Sammie lived quite a life before he was old enough to drive. At age 13, the Florida native scored a hit with, “I Like It,” a bubbly anthem that cracked the Top 10 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. After dropping a gold-selling debut, From the Bottom to the Top, and another sugary single, “Crazy Things I Do,” Sammie fell back from the spotlight to find “normalcy.” He attended West Orange High School near Orlando, Florida, where he played basketball for two years and was named homecoming king. In seemingly normal high school activities, Sammie says he discovered a “significance of self outside of music,” a balance between his stage persona and regular life.
Separating the two worlds protected him from being “tainted” by fame. “The business side is the ugly part,” he tells VIBE during a sit-down in West Hollywood, California where the 30-year-old singer was busy promoting his fourth studio album, Coming of Age.
Back in 2005, Sammie was fresh out of high school and ready to return to the very industry that he left behind. But the comeback meant defying his mother’s wishes. “She gave me an ultimatum because she tried to protect me from snakes [in the music business],” he says. “She felt like you lived your dream, go to college and play it safe.”
With only $400 in graduation money, he moved out of his mother’s house and headed for Atlanta with his former manager. He later signed to Dallas Austin’s Rowdy Records and released a self-titled debut led by the Young Bloodz-assisted single “You Should Be My Girl.” On the surface, things appeared to be going well, but by 2009, Sammie announced that he was forming his own company, StarCamp Music, and taking legal action against his manager to “rectify any discrepancies and/or business transactions” made without his knowledge. Over the course of two years, Sammie claims the manager — who he didn’t name but says that he considered him to be a “big brother” — manipulated his mind and his money. At the time, his credit was still intact and his cash flow was “so good,” that he didn’t initially notice the money scheme.
The experience turned him off from managers and ignited an inner businessman that had been “suppressed” because the manager “coached” him to focus on his craft, rather than his finances. Up until a year ago, Sammie was his own manager, answering emails under one name, and commissioning a friend’s help when he needed someone to be the “voice” of his manager character. “Now I do everything and I like it this way,” he says. “It’s more work, but I’m safe.”
Sammie has weathered the proverbial storm that many child stars haven’t been so lucky to overcome. And as a black man in America, he says he has “beat the odds.”
Our interview took place days after the violence in Charlottesville, which for all of its harrowing images, wasn’t as shocking for those who have experience with America’s long history of racism. “A cop put a gun to my head in Orlando just for having a nice car and being in a nice neighborhood,” he recalls of one of two incidents of being racially profiled by police. “I put my hands up and had my window down. He put a gun to my temple and told me if I moved he was going to ‘splatter my brains’ in front of my little brother, those were his exact words. I guess I fit the criteria so to speak, I have braids, a beard, tattoos. I look like I’m up to no good when in actuality, I have no criminal record, never been to jail. I’m not dead at 21 or 25. I beat the odds of a young black man in America.”
Three years ago, Sammie released a song about police brutality titled “Dear America.” Though he doesn’t feel pressured to create protest music, he believes it’s important to speak up about social issues. However, his new album, out September 15, is a “transparent,” sonic journal about relationships, and his own infidelity. “It’s every encounter that inspired me to be creative but also influenced me and helped me to become the man that I am.”
On Coming of Age, Sammie is making peace with the past and setting his sights towards a better future.
Sammie: It’s something that I’m not happy about. I don’t even like that I succumbed to that. My mom and father [broke up] because he was a bit of a ladies man. I love my father, but I’ve always tried to stray from that, so to fall short is disappointing as a man. And I’ve hurt amazing women, nothing was wrong with them, I just wasn’t ready. That’s why I’ve learned the importance of finding out who you really are without trying to build while you’re in love. That’s how you can hurt someone.
So the goal of this album is to humanize men in the eyes of women?
Women think we don’t feel because we don’t express it, or it’s looked at as not being masculine. But we talk about it amongst ourselves. I put those conversations in my music. That’s my niche: the transparency that my peers feel they’re too cool for.
Who are the “peers” that you’re referring to?
It’s not a personal attack on anybody. It’s just a lot of elite R&B singers. They have the platform, as well as the funding to change the game in the way that R&B lovers want it to be. Maybe they’re not in the mental state to create genuine music and they want to turn up and pop bottles. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t have money to do that every night. That’s [their] lifestyle but the masses are going through heartbreak and identity crises and trying to figure themselves out while simultaneously falling in love. Where’s the guy [to sing about those topics]? That guy is me. The most vulnerable guy that we talk about in music is a rapper, Drake.
JAY-Z is pretty vulnerable these days…
He is, and I love it! The world loves it because it’s honest. Now people relate to JAY-Z and Beyonce on a whole new [level]. They went from relationship goals to “if JAY-Z cheated on Beyonce, I’m not alone.” That’s what you need: to create records that make people feel less alone.
You spoke openly about your former manager. How much did he steal from you?
Everything. For the first time, I knew what insufficient funds meant. I was on [Soulja Boy’s single] “Kiss Me Through the Phone” when this happened. He had access to everything, it was a nightmare. I was in a dark place, but I don’t look like what I’ve been through. I would perform concerts that would pay my mortgage, but it wasn’t what I was accustomed to. There was no financial freedom. I guess it’s the equivalent of someone who works 9-5. They have enough to pay bills but you gotta sit your a** down after that. I would go on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and I’m in superstar mode, but I’d go back to Atlanta and technically not know how I was going to eat. I had to find a way to get through that without the world knowing.
How did you bounce back?
I met Troy Taylor, my mentor, in church. I shared my story, and he shared some things. He kept me right, spiritually. I’ll never forget. He told me to tithe [put money in the collection plate]. I asked for change because I was going to put $20 in, he was like, “Put the whole $100 in, God will catch you.” I’m like, “You’re crazy!” I had a girlfriend at the time and she didn’t know what was really going on because I never looked broke. I put the whole $100 in and the next day I got two bookings for $8,000 a piece. That was the day I realized I’ll never go without again because I jumped out on faith.
What did your mom think about the situation with your ex-manager?
She never said these words, but in her mind, she was like “I told you so,” and that was a fear of mine. If I went to college I wouldn’t have been able to save my mom’s house, to take my sister in, to take care of medical expenses for my father. I helped my brother through private school. If I went to college I wouldn’t have been able to do those things. I think my mom respects that I left with nothing and made something out of myself.
What’s your relationship like with your dad?
It’s not the relationship I would want. Things that I’ve done to women [wouldn’t have happened] if my dad probably would’ve been there and said, “There’s something called generational curses. Let me help you through that,” or “Let me pray over you.” I never had that. When I have a son that’s one of the first conversations I want to have with him, when he’s really able to understand that aspect of life. I don’t want him to go through the battles that I’ve gone through, to hurt a woman like I have. I love my dad — I talk to him every week — but I’m 30 years old, there’s nothing he can teach me as a man.
You can always learn more.
I’m forever learning, but I don’t think there’s anything he can give me. Our relationship is more of a friendship. We don’t talk about anything serious. A lot of the things I know about my dad, my mom told me. But I would love for my father to show that [emotional] side. There are times when I say “I love you pops” and he doesn’t say it back. My mom said he wasn’t always so closed off. He’s definitely not mean, he’s super calm, serious, goofy, but there’s another layer that he refuses to let out. I’ve gotten accustomed to him not showing that side. It’s something that I’m at peace with, but if he wants to open up? Awesome. I just don’t know how to bring it out…maybe one day.
Speaking of single parenting, you caught some heat over an Instagram post on the subject. Can you clarify what you meant?
In so many words, I wrote that I would like to see less single parents and more wives. In my caption I put “men and women” should take accountability. I think a lot of single women took offense to it initially — keep in mind I was raised by a single mother, my last girlfriend was a single parent and I was playing step-dad. I treated her son like mine. She was a packaged deal. I can’t be judgmental because I come from that. I was just saying I’d like to see more queens be married and then have a child. I was advocating for condoms and birth control. I’m not perfect, I’m not sitting here like I made all the right decisions in my sex life, or saying “be like Sammie.” Hell no.
With recent stories about R. Kelly and Usher, do you think that it’s a bad time for male R&B singers?
Are you saying it’s bad because there are rumors being spread about these icons that have been in the business for 20 plus years, or sonically?
A bit of both. People were saying that it basically proves R&B is f*cked up right now since they’re such large artists.
No, that doesn’t mean sh*t about R&B. It shows the state of the generation that we’re in. I don’t know Usher’s personal life, I don’t know R. Kelly’s personal life, neither do the people who were leaving crazy comments [online]. It shows the power of social media. You put [a story] out and people just believe it without merit. I’m saying this because again, I don’t know Usher’s personal life, I don’t know R. Kelly’s personal life, it’s not my business. I have, however, experienced what it’s like to have [the media twist your words] and people take it for gold without proof.
So when you hear stories like that, you generally assume it’s a rumor?
Yeah, it has nothing to do with me. No disrespect to anybody, but I’m so purpose driven, I don’t have time to be worried about rumors about anybody. I grew up on Usher, he’s an idol of mine. I love R. Kelly’s music. I care about me and my brand so I have no opinion on that. I just know that in this generation, it’s easy for anything to be thrown out there. No one does research.
Does that make you scared to share too much on social media?
I’m not scared. I live my life, but I’m aware that I could do something crazy and somebody could pull out a camera and now it’s all over the Internet, and it could ruin my career. Celebrities forget that we’re so accessible, not just on Twitter or Instagram. Anybody can take their phone out whenever they feel like it. You have to be cognizant of that. Live your life, but understand that it’s no more “skeletons in the closet.” It’s all fair game.