During an era where it’s become harder and harder for male singers, especially of the soulful variety, to stand out, Miguel accomplished the nearly impossible with his sophomore album Kaleidoscope Dream, released in 2012. His monstrous hit “Adorn,” which earned him his first Grammy for Best R&B song and spent over 23 weeks as number one on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart, the longest run to date, catapulted him to the top of the “got next” pile and has slowly paved his way into the larger music landscape.
It didn’t start out that way. His debut album All I Want Is You languished for three years due to legal issues associated with him jumping from the indie label Black Ice to Mark Pitts’ Bystorm Entertainment and Jive, where Pitts was president of urban music. Then when it was finally released November 30, 2010, it got off to an extremely, almost career-killing slow start, only hitting No. 109 on the Billboard 200 and even falling off the chart altogether. Miguel, greatly assisted by touring on Usher’s OMG Tour, which also featured Trey Songz, climbed out of the musical graveyard, eventually scoring the number one position on Billboard’s Hip-Hop/R&B chart with “Sure Thing” and number three with “Quickie,” with the album peaking at No. 37 and almost going Gold.
His sophomore breakthrough was preceded by his then label Jive shutting down and being absorbed into RCA, where Pitts became president of urban music. The move allowed Miguel, who is his own main songwriter and has written for others, including Usher and Beyoncé, to take greater creative control. That move earned Miguel the coveted “artist” tag. Critically acclaimed, the four-time Grammy-nominated Kaleidoscope Dream was praised for its incorporation of classic R&B elements and Hip-Hop sensibilities as evidenced by “Adorn,” with its Marvin Gaye-esque vibe/homage and contemporary Hip-Hop verve, as well as Pop, Rock and Indie influences.
Now, with his junior effort Wildheart, Miguel, who also collaborated on romantic duets with Mariah Carey (the platinum “Beautiful”) and Janelle Monae (“Primetime”) for their albums, promises he is taking more risks on his own. The lead single, “Coffee” and its edgier alternate “Coffee (F—ing)” featuring Wale, builds on Miguel’s sexy sonic soul stylings mashed up with Hip-Hop and instrumentation that straddles Pop and Rock, amplified by funky guitar basslines and 808s. During a live promotional appearance with L.A. fixture Big Boy on the newly-minted Big Boy’s Morning Show on iHeartMedia’s the Real 92.3 in May, over a month prior to the album’s June 30 release, Miguel explained the sexually-charged “Coffee,” which euphemistically references risqué sexual actions as “gunplay” and “pillow talk,” as “the logical conclusion to a night of lust rooted in honest connection.”
Representing his native Los Angeles, however, was most important during that Big Boy visit. As they spoke, Miguel, who was born Miguel Jontel Pimental to a black mother and Mexican father, was very sincere about his desire to serve as an inspiration to others like him from L.A.
“Being Latino and being Black, I pretty much represent Los Angeles,” he explained. “I am all of it and we know what it’s like to grow up here sometimes; it’s not so easy and there’s subconscious things that we experience in life here and everywhere, obviously, that kind of tell you ‘you can’t,’ it’s not possible.’”
When he dropped by Shade 45’s Sway in the Morning, Miguel, who turns 30 in October, insisted that his three-year hiatus was necessary to keep creating the brand of music for which he wants to be known and explained it simply with, “I had to do some living.” In addition, he spoke on his eclectic musical mash-ups. Referencing his multicultural California upbringing as the main force behind his broad musical tastes, Miguel blasted categorization. “I grew up on all kinds of music. I just love music. I don’t put myself in a category,” he said. “That’s for business,” adding “but that doesn’t mean that I have to play by those rules.”
And he told Rolling Stone that he is not. “This time, I wanted to have an identity as someone who’s striving to push the boundaries,” he asserted. And pushing those boundaries means standing up for L.A. musically, which is evident in the songs “Leaves,” his love letter to Cali, “NWA” featuring Kurupt and “A Beautiful Exit,” which offers a close-up on L.A.’s grimier side.
In addition to working with Kaleidoscope producers Pop & Oak who handled “Use Me,” Miguel has also tapped fellow Angeleno, Benny Cassette, known for his work on Kanye West’s Yeezus. Cassette produced “NWA.” The other Benny Miguel tapped is Benny Blanco, with whom he has also shared some songwriting credits with on songs for Jessie Ware and his “Overdose” Gwen Stefani collabo. Blanco’s eclectic resumé ranges from Maroon 5 to Ed Sheeran and Trey Songz, as well as from Katy Perry to Rihanna and Lea Michele, among many others. Mainstay Salaam Remi, who produced “All I Want Is You” from Miguel’s debut as well as “How Many Drinks? on Kaleidoscope, also manned “Coffee.” Also back is Miguel’s number one mixer, Manny Marroquin, who has worked with Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Imagine Dragons and even The Rolling Stones.
But as Miguel stressed to Sway, his recordings are not necessarily who he really is as an artist. “I create from my heart. I just give, give, give but there’s an ability to edit that in the studio,” he admitted. Referencing the great Miles Davis, whom he credits as saying ‘recordings are just advertisement to see us live’, Miguel insisted that “what you see live is what I really am.”
That wild, high-energy stage show Miguel is becoming known for can get out of hand, as evidenced by his well-known mishap at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards where he accidentally hit a female fan, who recently filed suit, as he leapt between stages. While he regrets any harm he may have caused, he didn’t show any signs of toning it down. “I’m wild. On the stage if I feel it, I’m going to do it,” he told Sway. “As bad as I feel about the repercussions and whomever may have been involved [and] I feel really bad about it genuinely, but all I can do as a musician is live in the moment.”
So far that moment is predicated on a raw sexuality reminiscent of Prince’s heyday, with whom Miguel’s live performances are often compared. In that vein, the art for his single “Coffee” is wild, with Miguel, dressed in jeans torn at the knees and another key area, provocatively reclining. For the actual album cover art, which Miguel revealed to his 800,000+ Twitter followers, he goes even bolder, perching shirtless among the pastel-colored clouds with his hand on a naked woman.
During promotions for Kaleidoscope, Miguel told Chayne Japal for Canada’s AUX that “the kind of artist that I want to be is one that is forever evolving like my [favorite] artists were.” And, with Wildheart, Miguel told Sway he’s not pressing pause. “I think what the album conveys is that I don’t give a f–k. I’m just going for it.”