After writing hits for Ciara (Like A Boy), Mary J Blige (Take Me As I Am) and Britney Spears (Gimme More), and having her vocals featured on Xzibit's 'Hey Now', Nas' 'Hero' and Timbaland's 2008 club-banger 'Way I Are', Keri Hilson is stepping out of the shadows with the release of her debut album 'In a Perfect World'.
Her talents were initially spotted by producer Polow Da Don (Usher, Ludacris, Kelly Rowland), who then brought her to the attention of smash-hit-maker Timbaland. The highly anticipated debut album is being issued as a joint release from Mosley Music Group (Timbaland's label) and Zone 4 (Polow Da Don's label).
To mark the release of 'In A Perfect World' (in stores 4th May) Keri Hilson took time out to speak to PyroRadio.com regarding the struggles of getting recognition as a hit songwriter, being a tomboy labelled a sex symbol, blog haters to working with Elvis!
Marvin Sparks: What is about your writing skills that caught the attention of Polow Da Don and all these big artists?
Keri Hilson: I don’t know you know. I’m a little bit left of centre as a songwriter and as a person, so I think that’s just it. I’m a little bit eccentric and all of those things so I think that’s what it was.
Marvin Sparks: As a songwriter did you feel like you weren’t getting the accolades and praise you deserved?
Keri Hilson: Yeah, it’s such a producer-driven game and that’s a part that we can’t control, but I did get together with some songwriters in an effort to bring back the respect level and the clout that songwriters once had. I thought it was unfortunate that producers outshone songwriters even though we own the same amount of the song. People may think that it's from just a clout perspective, but it’s on the business side mainly. Producers would get paid first, songwriters - if they got paid at all... it’s kind of a long story that people outside of the industry wouldn’t understand but it was very interesting.
Marvin Sparks: So with the success you were seeing as a songwriter you always wanted to become an artist?
Keri Hilson: Absolutely. My first dream was to be an artist; I didn’t even know that song writing was a job or something you could make a career of. I learnt that later after a couple of situations went sour - I was in a couple girl groups and we dispersed. I took up song writing as a plan b and never thought it would get me to where I am as far or as fast as it did and it brought me back to plan a, so I‘m thankful for that opportunity.
Marvin Sparks: A lot of successful writers have gone solo but have not made the transition to a successful solo artist. What goes into making a hit song?
Keri Hilson: Making a hit song as an artist, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes. You’ve got to do a lot of promotion, a lot of people have to know your name and there has to be kind of a movement going on. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes for people to see the video and to hear your voice on the radio - a lot of cooks in the kitchen. As a songwriter, your work is pretty much done after the artist leaves the studio, you have very little say. Song writing is very much behind the scenes; you don’t have to do any press or anything like that.
Marvin Sparks: Polow Da Don spoke to Timbaland and told him you were this hot new singer/songwriter before you told Polow he was the producer you felt could take you to the next level. What was meeting and performing for Timbaland like?
Keri Hilson: I didn’t have to perform in front of him at first - I sang over the phone and then flew to Miami to work with him that same night. I do remember being... I remember the feeling of anxiousness. I was just on cloud nine. We went straight to the studio after the airport. I was just like “Wow, I’ve got to make an impression. This is my shot. This is something I’ve dreamt about.” I’ve loved Timbaland since way back. Ginuwine days and even before that so it was an honour.
Marvin Sparks: There have been many delays with the release of your debut album ‘In A Perfect World’. Why has it taken so long for it to finally get a release?
Keri Hilson: There were rumours way before we started the album that I had started. This is all because I am a songwriter and I was always in the studio. Yeah, sometimes it was for me but the budget hadn’t opened up. The only release dates I had were November and December, so its not as long as people might think. That is kind of a long time, I guess, if you are anticipating it which I was too, but people look at it like a bad thing. Every time they pushed it back, which was twice, I was thankful. I was happy because it meant the label cared about my project to make sure it had a proper release. This is their baby; they spend a lot of time and resources on it to make sure it has a proper release.
Marvin Sparks: How did you decide which songs you kept for yourself and did that affect working with people who could be classed as direct competition?
Keri Hilson: No, because I wouldn’t give considered competition my sound. I would give them something that they are known for. Maybe the concept comes from me but it has to sound like something that they would do, but different enough. It’s straddling the line. I kind of know when something sounds more like me than not. Putting songs on my album, it was easy to know which ones I was most connected to. It’s the ones that evoked a real emotion out of me while I wrote them.
Marvin Sparks: You class yourself as a tomboy and enjoy playing sports like basketball, but appeared as the lead girl in Usher's 'Love In This Club' video and are the object of many males desire. How do you find being labelled as a sex symbol?
Keri Hilson: Hmm, I don’t think of myself as that, but I am getting a lot of attention from men so maybe I’m on the... you know... I don’t know [nervous giggle]. I don’t really see it like that, I’m just being myself. I still feel very much like a tomboy with make up on my face and heels on my feet. I’m just me, yeah.
Marvin Sparks: Like every female, you get a lot of attention on blogs from both bloggers and users comments. How do you deal with the negative comments you receive?
Keri Hilson: Well, I guess you just take it as entertainment. You read a blog, it’s much like going to a comedy show to me because these people don’t know you, but they have a very strong opinion about you. This is what I’m here for and I’ve got to take the good with the bad and the ugly. I have to thank God that I’ve been in the industry for this long to understand or to build a thick skin.
Marvin Sparks: There was a lot of talk when the ‘Turnin’ Me On Remix’ came out. Can you see why people thought you were taking shots at Beyonce and Ciara?
Keri Hilson: Absolutely. I was using somebody else’s lyrics and the word ‘she’ can be taken many ways. Any piece of art is subject to interpretation and I understand that music is no different. When a rapper uses someone else’s lyric, it’s like “that was a hot line that so and so used,” but when a girl does it, or when I do it, all of a sudden it means I was talking directly to who they’re considering as my competition when I don’t even see it that way. I see that there’s a place for all of us and I’m addressing what these people say about me on these blogs. “I hear she’s a song writer but ain’t nothing special about her. She should just go marry an athlete and have some babies.” But I do see where they got it from but that wasn’t the energy behind it.
Marvin Sparks: Now that you aren’t just a successful songwriter but a famous singer in your own right, what do you miss most about not being famous?
Keri Hilson: I absolutely miss just not being able to have a bummy day [laughs]. I still wear my kicks and wear my tennis shoes, but I got to wear make-up ’cause you don’t want to get sliced all the way down. I’m always surprised to know if I’m somewhere that used to be pretty low-key, I’m surprised that someone there recognises me and wants a picture and I got to do it. I make sure that I’m there for all of my fans. Anyone who wants an autograph can get it, anyone who wants a picture can get it. I mean, within reasonable means unless I’m sleeping! And that has happened. People have taken pictures of me sleeping, knocked out on Benodryl, probably with my mouth open. It’s crazy. So you don’t want to get caught out.
Marvin Sparks: ‘In A Perfect World’ will be available to purchase from 4th May; what can people expect to hear?
Keri Hilson: You can expect to hear production from Timbaland who you know and love. Production from Polow Da Don who you may not know but you love. You hear him on tracks like Chris Brown’s ‘Forever’, Pussycat Dolls ‘Buttons’, Fergie’s ‘Glamourss’ and ‘London Bridge’ and so on and so forth- he’s an amazing producer as well. Also Timbaland’s protege Danja; he produced a third of the album as well. I’m very proud of the writing I did. It’s very vulnerable, it’s kind of insecure in places but it really talks about how women really think and really feel about certain situations, so I didn’t have any notions to paint myself perfect, I talk about how it really is.
Marvin Sparks: 3 people who you’d love to write with or for dead or alive?
Keri Hilson: Dead or alive, umm, 2 of them are alive; Lauryn Hill and Michael Jackson. It would be interesting for me to do something with Elvis!
Marvin Sparks: Have you got anyone lined up for future projects?
Keri Hilson: I working to do something with Estelle - UK’s own Estelle, I think that would be an interesting collaboration. I’m working with Ryan Leslie on a song for Fabolous’ new album. I haven’t been doing too, too much promoting right this moment - I’ve been promoting my album for about a year now since ‘Energy’, so I haven’t written too much. I’ve got to get back into the saddle after I’m done with as much promo as I’m doing right now.
Follow Keri @ http://twitter.com/MissKeriBaby
For more info: http://www.kerihilsonmusic.com