Sammie was blessed with a voice that propelled him atop of Billboard R&B/Hip Hop song charts at just the tender age of 13. The 30-year-old singer left his mark on R&B culture over 10 years ago with hits like “I Like It” and “Crazy Things I Do For Love”. But his success couldn’t amount to his desire for a normal childhood, thus Sammie fell back from the spotlight and took a hiatus to continue school and have a balanced life.
Now Sammie is back to be the “savior” of R&B, he tells The Source. His forthcoming album Coming of Age is “transparent” and vulnerable. Components that current R&B lack. Sammie is currently on The Savage Tour with Tank and talked to us about touring with one of his idols, and his transition from boy to man.
How’d your life change after going platinum at just 13 years old?
Drastically. I was humbled of course, and grateful, that my dreams started to manifest. At 8 years old I knew that I wanted to pursue music professionally. And at 12 years old I was blessed to land a deal with Capitol Records and Free World Entertainment via Dallas, Austin. Um, I was just grateful. But it took some of my normalcy away. I don’t think as a child I was prepped for that part of things. I couldn’t go to the gym and play basketball anymore. I couldn’t play Little League football anymore. But those are the sacrifices you have to make when indulging in this industry. But music has always been my passion. So just to be living out my dream at such a young age, and to be accomplished, and sell a million records, was a dream come true.
When you went “ghost” the first time were you avoiding the lack of normalcy and the backlash of not being able to make mistakes in private like a normal kid your age would be able to do?
50 percent of my first hiatus was a collective decision between myself and my parents to just go to school and enjoy being a child. Making some mistakes outside of the public eye. The other 50 percent was actually my mother, my manager at the time, as well as Dallas Austin, they made an executive decision to part ways. But in hindsight I’m glad that it happened because I need balance in life. I need to be like the superstar Sammie, but I also need to be Sammie Leigh Bush Jr. Just the average guy that’s blessed to do extraordinary things. So it all worked out and then at 18 I decided that I want to come back to music and by the grace of God and my loyal fan base they embraced me back.
Of course they did. You’re from that “lil era” from the late 90s to 2001. We had the Lil Sammie, Lil Bow Wow, Lil Romeo, Lil Wayne, Lil Zane. Eventually you guys grew up and dropped the “lil”. Are you in contact with any of these people still?
I see Bow sometimes around. I actually ran into Romeo when I was in LA about two weeks ago. It’s cool to just see us all grow and still flourish the way we’re flourishing, because it’s hard to stay in this business this long without selling your soul, and without having to sacrifice your brand to stay relevant. So it’s just a blessing and I’m happy for all those guys.
To back track, you said that you knew at the age of 8 years old that you wanted to pursue music professionally. What was the exact moment or event that made everything come full circle?
I was in a group in Miami, Florida called Wonder 3 and we auditioned for the Apollo Theater in New York City. They called back, and I was the youngest one, I was like ten years young. They were like 15 or 16. I got the call back that they wanted me for Apollo Kids and the group gave me access, or permission rather, to go pursue it and I was discovered when I did the Apollo in 1990 and I made it the finals in 1999. Joyce Earby she was the lead singer of The Climax, she reached out to my mother, she took us to Dallas Austin and the rest was history.
You know Lauryn Hill got booed at amateur night at the Apollo? You weren’t nervous about getting booed?
Of course, I was terrified. My insides were shaking. And I’m still like that at 30 years old. I get the hiccups before every show. Its like a defense mechanism I get for my nerves. Right when I walk on stage, I’m back to normal and comfortable. I just give it my best and I think I could live with myself as long as I’m able to leave my soul, my spirit, and my passion on stage. Often times I found out that energy is reciprocated by the fans. I was definitely terrified but once it’s game time it’s game time.
You’re known to sing about loving your girl, and being compassionate, and faithful. Can we expect the same theme in your new project Coming of Age?
Oh yes. Coming of Age is the most vulnerable, honest, transparent album that I’ve ever released. I gone through so many ups and downs in relationships. I been in some healthy situations and I been in some toxic situations. I’ve committed infidelity before, then I’ve been truly faithful and I had that happen to me. So I put all that into my music. I really don’t do a lot of tweets or Instagram posts about my personal life and my love life, but in my music I’m all the way transparent so I think that’s why it resonates with everybody. Because we all go through heartbreaks, we all go through pain, we all try to experience true love in the purest form. And I put that in my music and that’s why it kinda reaches everybody.
Your song “I’m Him” made it to The Shade Room and I instantly thought, “Sammie’s back?!” Are you anything like the guy you were singing about?
Yeah. I can’t write things that’s fabricated. I mean I can, but it’s not genuine. All my life I been able to sell myself by being myself. So the “I’m Him” record has always been me, I just felt like that record was missing in the genre of R&B. The content is saying so much since the early 2000s or the late 90s rather, it was no wonder why it went viral that day. People miss that kind of content. It was just a gentleman like record. It was showing that chivalry isn’t dead. It’s okay to court a woman still. Somehow that has become frowned upon in the genre of R&B. So I wanted to be one of the ones to resurrect that content.
So that’s the energy you’re putting off the ladies are going to want to know if you’re single, dating, or it’s complicated?
I’m actually newly single, two months strong. I’m just focusing on God, family, and music. A new album is already coming in my mind because I was dating a beautiful spirit for two years. But things just didn’t work out. I don’t think we were ever on the frequency waves that we needed to be at the same time. But it’s nothing but love for her but I am single.
Do you listen to Bryson Tiller or Daniel Caesar?
I do listen to Bryson Tiller. I love his content. The Trapsoul mixtape/album was genius. It was pure, it was raw, and it was executed in a different way. You know he has Hip Hop elements in his music, but the content is exactly what the women needed to hear, and to me that’s why it was so successful. So shout outs to Tiller for that.
Would you consider him R&B, or the new term “R&Bass”?
No I don’t know what genre he falls into. But I think it’s dope. I think it’s his own thing. Because he actually raps sometimes, and then he has melody of course. A little reminiscing of Drake, but it’s just refreshing because the content isn’t so Hip Hop driven and that’s what I can appreciate. But it’s not like the Joe, Tank, Jon B, Brian McKnight of the world. I was a young kid growing up on those guys so to me that’s genuine R&B. However, I respect what Tiller does.
You mentioned R&B is lacking certain traditional components. What do you think is responsible for that?
I think it’s auto tune actually. It gave the rappers of today, the ability to sing with melody. But their content remained the same. Then that became super dominant on radio, so to get on radio you had to do that. So a lot of my industry R&B peers they deviated from the traditional sound and went more Hip Hop driven to get more DJ play and club play. And I think it’s just one long song now on the radio because I think everyone is afraid to do what’s traditional and what’s genuine R&B. But again I don’t have to play the politics game. Being independent also gives me the freedom to creatively control what I want to put out and convey to the world. I say it all the time that I’m not trying to be the King of R&B or the Prince. I think the people have to choose you for that, but I do want to be the savior of it. I feel like if my album is successful, if my touring is successful, if my content is successful then it opens the doors and gateways for everyone to do genuine music again. But I think auto tune is the genuine reason R&B took a turn for the worse.
How does it feel to be going on tour with Tank on The Savage Tour?
Its been amazing. We did Raleigh, North Carolina last night it was sold out. The women sang every record word-for-word. Then Nashville, Tennessee the first show was sold out as well. It’s just crazy to be able to perform records from 1999 all the way up now to 2017. These were young girls I was singing to back in the day, and now we’re all grown it’s kind of like we were raised together. So many girls cried last night, and it’s just funny to me because I remember them crying when they were little girls and I didn’t know I had that kind of effect still at 30. Its been a minute to see that and I’m just so humble and grateful. I’m learning now to just enjoy the moment. Like the entire process of the comeback. Again, I thank The Shade Room for that because I wasn’t even trying to be Sammie the artist. I was cool being behind the scenes, just writing here and there. But the “I’m Him” record propelled me back to the front and I’m just having a ball man. Tank is like a big brother to me so I’m on tour with one of my idols and it’s amazing. It’s like living a dream.
What’s your set sounding like?
It’s literally like a time machine. I have from 1999 all the way to current. I got mixtape stuff. I have a 30-35 minute set so I have time to dance around all kind of elements and time in my records or my career. Its been amazing. We’re off to D.C. now performing at the Howard Theater tomorrow. So city by city I’m just leaving pieces of my spirit and soul all over.
Coming of Age is slate to be released on September 15th.