Long before anyone stepped to the tunes of Chris Brown, made out to the melodic voice of Ne-Yo, or chilled out to the smooth sounds of Mario, a teen sensation by the name of Sammie had already been there and done that. While most 12-year-olds were thinking about whether or not to finish their homework, Sammie was busy positioning himself as a music pioneer of sorts.
Barely on the cusp of puberty, this musical prodigy was blazing trails as one of the youngest artists ever to record a platinum album. In 1999, he scored big with “I Like It,” a #1 hit that propelled him straight to the top of the Billboard charts. With super-producer Dallas Austin behind him, Sammie was a force to be reckoned with. By the time he turned 14, he had accomplished more than many artists twice his age. It was 2001, and Sammie was a young artist in the fast lane. Suddenly, he disappeared.
Fast forward to 2006 – Sammie is now 18-years-old, and reunited with Dallas Austin, this time on Rowdy Records. With a new self-titled album, he is back to make his mark with a more seasoned sound and a mature outlook on life. Collaborations on the project include work with the likes of Brian Michael Cox and Daron Jones. Sammie reveals to us why he ditched his blossoming music career, and why it took five years to come back to what he loves.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: You’ve been away from the game for a minute.
Sammie: Me being gone so long was primarily for my education. I just wanted to finish high school, live and be a normal student. I had success at such a young age, that it got kind of hectic. So I decided to take a break and just prayed on it real hard and was blessed with another opportunity once I graduated to do what I love once again.
AHHA: That’s commendable, especially for someone as young as you were, to make a decision like that.
Sammie: I appreciate that. Just being in this industry and I would say just life period, education takes you so much farther than just the gift of song or just a talent, period. I was blessed with positive influences then. It wasn’t just my decision. It was also my mother and father. It was a collective decision. They just felt [I should] stay grounded…stay humble. I’m passionate. I live and breathe for music. Music never left me, and I don’t want my fans to feel like I left them, but I really felt that education in my life should’ve been my first priority. It worked out beautifully. The feedback from fans was that they’ve been missing me. I’m so glad they cared and wanted to have me back after all these years and be interested in my music once again.
AHHA: Were there times when you were in high school, thinking back to all the fame you had and exciting things that were going on in your life as far as the music, questioning your decision to leave the industry?
Sammie: Truthfully? Everyday. Everyday for these past five years, I thought about it. I never worried though. I’m very spiritually inclined and just prayed hard. I just let time and nature take its course. It worked out, thankfully. But every day of my life I did think about it because I feel like I really started this young generation movement. Before me there was no 12 year old who had a hit single or who had a platinum album. You have to go back as far as Stevie Wonder to get that. To see the Chris Browns, the Omarions and the Marios, yeah, you kind of wish you were back out there again. But, I understand everybody has their season. There are many people around the world that can sing, can dance and have talent. You pray about it and work hard. God will bless you and that’s why I’m in the position I am in today.
AHHA: But really, you’re still a kid. How many artists can say they made a comeback at 18? You still have quite a future in front of you.
Sammie: [Laughs] I’m just so grateful to be so young. I was 12 with my success then. Taking five years off sounds like a crazy thing to do, but I’m still younger than some of the guys out there now. I’m just blessed.
AHHA: Speaking of some of the guys out there. You mentioned Chris Brown, Omarion, and cats like that. Would you say that your style as of late, your current project, is it kind of similar to those acts or…
Sammie: It’s similar, but I don’t want them to be in my shadow every time Sammie is brought up. Of course, they’re going to compare you to Chris Brown, Mario, and Ne-Yo, just because you’re all young and in the same category as far as R&B. We’re in the same genre of music, but I think when you listen to my album, you’ll be able to differentiate between the comparisons that people make. I’m here to make my mark as a singer. You know, a lot of people don’t reallly sing anymore in R&B. They just hold a note and they entertain. They dance all over the place, which is cool, but for me, I’m just a singer first and here to bring that passion and soulfulness back. I want to focus on singing and just being me. Like, I’m a die-hard Usher fan, but I don’t want to be the next Usher. I want to be Sammie. I want to be my own brand.
AHHA: But as you know, it’s a tough industry. You can see how it’s easy to gravitate toward proven methods of success, right?
Sammie: It’s understandable. You do want to kind of go with the trend, especially from a business standpoint because you kind of want to go with what works. But there has to be someone else who decides to go left and still succeed. That’s really what I’m trying to do and get that across to my fans.
AHHA: Did you say you wanted to get back in the music industry when you turn 18 [with a plan]? Or was it more of a spur of the moment kind of thing?
Sammie: Truthfully, it was a spur of the moment type thing. The last time people saw me, I was 14. That was with [the soundtrack] Hardball, which was 2001. It’s really not on me. It’s on God, when he decides to open that door once again. I really wanted to come back sooner than 18 because I really love singing that much – I miss being on stage that much. You know, I’m from Florida and we have a lot of hurricanes. Me and my family packed up and went to Atlanta because of that. That’s where I met a guy named Malcolm Lee, who is currently my manager.
We met up with Dallas [Austin]. He executive produced my first album. He hadn’t seen me for five years. and as soon as he saw me, he went crazy. The first thing he said was that as soon as I turn 18 on March 1st, he was going to sign me. I didn’t have to work. It was just there for me. That’s how good God is.
AHHA: Well, let’s take it back a bit. Obviously, Dallas was glad to have you back, but what was he thinking when you made the decision to leave the game?
Sammie: He understood. A lot of people don’t know that even when I was singing and touring, I stayed in public school. I never had private school or home school. So I would go to school three times a week. That’s the minimum under Florida law. I would go to school from Monday through Wednesday, and Thursday through Sunday I would travel. So to do that in the 7th and 8th grade, that’s two years of living and working hard. It takes a toll on your body. Being young and being 12, there was a lot of stress at times. Dallas respected [the decision to leave]. He had always been passionate about me since the first time he met me. I never wanted to go elsewhere this time around. I wanted to come back to Dallas and just do it again.
AHHA: Of course back then, actually a little while before you came out, Dallas had been working with Another Bad Creation. Kriss Kross was out at that time. You had a lot of younger cats doin’ it, but it was mainly Hip-Hop, emceeing. Now you have young artists, but this time around most of them seem to be in R&B. Do you feel more competitive in this day and age?
Sammie: Truthfully, I must say yes. I watch a lot of interviews and they ask young artists that question and they’re kind of afraid to say it. It’s not at the point where I can’t stand Chris Brown. I support all of them. I bought every one of their last albums – but it’s a competition. There’s only one “Number 1” spot and truthfully, Sammie wants that. It’s friendly competition if you want to say it that way. You have so many artists and we’re so close and so similar, you kind of attract the same fan base. It’s most definitely competition. It’s just kind of the way it is. It’s not our choice. The industry just makes it that way.
AHHA: How do you feel about some of the new ways of doing business? A lot of technologically savvy consumers are getting their music in other ways, as opposed to going into a store to cop a CD.
Sammie: Nowadays, it’s so hard to sell records. I don’t knock anything a person does that’s legal and positive to promote themselves. Whether it’s a Myspace or on the internet, you kind of have to do what you have to do to sell records these days. With a lot of people bootlegging, it’s real difficult and it’s hard to survive. And you got a new artist dropping every Tuesday, so I really support any method to support your record and get out there. It’s just real rough. There’s a lot of artists out and there’s not a lot of room for everybody to sell records…to go platinum.
AHHA: You were just getting into your teenage years when your debut album went platinum. Do you feel any kind of pressure to duplicate or surpass that success?
Sammie: There is a little pressure. There’s pressure on any artist. When you have a new project coming out and you put all your blood, sweat, and tears into a project, you have that nervousness of what if it doesn’t do well? I have a little of that nervousness sometimes, but I’ve always been confident and I’ve always been true. Like, I’ve listened to this album so many times. I’m not saying this because it’s my album, but it’s just a great album. I think I touched on every topic you can touch on from a teenager to maybe a sophomore year in college that someone might have gone through. There’s pressure, but I leave it in the hands of my fans and God. If it’s for me, then it’s going to happen.
AHHA: You’re from Miami, but you’ve spent a lot of time in Atlanta. Do you prefer being in Miami or Atlanta?
Sammie: I’m a little country boy. I’m a Florida boy first. I was born and raised there. I’m always going to be on the Miami side because that’s where my heart is, but Atlanta has embraced me and there’s a lot of things to do there. The atmosphere is very party-like and the pace is not too fast, but not too slow. Being from Miami gave me that mental toughness, though. I’ll always be a Floridian.
AHHA: So, anything else going on with your career aside from recording the album?
Sammie: I’m on the Pantene tour right now that BET is sponsoring. It’s myself, Tyrese, and LeToya Luckett from Destiny’s Child. We’ve done Dallas, Houston, DC, Chicago. I just did a little role in a movie called Steppin’, with Ne-Yo and Meagan Good. I’m just trying to do it man, and be seen where I can be seen.