Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Taio Cruz: Comes clean

Taio Cruz
Taio Cruz Taio Cruz Taio Cruz Taio Cruz

Having recently seen his BRIT-nominated single âBreak Your Heartâ repeat its UK chart-topping success by prestigiously making a record-breaking leap to Number One in the US Hot 100, London-raised singer/songwriter/ producer Taio Cruz now returns with the darker, synth-driven grooves of his naughty new UK Top 10 single âDirty Pictureâ. Which - taken from his Top 15 LP âRokstarrâ - also features vocal input from internationally-chart-topping new American pop princess Kesha.

Dubbed by critics âa toss-up between Babyface, Justin Timberlake and John Legendâ, Taio was born in April 1983 in the UK to a Nigerian father and Brazilian mother. Going on to attend school in rural Sussex, his love of the Eighties pop/dance of Madonna and Michael Jackson soon became evident during music classes where heâd spend his time picking out tunes on the piano. Recording his first demos as a teenager, Cruz began taking his songs and productions more seriously during his college years - resulting in him impressively signing a US publishing deal at just 18 years old!

Meanwhile, with his talents by this time already acknowledged by such high-profile US producers as Dallas Austin (Madonna/TLC) and âTrickyâ Stewart (Rihanna/Mariah Carey), 2006 saw an ever-ambitious Cruz setting up his own company Rokstarr Music (hence the title of his current LP!), through which he released his debut single âI Just Wanna Knowâ .Which in turn led to him signing an unprecedented joint-venture record deal with two Universal Music companies (Island in the UK; Universal Republic in the US), following which he eventually released in Britain his 2008 debut album âDepartureâ - which impressively spawned three UK Top 20 singles (âCome On Girlâ; âLike A Starâ; âI Can Beâ).

Meanwhile, with his impressive past CV also including a BRIT Award for co-penning British pop idol Will Youngâs chart-topper âYour Gameâ plus ongoing US writing/production work for the likes of Britney Spears, Usher, and Justin Timberlake, 2009 found Cruz solidifying his emergence as one of Britainâs most in-demand producers further by writing two UK Top Three smashes for grime MC Tinchy Stryder (âTake Me Backâ; plus the Number One âNever Leave Youâ).

Accomplished all-rounder Taio now reacquaints himself with Pete Lewis. As he happily discusses, in soft-spoken tones, his aforementioned new single; its accompanying current album âRokstarrâ; his chart-topping US success; plus his Rockstarr fashion and accessories brand.

PETE: Letâs start by discussing your naughty new Top 10 single âDirty Pictureâ

TAIO: âFunnily enough, itâs like it kinda came outta nowhere really. I basically just wanted to create a song that had a fun, electro-sounding beat. So I started producing a track with Fraser T. Smith, and it came out with this really cool, dirty bass-line. So I started saying âdirtyâ⦠And, as I was mumbling this line - like I do when Iâm trying to write a song - the words âdirty pictureâ just CAME to me! So, because I thought that was kind of a cool topic, I just started writing the song AROUND it. And thatâs how âDirty Pictureâ came into existence!â

PETE: The song features now-chart-topping US pop princess Kesha, who was unknown at the time you chose her for the trackâ¦

TAIO: âWell, I heard her single âTik Tokâ before it was released, and I just really liked how she sounded. I felt her voice was very unique and easily identifiable, and that she was going to do really well. So I thought Iâd put her on âDirty Pictureâ - and she just fitted PERFECTLY! To me she sort of made the song come to life, and we were just happy all-round with it. And then, when she called and said she wanted to put a version of it on her OWN album (âAnimalâ) as well, I just thought for that version it would be awesome for her to sing the first verse. Because it would give her fans a little bit more of HER on the song. And, as I expected, she did an amazing job!â

PETE: So how do you feel about your record-breaking, chart-topping US success with âBreak Your Heartâ?

TAIO: âI mean, the record-breaking thing I canât explain at all. But, in terms of the record itself being successful, I really just think itâs down to it being a good song that people liked, enjoyed and went out and BOUGHT! And, as far as getting (US chart-topping rapper) Ludacris on the American version, heâs on Def Jam - which I am now too in America. So we called him and asked him to be on the track. And he called us back saying that he really loved it, that he thought it was a hit song⦠And so he decided to put his VOICE down on it! Simple as that!â

PETE: Whatâs the experience of cracking America been like?

TAIO: âI was over there for a month just recently and Iâm going back again next month. And Iâd say thereâs at least quadruple - if not QUINTUPLE - the amount of work to do over there compared to the UK! Thereâs just so many more radio stations, so many more people to meet and speak to, so many more shows to perform⦠So weâre doing as much work as possible and trying to fulfil our obligations as best we can. I mean, the album weâre releasing over there as âRockstarrâ is a bit of a mixture of the first album (2008âs âDepartureâ), the UK version of âRokstarrâ, plus a couple of new songs. So yeah, itâs really cool - and hopefully the US will enjoy it and go out and buy it!â

PETE: So what are the plans currently for your Rokstarr brand - best known to date for its sunglasses?

TAIO: âWeâre currently looking to expand the brand and possibly go into things like watches. Iâve also got a new subsidiary of Rokstarr called âRok By Rokstarrâ. And weâve just started doing things like jeans and T-shirts, and stuff that more of the fans of Taio Cruz can buy. Because, with Rokstarr in itself being quite expensive, a lot of the kids out there who want to buy Rokstarr things canât actually AFFORD them. So weâre bringing in stuff thatâs a little bit more High Street and more affordable. Then, with regards to the Rokstarr record label, weâve signed some producers called The Arcade who feature on the song âBest Girlâ on the âRokstarrâ album. You know, theyâre awesome producers who are definitely doing some amazing things. Plus weâre also always looking for new ARTISTS. Itâs just that we havenât found anyone yet that we think is like that unbelievable or amazing.â

PETE: With your music being so diverse, how do you feel about still being generally labelled âan R&B artistâ?

TAIO: âI just personally like to call things exactly what they are. So, while to me the music thatâs on âRokstarrâ isnât R&B music, it seems easy for people to put it into that box for whatever reason they choose to DO that. I mean, I feel like if I made the same music as Kesha, theyâd still call what Iâm making âR&Bâ and what Kesha makes âpopâ. Which to me is silly, because itâs all the same MUSIC! You know, if you listen to âDonât Stop The Musicâ by Rihanna, then to âJust Danceâ by Lady GaGa, then to âBreak Your Heartâ, and then to âTik Tokâ by Kesha - youâll hear those records are in the same GENRE. Yet for various reasons, they all get called different things. Whereas in my opinion, the music thatâs popular at the moment - the music that Iâve made, and that Jay Seanâs made, thatâs rocked America - is basically just a very dance-influenced sort of pop music.â

Taioâs single âDirty Picture feat. Keshaâ and album âRokstarrâ are both out now through Island Records Group. The single âDynamiteâ follows on August 23

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