Artist and songwriter Verse Simmonds is no stranger to great music. Whether it's penning hits for Jay Z and Kanye West, Chris Brown, TI, K. Michelle and countless others or working his magic as an artist, he knows what sounds good. The 100% Caribbean, Atlanta native took a few minutes to discuss music, songwriting, and why people need to get back to dancing in the club again...
HYPEFRESH’s Michael Butler (@mikeviimusic) catches up with Verse in an exclusive interview.
Michael Butler: Verse, many of your newer listeners may not know that you’ve been in the music business since 2009. What was your first record deal like?
Verse Simmonds: I actually got my first artist deal in 2009 through a joint venture with [Grammy Award-winning music producer] Rodney Jerkins. After some time, I left Rodney and Interscope Records’ joint venture and put out some records. One of them was my very first single “Boo Thang” with Kelly Rowland, and it was around that time I signed my Def Jam deal with Bu Thiam.
Since then, I have written records on projects from Jay Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne, to six songs on Chris Brown’s last record X, to work on TI and Chris Brown’s “Private Show,” and the list goes on. I wrote K. Michelle’s last single, and have recently been working with Usher on his new project in addition to two records on his last project. I also have some work I’ve been doing with Kid Ink as well as songs for [girl pop group] Fifth Harmony’s upcoming project.
MB: Given your great work as a songwriter and rising profile as a solo artist, how do you decide which songs you want to give to other artists and songs you want to keep for yourself to use?
VS: You got to know who you are as an artist, and a lot of times, when I write a record for somebody else, those songs are really for them. With the exception of one record I wrote for myself that ended up going to Chris Brown, the records really are for [the artists]. A lot of times it has a lot to do with who you are as an artist at the time and a writer at the time.
If you think you’re ultimately great at creating records, its great to be a bigger player in the bigger picture because I can always write more. I learned that early in the game as well: In my first deal I met [notable music executive] Barry Weiss and he wanted me to to give my record to Usher. I had it for my project, didn’t want to give it up, and that was my first introduction to not being selfish. I didn’t end doing anything with the record and Usher never got to see how far it could have went for himself.
I pride myself on being able to fall back: Knowing the fine line between artist and songwriter. I definitely respect people like Ne-Yo, because you got to know when to play the background and know when to play the spotlight
MB: From your diverse catalog, listeners can definitely see that there’s a global influence in your music. How did your Caribbean background affect the way you approach music?
VS: I’m 100% Caribbean—my Mom is from Puerto Rico and my Dad is from the Virgin Islands. As far as how it helped shape my sound, it gave me an overall wider perspective of music. Growing up, I was basically able to adapt to all genres of music, and understand the foundation and melody-driven nature of music. It also allowed me to understand it in a different capacity, understand it in a different space, and just opened me up to musical expression from hip-hop radio, dancehall, soca, and calypso music. My upbringing gave me freedom to explore music and how it connects to people.
MB: Speaking of music that connects to people, what made you decide to sample the family reunion and party classic “The Cha-Cha Slide” for your new single, “All I Want?”
VS: [Laughs] Shout out to [producer] J. Hill. For me, obviously “The Cha-Cha Slide” is a very known song that people loved and hated. Either way, you can’t help but dance to it. With it, I was able to bring something different to it and make it flier for right now and keep the essence of the original record.
“The Cha-Cha Slide” played at people’s cookouts, graduations and gatherings and it kind of caught you. [My single] “All I Want” kind of snowballed from there, Jeremih was in the area, hit me up and I was like “Come lay a verse for it,” and he pulled up. J. Hill and I had worked together a few times and built a relationship, but this was the first time we worked on a new project from scratch.
MB: It’s always interesting to hear about the creative process. Switching topics for a moment, what inspired your single vivid and realistic single “Situationships?”
VS: For me man, when I decided to put music back out at the top of the year, I felt that song took the essence of where I’m going with my new music. If you listen to the lyrics, the second time you pay attention you will find where you can relate. It’s spoken from pretty real perspectives in each verse. Before you go into a relationship you have a situationship. The song will hopefully help people develop their own ideas of what it means, especially with current trends of social media, and how people don’t really dance in the club anymore.
MB: Having built a successful career over the years reinventing yourself both in and out of the spotlight, how refreshing has the journey already been?
VS: It’s so crazy; I think it’s a total blessing, because I’ve been a new artist since I’ve come out, which is amazing. I’m still a new writer to people, which is amazing, but it’s definitely been where people come up to me on many occasions and say, “I think I’ve heard you somewhere.” Meanwhile, I’m molding my path the whole way.
It’s about being authentic, being grounded, and that is what keeps me able to reinvent myself. I’m not really attached to a particular sound; I’m more attached to a feeling. I hate to put things in a box. People can’t really put me into a box by saying, “Okay you’re Caribbean, and okay you’re R & B.” That can really slow down your process and can put you to the side sometimes. Reinventing myself and being authentic have been things that have always kept me in the mix.
MB: For someone who has worked with an eclectic mix of the biggest names in music, what would you consider your favorite collaboration up to this point?
VS: A lot of people don’t know that’s actually me on [Jay Z and Kanye West’s] ”Who Gon’ Stop Me.” A lot of people will listen to me and think it’s Kanye, but it’s really me on the hook! [Laughs] I get a trip, but you got to know your space at the time. At that moment I wasn’t really in a space to rap on a feature for Jay-Z and Kanye, but I sounded so much like him so they kept my vocals for the hook. That’s probably my favorite because it’s so close you can almost hear it as Kanye West.
MB: As an established and season writer, what are your thoughts on the recent controversy over hip-hop superstar Drake potentially using a ghostwriter for his songs?
I never have actually been a ghostwriter, as in I’ve never had to sign paperwork where I can’t speak on records I’ve written, but at the same time, hip-hop is such a unique thing. You’re supposed to be really real, really honest. But I don’t think that authenticity and honesty always have to come out of your pen if somebody is able to get the same feeling you have out of his or her pen, especially if you know the talent of the actual artist. You can’t really question talent.
Drake’s talent is unquestionable, and if he took a couple lines and made a better overall record, then I think looking at a higher scale, you’re talking about music business, record sales, you almost can’t do that over and over again without having some sort of collaboration, the writer in me is like, “Who cares?” If more people are having fun, it doesn’t make sense. He’s done way too much in the past for his records not to matter now.
My own motto is I write everything on my own, but if somebody walks in with a smash record already written I’m not going to let a hit record pass me by… It’s not like the guy is hidden either. Drake is more than “just a rapper” he sings as well, it’s not such a one boxed in thing for him. I don’t think he writes all of the singing songs by himself.
MB: Do you have any special last words for your loyal fans and our readers?
VS: Everybody look out for SEX TAPE CHRONICLES 2 coming in October, which is probably going to be my best project to date. FYF 3 out now has a lot of cool records I’ve hopped on, follow me on Twitter and Instagram via @versesimmonds, but for the most part, thanks to everybody that has been rocking with me for now!