Eric Bellinger is feeling the good vibrations currently rippling throughout his career. When we connect by phone, he has a new album out—“Eric B For President: Term 3”—an upcoming World Tour livestream, and a Black Friday sale of new products and merch. “The World Tour is actually a live show and it’s not pre-recorded. I’ll be able to stop, read comments and talk to fans,” he says. If you’re wondering how Eric has time for everything, it appears his busy life is all part of his plan. “I spread myself so thin, but it’s worth it,” he says. “I’m setting myself up for greatness as I continue down this path.” Throughout our conversation, Eric reflects on life before music, discovering weed, and achieving success through trusting himself.
I’d read that you turned down a football scholarship to pursue music. Was music always the path?
Eric Bellinger: I definitely wanted to play in the NFL, that was my dream as a kid. I ended up hurting my knee in the 605 All-Star Game right before college, and at the same time, was offered a [record] deal from Epic Records. I had to make a decision whether to go through with the rehab process or try out a recording deal with a label who already wanted us to tour. [Music] was something new, so I went for it.
While I grew up singing in church, I never thought music would be my career. Once I took that deal though, I fell in love with it, and the more success we had, the more I was happy I didn’t have to [put on the pads] and get hit anymore.
How did the record deal come about?
Eric Bellinger: I’d auditioned for an R&B group, and at the time, B2K had just broken up. We got signed to their same label and the plan was for us to eventually be the new B2K. But then our group broke up, before we could even get released.
I hopped on another group for eight years and eventually decided to pursue the solo thing, but was really loyal to the group because of what I’d learned from football. It taught me to look out for your brothers, to be there for them no matter what and to never leave them behind. I was trying to be loyal to people who weren’t being loyal to me. Once I told [the group] I was out, I got signed to Sony for my writing and publishing, and the writing really skyrocketed. A lot of my driving force was to show [my former groupmates] they messed with the wrong one. I wanted to kill them with kindness. I wanted my revenge to be me showing them my success.
I’d learned so much from the group, which is why I’ve never really bashed them. The manager was a good manager as far as teaching us things, and I appreciated the artistic development. I think that’s why I’ve catered and geared my label—YFS—toward artist development first and foremost. I really believe in building talent from the ground up. That’s the only way that I know that actually works, because we did it with me. The longer route is definitely the stronger route.
In some ways, things are coming full circle in that you had a mentor in Erika Nuri and are now giving back to other artists.
Eric Bellinger: Erika Nuri is my saving grace and guardian angel. When I was in junior high school, I used to have this service where I’d sing on people’s voicemails. I ended up leaving a singing voicemail for someone whose godmother was Erika. At the time, Erika was Babyface’s A&R, and she started calling her goddaughter like, “Who is that singing on your voicemail?” So I’d known Erika since then and she’d been trying to get me to pursue music, but I never did. Finally in 2010, I told her I was ready to try new things and that’s how I started writing. [Erika] got me signed to Sony and helped me understand how to write.
Was there another gear shift once you started to focus more on your own writing and performing?
Eric Bellinger: I dropped the mixtape “Born II Sing” just to let people know that I was by myself, so a lot of the songs on Volume 1 were songs that maybe I’d demoed, but didn’t write, or were songs that I’d written for [someone like] Trey Songz but he didn’t take. Or I’d written a song for Usher and he didn’t like it. I just had ten songs and was like, “We’re using these songs ourselves,” and we put out a project.
As time progressed, writing for other artists got to a point where I felt like I wasn’t being appreciated for the work I was putting into the sessions. It got to a place where I was like, “I’m the first one in, the last to leave, I’m giving you hit songs,” but nobody was trying to throw me a lob. The fact that producers were getting paid upfront and writers were not getting paid upfront didn’t help either. So you have to imagine, I’m writing songs, the artists are going crazy making money and getting booked for the songs that I’m writing, the producers are getting upfront fees and I’m not getting anything. At the same time, a lot of A&Rs were like, “Yo, you’re singing too much, these artists can’t sing like that, you gotta chill when you send us these demos.” And then it was like, “Why don’t you release it? Just put it out.” So we did.
We put out “I Don’t Want Her” in 2014, and that song really skyrocketed. Then we started getting invited to perform internationally. It was sort of like [success] made the choice for me and we had to transition and focus on me, focus on Eric Bellinger.
And you were prepared to take that next step, unafraid of what the outcome would be.
Eric Bellinger: When you’re a songwriter, you’re really pouring into someone else’s life, and it takes a piece of your life. I’m spending my soul. The things and life lessons that I’ve learned, I’m giving you that. [Those life lessons] are more expensive than my time. My experiences that I’m writing about, I’m blessing you. If you don’t seem to appreciate it, I’m out.
Chris Brown was like, “When are we doing a song for you? I got this song ‘Type of Way,’ I think it’s crazy.” Normally, I’m giving the songs out. That’s what I do. He gave me a song. To me, that was huge. It was a blessing. Feeling that feeling was like, “Damn, this is how people feel [when someone gives them a song]? That’s crazy.” Shoutout to Chris for being one of the few to really reach back and be like, “We gotta do something for you, too.” And not only do the song, but do the video. And not only do the video, but make sure to post it on his socials. And when I suggested we do a Spanish version, he hopped on the Spanish version. We’ve got a Spanish version of “Type of Way” with Chris Brown and Yandel—one of the bigger Latin artists—that we haven’t even put it out yet! So yeah, things like that, iron sharpens iron—I can get behind. But if it’s a one-sided thing? I can’t keep giving you my all.
How is cannabis a part of your life?
Eric Bellinger: If I’m not high, I’m just quiet. In fact, I’m high right now. When I’m lit, I let down this guard of “politically correct Eric” because of how I was raised. I’m a spitting image of my mom and she is the most conservative person you will ever meet. With me having that vibe, in the world we live in today…that’s not the vibe. And I was on that vibe for a long time. But once I started smoking, I was like, “Oh. I’m even happier.” You think I’d be telling you all this if I wasn’t high?
I definitely love weed and it’s a shame it was frowned upon for so long. As I said, I’m the most conservative and didn’t start smoking until like three years ago. People that are around me now who see how much I smoke are like, “There’s no way.” Back in the day, people would come to my studio and they couldn’t smoke in the studio. The smell isn’t the most attractive smell if you don’t smoke, and I didn’t want anybody leaving their bags and remnants lying around.
Now, when I go to the studio and they say “No smoking,” do you understand the way I look at them? I have to walk outside when the beat is on loop inside? You want me to remember this beat outside and you want me to come up with a smash outside? I can’t smoke and be high and listen to the music at the same time? What?!
Creatively, what inspired your new record, “Eric B For President: Term 3” and how does it differ from your previous work?
Eric Bellinger: On this record, I really wanted to tab back into the R&B that I gave people on “The Rebirth” album. It’s the R&B that a lot of my main fans love. I hadn’t recorded that [style] in a long time and I wanted to come back with the R&B heavy, but at the same time, I’d grown and progressed in my talents. I knew it was going to have to be better R&B than before and that there needed to be some evolution and people needed to hear some growth.
Regarding your growth, how did marriage and children impact you as an artist?
Eric Bellinger: At first, I was worried about it. I didn’t know what to expect. I was so used to “R&B singers are single, you take the girls back to the hotel.” [Laughs] That’s not necessarily what I was on, but that was the stereotype behind it all. So when I said I was going to get married, everyone around me was like, “Yo, you’re buggin’. That’s not what R&B is. Your swag will be gone.” I was like, “You’re telling me I can’t love someone? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” So I said, “Cool. I’m gonna do it even harder, just to show you [being married] doesn’t matter.”
I’ve never been one to chase what most people are after. If everyone goes right, I go left. If everyone’s going left, I’m going right. No matter what, if the train’s going crazy I’m deleting the post—even if I posted it first—because I don’t want it to look like I’m part of the bandwagon. I really see myself and challenge myself to be an innovator and to be a pioneer.
My first album [after being married] was “Cuffing Season,” and I put [me and my wife] on the cover. That was pretty bold, but I didn’t care. I work off what I feel in my spirit and in my heart and I stay true to it. When the music came out, it was one of my biggest projects. Once people were able to see it work, see the music videos and all the things we were talking about on the songs—like how being single is overrated—once people saw it and once we had a tour, people were able to see that things were still the same, if not even crazier. Because now, there was a tangible example of someone who really believes in family and being an R&B singer. There was someone doing it, and therefore, it was possible.
Follow @ericbellinger and check out his new album “Eric B For President: Term 3” now available everywhere