Admit it. True singing hasn't been in the forefront of contemporary R&B music in years. Check the charts. The hits rely on popular cameos, unique heavily synthesized vocals, or gimmicky storylines. Interscope's new R&B/pop trio i15 could not have arrived at a better time.
Their debut single "Lost In Love" reminds the masses that feel-good singing, palatable lyrics and a driving, head-knocking track is the simplest way to create something timeless that is easily distinguished from the disposable. It is also indicative of what singers Castro and Das and rapper Flash offer on their self-titled debut.
"From the beginning we knew we wanted our music to be different from everything else coming out," says Das, who is also a burgeoning producer. "We wanted to bring real music back," adds lead singer Castro.
Castro, Das and Flash, who formed their group six years ago while still in their mid-teens, received their big break during the summer of 2006 when they signed with superstar producer Polow Da Don, who was then on the heels of explosive works with Ciara, Fergie, Ludacris and Rich Boy. When i15 met Polow they were in negotiations to sign with another label. But things went awry when the other label had different ideas for the group.
"Polow knew our situation," Das says. "He was like, 'Man, if it don't work out, you already know where to go." "He kept saying, 'I get what you guys are trying to do. I get it'," Flash adds. "He was the only one who said that."
i15 jumped at the opportunity to work with Polow. Within just a few months of collaborating in Atlanta, Polow secured i15 a deal through Interscope Records.
i15 finds a natural blend of R&B and hip-hop styles with lyrics that transcend the typical sex-talk laden songs. "Lost In Love" tells the story of a woman who does not know what she wants in a relationship. "She thinks she wants this, and she thinks she wants that," Das explains. "She pretty much messes with everybody's head." The Teddy Bishop produced ballad "Committed" is a plea for serious courtship. "Move On" concludes that the couple needs to stop trying to work things out over an irresistible two-step groove. And "Blazed And Faded" reveals the horrors of a drunken one night stand.
The name i15 derives from the highway that connects Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the cities from which the members of i15 are based. Das was the link who lived between both towns while Castro and Flash are natives of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, respectively.
Das and Castro met when they were 13, introduced by Castro's girlfriend at the time. "She called me up on the phone trying to front," Das remembers. "She was like, 'Yeah, you sing Das? Yeah, I know somebody who can sing too. He's my boyfriend.'" When Das urged her to put Castro on the phone, the two 13-year-olds–whose birthdays are just three days apart–started battling.
"I was blown away," Castro says about Das’ voice. "I thought that was something off the radio." The two met later that day and immediately struck up a friendship.
Castro was a new singer, only realizing his gift a few months earlier when his mother mistook his singing to be a song on the radio. Das, however, had been honing his singing and production skills since he was 8-years-old. Das’ musician father taught him how to produce beats. Shortly after Das’ family moved to Vegas when he was 13, he landed a deal with Jackson 5 brother Jackie's Jesco label. When Castro's parents divorced a few years later and moved back to the Midwest, Das opted to stay in Las Vegas and found himself living between friends in the city and L.A. It was in Los Angeles that his manager introduced him to Flash.
As Das and Castro were pulling things together, Compton-native Flash happened to be ending a stint as the rapper in the Warner Bros. Records boy band Youth Asylum. The six man group executive produced by Quincy Jones released the single "Jasmin," but the album was shelved. Ironically, as Flash was exiting Youth Asylum, his manager's business partner, who was managing Das, introduced the two. It was Das’ idea to add Flash to their group.
After hearing one of Flash's songs Das and Castro wanted to meet him. "I was like, 'Man, his voice, his tone is different from anybody else that I heard and besides that he was spitting,'" Das says about Flash's rap skills. "We need that cat'."
Das, Castro and their manager hopped on the I-15 and headed to L.A. to meet Flash and invited him to join the group on the spot.
"When I met Das and Castro I was like, 'Damn,'" Flash says. "I was so blown away. This is the perfect match of what I've been trying to do through all these groups I been in."
Castro, Das and Flash's effort to find the "perfect match" of musical styles is indeed appreciated, especially when considering the gimmick-driven R&B music that has been dominating the airwaves. It's definitely time for a change.
Album Coming EARLY 2008
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