Catching up with Steven Russell Harts of Troop
As music continues to evolve and develop, we often times forget about those behind the scenes. However, there are creative individuals such as Pharrell who strive to debunk this notion as well as Steven Russell Harts. One-fifth of ’80s R&B group, Troop, Harts never really left the music industry, even though long-time fans might think otherwise.
The 40-year-old has developed into a seasoned songwriter and producer, penning hits for Chris Brown, Charlie Wilson and others. Hungry for the spotlight once again, Harts released his first solo album, So Random and is currently working alongside his Troop brothers for a reunion project. JET had the opportunity to catch up with Steven Russell Harts to chat about his songwriting talents, So Random and the Troop reunion.
JET: How did Troop come about?
Steven Russell Harts: Troop started in high school in Pasadena, California in 1984. I was 13 going on 14. I was known throughout Pasadena for my Michael Jackson performances. I had about 14 songs. I would perform “Thriller” and “Billie Jean” around Air Force bases. Some of the guys in Troop went on a television show called Putting on the Hits. A producer called the show and wondered if the guys could really sing. Once they got a letter from the show, my buddy Rodney B called me and said, “A producer called the show and was wondering if we could sing. Do you want to be in the group?” I told him, “Heck yeah!” [laughs] I was in the 9th grade when Troop started. We got signed when I was in the 10th grade but our first single, “Mamacita” didn’t come out until 1988.
JET: What was the transition like from entertainer to producer and songwriter?
SRH: It was pretty rough at first. I’m a performer and singer by nature. When Troop first got signed and we were working with Gerald Levert, Chuckii Booker, Babyface and others, I was really intrigued by the production process and what goes into producing someone’s vocals. When most people hear an artist sing, they think that’s all them and they’re THAT amazing when it’s actually the producer who has the vision. The producer says, “No sing it like this or sing it a little higher.” The producer is the director of the product. That always intrigued me. When Troop dissipated, I was holding on to these songs like there was another Troop album that was going to happen. My mom brought it to my attention saying, “Son, you have to eat. You have to keep working until Troop comes back.” When she told me that, I started to send songs to different people at record companies. That’s when things changed. My songwriting was better than my prodcution skills; but people gave me opportunties to produce records because they loved my songs.
JET: How is your writing style different?
SRH: At that time, I had yet to hit the notoriety as a writer or producer because I wasn’t promoted as such. When I became a part of the production group, The Underdogs, I reaped all the benefit and relationships from the music we would write. I was kind of a ghost in the public eye. People in the industry knew Steven Russell from Troop was with The Underdogs, but the public doesn’t know I wrote Chris Brown’s “Take You Down” or Jennifer Hudson’s “Invincible.” Now, I’m at a point where I’m getting ready to get my shine.
JET: When was the point where you realized you needed to branch out on your own?
SRH: I started with The Underdogs in 2000. I continue to write with them till this day because we’re good friends. Once I realized I accomplished everything I could accomplish with The Underdogs, I looked at myself as an artist to determine if I can get that fire back. The industry says 40 is old, but in reality it’s not. I feel like I’m 25. My first solo album, So Random, is on iTunes. When you’re a part of a team, you can take them far. I had a good run with The Underdogs, but now it’s Steven’s time.
JET: What type of development went into So Random?
SRH: In the midst of writing songs for Charlie Wilson or Chris Brown, I might write five songs, but they won’t choose them all. I had all of these great songs from all these different projects I worked on with The Underdogs. The artists might not pick them because they’re looking for something different. I took the best Steven Russell songs and put them together to create a new album. I added the body to complete the body of the work. I did “Rock With You.” A lot of people don’t have the nerve to touch a Michael Jackson classic, but I think I did a good job.
JET: What’s next for you?
SRH: I just released my single “Shelter” on iTunes under Steven Harts. I’m working on Faith Evans’ new single from her new project, Keke Palmer on her new project and television show as well as with Michel’le from R&B Divas. I’m also working on Troop’s new project. We just filmed our episode of Unsung. We’re booked to do Arsenio over the summer. There’s a lot of production, songwriting and Troop’s new album.
JET: So contrary to public belief, you never stopped working?
SRH: I never stopped working. I’ve been on the charts since 1988. People have been hearing vocals and wondering why it sounds familiar. I’ve always sung background vocals, whether it was for Charlie Wilson, Chris Brown or Tyrese. I’ve been around secretly the entire time.
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