It’s been a lengthy hiatus, but a familiar face with a signature sound is marking his return to the music scene. The music that super producer, songwriter, singer Paul Laurence created during the ‘80s has transcended decades to become the soundtrack of many of our lives, from romantic interludes to party jams. Laurence is most known for his work on hits like Stephanie Mills’ “(You’re Putting) A Rush on Me” and Evelyn King’s number one hit back in the summer of 1981, “I’m in Love.” The ‘80s would not have been complete without Freddie Jackson’s Laurence-produced and penned tracks like “Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times Sake),” “Tasty Love,” and “Jam Tonight.”
Laurence also stepped in front of the mic as an artist, signing with Capitol Records in the ‘80s. He released his debut album Haven’t You Heard in 1985. Singles such as “She’s Not a Sleaze” featuring Freddie Jackson and Lillo Thomas, “Strung Out,” “Make My Baby Happy,” and “I Ain’t Wit It” revealed that Laurence had the Midas touch for creating timeless music.
Laurence made the decision to walk away from the industry for several decades, but he’s back in the studio and creating new music that he hopes sets a new precedence for the industry going forward. His new single, “Go On and Dance,” is a departure from his signature R&B sound, but merges two different genres together for a musical journey to caress the ears of music lovers.
SoulTrain.com caught up with Paul Laurence to discuss his reentry into the music industry at a time when some claim R&B is on life support, and his thoughts on resurrecting the genre.
SoulTrain.com: What has been the biggest highlight of your career?
Paul Laurence: There are so many, but I would have to say the first time I heard my music on the radio. There’s nothing like hearing it for the first time. It was the song I did with Evelyn King called “I’m in Love.” I never get credit for it, but I was there. I did work on it.
SoulTrain.com: You took a 30 year break from the industry. Why did you take a step back? Why come back into the fold now, especially when music has changed so much?
Paul Laurence: At the time I had this illusion. Then I started working in the industry and everything that I thought about how it would be, none of it was true. So once it really set in I thought, well, I need to re-evaluate my life. People were ripping you off, taking your credits and all of that. So, I thought let me step back and raise my family and have a life. I didn’t see the need to jump right back in it immediately. One of the reasons I’m coming back now is I missed it. It’s also all I know how to do. The kids are grown now, so what can you do? If I still have an audience, I might as well see what’s happening now.
SoulTrain.com: Does the way the industry is now deter you at all?
Paul Laurence: That’s another thing—I want to see what is happening now.
SoulTrain.com: When you decided to get back into the industry and work on a new project, did you go in already with a set theme or idea that you wanted to zero in on?
Paul Laurence: I would like to tell you yes, but no, actually it’s a theory. For me, I like that the industry is wide open, but I also don’t like starting back out having to do it all. Doing it all is not my strength, but y’all aren’t listening to me, so I have to give my all to get back into the industry. Since they are saying the industry is the wild, wild, west, it’s really up to me to make it happen. But for this project, I really just did several singles. I would be depressed to put out a whole project and people only liked one or two songs (laughs).
SoulTrain.com: Talk about the first single.
Paul Laurence: It’s called “Go On and Dance.” It’s an instrumental that is my attempt at electronic dance music or EDM; but it has an R&B flavor to it. The reason I say that is because I slow it down. I’m basically creating my own space with this, you’ll still be able to dance to it.
SoulTrain.com: How many singles are you going to release?
Paul Laurence: I’m not putting a number on it. If the first one doesn’t work, I am already working on a couple more. If the instrumental tanks, then well, I’m not Tyrese but I better start singing! (laughs) So whatever sticks, that’s what I’ll go with.
SoulTrain.com: Will you stick with the formula of electronic dance music mixed with R&B on the singles that you do decide to sing on?
Paul Laurence: I’m actually working on some straight R&B songs. Depending on what works, then I might.
SoulTrain.com: What are your thoughts on the R&B genre today? Tyrese has issued several challenges asking artists to make a true R&B album and there have been several released prior to his challenge, but do you think artists have to be challenged in order to put out music in a genre that people keep saying is on life support?
Paul Laurence: Here’s my take on things: The younger cats don’t know R&B. They think they know. Michael Jackson, who was already a superstar, figured out that in order for him to go to the next level, he needed someone who knows this, so he went to Quincy Jones. He understood that he needed to get past that ceiling that was already there from his time with the Jacksons. He needed to grow and pull in someone who knew what they were doing. That’s what I think is wrong with R&B—the youngsters need to reach back for producers like Timmy Allen, Kashif, and even myself. The combination would be deadly. Either they don’t know that or they aren’t thinking that way. Quincy was my age now when he started working with Michael. That’s the thing, they don’t know the history. They think just because they can sing they know it all. Really, they just know what they know right now, they don’t know the history or what R&B really is. To me, that’s the problem with R&B.
SoulTrain.com: What’s your definition of R&B?
Paul Laurence: Real blues; it’s about the stories. When it was coined it was Rhythm & Blues. People had something to say. Today, the song is about they want a girl and what they want to do to her and that’s what the entire song is about. There’s no story. Stories are what is missing in R&B today. When Michael got with Quincy, he guided him by saying if you want to end up with love, have a story with it. Songs today are about what they are going to do to someone in detail and that’s it.
SoulTrain.com: What else would you say is lacking in today’s music?
Paul Laurence: Real commitment to the music. To me, a lot of songs today, if you hear the first three or four bars, then you’ve heard the entire song. Then you wonder why people aren’t buying the music, well you aren’t taking them on a ride, you have already given it to them in those first four bars. Its five minutes of that. A lot of songs just don’t take you anywhere anymore.
SoulTrain.com: What would you say would make a great producer/songwriter in today’s industry?
Paul Laurence: I guess someone that understands that they don’t do it all. They aren’t great at everything, but they are able to pull in the best of what’s available. The problem with today is just because you can sing, doesn’t mean you are a great songwriter. They may think just because they can play a little bit of an instrument that they don’t need anyone’s help. They start thinking they can go to the store and buy their own recording setup. I don’t need a producer, I can just push this button on my own. So you really have to understand your strengths and if someone else is bigger and better, then pull them in to help you. It’s that simple.
SoulTrain.com: What artists would you have loved to work with or would love to work with?
Paul Laurence: Of course Michael Jackson but since that can’t happen, for a present day artist, I’d have to say Tyrese.
SoulTrain.com: Looking back on your career as an artist, what would your favorite song be?
Paul Laurence: Probably “Sue Me.”That was a song I wrote for Earth, Wind, & Fire, and at the last minute it didn’t work out. The reason it didn’t work out was because Maurice couldn’t get past the “Sue Me”part. He said he loved the song but he wanted to change it to something else like “Soothe Me.”
SoulTrain.com: How about your favorite as a producer?
Paul Laurence: I think my favorites would be the Lillo Thomas projects because I learned a lot from them. It was my testing ground to see what would work. His projects were my favorite even though they didn’t do the numbers.
SoulTrain.com: Will the two of you work together again in the future?
Paul Laurence: No. Not saying there is any animosity or anything, I just don’t want to go backwards. Now I do have a couple of songs that I did for Freddie Jackson that may come out that I’ll probably update. I just feel like that time has passed and I would be sticking myself back into a box of 30 years ago and I’m just trying to get back into the industry with my own stuff. I have a young artist now and we have a project that’s pretty much finished, but I’m just waiting for the right time and I’ll release it on my own label. It’s called Poplar Music Entertainment Group, which is also how I’m releasing my own music.
SoulTrain.com: How do you spot talent? If someone wanted you to sign them to your label what would they need to do?
Paul Laurence: I don’t know if I can explain it as far as spotting talent. I just know it when I see it. At this point, I’m not actively soliciting artists, but there will be a time in the future when I am.
SoulTrain.com: TV One’s Unsung just recently celebrated their 100th episode, and you were featured in Freddie Jackson’s story. Can we expect a Paul Laurence Unsung in the future?
Paul Laurence: I wouldn’t want to do Unsung. If they wanted to do my story as an artist, yes I would do it. But, as a producer, I don’t feel like my career is unsung. I still feel like I have stuff to do.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Five, Creative Loafing, Carolina Style Magazine, Uptown Magazine, Sheen Magazine, WEtv.com, or her own websites, www.themofochronicles.com and www.conversationswithmeik.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @mofochronicles.