Motown and back to The Beatles. I don’t know if you noticed but, those songs were really short. [The Temptations’] ‘My Girl’ is two minutes and some change. ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles [is] a very short song. Right now, the music is two minutes and some change, but it’s not weird to me. That’s how music used to be back in the ’60s. It’s just going to come back full circle.”
We caught up with Troy Taylor to learn more about the man behind hits galore. Taylor shares studio moments, music industry expertise, and insight on the past, present, and future state of mainstream music. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Describe the transition from artist to producer, and how beginning as a performer has impacted your production work?
Troy Taylor: [It] definitely had an impact because I understand the mind of an artist. As an artist, I realized the sacrifices I would have to make as a person; I did not want to make them. I want to be able to walk around freely. I don’t want to have to be restricted because I’m an artist, and people are expecting this and that. I didn’t want that kind of attention, so I decided against it.
As a producer, I could still sing [and] do music. I can always go to the movies, go bowling, do whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about people coming up to me, and then I have to be held responsible for the things I say and all of that.
You’ve been a producer for 30 years. Where is R&B heading as a genre?
R&B is going back because it has nowhere else to go. Everyone from the trap era, they’re growing up now. As an adult, you naturally want more out of everything. You want more money; you want more out of life. So when it comes to music, if it reminds you of when you were growing up and how simple music was, you start feeling like an adult, and the music is kiddy. I need changes. I need arrangements. I need lyrics that speak to me. If Young Thug could sing, he would not rap. I’d put anything on that.
Of late, a popular public sentiment is that “R&B is dead.” I believe R&B and its subgenres are thriving. What do you fall on that opinion continuum?
It’s not dead because pop artists want to do R&B. Ariana Grande, all of them. They grew up on R&B more than pop, and they cherish R&B.
Are there any trends hope continue in 2020?
I just want to get back to chords, arrangements, and harmony. That’s what I want, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m already prepared and geared up to do it.
You worked with Jacquees on his latest album, King of R&B. Talk about your work together.
With Jacquees, because of his respect for R&B, it makes it easy to work with him. He has a passion for real R&B music. I did “Good Lovin” and “Fact Or Fiction.” On “Fact Or Fiction,” the guitar, just the whole essence of R&B, brings it all back to musicality.
Beyond Jacquees, who else would like to work with that you haven’t already?
I would love to work with Swae Lee. Swae Lee is at the top. I think he’s super talented. As an OG, I still haven’t worked with Charlie Wilson. I grew up on The Gap Band. I’ve worked with The Isley Brothers, Aretha [Franklin], Patti LaBelle, The O’Jays. I have to give you both the old school and the new school.
I’ve known Jhené [Aiko] since she was like 12, but I’d like to work with her. We’re cool, but we haven’t worked since she was a kid. Jazmine Sullivan for sure, and I’m sure there’s somebody I’m not thinking of.
You’ve collaborated with some legendary acts. You mentioned Aretha Franklin, The Isley Brothers, and there’s Whitney Houston. Describe those experiences.
Working with Aretha Franklin, I understand now why she is the Queen Of Soul. She was super prepared. She didn’t need a lyric sheet. She didn’t need to read anything. She didn’t need to do a lot of punches. She was always prepared and ready to do the song how she wanted to do it. She was always on point.
Patti [LaBelle] was just great to work with. Whitney was hilarious; it was great working with her. Working with Ron Isley was super iconic. His voice is just gold, and [I worked] with him, not once or twice, but I executive produced his whole last album [This Song’s For You]. I had a single on his album, Baby Makin’ Music, back in 2006 as well. I did three songs on the album, including the single “Just Came Here To Chill,” so that was awesome. Working with them was amazing.
How can the pop stars of today evolve to become the music history of tomorrow?
Well, that’s going to be a little hard to do because of social media. Social media has distorted newcomers and a new generation into believing all you have to do is something for the ‘Gram, and if you get some followers, you’ll be straight. Studying and going off the grid to disappear and learn is not even the thing to do anymore. Now it’s like, you have to put content out. You don’t get a chance to dip away. For this generation, they don’t know their value and worth, so they don’t push it [as] hard as the previous generation did. They don’t take it as a job. They take it as a status quo, more so. If they put out something, a day later, it’s old already, instead of continuously promoting it. That’s what’s making albums come and go so fast. Once an album is out and they post it a couple of times, they think it’s old, and that devalues their music.
Speaking of industry changes, is the correlation between streaming and the length and format of songs a straight line?
I have to go back to Motown and back to The Beatles. I don’t know if you noticed but, those songs were really short. [The Temptations’] “My Girl” is two minutes and some change. “Yesterday” by The Beatles [is] a very short song. Right now, the music is two minutes and some change, but it’s not weird to me. That’s how music used to be back in the ’60s. It’s just going to come back full circle.
What are you currently working on, or who are you currently working with, that you can share with everyone?
I’m always grooming new talent, either producers, writers, or artists. I’m working with Koryn [Hawthorne] again. I have something with Queen Naija. I’m working with Devon Culture as well, he’s a new artist. Breland, he’s signed to Atlantic, and he has a song called “My Truck” we put out, and it went viral. We have a whole country-trap project ready to go.