By Tamone Bacon with additional reporting by Joncier "Ms. Boogie" Rienecker
Hailing from a musically-inclined family, it is no surprise that JR Hutson has taken the music world by storm over the past two decades. Through his work with great artists – such as Jill Scott, Lalah Hathaway, and Musiq Soulchild – it is clear that he has spawned his own melodic imprint.
Hutson recently spoke with Playback about his Chicago upbringing, his greatest lesson learned, and a potential solo album.
You have been a force in the music industry since the '90s. What is your take on how the industry has changed in regards to musical content, technological advances, and artist development?
The industry is different now. Artists are more empowered. A lot of weight is being taken off the middleman and artists are now able to be more creative.
I read that early in your career, you were able to work with Teddy Riley. What is the greatest lesson that you learned from him?
When I first worked with him I was very young and I learned a lot. He taught me about the business, how to set up a company, and how to stay inspired. Most importantly, he taught me about the sonics of music and how to make music that sounds good to the ear. That was definitely one of the greatest lessons I learned from him.
I also read that you were from Chicago. How has Chicago influenced your artistry?
Chicago has a rich history of artists and musicians that really keep the city in their music. For example, Kanye West has a rich foundation of soul music, which I think comes from the fact that he's from Chicago. The same goes for me. My father was another example of staying true to soul music. He was a popular artist and his stylings stayed true to the rich foundation that he got from his Chicago-based roots.
Speaking of your father, Leroy Hutson, I read that he was a member of the Impressions and your mother was an opera singer. How was it growing up in the Hutson household?
It was great. We had creative freedom, access, and a wealth of knowledge in regards to music. Not only would my parents play music, they would also take it a step further and break the music down for us. My whole family has what we like to call, "high maintenance ears." We won't listen to just anything. The bar was set high as far as music was concerned.
Aside from being a songwriter and producer, I also read that you are a vocalist. Which do you enjoy most?
Producing. Absolutely. I'd rather be in the studio creating. I've experienced the buzz of being on stage, but I'd definitely say that my love for producing exceeds that.
Thus far, what is the greatest accomplishment in your career?
I'd have to say that the greatest accomplishment for me is the success of Jill Scott's The Light of the Sun. The album debuted at number one and the first single spent 24 weeks at number one. Being a part of that process was an awesome experience. I'm really proud of that album.
How was your experience working with Jill Scott?
Jill is unbelievable. I think she's the greatest. Her dedication to her craft is uncanny. She gives one hundred percent with every aspect of her artistry. She's a well-rounded and believable artist. If it doesn't feel real to her, she doesn't do it. We have a great time whenever we work together. We spent time cultivating the overall groove for the album. The entire process was organic and flowed like water. It's a wonderful thing to have that creative chemistry with an artist.
Most recently, you worked with Lalah Hathaway on the tracks, "Small of My Back" and "Wrong Way" for her newly released album, Where It All Begins. How did the collaboration with Lalah come about?
It's crazy how things work out. We were both being told by a lot of different people that we should work together. We have a mutual friend at ASCAP named Alisha Davis who was very instrumental in finally getting us together. Funny thing is, her [Lalah's] dad and my dad were roommates at Howard [University] and they both wrote his [Donny Hathaway's] song, "The Ghetto," together. Lalah and I getting together was a long time in the making!
What is your next project?
Possibly going back in the studio with Jill. I've done some records on Carl Thomas' upcoming project. I've been working with a new artist signed to Capitol Records named Josiah Bell, as well as Treasure Davis. I did three records on Kendrick Lamar's upcoming release. I'm also developing my artist Dezi Paige and we're currently putting her project together.
Is there a JR Hutson album on the horizon?
You know what? Everybody's been asking me that same question. I guess I need to go and put something out. I've been secretly working on some stuff, so we'll see.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
I wouldn't change what I've told myself in the past: stay focused, determined and enjoy every moment!