I’ve heard everything. I don’t think people know what the hell to call my voice and the way I look. But it’s like a blessing and a curse because no one knows what to categorize my voice or my music. I don’t really know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I just know that I’m a fan of all different kinds of genres. You’re supposed to be free doing music and that’s how I feel. So when we get in the studio—whether it’s a hip-hop song, a reggae song, or a big ol’ love ballad—I wanna do it all.
When did you realize you wanted to be a singer?
I’ve been a singing since I was two years old.
That’s really young.
Yeah. I’ve been doing shows. I had a full-time job at four. Five nights a week.
Your dad was in a band, right?
That’s right, and I used to sing in that band. It was called the Love Notes. It was a 1950s doo-wop review type of show. And they used to do impersonations of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and I would come out on stage and do my little Elvis impersonation. was called the Love Notes. It was a 1950s doo-wop review type of show. And they used to do impersonations of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and I would come out on stage and do my little Elvis impersonation.
Was your dad the front man?
No, my dad was just a sharp businessman. He’s originally from Brooklyn and moved down to Hawaii and just saw an opportunity to put a show together. He wasn’t the best singer in the world, but he knew a couple right singers and formed a group. He established that business in Hawaii a long time ago.
To the public eye, it seems like you’ve had a quick rise to the top, but how long did you work on making music. What steps did you take after you decided this was something you wanted?
I turned like 17 or 18, and I felt like I did everything that I could possibly do in Hawaii. I was performing in different bands and doing shows, and I just wanted to see if I could take it to the next level, so I bought a one-way ticket to California.
What artists did you work with while you were on your grind?
I actually worked with Ne-Yo. Before he took over the world. I was like 18, and he didn’t have any big songs out yet. He didn’t write that Mario song he had [“Let Me Love You”] yet. I just kinda sat in the studio and watched him write a song. It was just a huge learning experience because that was never a part of my forte. I’d never recorded like that before, so to see a guy sit down with a pen and paper, write a song, record it, it opened my eyes like, “Alright. I gotta step my game up and figure this side of the business out.” Because, in Hawaii, I was just known for performing.
Songwriting is definitely lucrative.
Yeah, very lucrative. And it’s so important. It’s not like the movies where you get signed and then hit songs fall into your lap. Plus, that’s not the kind of artist I wanted to be. I wanted to be respected for the songs that I write.
Right, the creativity. As far as the album, what should people expect when they pop it in?
We really focused on the song first, and it’s a real eclectic mix of music. I’m hoping that “Nothin’ On You” and “Billionaire” and “Just The Way You Are”—those songs we produced—are kind of a warning for people. It’s not that it’s all over the place, but I’m producing. I’m a songwriter, so I’m gonna grab a guitar and write a song and put a track behind it, but the song comes first. It hops around from genre to genre. It does different stuff.
Did you call on any of the artists that you collaborated with for this album, like B.o.B. or Travie?