Meet MAJOR, The R&B Up-And-Comer Who's Bringing Old School Soul Back
MAJOR is witnessing his dreams come true right in front of his eyes. The 34-year-old Texas native reached a new level of success and fame when his hit single “Why I Love You” went viral via YouTube in 2016. It took time for the music video to find its audience, but when it did, it blew up serendipitously.
“Honest,” the second single off his 2018 EP Even More, eventually garnered him his first Grammy nomination this year for Best Traditional R&B Performance. And if that’s not enough, he also has a recurring role on Lee Daniels’ Star series.
“I dreamed about all of this so now that it’s actually happening, it’s so freaking surreal,” he says from the set of Star in Atlanta. “I was just literally talking to my manager yesterday who’s been with me before people even cared to listen to me and I was able to say in a single sentence: ‘I have a gold record, a Grammy nomination, I’m about to do The Real on Fox. I have a recurring role on the show Star, and they keep bringing me back.’ It’s like all of this is happening, and I’m like ‘God, you’re a show off, man.’” His level of gratitude and faith in a higher power is tangible when you speak to him.
Born Major Johnson Finley, the R&B soul singer is one of ten siblings. He describes his nurturing childhood as one filled with love and support from his mother, especially when it concerned his musical ambitions. “I told my mom at three years old that I wanted to be a famous singer,” he remembers. “She put me in music and piano classes. And from then on I cultivated everything I was learning.”
Thanks to those learning lessons, he’s leaving his mark not only on the R&B scene but also on television. VIBE recently chatted with MAJOR about his sonic musical inspiration, his feelings toward his Grammy nomination and how he hopes his music will impact the world.
VIBE: Let’s jump right into the music. On “Why I Love You” you sing, “I found love in you and I learned to love me too.” What are some ways that you find love within yourself?
MAJOR: When you have encountered real love it’s going to make you certain that it feeds you, so you can’t help but to honor what it is that you possess when you’re in love with the right one. True love is not painful; true love isn’t heartache and trouble. True love is considering, advancing the other — it’s making the other better.
When love is painful, that’s the mishandling of love because love in its purest form is not going to bring pain. When it’s mishandled, that’s when you get the rest of that stuff. I really wanted to give people a way to understand love as an exchange of reciprocity. I give, you give, no one is left empty.
A lot of people want to get into relationships, but they don’t love themselves in the first place.
And that’s my thing: don’t hop into something expecting to get something that you don’t know how to give or know for yourself. I can’t jump in a scenario of love and expect to get love if I don’t know how to give love. You won’t know how to give love if you don’t have love.
I sing from God’s love. God’s love assures that you’re provided for as you give out so that you’re never left empty — it’s a cyclical refilling as you give. I always push for people to know God’s love, to know that self-love and to also know the love that’s given in their life. But that self-love is important. Whitney Houston said it, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” That’s real.
Was it difficult for you to find self-love?
No. I’m centered in a space where I draw from God’s inspirations and it takes me places where I am able to connect with the people. My new mentor, Stevie Wonder said, “Major if you continue to sing in light about love, God will always be there because God is love.” I can always draw from that space because I’m acquainted with it. I’ve experienced the benefits of love. I know what being in love with a great person feels like and I know what being in love with the wrong person feels like. I just want to help people do more of the getting in love and being in love with the ones that love them fully for who they are.
In the video for “Why I Love You” you didn’t fully include yourself. The visuals just presented your shadow. Was that intentional?
Yeah, I wanted to honor the woman. I wanted to give the woman time to be shined on. She’s deserving of the spotlight and she’s deserving of that attention. And that’s what that’s about. I put my hands in there as support, but I think we’ve done a great job with these love scenarios by putting us men all up in it, but the woman deserves to be honored. And also with being a woman of color I wanted to definitely honor her. I think women of color have been disenfranchised far more than any other species.
Women of color often feel like they are not supported by men in their communities. What are your thoughts on that?
Absolutely. That’s why in my videos you see me honoring the woman. I make it a point to honor her and her queendom because at the end of the day when you do that the world thrives because it starts and originates from the womb of the woman. To be a carrier of humanity and not honor the carrier of humanity — that’s wack!
I’m going to honor the queens, be it women of color, be it women period. I have a song on my new album, Even More, called “Shine Bright” which is exactly about that. It’s telling women take your permission, take your authority to shine your light. And you do that just by owning who you are. My song “Honest” is nominated for a Grammy this year and that’s what that song is about. It’s about owning who you are unapologetically and that’s what your power is. If they can love you in your truth, that’s love, you’re winning.
How do you feel about being nominated for a Grammy?
I dreamt about being nominated for a Grammy forever. It’s a huge dream. I thought my first acknowledgment would come on “Why I Love You,” but my sophomore single “Honest” got the love and attention and I’m grateful. They say, “You’re a winner just for getting nominated.” I’m like, “Okay that’s great, but I’d like to take that trophy home” (Laughs).
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You released Even More via Empire/BOE Music Group. Are you open to signing to a major label?
I don’t knock it. I know the pros and cons of both. I went to school for music business. I have a degree from the Berklee College of Music. I’m with whatever machine is going to help me fulfill my dreams. Major is rocking independent until Major connects with a major that says something different, but in the meantime, I’m honoring the independent route.
Tell me about your role on Star?
My character Rashad is the cousin that comes into town because one of our family members has passed away. I am the cousin that everybody loved growing up and I’ve seen life for what it is in the big city. I’m faced with a couple challenges. I am the symbol of inspiration in the family, so I start to bring in the God perspective to the conversation. However, Rashad has some complications because he discovered some things about his life that he had no idea he was even a part of. It’s a pretty crazy turn of events what happens.
To work with Queen Latifah is a dream come true. I remember two years ago meeting her at this concert that Stevie Wonder had me be a part of. I got to shake her hand and I remember in that moment saying, “I’m going to work with her one day.” Who would have thought it would have been on a TV show? Working with Brandy Norwood, Lance Gross and Luke James has also been incredible.
It sounds like you’re pretty similar to Rashad.
Yeah! (Laughs) And what’s crazy is that Lee Daniels doesn’t know me. But I’m just honored that I got an opportunity to audition for this role. They were like, “We know he can sing, but can he act?” I studied theater as long as I studied music. It’s just that music has been the front-runner of my money making. I’ve been in a couple of TV shows and movies but they just have me as a singer. So to be able to really have this moment to show the theatrical side of me is pretty cool. So far the directors are loving me and keeping me, so will see what happens (Laughs).
What are your thoughts on R&B’s resurgence throughout the years with new artists like H.E.R, Jorja Smith, Khalid and SZA, among others?
There are certain people that are coming from their perspective and trying to keep up with the trends of 90s R&B, but for me the R&B that I grew up on was Sam Cooke and James Brown. For me it’s all soul.
I’m an R&B artist by default. The script I had for myself was that I was going to be a successful gospel artist that crossed over, like a Kirk Franklin or Mary Mary. But as I tried to get embraced from the gospel industry, it didn’t fully embrace me back.
I grew up in church. I knew all the gospel hitters, the stars of that particular part of the industry but I had to realize that wasn’t my door to open. My assignment was to communicate from the unchurched what I learned in the church. And also to let people know that God’s love is not about the church. It’s about the conversation and soul. So I am able to have this conversation from a God perspective, but from a very accessible way. People are like, “Your songs make me feel like ‘God sees me.’” And I’m like, “Yeah, he does” (Laughs). I don’t know who told you were exempt from it. I don’t know who told you that the mistakes from your past would exempt you from a love that’s everlasting. This thing grips you and embraces you no matter what. They call me the hope dealer, because I’m always dealing hope.