Singer Bertell’s transition from teenager to young adulthood was a struggle including homelessness, hustling and living a dream. The Houston native used his street hustle skills to change his grind from the streets to music. He chased his music dreams from Houston to New Jersey to Miami and finally landing in Atlanta, where he create a solid launching pad for his career by signing with Grammy producer Bryan Michael Cox. Now with plans to release his debut album ‘Goin’ Hard’ on May 9th, 2010 on Capitol Records, Bertell talks with Singeroom about his love of 90s R&B, how women attempt to control men and his struggle from a boy to a man.
Singersroom: Reading through your biography it stated you went through struggles and were homeless. Why were you struggling to that extreme?
Bertell: I was living in the streets and I was trying to get my life together. I had to make a decision as a man; do I want to be a crutch on my family; do I want to be an inconvenience. I could have easily stayed with my mother but I’m the oldest of seven so I also wanted to show my siblings we gonna be adults. We have to move on once it is time to be grown. I kind of stepped out there on my own and was staying with friends moving house to house, sleeping in my truck, whatever I had to do. I was making my own mixtapes and selling them. That is how I was eating, that is how I was living. It was a situation I put myself in just to start creating my own avenue as a man.
Singersroom: Why did you pick music as a career? It does not seem like an obvious transition from hustling to singing?
Bertell: Originally I played college basketball. I started singing when I was thirteen when I was with my cousin. That is when I found out I could sing. When I got older the NBA was looking further and further away; I’m only 5”11. I was trying to figure out something I can do and everybody was like ‘your gift is music; God gave you a real blessing with it.” This is before I even got the opportunity to work with Bryan Michael Cox, like three years before I even met him. I moved to [New] Jersey and tried to make it happen. I got a way to live through basketball; I tried out for Essex County College in Newark. I would go to New York [City] on the weekend trying to figure out how I could get in this music game.
Right when I met B. Cox I had a song out with the Franchize Boyz called “Shawty What That Do.” Franchize Boyz were hot at that time, they had “Lean wit It, Rock wit It” and “I Think They Like Me.” I released the song; I got it up to like ninety spins and I had a couple of [record] deal offers. B. Cox was like you should pass on the singing deal stuff let’s go put an album together and get us a major deal; get the real deal. I listened to him and met him in L.A. in the summer 2006. I went with him to Miami for a month and a half; we worked and the vibe ever since then clicked. After that he told me I need to move to Atlanta so I went back to Houston and that is when I was out there really on my own. I could have kept doing what I was doing in the streets but I was like I’m gonna make it in this music game so I need to get away from anything I’m doing that can get me caught up. I left everything alone, pressed up a mixtape and I would be at gas stations, flea markets, and clubs when they let out in my Suburban. I had my Suburban wrapped with my face on it. I would sell my mixtapes, it started out slow at first then it started picking up. I started making a living that way.
Singersroom: What made you want to work with Bryan Michael Cox over other producers besides your relationship? Did you feel that his sound fit you?
Bertell: I didn’t know who Bryan Cox was when I met him. I just wanted to get into the game; the only thing I knew was Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, Clive Davis. I knew the big names. I didn’t know Bryan’s work. It was just somebody who wanted to help me and liked my music. At that point I was like anybody trying to help me get to the top I’m with it. I thought Bryan was a new producer. A year and half after me knowing him is when I found out everything he did. ..I was in my own little world; I was just like I have to make it.
Singersroom: Is that the reason the album is called ‘Goin Hard’?
Bertell: Yes, exactly. Everyone always say I’m a hard worker. I’m grindin real hard so I named the album ‘Goin Hard.’ But what I wanted to do with album is go for that ’12 Play” slash ‘TP-2.com” vibe. I flipped the meaning from goin hard in what people know me as to goin hard for sex songs. I’m goin hard on all these records.
Singersroom: What is it about the 90s R&B records that makes you want to capture it again?
Bertell: When you hear R&B now you always think young. Not knocking the artist but when you talk to the average fan or person you ask them what type of music you like they always say rap because they feel like it is more adult; it’s more grown. When you talk about R&B they think it is more for kids, like you have to be twelve years old to listen to an R&B CD. 90’s R&B was not like that, you had R. Kelly , Guy, Blackstreet, Case, Joe; these are grown men singing to woman. When I say 90’s R&B I’m basically saying it is a grown man out here singing about adult things. A lot of people don’t recognize that when they think about R&B.
Singersroom: It goes both ways sometimes people might only think about stuff like old school artist Marvin Gaye and not the artist in between.
Bertell: I think I’m gonna fill that in between lane. You have the young lane and old lane right now, there is no in between. The only person in between right now is Trey Songz.
Singersroom: Earlier you spoke about goin hard at the women; songs from the 90’s had a range of approach from romantic to abrasive.
Bertell: I have “Move On” and “Can’t Get Enough,” those are the romantic songs. Then I have a song called “Open,” which I know all the fellas gonna relate to because it is something real. How woman think they can control men with sex. It ain’t about the sex. “Open” is basically talking about another woman has me open because she’s trying to control her man. She can’t control him with something that is placed between her legs. I just avoid it, if you’re not going to give it to him somebody is going to give it to him. All you’re doing is opening your house cause you think that controls something. I can understand if a woman does not want to do it that’s cool. But there are woman who think that is a control mechanism and they are living in a small little box.
Singersroom: Usually you hear it flipped around, how a man is controlling a woman with his money.
Bertell: That doesn’t work either. I should do a remix and get Keri Hilson to talk about that. Like the dude got her open because the dude she is trying to control her with money and she’s not that type of girl. A real woman ain’t gonna let you control them with no money.
Singersroom: In the begin of the interview you talked about your struggle prior to having a record deal. Do you feel now that you have a record deal you are a young adult now?
Bertell: That is the beautiful thing because the record deal doesn’t make me feel I’m on solid ground, I was already on solid ground before I got the deal. I was already cool with situation; I was doing my thing before the deal so now that the deal came through it is a blessing. A blessing is something that comes through to boost what you have but you receive it much better when you already understand your situation. I understood my situation so basically it just embellishes my situation.
Singersroom: What lesson did you learn on remaining humble?
Bertell: At one point everybody can be down for you and the next point everybody turn their back on you. The one thing you have to know is you can lose it all today or tomorrow; you have to leave it to God. Once you find solitude in being yourself that is the biggest lesson to learn in life.
—— By: Interview By Adeniyi Omisore