“I’d be in the hood, I’d be trying to make it doing something probably illegal with my homeboys or something like that, so I’m at a point where I gotta follow my heart,” Bernard Flowers says in his charming Southern drawl. The passion and longing in his voice is akin to something out of a romance movie. However, he’s talking about something, not someone, that truly gets his heart revving. Something that he has several tattoos dedicated to. Something that has been there through the highs and lows of his life.
“If it was wasn’t for music, I wouldn’t be nowhere.”
As I sit in our editor-in-chief’s glass-encased office, I periodically peep the wall art of VIBE’s most memorable covers scattered around in giant picture frames. While looking around and talking to the Memphis-bred musician via a cellular convo, I keep thinking about how I may be speaking to the next big thing, and by the sound of his self-assured aplomb and his soulful voice, the 23-year-old R&B singer is well on his way to meeting our expectations.
After being signed to Epic Records under the tutelage of legendary producer L.A. Reid, Flowers has released the single “This Feeling,” which has already seen radio rotation despite not having a strong press push surrounding it.
“Once I wrote ‘This Feeling,’ I knew it was a hit,” he says. “I knew I had a different aura about myself when I left the studio that day, I was like man, I think I made a hit!” The song fuses R&B and hip-hop cohesively, showcasing Flowers’ soulful pipes as he expresses his feelings for a hypnotizing woman over a trap-style beat.
“When I made ‘This Feeling’ I didn’t only do it for myself,” he explains of his writing process. “I wrote that in a way in which everybody out here can relate. From the smallest person to the tallest person, they’re gonna feel something. Every verse, I’m gonna say at least one thing out of that 12 or 16 bars that’s gonna make you say, ‘I feel what he’s talkin’ bout. I feel Bernard.’”
The overnight success, however, did not come easily. After moving to Atlanta after high school to pursue his music career, Flowers admitted that having to perform in amateur night concerts was something that bruised his pride because the scope of his dreams stretched much further.
“I was doing these showcases, I hated ’em, because I thought I was better than everybody as far as the music,” he says with a laugh. “But it humbled me, you know what I mean? I was doing a lot of showcases, indie artists, but I wanted it so bad, so I would have performed at a corner store if I had to, you know?” What brought him back down to earth and persuaded him to keep pushing forward was the thought of helping his family, who he says have supported his dreams of pursuing music since the age of nine. He also dreamt of creating a life for himself outside of Memphis.
“I left so much behind, I would be a fool to give up,” he says with conviction. “I left this city [Memphis] when I was 20 years old, and if I woulda gave up, I woulda gave all that time back to society. I woulda gave all that time back to the universe and I woulda got nothing out of it. I couldn’t quit. Quit for what? I would rather die than quit.”
From what Flowers describes, about four or five months later, he was asked to come by Epic Records in New York City to meet with L.A. Reid. However, during the initial meeting with the producer, his excitement seemed to have gotten the best of him. “It probably was so overwhelming that it was underwhelming, because I was just so happy.” When he was asked to meet for the second time at Epic, he made sure to keep it real, sonically and spiritually.
“The second time that I went, everything that I did came from the heart, and that’s what got me in the situation I’m in right now,” he says before diving into his inner monologue from the day he became a part of the label. “They’re interested, I’m gonna sign, and I’m gonna be one of the best artists they ever signed. Because this opportunity is the chance of a lifetime.”
“My initial reaction was like, yo, you did it, now go do some more. You ain’t did enough, go do some more,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of people who ain’t never ever gonna make it out of Memphis. Every day I meet a lot of people. When I go on planes, when I go to L.A., when I go to New York, they’re like, “Bro, you’re hope for the streets.”
His determination, passion and obvious love for music has the power to take him very far, but for him, his honesty is what will resonate most of all with listeners and fans.
“I have to talk about something. I have to talk about a feeling,” he begins, the passion in his voice raising with each syllable. “I have to talk about something that’s undeniable. The undeniable truth. That’s what my music is nowadays. At first, I was making words rhyme. Now, I’m putting my truth in rhymes and it’s coming out how it’s coming out.”
His candid nature also comes in the form of a mini-documentary he created entitled “The Escape,” which is centered around showing fans where he came from and instilling hope in those who aim to be at the top of their games.
“Be yourself, be humble, be motivated, be dedicated, and be a leader,” he explains, stressing how he hopes to inspire others to do the same. “I lead the line. I can’t be second, I can’t be third…I’m a leader. And I wanna inspire people to be a leader.”
So, where does Bernard Flowers hope to see himself in the future? One goal is to have a strong debut album under his belt, a la Nelly’s Country Grammar, to solidify himself in the industry. More importantly, he’s hoping to transcend what it means to be a musician.
“I wanna be on my way to being an icon, like, not even questionable,” he says with a chuckle. “There are certain names where you’re like, if he’s not, he will be. That’s where I wanna be in five years. With this position I have, I can’t sit back. I’m just passionate and I’m just so motivated to be the best. You know what I mean? That’s who I am. That’s who they saw that day they signed me. I wanna be an icon, or on my way in five years. I wanna have a cult following. I want the Bernard Hive! I want a BeyHive, Future Hive! [laughs] I want people to wanna fight people for saying my music ain’t good, and that’s what I’m gonna get.”