Keri Hilson: It’s Showtime

Keri Hilson has probably been busy since birth. Having penned, produced, and arranged her first song at age twelve, she was quite possibly the musical prodigy that others in this new wave of “songwriters turned singers” boast themselves to be on their resumes. On a hot summer’s day, you can find her in the “A” (where else?) placing the finishing touches on her debut album In a Perfect World.Despite the fact that it’s her first US release, Keri Hilson is a seasoned industry pro. She focuses very intently on the questions and her answers throughout this interview, owning every word she says. Perhaps that is how she’s maintained such a successful career thus far – by owning every word that’s been placed in the lyrics of songs she’s written for R&B/Pop legacies like Mary J. Blige, Usher, Chris Brown, and even Britney Spears. With the looks of a supermodel and the mind of a Mensa scholar, Keri Hilson already considers her career quite established, and why not? According to her, had this project not met her standards, it would have never even happened. As the world awaits her future collection of hit singles (including the already colossal “Energy”), Keri reflects on her secrets for getting here. Sit back and take notes.AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Well first, how’s everything going with preparing for the release of the album?Keri Hilson: Oh everything’s been great. We’re mixing and mastering – just putting in the final touches on it now, so everything’s exciting.AHHA: Did you have any reservations about the release of the album? Especially since it’s going to be your major shift from songwriter to artist/songwriter?Keri Hilson: No, definitely no reservations. I think if there were, it would not be coming out. [laughs] As much time and money as we spent on this project, you know, and as much effort as we put in, it has to be right. So it is so far so great, no complaints.AHHA: You must get this question asked a lot but, the whole writing for yourself versus writing for other people, how does that really differ?Keri Hilson: Well you know, for myself, I can tap into my own true feelings and say things I’m not afraid to say. When I’m writing for someone else, you kind of have to, um…ya know, we like to have conversations about it before we start writing or have the artist there. But when that luxury is not afforded to us, sometimes we just have to imagine how they feel. So that allows you or kind of forces you to not go as deep into your own feelings about a certain subject, you know what I’m saying? You don’t have to sugarcoat it but you kind of have to – it can’t be as deep as what I would say for myself, because I can back what I say because they are my words. [laughs]AHHA: Much like the personal touch on the songs from your album?Keri Hilson: Of course. Ya know they’re not songs that someone wrote for me, with the exception of one, which is my first single “Energy.” But everything else is all from me. It’s all from me. Ya know, it’s all my own words, so definitely it has a personal touch.Energy – Keri HilsonAHHA: How did you form the Clutch?Keri Hilson: Well it was on a writing trip that our publishers set up. We’re all kind of divided between two publishing companies and one particular time, they wanted to do a writing trip. So they put us all in a room together and left us with a bunch of [us] – actually we were in three different rooms – so at different points we worked in like twos or threes or one ya know? We liked the chemistry of it all, and at a point we, ya know, formed. It was such a producer’s driven game, and still a little bit of it is. But some songwriters are getting a little bit more respect so that was our standpoint – myself and J. Que. The members [of the Clutch] are myself, J. Que, Candice Nelson, Ezekiel Lewis, and Balewa Muhammad, but J. Que and I had the idea to form a writing collective years ago, like maybe seven years ago. And we called it the Writers Block. We were just looking for our members and then this trip happened so it kind of became our hopes and dreams. So, yeah.AHHA: Well we’ve seen you in a few videos, most recently Usher’s video for “Love in the Club.”Keri Hilson: Yup! “Love in the Club.”AHHA: How did you manage to be the leading lady in that video without sacrificing your reputation? Keri Hilson: I think because with Usher, it’s all about how the artist precedes you. He has a very high respect for me. He knows that – you know I’ve worked with him – I have a song on his Confessions album. Usher just has a certain amount of respect for me. So leading up to and following the video, you know any time he would talk about it, he just spoke of me in a certain [way], like he wouldn’t say, “Oh, well the lead girl is Keri Hilson.” Love In This Club – Usher[Usher would say] “I wanted to be a part of her project. I wanted to help put her out through the world, so this is one of the ways I would do it.” But ya know, I appreciated that – it was just more than me appearing in a video as a seductress. [laughs] It didn’t go without rumors, but I mean that was nothing to shake because [Usher] knows and [Usher’s wife Tameka Foster] knows [the rumors are false]. I’ve known them both for a very long time, so that was easy to dispel. [laughs]

“When anything is such a male dominated industry, things are a little

bit more difficult for women, obviously. I mean we have to think

harder, we have to work harder, we have to – our numbers have to be so

much higher potential wise and everything.”- Keri on being a woman in the industry

AHHA: [laughs] That’s cool. Speaking of rumors, how do you respond to being a songwriter and artist in this industry for so long, but still people try to make up rumors about you with Polow da Don or you and Timbaland for example?Keri Hilson: Right, and those [rumors] are crazy ‘cause I have never ever ever mixed business with pleasure. And what’s true is that I really don’t like [dating] entertainers. I don’t really wanna be dating any kind of entertainer or sports guy. [laughs] I like men outside of what I do. I don’t wanna be talking about what I do all day with somebody. So yeah, I mean it’s not difficult, because if I was affected by them, this would not be the industry for me. I feel like God has prepared me for this, and I just let things roll off. I read the [gossip] blogs and I take it as maybe they don’t like where they are in their lives and they just make it as a business to just be negative about everything. But it doesn’t affect me. Thank the Lord, I have tough skin. AHHA: Do you ever feel there are times where you’re not taken seriously enough because of your looks? Because you’re very smart, but at the same token, beautiful women in the industry sometimes just get seen for that.Keri Hilson: Early in my career, I had to make sure that I would go above and beyond the college duty, and I mean professionally. I mean that 100 percent professionally, because that can be taken differently in writing. But what I mean is, when anything is such a male dominated industry, things are a little bit more difficult for women, obviously. I mean we have to think harder, we have to work harder, we have to – our numbers have to be so much higher potential wise and everything.So I made sure that my resume spoke for me and that every song I touched, spoke for me. And so I would [make sure] people had respect for me. People who have known me for years know that I come to the studio, I do my job and I leave. I don’t hang around. I have no intentions of being seen with this person or that person. If you see me out with any person, it’s work. Believe! [laughs] So it’s not hard to gain respect, if you respect yourself, and I do. AHHA: It is so true. Women have to make sure they are very aware of themselves in public…Keri Hilson: That’s right. That’s right. You have to be mindful of things that men don’t have to care about. I think it really goes to show this is the time when you have to be careful. People wanna know too much, and they also wanna make up things. So I’m very very cautious, very cautious. AHHA: No long hugs…[laughs]Keri Hilson: [laughs] Exactly! You gotta be careful of who you hug and who you talk to. People watching. It’s not like it’s some – I’m not paranoid but at the same time, I’m very friendly. These are people I grew up with and they – ya know I’ve known them for years – like six years at least. So, I don’t want people to ever think that I’m just meeting them and there’s all this. Even the Timbaland thing, like yeah, we embrace like brother and sister. We hug when we see each other or kiss on the cheek or whatever. But that’s Timbaland – that’s like my brother. [laughs]AHHA: How was it working with Nas? “Hero” is a great song. Keri Hilson: Thank you! Hey it was there before I touched it. It was already a hit. So I was honored [Nas] asked me to do it. But yeah, it was great working with Nas. He really is as chill and laid back as he appears. So I appreciate that about him – that he can be so political and so outspoken, and just be that cool, for real. In real life. Hero – NasAHHA: I heard that Britney Spears was equally cool. I remember you saying you expected her to be coming with like a bag of potato chips and a kid on her arm, but she was just really professional.Keri Hilson: [laughs] Yeah she really was. I didn’t expect that at all, I really though she’d be a little more guarded, but we had girl talk and she allowed us to really have the necessary conversations we needed to have to write for her. I ended up doing three songs on her [Blackout] album, and ya know she’s very good to work with. A lot of people did not expect this album to actually be good, just because of all the hoopla that was going on around her. I do believe it’s one of her best projects if I do say so myself.AHHA: What is Timbaland’s work regime like?Keri Hilson: Well he has a very strange work schedule ya know? When I worked with him, he would come in at like 1 a.m. or 12 a.m., and he wouldn’t get really juicy and creative until like 2, 3 a.m. So we would be there until 10 p.m., we would have to wait until Miami traffic died down or Virginia traffic died down to go back to our hotels. It was crazy, but I was used to doing that. I wasn’t new to that. It was just strange to see like, “Wow, ya know, this is how Timbaland does it” because like I know other producers. Like Pharell, he likes to go in at 1pm or like 10 in the morning – I think he’s a morning guy actually. And end no later – he’s there in the studio past 10 or 11 o’clock at night. So it was crazy to use that schedule, but working with Timbaland is very inspiring. It continues to inspire me. It really taught me that you don’t have to set yourself into this spot, you can really do what you feel is hot. Do what you like to do. I got my real “no holds barred” attitude from Timbaland, and I thank him for some of the hits to my credit because of that. AHHA: Let’s talk about the album In a Perfect World some more. Is “Henny & Apple Juice” gonna be on the album? Keri Hilson: Probably not. It could be like an interlude, but yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna make the cut because we have so many records…so many hot records.AHHA: Does Henny & Apple Juice even taste good? Keri Hilson: You gotta try it! Half and half is what most girls like. Most girls like half and half or a fourth Henny, three-fourth apple juice. Yeah. It tastes like spiked apple juice. Just like apple juice with a kick. You can barely taste the Henny in it if you mix it right.

“I don’t really wanna be dating any kind of entertainer or sports guy. [laughs] I like men outside of what I do. I don’t wanna be talking about what I do all day with somebody. So yeah, I mean it’s not difficult, because if I was affected by them, this would not be the industry for me.”- Keri on rumors about her dating men in the industry

AHHA: What about some of the others songs that are on the album? Keri Hilson: There is a song “Where Did He Go” that kinda did its thing as well. It was the actually the song that got me my deal. It was the song that L.A. Reid heard, that Clive Davis heard, Jimmy Iovine, that all these labels have heard. It’s the song that got me my deal basically. It was the second song I ever did with Timbaland, the same day I met him – or sorry the second night we worked. And ya know, it was amazing. It was amazing. First day offered, second night I worked with him on that song. AHHA: Any other producers on the album? Keri Hilson: Yeah, a couple others. I worked with a 19 year-old from – well he was 19. He’s probably 20 or 21 now. His name is Corey Bolds, that’s Timbaland’s protégé. Of course Timbaland knows my situation – it’s a joint label venture between Timbaland and Polow at Interscope. Ya know, it’s majority Timbaland and Polow. And Danja to the third majority. But Corey Bolds, The Runaways produced the first single, and I believe that’s it. Didn’t wanna do a collection of all hot producers, ya know? Where there was no definitive sound. I really wanted to define Keri Hilson – my sound, my personality, my likeness – all of that. And I believe we really did that.  The Way I Are – TimbalandAHHA: You have a consistent number of hits so far that you’ve either written for yourself or others. Do you ever get scared that the well will run dry?Keri Hilson: Naw, I’m never scared. I’m always thankful. I’m always in a blessed and positive state of mind. I realized that, because I’ve seen the other side of it, because I’ve been a songwriter and producer, I realize things go in ways ya know? This producer is not always gonna be the hottest producer for the rest of our lives, ya know? Everyone has their run and so I’m thankful for every hit that I have, that actually worked, because I know that my time could come to a close. Kandi Burruss was on top of the world for years with Pink and TLC, and everything she touched at that time was just more than gold – it was Platinum. Destiny’s Child, ya know, all these songs that Kandi wrote, “No Scrubs.” All these things. So I’m thankful. I’m thankful for every time when something hits the charts at all. [laughs] Hopefully I can stay relevant. That’s the name of the game. That’s the hardest thing to do – when music keeps changing – is to stay relevant. So, I’m prayerful that I was able to stay relevant this long.

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