Gizelle Hernandez / PLATOON
Five months ago, when on the Tank and J Valentine-led R&B Money Podcast, there was a moment where it stood quietly around the 60-minute mark during James Fauntleroy's appearance. By then, the Inglewood, CA native had already discussed his illustrious songwriting career that saw him write and co-write hits with the iconic likes of Bruno Mars, Beyonce, SZA, Justin Timberlake, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hussle, Beyonce and Rihanna alongside his role in collective Cocaine 80s. Discussing how he accomplished all of this without interacting completely with the major label executive community, he starts by saying, “If you’re listening,” before making a bold proclamation about himself.
“It’s because I’m one of the coldest n-ggas to ever live,” says Fauntleroy with his hands pressed together near his face. “Even long after me when I’m gone there’s going to be a windchill in my absence because I’m so f-cking cold.”
Speaking with BET, the singer/songwriter spoke about those early moments in hindsight that would help shape his deity, such as talents and self-realization—from writing his third song with Teddy Riley to expressing gratitude for his diverse musical influences that include Kim Burrell, Brandy, Joe, Luther Vandross, and Anita Baker, Fauntleroy also emphasized the importance of reading books as a factor that sets him apart.
“The other reason they can't fuck with me is they don't read books,” said Fauntleroy, who mentioned author Yuval Noah Harari ‘s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind as his current literary fascination. “If you don't read a book, you can never, ever, ever fuck with me for the rest of your non-reading ass life asshole. And that's it. At least pick up the Bible if you ain't going to do nothing else.”
His choice in book selection makes sense, considering the type of songs he’s written over the past decades. Fauntleroy highlights the importance of such books for writers, explaining that understanding the human experience is crucial for creating meaningful music. Fauntleroy expresses a deep interest in subjects like philosophy and human history, emphasizing how these studies contribute to his ability to interpret and convey the complexities of human existence through his art.
“Getting into shit like that also is a big contributor to these niggas inability to compete,” he mentioned.
Beyond his role as one of the most definitive songwriters within the current era, Fauntleroy managed to also grow a solid fan base around his solo recording work through projects such as String Theory Acoustic, The Coldest Summer Ever, Leading By Example, and several others beyond singing lead for the No ID led Cocaine 80s. When speaking with Fauntleroy, he discussed being introduced to singing during an illness that left him bedridden.
“I started singing because I got really sick,” explained Fauntleroy. “I couldn't move. I was bedridden for a long time, and my primary creative outlet was art. I was really into drawing. I wanted to animate. I wanted to do character design. I wanted to design clothes, all this art shit. And then I couldn't move, so that made it hard to draw.”
Fauntleroy honed those skills by singing in various churches around Los Angeles, where he eventually joined a musical collective that would eventually be known as 1500 or Nothin’. Singing was more of a creative outlet for songwriting and getting creative juices flowing. For him, it was about prioritizing improvement over seeking recognition beyond the value of maintaining a mysterious persona in his career. Despite not having a huge fan base, there’s a real level of respect he has for his fans.
“I’ve always had a really small fan base, but it’s just been a powerful fan base,” said Fauntleroy. “My fans are some of the most sophisticated listeners in the world, including the creative community, some of the biggest stars on earth. It really has been just pushing me every time somebody's hitting me to be like, yo, I love this.”
This is what makes his debut album, The Warmest Winter Ever, a blend of providing fan service to his day ones while attempting to reach new audiences. Almost ten years since dropping 2014’s Warmest Winter Ever and sequel Warmest Winter Ever II in 2016, the album sees these two hitting music streaming services for the first time besides nine new tracks when it drops December 8th.
“I have to show the people that listen to my music how impactful they are to me,” said Fauntleroy of the Christmas album filled with incredibly grown-and-sexy R&B that’s not for children. “I got all these skills and I'm the coldest nigga alive. I got to let these motherfuckers know I appreciate this. So that's really what is the motivator behind me stepping out.”
Songs like “Sleigh” and “Body Heat” prove James is pushing the creative freedoms he experiences in this solo venture compared to writing for others while pushing himself vocally. Of course, The Warmest Winter Ever follows the announcement that his Brazilian Jazz-inspired collaborative project was released earlier this year; Nova with Terrace Martin was recently nominated for Best Progressive R&B album for next year’s Grammys. The project is the first time he’ll be nominated as a recording artist.
Fauntleroy’s relationship with Martin goes back to his time being in Snoop Dogg’s band at one point. Martin facilitated him getting his first check. The relationship between the two has grown since they began working with each other several moons ago.
“When Martin came to me and was like let’s do a Bossa Nova album, I was like this a smart nigga right here because he definitely had me engaged,” described Fauntleroy. “I was just really super excited to be working with somebody I’ve known my whole career on my favorite type of music. Then the way it came out, I couldn’t be more proud of what we were able to create.”
As the year changes to 2024, expect more music from Fauntleroy. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t continued lending his pen game to other artists. Beyond saying he’s working with two superstars, one of them is Bruno Mars. Whatever those two are cooking up will be the first time they’ve worked together since the 2016 Billboard chart topper and Grammy Album of the Year winner 24K Magic. So far, Fauntleroy has a total of four golden gramophone wins.
“I could have a whole nother fucking hour talking about how much I learned working with Bruno Mars,” he explained. “This nigga is a genius.”
Fauntleroy has emerged over the decades as a multifaceted artist who seamlessly transitioned between prolific songwriters and visionary solo recording artists. If he’s spent most of his career as a scriptwriter writing compelling narratives and hits, now he’s focusing more on delivering them as an actor with unparalleled artistry.
“I focus on the character that I’m portraying when singing,” explained Fauntleroy. “It really made me look at singing as an acting role. That’s all great singing is. It’s method acting.”
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