Rumor has it that late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was a huge hip hop fan. Yeah, and Lady Gaga is a man – and Elvis is alive.
You can’t believe everything that you read, but Potter did famously say, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”
And that sure sounds like someone struggling to describe a certain easily misunderstood music genre. Then again, the industry “outsider” could easily have been trying to explain the difference between a hip hop artist – and a hip hop performer.
It would have been less complicated to simply use extraordinary hip hop/R&B/gospel/rock/pop entertainer B. Taylor as a perfect example of – well, both.
Named the “Stevie Wonder of Hip Hop” by Pete Moore (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles), Taylor’s prodigious talents as a writer, producer and performer have garnered the support of a staggering list of Motown legends, including Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Mary Wilson.
Taylor recently collaborated with Pauley Perrette (NCIS co-star) on the smash hit “Fire In Your Eyes,” blazing into the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip Hop Singles for nine straight weeks – including two weeks at #1 and five weeks at #2.
As another shining example of Taylor’s extraordinary appeal, the Navy veteran was the featured artist at last week’s Centennial of Naval Aviation Commemoration and 236th U.S. Navy Birthday Celebration in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 14 and 15. The fête marked the first time that a hip hop artist was invited to perform at a Navy birthday celebration event in front of top military and political figures.
Taylor is currently on a promotional tour, spreading his inspirational message at schools and military bases around the country to support Youth Music Education and the Joining Forces Initiative.
He’s also been working on a new album produced by Moore, One Life To Live, that bridges the gap between classic Motown and hip hop, creating an innovative new sound for the genre. The ground-breaking music combines a soulful sound with energetic hip hop beats, carrying on Motown’s storied music tradition of appealing to everyone.
“Hip hop is a derivation of classic Motown and I felt that it would be very exciting to bring the two together, something that has never been done in the 50 year history of classic Motown,” explained Moore.
In between appearances, Taylor took the time to chat with Examiner about the upcoming debut and his appreciation for his musical forbearers. From the very start, Taylor’s respect for his Motown predecessors was unmistakable.
“The legends know what hip hop has done to be able to put the music out and brand with different companies. Back then, they couldn’t get endorsement deals with Nike or Reebok. So, all those legends say they love what hip hop has done.”
“What they’re sayin’ is, ‘We just want you to know, this is where you came from. This is how artists carried their selves. And take these methods and these ways of making hip, so that you make timeless music and your brand lasts forever, you know?”
“A lot of hip hops, you hear ‘em and then they’re gone. You hear it that year and then, two or three years later, you won’t hear it. Well, a Motown song or a Johnny Cash song in nineteen sixty – you still hear it in the movies, television, sporting events – events that people are at you always hear some form.”
“The hip hoppers have samples of Motown to make their music. So, we already use it but I think that the younger generation like myself and younger, don’t know where they came from.”
“So, it’s like I’m trying to say, ‘Hey, this is what Motown is. This is how Barry Gordy pumped out hits. This is how he helped people get through different times in their lives with this music. And this is how you can carry yourself.’ That’s what I’m trying to bring to the hip hop culture – what I learned from the forefathers of this business.”
Taylor’s positive outlook goes far beyond his respect for his Motown mentors. Plain and simple, he gets it – he sees the big picture.
“You know, you pinch yourself ‘cause you’re coming out with the best of the best at the very beginning. And it’s scary because you’re expectations are so high. But you know, I’ve always been an achiever.”
“And when I went through the military training and really had to lead a bunch of guys from different backgrounds – we had all kinds of stuff going on and you get all these hundred guys thinking on the same page – it was crazy.”
“After I did that training, it was just like, ‘I can accomplish anything. I got through this military, which changed my whole lifestyle up. I can accomplish anything.’ Now I just pray forward and try and do the best I can.”
In addition to his military training, Taylor was a Division 1 college athlete. He readily agreed that the experiences have made him a better artist.
“You know, it really has. I know what hard work and teamwork are by being an athlete and being in the military. Because as far as your team playing – it’s a team sport you know? You need teammates to help you achieve success and become a winner.”
“And it’s the same way, being in the military. I was over my division – they put me over in Navy training with Marines and Seals. You rely on your team big time because if you don’t, you get killed.”
“Going through the hard physical training of the military and doing the stuff that I did, it made me be able to conquer anything. It’s helped me with going through the grueling, rigorous schedule with the Motown record.”
“When these legends are in the studio, they’re tenacious (laughing). You know, they’re seventy. I mean, we’re in the studio, hard core until there’s a break. No mom, no dad, no friends. They’re just there for perfection.”
“It was a very rigorous schedule, dealing with them. And I was able to do that and I attribute that to my upbringing by my dad and mom and me playing sports and being in the military.”
Taylor admitted that there were days in the recording studio that made him wish he was back in the Navy.
“(Laughing) You know, sometimes. I think at the beginning you know? I could remember a time in the studio with one song. And he (Pete Moore) had me doing it a certain way. And it was just frustrating me and frustrating and frustrating.”
“And then, I got into it with Mister Moore. And I was like, ‘Man, this is crazy. I’m used to doing this and this and that in the military.’ And then, my engineer was like, ‘Man, you know what B? You’re a competitor. Just listen to the legend and incorporate your style – but just take it from the legend and just see what he’s doin’.’”
“And so, when he did that, I understood. I was like, ‘Okay, now I understand how they think and the process. So at the beginning, it was tough.”
And as they say, “When the going gets tough…” Some crumble under the intense scrutiny that musical trailblazers invariably experience. Taylor views it a little differently.
“It’s a blessing. I’m the son of a preacher. There’s a true saying – it’s just like in the field, you reap what you sow. If you sow seeds that are good and take care of those seeds and do right, you reap a big oak tree or a big tree and full of apples and oranges.”
“I really attribute to my parents doing right in the world and putting good out there and sowing good seeds – and to be able to be doing something for the first time in history of this business as a new artist. I’m reaping the rewards of the seeds that my parents sowed, so I feel it was a blessing.”
Near the end of an interview replete with Taylor’s insightful comments, there was really only one remaining earth shattering question to ask. How many times had Taylor been asked what his first name was?
“About a thousand (laughing). A thousand, a million – it’s Billy – Billy Taylor.”
Call him what you will, you’ll be hearing a lot from B. Taylor…