Ryan Toby: Time To Shine

After he emerged as an actor/singer alongside Lauren Hill in the hit 1993 motion picture Sister Act II, Ryan Toby’s career has since soared to heights that have given him incredible status as a multi-platinum, award winning singer and songwriter. A former member of the group City High, Ryan has made some major moves behind the scenes, and is now set to drop his solo debut album, Soul Of A Songwriter.

Ryan has written songs over the last decade for a variety of artists, including Will Smith, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Brian McKnight, Chris Brown and even Lionel Richie. He has proven that his pen has the power to make a hit. He recently started his own imprint, Overflow Entertainment, with his wife – and also former City High member – Claudette Ortiz. Ryan took some time out to set the record straight about his past, and tell us about all of the moves he’s making now.

Allhiphop.com Alternatives: You’ve been low key for some time now. Has that been by choice?

Ryan: Actually, yes. After City High disbanded in 2003, I just started focusing on my writing. I’ve been a writer for a long time. A lot of people didn’t know I wrote “Miami” for Will Smith, all of City High singles, and a host of other songs. I got my first gold record when I was 16-years-old when I wrote “Joyful Joyful” for the Sister Act II Soundtrack. God blessed me with a hot pen, and when [City High] didn’t work, I just fell back on writing. It paid the bills for a long time, and people weren’t even aware of that.

AHHA: I’ve seen that you have worked with an array of artists. Which experience has been the most interesting thus far?

Ryan: The most interesting artist, and what I consider the highlight of my career, was being able to work with Lionel Richie. Don’t get me wrong – working with Will Smith, Usher, and Mary J. Blige they are phenomenal talents, and I also felt privileged to work with them. But being able to write a song for Lionel Richie, one of the greatest songwriters of all time, who is worth 300 million dollars in song publishing… For me as a young songwriter, meeting him is like a young ball player meeting Michael Jordan.

Lionel Richie is one of the best that ever did it and I wrote a song for him. I coached him through the vocals, and told him how it was supposed to go and I sang all the backgrounds. He was just very enthused to work with me. He was very humble. He told me, “Thank You, I appreciate you coming,” and I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me? This is Lionel Richie a living legend…I’m trying to do what you have already done as far as being recognized as a world wide artist and a singing and songwriting sensation.” I can imagine my experience was some what similar to R. Kelly’s when he began to work with Ronald Isley and the Isley Brothers.

AHHA: So what’s the name of the song that you worked on with him?

Ryan: The name of the song is “Missing Her.” It’s for his new album coming out on Island Def Jam. He’s making his re-entry into the states, his comeback album. And being a part of his comeback album meant the world to me.

AHHA: Most people recognize you from the group City High. What happened, why did you all disband?

Ryan: We were three solo artists when Wyclef Jean put us together, we were all pursuing solo careers at the time. Wyclef told us if we came together and joined forces as a group we’d have a better chance of blowing up than as solo artists, and could use the group as a launching pad for our solo careers. The plan was to do two or three albums and sell 20 million records like the Fugees before we went and did our solo albums – but it didn’t work out like that. You had three solo artists in a group with each other every day and everybody was itching to do their own thing – so it was only a matter of time before it fell apart at the seams. We’re still cool though. I talk to Robbie all the time and me and Claudette got married, so every thing is all good. We outgrew the situation.

AHHA: So how’s Claudette doing?

Ryan: Claudette is wonderful, she’s finishing her album. It’s coming out on Interscope, and we hope to have it out no later than September or November. Our whole plan is to drop our solo albums this year. She took time off to be a mother and a wife, now she’s ready to get back in.

AHHA: When you all had your first child was that planned or was it something that just happened, because Claudette was at the height of her career at that point?

Ryan: It wasn’t planned. She and I have been together for going on seven years now. The whole time we were in City High we were together, it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be known, but we were doing our thing. We were deeply in love and two people doing their thing and deeply in love that’s what happens.

AHHA: You have your own label Overflow Entertainment. Were you offered a deal prior to starting your company?

Ryan: I had a few deals on the table, but I had just got out of that type of situation.

It’s a brand new day, and I’m at a position where I’m not a starving artist anymore, so I had to ask myself if I really needed to go sell my soul to a record label for a $100,000 advance? I don’t think so. So I just took some of my money and put together my own project. A lot of artists are getting wise to that concept and I commend all these artists out here doing their own thing.

AHHA: In writing music for other artists, do you worry about when you put out your own material it will sound similar? I listened to some of your album and a few tracks remind me of listening to Usher. But I guess since you wrote for him that can be expected.

Ryan: Yeah I’m a little concerned about that. I have played my album for people, and they have told me that I sound like Usher, but then they will turn around and say, “But wait you co-wrote and vocal produced songs on Usher’s album, so maybe he sounds like you?” I think it’s all good though. It is what it is.

AHHA: So what can we expect on your new album?

Ryan: The album itself is 15 years in the making. This is the solo album that I dreamt of when I was a little boy watching Michael Jackson and said that I wanted to be a singer. It’s really taken all this time to get it done, but as far as really focusing on it and putting forth my efforts towards it, there was about a month long process. I already knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted it to sound. I didn’t go around and hire any big name producers – I just said this is my sound, this is my testament, this is what I want to say and this is my body of work, so I’ll do it myself. I can write, I can produce, I can sing and I know what hot records are supposed to sound like, so I just stepped out on faith and believed in myself.

I put the record together with some young up-and-coming producers, and I co-produced about 85% of the album. I produced three songs on my own, and I wrote every song. I have one feature that I did with Beanie Sigel. He’s on my first single “Just My Thing.” It’s a Ryan Toby album. I didn’t want to flood it with guest appearances or big name producers, because sometimes it will drown out the artist. I wanted people to get to know me, so I kept it real simple.

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