I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous about walking up to the front desk at Doppler Studios to ask the receptionist for Keri Hilson. Would I be interrupting a session? What if I was too eary? But as soon as I got to sit down and speak with the tall, leggy and beautiful Miss Hilson, it felt less like an interview and more like a conversation with an old friend who'd just been signed to one of the biggest labels in the United States and worked with some of the hottest producers of our time. Check out this exclusive sit down with Keri Hilson in the studio...
About Keri Hilson & her project
Brian: Okay, so, I just want to stop and say that I'm really a fan of your music, I think you know that I was like, I hit you up on MySpace immediately when I first found out you had a page.
Brian: And you know I've been following your writing for a really long time, so, y'know, I have a lot of friends that are fans. So it's good to sit here and y'know, interview with you.
Keri: Dope, thank you.
Brian: First, I just wanna say, y'know, you have a lot of fans and supporters like I said, who have followed your career with writing, or whatever, for a long time. And so, for people who are out of the loop, just tell a little bit about Keri Lynn Hilson.
Keri: Okay, well, I'm a singer/song-writer. I was born and raised right here in Atlanta. Well, actually, Decatur! I'm an East-Sider. (laughs) Uhm, yeah, Timbaland and Polow did a joint venture at Interscope for my project and it's the only joint venture of such, and yeah, I'm just really excited. They found me as a songwriter. I saw Polow, like at every studio in Atlanta, y'know and just one day he said "A little birdie told me you were dope," or whatever. So he told Tim about me and they decided to do the deal! And here I am...
Brian: That's great. I know that Zone 4, which is Polow's production - his label, they're signed through Interscope? So you're an Interscope artist?
Brian: Okay, great...
Keri: Zone 4 is signed through Interscope and Timbaland's Mosley Music Group is signed through Interscope as well.
Brian: Oh okay, definitely. So tell us a little bit about your upcoming project.
Keri: Well, uhm, first of all, we have no release date as of yet. A lot of people have asked that question, so I've had to clear that up.
Brian: I've asked that question! (laughs)
Keri: Yeah! (laughing) We're working on that. We're actually, now, wrapping up the recording phase... So, uhm, Polow has done a couple more, Tim has done a couple new ones. So I thought it was important to get some fresh stuff, even though I've been signed for almost two years now. So yeah, we're wrapping it up. We're hoping that the single we go with, which is called "Happy Juice," featuring Snoop Dogg & Ludacris... he just jumped on, if you didn't know!
Brian: Oh dope!
Keri: Yeaah! Like a couple days ago... I'm excited about that 'cause I had to - I was like, I need somebody really from Atlanta on this to represent with me, 'cause Snoop is from LA, that'll be a good look out there, 'cause they love Snoop, and everyone in Atlanta loves Luda. Well, everyone everywhere loves Luda. Yeah, so depending on how quick the single picks up, we're looking to be out to release at some point this year.
Brian: Okay, so... you have a title for your album?
Keri: Yeah! It's called "In A Perfect World..."
Brian: Okay. I like that. I like that a lot!
Keri: Thank you!
On music & style
Brian: So, I've read in your bio that you're the self-proclaimed "flower child." Where does that come from?
Keri: Well, I mean, musically I'm a flower child. ‘Cause I really - I have no limits when it comes to me sitting in the studio. I think that comes from the writer's side of me. I just always - there were so many artist I always grew up wanting to write for and I really just - I don't limit myself melodically or subject-wise, or whatever. I think that's where that came from.
Brian: And with that being said, you've worked with A LOT of artists...
Keri: And a lot of different kinds of artists, everybody from the Pussycat Dolls to the most gutter - I've worked with Too $hort, T.I. and like, all of that.
Brian: You've worked with eveeerybody, so with that being said is there anybody you'd like to work with in the future that you've never done anything with before?
Keri: Oh yeah, I would love to write the record the brings Michael Jackson back. And I would like to write the record that brings Lauryn Hill back to the scene. Those are my two...
Brian: Okay, so I've also read that Lauryn Hill is one of the people that y'know, and I've heard from a lot of people, that "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" album is what made me just-
Keri: Man... she was the dopest...
Brian: Yeah. So who are some of your biggest inspirations as a writer and then as an artist, too.
Keri: Okay, as a writer, she would definitely be one. Others include like, Johnta Austin and of course The Clutch, even Timbaland and Missy. Like, they really - well, y'know, that was the music I was the music I was listening to when I was coming up, was Tim and Missy.
Brian: Me too. Always have been a fan.
Keri: Exactly... that whole thing. As an artist, probably the same people. Uhm, Justin [Timberlake] really inspires me, he's a no-holds-bar kind of artist and I like that about him. Let's see... it's a lot of different things. I listen to a lot of different music - Thicke - Robin Thicke, he's super inspiring. Ooh, I was all over his first album.
Brian: His first album... which most people have not heard is really like - I like it - well, I'm not gonna say I like it better, but I like it for different reasons - than I like "The Evolution."
Keri: I'm more attached to it. Exactly.
Brian: I guess this goes along with the whole flower child thing. I would say that you have a pretty unique look that's very distinctive from a lot of the "R&B girls" that are out these days. Just looking at you, you look completely different from what the stereotypical "R&B chick" would look like. So what inspires your look? How do you choose what it is you're going to do as far as...
Keri: (snickers a little bit) See, that's the thing! I don't choose, y'know... I don't know. People have always told me that I have this retro thing about me, and I think that just comes from the music me and my parents used to listen to and I don't know, I'm a tomboy at heart. I used to play balll, I swam, I went to Junior Nationals in swimming when I was like, 14, so I swam for like, 11 years. I think it's more comfort than anything. I just... y'know fly is comfort to me. Fly is being comfortable in your own skin. Not trying to impress anybody, but looking good for yourself. So I think that's where it comes from. I do tend to like vintage things.
Brian: Uh huh... so where do you shop when you're in Atlanta?
Keri: I like the Clothing Warehouse - I like every store in Little 5. That's where I always go. Any event I ever have to go to...
Brian: Me too! I'm surprised I've never seen you.
Keri: Please! Any given day, I was just there the day before yesterday!
Brian: (laughs) Yeah, I'm there often as well... So what does Keri Lynn Hilson do when she's not recording or writing?
Keri: Uhm, playin' ball...
Brian: Really?! You still play ball?
Keri: Yeah, yeah... I do. Or shootin' around, really. Yeah, I just lost like- well, I didn't lose. R. Kelly came in town and he was playing with Polow. And they invited me up to Run & Shoot.
Brian: Uh huh, I was just about to ask- on Metropolitan?
Keri: Yeah, or whatever it's called!
Brian: Right down the street...
keripromo8.jpg Keri: Yeah! So I go up there. And they end up betting on me for a shooting contest with me and this other guy. Well, the bet got up there 'cause he kept losing! He lost the whole way - and you know who you are! (laughing) I was killin' up, right? So, the bet got up to $16,000! Because it was 8,000... well, it went up the 8,000 and then double or nothing again! So, it was up there. And that's the first time I lost in the competition.
Brian: So you was hoopin' on ‘em!
Keri: Yeah! I was murderin'!
Brian: ‘Cause you're tall!
Keri: Yeah... y'know, I'm not- I'm a different breed all together! (both of us laughing) But you can find me... I don't know, I love Tin Pin [Bowling Alley]. I've been there probably 10 times already. I love to bowl, I like active stuff, I like gettin' out and doing something. I'm not a homebody, but those days are good too. Movies and all that...
What's on Keri's iPod?
Brian: Yeah, that's me. Making it a Blockbuster night. (both laughing) So... what's on Keri Lynn's iPod these days? What're you listening to?
Keri: Right now? Rihanna! Really surprising, I like what she came with this time. I felt like it was a good mix of everything that she is and everything that she did on her first couple of albums. This, to me, was... it. Uhm, let's see, who else... Akon! I'm really ridin' with him... uhm, let's see here... who else... lemme think. Oh! R. Kelly's album is the bomb. I love it. I love it to death. And Tank. I just bought Tank...
Brian: Tank's album is really ballad heavy.
Keri: Yeah, but I mean, I expect that. He's one of the greatest vocalists...
Brian: Yeah, I love Tank. I've always been a fan of Tank.
Keri: I've always been a huge fan!
On "Shock Value" & her fans
Brian: Now, you've said you've worked with Timbaland on your album, and I know that you worked with him on his project, "Shock Value," which I personally really like. And critics can be really harsh sometimes when they're talking about albums and stuff like that, but when I was reading a lot of your reviews, I saw that people were really, really impressed with your performance on "The Way I Are," "Scream," "Miscommunication," which is-
Keri: That's the one I hear so much about...
Brian: I remember one review specifically said that "Miscommunication" was probably one of the most complex hooks that they had heard in past decade. They loved it. So, what was your reaction when you heard the positive feedback that people were giving you about your work with Timbaland on the album?
Keri: It's good, it's uhm... (snickering humbly) I don't know! It's a happy, good feeling that people are rollin' with it. ‘Cause critics can be a little harsh, but I did read some of the same things you were talking about and it's good to know that they're rollin' with me, even if something is considered a flop or something is considered not too - y'know, up to par or whatever you wanna say...
Brian: But they liked you!
Keri: They liked me! So that's good to know. At least they're ready for me.
Brian: And that's another thing. I think that people are ready. So I think there's gonna be a couple of people that are gonna be disappointed when they're like, "No release date?!"
Keri: Mmmhm, just be patient! That's one thing I got. 10 years'll do that!
Brian: Right! Okay, so with that being said, not only did the critics like you, I know a lot of readers on ConcreteLoop really are checkin' for you. They like what they've heard so far... "Happy Juice," just any of the songs you've had on your MySpace page. I think they really enjoy that.
Keri: And you would know! ‘Cause you make sure you keep ‘em up! I'm always hearin' "Brian wrote... y'know he mentioned you again!" And I'm just like, dope!
Brian: Yeah, 'cause I just need for people to be abreast about what's going on, what's hot. So do you have anything that you wanna tell your fans? Anything you wanna let them know?
Keri: Thank you for supporting me so early. Y'know, it's not the end... and it's nowhere near the beginning either. So, yeah, I look forward to keeping everybody happy, y'know... I'mma do me...
Brian: Great. I think that's so important. So, what do you attribute most to your success as a writer? Because a lot of people will talk about how they write, especially in Atlanta. You've been on everything, so what do you attribute to the success of Keri as a writer?
Keri: I'd have to say tenacity. Stick-to-it-ness... (laughs) ‘Cause it was never easy. But I keep a lot of connects - a lot of networking going. And I think what it really boils down to is, are you likable? If you're likable, people will mess with you. If you're really difficult in business, they can choose - they'll think twice if they have to work with you again. They're like, "You know what? I don't feel like the headache." So, I think that's what it is. I'm always easy to work with and easy to get along with as a person. So that just carries over into my work. And it's fun! People know that when they have a session with me, it's gonna be a whole lot of fun. ‘Cause I love to laugh and I like the goof off. I don't take myself so seriously. You can't do that.
Brian: And it doesn't work against you that you're extremely talented... That's another thing!
Keri: Awww, thank you...
Brian: So with that being said, as a successful songwriter, do you have any advice for people who are trying to get their foot in the door as far as writing goes? ‘Cause it really is hard. Especially in Atlanta. There's a lot of people that say they wanna do something...
Keri: It's getting very saturated. But I always tell them, like, just stick with what makes you different. Because in an over-saturated market, you cannot just assimilate. You can't write records that sound like Johnta and B. Cox. You have to do your own thing. And that's one thing. Lately, I've been on Dream so hard. Because he never switched it up. He always stayed true to what he did. Y'know, he's the guy that wrote "Umbrella" for Rihanna.
Brian: Uh huh... is he Nivea's husband?
Keri: Yeah! And he just never changed. I've known him for about 6 years now and he's never switched his style. He's always been doing that "Eh! Eh! Eh!" Y'know, always... So I'm really proud of that. I think I'd just love to see more of that. Y'know, people doing their own thing. So I always tell them do that. And also, I meet a lot of writers on MySpace and they're like, "How can I get my music heard? How can I get my music out there?" And I said network! Be where the people who you're trying to be like or among - be where they are, go where they go! Get your connects up! ‘Cause if no one knows you, at the end of the day, no one's going to hear your work... that's the thing about it...
Keri Hilson online!
Brian: Alright, so I've gotta ask this question... Do you read gossip and entertainment blogs, what do you think of them? And if you do read them, which one is your favorite?
Keri: Uhm, well I will say this... 'cause I don't read them religiously. But I'll get there if someone - well, I've been to Concrete Loop more than any of them because someone's always telling me, "Your name is on Concrete Loop!" or "Your song is on Concrete Loop!" And so I go there, but I think they're good to a certain extent. I think it's good to be informative. But even in my case, I've been to others, you have been correct, because you come to the source. So you're straight! But there have been others who have put out some wrong information. So I'm like, if you're gonna do it, why don't you just... contact management, it's not hard! Go to the right MySpace page, go to... y'know, make sure it's...
Brian: Talk it out first!
Keri: Right! (laughs) I mean, I've had all kinds of stuff... like I've worked with people I haven't even met. And I'm like, okay, well, I don't support that. But when it's correct, when it's right, I think it's a good thing. ‘Cause it's providing a lot of exposure for people who won't otherwise have it. Like myself! (laughs)
Brian: So I guess this goes along with that... with the whole Web 2.0, interactive kinda thing, I know that you have a MySpace page... you are on MySpace... I've heard a lot of people say, "Oh, Keri left me a comment!" or "Keri wrote me a message!" or whatever. What's it like to be able to interact with your fans almost directly? People can really just write you and be like, "I love this. I hate this. When is this coming out? Can you please release this?" What is that like to be able to get that direct feedback because at one point in time, artist really didn't know what people thought about their music directly, because they weren't speaking directly with fans.
Keri: Exactly. I mean, and that to me is the best thing about it. That you're getting their opinion first hand. People are very honest. They'll let you know what they like or if they don't like something. And what they like better, or who they're really on!
Brian: Oh, we know that via Concrete Loop! (laughs)
Keri: (laughing) Exactly! So I think it's really cool, so I actually do go through my e-mails and I do it myself. You'll never get an e-mail through my account. Now I have fakes - there are a couple fake Keri's out there. But mine, I'm writing. You'll never get that from someone else or someone at my label. I do have someone that accepts my friend requests, 'cause that gets to be -
Brian: ...Out of control.
Keri: Oh my God! But the e-mails and stuff, I'm the only person I let touch those. I think it's good, 'cause y'know, it's like you said, it's nice to get that feedback and it's nice to know. ‘Cause when you're in the studio, you're creating music for perfect strangers. You're creating music for... ghosts, damn near! You're just hoping they like it, but you're doing you. So to put that out there, and really get feedback, and see what people are on, y'know, see who's in everybody's top 8! Who are they listening to, what do they like! You get that direct. And that's something, like you said, artists didn't always have that luxury to talk directly with random people, random fans! A lot of artists have "yes" people around them, and that's who they listen to and that was their demise... so...
Now it's time to say goodbye...
Brian: Very true. Alright, Keri, well, I just wanna thank you for this interview. You're great. I can't wait until the project comes out, I'm really excited to hear whatever you've been working on, the new stuff. I'm so happy for you on Timbaland's album, glad about all that positive feedback about you. So, I hope to see you soon.
Keri: You will, you will!
Brian: I'm sure I'll see you around.
Keri: Yeah, just stay tuned! Hit me on MySpace and yeah, just look out... Like I said, just be patient! ‘Cause I've waited a very, very, very long time. Like, I get e-mails and people are so anxious. And I'm like, "Hey, hey, hey... just calm down!"
Brian: You've waited longer than we have! (laughing)
Keri: Hey! Exactly! So when it comes, just trust it's gonna be right, it's not gonna be rushed, it's going to be everything I've always wanted to say on one album, so, yeah...
Brian: Alright, so go check out Keri on myspace.com/kerihilson.
Keri: And spell it right! K-E-R-I-H-I-L-S-O-N!
Brian: Or you can go to her official website, which is kerihilson.com!
Brian: So make sure you hit her up.
Keri: Alright! Bye ya'll!