Miguel: An 'Honest Introduction' To An R&B Star Miguel has been kicking around the music industry for a decade. He says the success of his 2012 album, Kaleidoscope Dream, feels like the introduction he's been waiting for.

Miguel: An 'Honest Introduction' To An R&B Star

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.


CORNISH: In a year dominated by bombastic dance hits, R&B artist Miguel landed five Grammy nominations and heavy rotation with a quieter sound.


MIGUEL PIMENTEL: (Singing) Yeah, these lips. Can't wait to taste your skin, baby. No, no.

CORNISH: Miguel Pimentel is 27, and he's been making music for years. But it was this year and with this song, "Adorn," from his second album "Kaleidoscope Dream" that Miguel broke through with his modern take on R&B.


CORNISH: Miguel joins us here at NPR to talk more about it. Welcome to the program.

PIMENTEL: Thank you so much for having me.

CORNISH: Well, your album "Kaleidoscope Dream" is landing on some critics' best of list this year. Does this feel like a little bit of a coming out party for you?

PIMENTEL: Man, it feels like honest introduction. Whereas my first album, I think, showcases my ability to be creative and write good songs, I think this album feels much more personal.



CORNISH: So you grew up in Los Angeles. And from what I understand, you're half Mexican, half black?

PIMENTEL: Mexican, yes.

CORNISH: So tell us a little a bit more about that growing up and that effect on your music.

PIMENTEL: Well, yeah. My father is from Zamora, Michoacan, Mexico. He's a first-generation American. My mother is a black woman from L.A. They met in high school. And I grew up in San Pedro, which is like a port city in L.A., and I kind of grew up right where the projects start, so kind of in the not-so-good parts. And I think in the time, you know, it was like early '90s, there was a lot of racial tension, which helped me realize that life is very much about making decisions because I caught myself in the middle of a few scuffles growing up, you know, what side I was going to be on, Mexican or black.

And I think making the decision to be neither, to be being myself and being different and standing by that went a long way for my ability to do that as a musician, you know, and decide what it is I really want.


CORNISH: What do you hear in modern R&B? What does it sound like, and what are you trying to move into? What are you trying to move away from?

PIMENTEL: Historically, black music has influenced other genres and created other genres. I mean, rock would have never happened without blues, you know what I mean? We would have never had hip-hop without R&B. And somehow, I feel like R&B and soul music has forgotten that it was, at one time, the influencer. And now, it's being more influenced. It's more about what does everyone else like, what is everyone else doing, let me be acceptable to everyone else. And so it's almost so commercially driven that it's lost the essence which is the soul and the emotion behind it.

CORNISH: Because pop music, and R&B pop music, in particular, it's very regimented.

PIMENTEL: Absolutely.

CORNISH: Song, song - I don't know what it is, like chorus bridge...


CORNISH: ...breakdown...

PIMENTEL: Yeah. It's very...

CORNISH: ...rapper come in...

PIMENTEL: ...formulaic.


PIMENTEL: Yeah, very formulaic. It's right there. It's right there.

CORNISH: Well, a song like "Where's the Fun in Forever" doesn't feel like any of that.


CORNISH: Is that okay to say?

PIMENTEL: I love it. Thank you. I appreciate that.


CORNISH: I see you plucking away the imaginary base here.


PIMENTEL: Absolutely.

CORNISH: And you can't help it.

PIMENTEL: I'll never forget being in Jamaica. And this song was originally written with and for Alicia Keys. She was really sweet to have us out to Jamaica for her album. And we were underneath the stars on the rooftop of a studio, and we created a makeshift studio on the roof. So, I mean, just a blanket of stars in the sky and nothing but the sound of the ocean in the distance. And the very first thought was, we're not going to live forever, but where's the fun in forever, anyway?

And it just became this song. And it was just such a - for me, the notion was very personal just because I feel like this year, I started to realize that I'm not invincible, and that times are changing, and I'm changing, and my family is getting older. I'm happy to be responsible for things now. And for a moment, it felt - it was really heavy. You know, it was really heavy. But for some reason, it was this moment and just looking up at the stars that I just felt this incredible sense of relief. And it just has a great vibe to it. I'm glad you played it.



CORNISH: Oh, that was her?

PIMENTEL: Yeah. That's her. We were in that room. And those are us - that's us clapping in the room. It was a good time. Actually, I have a video of that that I just found in my phone (unintelligible).


CORNISH: Oh, my God...

PIMENTEL: It's great, yeah.

CORNISH: ...I didn't recognize her voice at all.



CORNISH: Well, Miguel, I really appreciate you speaking to us.


PIMENTEL: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

CORNISH: It was really great. Thank you so much. And best of luck with the album.

PIMENTEL: Thank you. Thank you very much.

CORNISH: Miguel's album is called "Kaleidoscope Dream." You can watch him give an unplugged performance in our office at nprmusic.org.


CORNISH: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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