R&B, like any genre, has had its peaks and troughs. Having one of many moments of glory throughout the ’90s, this particular timeline of triumph splintered into the early and mid-2000s, carrying with it the likes of Usher and Brandy.
Post-2010, a pandemonium manifested within the industry both about the genre broadly, and its direction going forward. This hysteria triggered the likes of The Atlantic to open the question on the identity of R&B in April 2012, and investigate its’ past shortcomings. However, in the contemporary market, R&B is rising like a phoenix. Industry successes like SZA, H.E.R., and Frank Ocean are concrete examples of prosperity that was once impossible to penetrate.
Lucky Daye is a part of the upturn within this genre. The act has, in quite a short span of time, released his debut album Painted and embarked on a global tour in support of this. Backed by renowned A&R Tunji Balogun and his Keep Cool Records roster, Daye stands as one of four artists on this boutique imprint at present — alongside Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Vanjess, and Normani.
“It’s really cool to be signed to a label that respects me and has a genuine approach to my career and perspective. He [Balogun] is such a good person.” The singer is excited and straightforward in his tone, he sounds relaxed and at ease when the label situation is mention. “The vibe over at Keep Cool is all about personable interactions – we’re all tight-knit but don’t want to ever get in each other’s way. We root for one another’s success.”
“There’s a different style down south; the mannerisms, the way of life, I had to make the move.”Lucky Daye
Having one of the most sought after men in music in your immediate circle is no easy task. Throughout Balogun’s expansive career, he has managed to work closely with Kendrick Lamar — who fought in his corner early in his career — steer Bryson Tiller’s Trapsoul album campaign, and mold Khalid from a Soundcloud mainstay into a mainstream superstar.
“I was in talks with labels for a while actually. Def Jam had meetings with me in New York and I also had conversations with Warner.” Daye mentions a number of other imprints and conversations had with them for the next thirty seconds. “They all felt too industry, too money focused. With Tunji, it felt different, deeper than just connections and strategy.” The pair missed each other on a number of occasions but re-connected in LA, this time with Balogun’s whole team. Following Painted being played for the whole team, the pair began to solidify their business-relations in 2018. “Tunji made me feel right, the response to my album was genuine and respectful. He’s about the music, not all the other stuff, that made me want to sign with him.”
Prior to Daye’s move to Los Angeles, he lived in Atlanta. Relocating from New Orleans, the singer was passionate to pursue career opportunities in the music space. “I thought Atlanta would be the best place for my career, I didn’t wanna stay in New Orleans or Texas,” he recalls, later, he explains that the lifestyle didn’t meld well with his musical ambitions. “There’s a different style down south; the mannerisms, the way of life, I had to make the move.” Landing deals with the likes of August Alsina and working behind the scenes (as a songwriter), the act began to finally gain traction. However, this was short-lived as a passion for more and advice from peers led to a prompt decision to embark on the next phase of his trajectory. “We were all broke, me and the people I met in Atlanta, so we went there [LA]. It was a bigger market.” On top of the search for more fruitful opportunities, a defunct business relationship with his then manager (whom the vocalist doesn’t mention) also contributed to the location change in late 2013.
Evidently, the move paid off, as the years that followed saw the act write for the likes of Keke Palmer, Mary J Blige, and Trey Songz and finally complete Painted. There’s often tension with artists in the industry of whether to stay behind the scenes writing or to transition into an artist. Jessie J has vocalized her many years in music penning songs, all while seeking a more fruitful career singing.
On the mention of this tension, Daye expresses the nuances of artistry. “All I’ve ever been is an artist. Whether you paint, produce, it is all art; you should do it all if you have a passion for it all. Your artistry is everything and you need to express that.” Continuing, the New Orleans native emphasizes that art is not hierarchical and it soon becomes transparent that Daye is both passionate and committed to this and other causes.
On Painted and touring
“I want to be a part of the greatness, awards are a part of that.”Lucky Daye
The product of the singer’s dedication came in the form of two EP’s (I and II) which introduced Painted to the masses. The full album, released May 24th, includes an additional four tracks. Seemingly announced out of nowhere, the project was supported by album track “Roll Some More,” and it’s Top 10 placement on Billboard’s Adult R&B songs chart. “I didn’t want to rush this album, but I wanted to be eligible for awards season.” The honesty is instant and almost refreshing as further details behind the albums release date are shared.
“I want to be a part of the greatness, awards are a part of that.” The question of whether the album was rushed in order to facilitate this aim enter my head briefly, but then I remember the earlier portion of our call, where it was referenced that Tunji Balogun had heard Painted months ago. As if Daye can read my mind he silences my concerns. “It was good that we had it done because it allowed Tunji to plan it out fully.”
We both agree that although Painted was released at the height of spring, there’s potential for a fuller campaign that allows it to be promoted throughout the year. “Honestly, some of the songs feel wintery, I would’ve loved to have released it then.” There’s mutual laughter as we dissect album-cuts such as ‘Concentrate’ that easily could work as singles for the colder weather. “I’ll try and push for more singles when we get to fall.”
Part of Daye’s appeal has often been linked to his naturally layered aesthetic and sound. The likes of DJ Booth have commented on his “vintage” approach to R&B. This same descriptor has been used to describe ‘Karma’, one of the singers earlier tracks that gained traction across the internet. The single interpolates Ginuwine‘s “Pony”. Daye, who insists that this decision wasn’t intentional for him, recalls the story of the creation of the song. “My producer said that “Karma” at the time sounded similar to it [Pony]. So we included the song in there.” Somewhere later on in the call, it’s revealed that Ginuwine actually heard the song. I pry instantly for further context. “I got the chance to play it for Ginuwine and he was like ‘oh okay’ and happy. Being there with him and getting to press play was dope.”
The next five minutes or so are Painted oriented, as we move from themes to other intricacies of the recording process. “I wasn’t actively thinking about artists who influenced this album while recording, but if I had to say anyone of-course Ginuwine, then artists like Pharrell, Elton John, D’Angelo,” Daye explains that this journey was one in which he learned more about himself and his experiences, reflection is important to him and that can be felt throughout the phone call. “I use my subconscious a lot, it’s all about examining what I’m doing.”
Promotion and internal strategy
Currently, a part of the acts LP rollout involves the use of Youtube across the rest of this month (June). Daye will release acoustic performances of album tracks for fans to enjoy every week. More widely, the use of multiple social media streams has helped in building an artists presence online presence. For rapper Lil Nas X, promoting his current Billboard Hot 100 hit ‘Old Town Road’ through the popular video platform TikTok, was instrumental in the numbers overwhelming dominance. “Any app that is doing something that helps me connect with fans, I want to be a part of. We approached Youtube, wanting to help me and my plans. I’m inspired by brands that connect and build with the people.”
The final portion of our conversation expands into touring, and the decision to travel so soon after the release of Painted. “Tunji builds the strategy, I focus on the music.” It’s highly likely that Lucky Daye will be back in the United Kingdom later on in the year. During his performance (June 6th), there were murmurs from both label insiders and fans that suggest that this is a possibility. In relation to long-term ambitions beyond this tour and the plans for the next steps, Daye is insistent that the art is his main focus.
“I make the music and for myself. Whatever powers above me do the rest and whatever happens, happens. I just want to make my gift and whether one person hears it or hundreds, it’s my gift to everyone.”