The moniker “BillboardKiller” doesn’t work if you haven’t touched the music of past and future legends like Vic Martin has. The producer, songwriter and vocal arranger has worked with TLC, Bryan-Michael Cox, country music star Jimmie Allen, and helped a relatively unknown Lucky Daye become the songwriter he is today.
“[Lucky Daye] had come off ‘American Idol’ and was Dave Brown at the time. He had dreads at the time. This was all around 2008. My mentor and I groomed him for songwriting, which led to him signing with Ne-Yo,” Martin told REVOLT. “I don’t know if they finished the deal, but he low-key signed with Ne-Yo. That all came from my mentor and me grooming this kid to be a songwriter.”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Martin discusses how TLC helped him get his start, how he and Jimmie Allen are bringing Tank and The Game into country music, and why he’s excited about Anthony Ramos’ upcoming project. Read our exclusive conversation below.
Who was the first major hip hop/R&B act you worked with in the studio?
[TLC] around 2007. I was so nervous during my first session with them. We were working on their last album. I was so nervous that T-Boz came out of the booth and told me, “Hey, you’re in this room for a reason. Either you’re going to tell me what to do, or you have to go” (laughs). Ever since then, I have been good. The majority of my role was usually songwriting and vocal production. I still work with them to this day. There’s never a time when they can’t call my phone and say, “We need you to do something,” and it doesn’t get done. When T-Boz co-signed me, I knew I was destined to be in this business. At that session, I called my job, and I quit. And I have not worked a job since June 6, 2007.
What songs did you work on that we’ve heard?
The Christmas record [they put out in 2014] called “Gift Wrapped Kiss.” I co-produced it, and I play Santa in the song. But when they did the CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story movie, I did a lot of the vocal production for a couple of the records that were in the movie because I guess it was a big thing where they couldn’t use the original material, so they had to go back in and record every original song over.
What impressed you the most about TLC?
They didn’t use Auto-Tune. What they don’t know about Tionne [“T-Boz” Watkins] is she has a wide range of vocals. What they don’t know about Rozonda [“Chilli” Thomas] is she can really sing. If you listen to all of their hits, there is not an ounce of vocal manipulation or anything. That’s them singing those vocals.
You worked so closely with them. Did you ever go through any personal life moments during your time together?
I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody this, but one time I was in the studio with them while I was being evicted. The sheriff came around five o’clock, but our session was at 12. Myself, my wife at that time and my kids didn’t have any family or anything. But I couldn’t turn the session down because I was still growing my relationship with them. By God’s grace, we found something within an hour. My ex-wife found something. I sent the money, and we were able to move within that hour while I was recording, and trying to stay focused and writing at the same time.
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What were some of the funniest moments in the studio with TLC?
T-Boz doesn’t like a lot of girls around (laughs). If there are a lot of girls in the studio, she’s out. One time, we were in the middle of a studio session, and 10 females came into the studio. I don’t think we knew how they got there or who they were with. They walked in while Tionne was in the middle of singing her part, and she stopped, grabbed her keys, went straight to the car, and went home (laughs).
You also worked closely with one of the greatest R&B songwriters and producers of all time, Bryan-Michael Cox. How did you two link?
My mentor Dave “Jam” Hall connected us. Without Dave, there would not be any R&B/hip hop styles we hear today. He’s responsible for Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Brownstone, and even the “In Living Color” theme song. He was a key player in the R&B and hip hop world in the early and mid-’90s. He called me one day and said, “I know you love that producer Bryan-Michael Cox. He called me and asked me to stop by the studio. You want to go?” When we arrived, he started bigging me up and telling Bryan what I did. Bryan introduced me to a good friend of his, who wound up being a partner of mine, Cecily Wagner. Me, her, and Jay Reezy did a song, and Bryan loved it so much that he said, “Y’all should be a writing team, and I’ll sign you.” So we did and called ourselves The Office. And that’s literally how our relationship kicked off.
What do you provide in your sessions?
I provide me. I always have this saying: Anybody can do what I do, but everybody can’t do what I do. From a vocal production standpoint, I stay true to whatever the record is but also allow that artist to be themselves. I mostly push that with artists regarding vocal production: Be yourself. But I keep you in the confines of what made you love the song even to want to record it. My greatest strength as a vocal producer is knowing when to push and when to compliment. When you deal with these artists, they often get in their heads. If you have them do a line over, and over, and over, and over and over again, at some point, they’re going to start to regress.
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What’s the biggest album you were a part of?
The biggest album was T.I.’s No Mercy. I did a bonus record called “Follow Your Dreams” produced by Polow Da Don featuring Shun Hendrix.
On an Instagram photo with Tank, the caption said you’re bringing country and R&B music together. What did you mean by that?
With the artist I partnered with — Jimmie Allen — our goal is not to take away from what country music is, but to add to it. With this project, we have records with The Game. We have records with D.A. Got That Dope. We got records with K-Ci and Jodeci. We have records with Tank. We have records with T-Pain. We have records with Monica and so many other people. We want to fuse those worlds because we, as a culture, have to get out of the tendency to label something and just make great records. Tank is a straight up-and-down R&B artist, so we’re opening that world up to him and allowing country music to understand who he is. We even have Game on a country record.
What does that record sound like?
You’re going to hear Game in ways you’ve never heard him before. It’s melodic. There’s a flow to it. If you listened to one of the songs we did on Jimmie’s last album, [Tulip Drive], with T-Pain and Cee-Lo called “pesos,” that doesn’t sound anything like a country record.
You have also been cooking up with Anthony Ramos from Hamilton.
When I tell you this kid vocally is a problem, believe me. The project I was blessed to be a part of with him is straight R&B, but we’re infusing Spanish and English lyrics at the same exact time. The chemistry we have is uncanny. It is undeniable.
Many people might not know that you were instrumental in the early years of Lucky Daye’s career. How did you contribute to his rise?
He’s freakishly great at singing. I found him through a friend of mine. He had come off ‘American Idol’ and was Dave Brown at the time. He had dreads at the time. This was all around 2008. My mentor and I groomed him for songwriting, which led to him signing with Ne-Yo. I don’t know if they finished the deal, but he low-key signed with Ne-Yo. That all came from my mentor and me grooming this kid to be a songwriter. He was already talented, so I can’t take any of that away from him. When he moved to Atlanta, he started his songwriting process. I helped him get his first placement. We first linked up in 2008.
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What do you have coming up for the rest of 2023?
I have the Jimmie Allen project. I’m doing a collaborative album with Kid Rock and Yelawolf. I’m starting this production company with Jimmy; we’re signing a few acts. There’s also this kid named TraeTwoThree that I’m excited about that Nick Cannon signed. I’m excited about the Anthony Ramos project. I’m looking to really groom the next generation of music.