James Fauntleroy | SongwriterBy faking it ‘til he made it, this scribe ended up co-writing one of the year’s biggest albums. —KATIE BAIN
IT’S HARD TO fake confidence, But if someone has that moxy, it’s easy to fake most other things. James Fauntleroy is a self-assured guy, quick to smile, all breezy swagger. Stationed in his Inglewood studio on a hazy Los Angeles afternoon, the 29-year old cowriter of Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience is kicked back on his couch in a cloud of weed smoke, explaining his journey to pop’s mountaintop.
It started as a kid growing up on the border of Inglewood and South Central. “These dudes in school were like, ‘Can you sing?’” Fauntleroy says. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I sing all the time.’” That fabrication landed him onstage in front of a crowd of screaming girls. He got addicted. He tried his hand at rapping—experiencing a winning streak on the local battle rap scene—but it was his singing voice and an association with production duo The Underdogs that led to gigs as a background vocalist for artists like Chris Brown and Jordin Sparks. During a studio session, someone asked James if he could write. He hadn’t penned R&B before, but fortunately he lied (again).
Fauntleroy proved to be a gifted writer, quickly working his way up the ranks composing tracks for artists including Usher, Britney Spears, Rihanna and Beyoncé. During a 2010 studio session with singer Esmée Denters, he turned around and Timberlake was standing there, bobbing his head. “Scared the fuck out of me,” Fauntleroy says. The two became fast friends via mutual buddy, hip-hop/R&B producer Rob Knox. Timberlake joined Fauntleroy and Knox’s production team The Y’s, (named for generation Y and “wise”), and it was Knox who called his homie into the studio for the 20/20 sessions.
The album was produced in just under a month, with Fauntleroy working alongside Timberlake, Knox and Timbaland daily. “I was learning the whole time,” Fauntleroy says. He has a credit on every track.
Fauntleroy tells this story coolly, like he knew he’d work on one of the decade's most anticipated LPs. His excitement comes through, though, when he shows an Instagram screenshot of a Timberlake tweet saying that “Mirrors” broke the record for most spins on U.S. radio. Fauntleroy’s hashtag on that Instagram? #bestlifeever