Substance is the New Cool: A Q&A with songwriter Eric Bellinger

This article was originally published on on January 7, 2016.


Best known for penning hit songs such as Chris Brown’s “Fine China” and Justin Bieber’s “Right Here,” Grammy-nominated singer/ songwriter Eric Bellinger is one of the music industry’s best kept secrets.

Unlike a lot of modern R&B singers who tend to take on the machismo found in Rap, Bellinger bridges the gap between substance and “swaggy” by combining catchy tunes with messages of love, monogamous relationships and avoiding the limelight.

In this interview, we spoke with Bellinger about his writing process, and how he’s using his perspective as a newlywed father to create a refreshing, new narrative for what is considered cool.

Q: As someone that’s very visible in the public eye, how do you balance being married and being a father with your career?

Bellinger: My wife is incredible, and she’s my support system when I’m gone. In the past I’ve had to deal with girls nagging, ‘Like why are you still at the studio,’ but she used to be in a singing group back in the day. They had their success and its dope because she completely understands everything I do. She understands that it’s tiring sometimes and that it’s really a job. She’s so encouraging that sometimes I’m like, ‘Man do you miss me? Do you want me home?’ It’s great to have somebody that supports me 100 percent.

Q: Do you think your music reflects a growing consciousness with music audiences in general?

Bellinger: Definitely. We can’t sing about lean and drugs, and side chicks and cheating forever. I’m talking about love and monogamy but I’m able to put it into a format where you can still turn up. I’m having fun, and I think a lot of people look at what I’m doing as going against the grain. But it’s like, ‘At what point did doing the right thing become going against the grain?’ That’s crazy to me. But with the talent God gave me, I’m able to make “turn up” songs with more substance. It’s not easy to write a song that’s hard, swaggy and turnt up, but still has morals and values. If I can articulate my message in a way that connects with the generation and the culture, then why not do it?

Q: You were nominated for a Grammy for your contributions on Chris Brown’s “Fame” album, and you worked with him again for “Fine China.” How did you start working together?

Bellinger: A producer by the name of Harmony brought me in on a session. Producers often bring in writers because they have relationships with the labels. It was funny because during the time I was working with Harmony, I had just landed in London to go work out there. The second I landed, I got off the plane and had a million text and voice messages saying they needed me back in LA to work on Chris Brown’s album. So I booked another flight, flew 13 hours back, went straight to the studio and wrote a song called “Say It With Me.” Afterwards, I wrote two more songs for a total of three on the album.

Q: What is your writing process like, and does it differ when you’re writing for yourself opposed to another artist?

Bellinger: I usually start off with the melody and make sure I’ve got one that’s catchy. Depending on who it’s for, next I’ll start figuring out concepts. I never just write a song for me and then think, ‘Maybe it could work for this person.’ I strategically write songs for specific people whether it’s for myself, Chris Brown or Usher. I want to make sure an artist has a connection to the song before they hear it.

Q: When people listen to your latest album, Cuffing Season 2, what do you want their takeaway to be? Or even just as Eric Bellinger, the artist. What do you want to leave people with?

Bellinger: I want my music to be the soundtrack to people’s everyday lives, and I want to let them know there’s an alternative for music. There’s a vibe they can listen to and a lifestyle they can follow without feeling corny. A lot of R&B singers don’t know how to make songs that are still cool to the culture. It’s like “I love you” and “you’re the wind beneath my wings,” and people can’t really rock with that. When they listen to my music, they still feel the vibe of the club, but what I’m saying is going to stick with them and make them better people. I want people to fall in love with the music and spread it around organically. It’s no gimmick. I don’t care about being the most famous person in the world; I just care about this message being the most famous message in the world.