After spending the start of his career behind-the-scenes as a producer and songwriter for some of the biggest names in music, Compton native Eric Bellinger decided to re-introduce himself as an R&B solo act.

Bellinger started with the 2013 mixtape series Born II Sing; his commercial debut was the 2014 album The Rebirth. In April, he released his fourth studio album, Eazy Call, which harkens back to his starting point.

"I definitely was aiming for Rebirth vibes," he tells XXL. "I wanted to cover a lot of different sounds. I still wanted some hip-hop influence—I wanted it to feel like that [but] I wanted it to be R&B." His 15-track offering pulls off the trick, roping in features from Tink, Mila J, Ma$e, and Wale.

Eric Bellinger sat down with XXL to break down the sound of his recent album, the feeling of seeing his young son Elysha gravitate towards music and the ways in which he's modeling his music career after Beyoncé.

XXL: Why did you name the album Eazy Call?

Eric Bellinger: Eazy Call was a saying amongst the crew, something that we always used to say. "See you in the morning, easy call! Yo, let's hit the strip club, easy call." When it came down to titling the album, it was a joke at first. "We should just call it Eazy Call." We just rolled with it.

What sets this apart from your previous stuff?

With this project in particular, I was aiming for each song being a single in its own right. Maybe this one's R&B, maybe this one's a club, West Coast joint, maybe this one's a rhythmic crossover song. Samples, originals, club—I just wanted to make sure each song could stand on its own. Luckily I did that, because people be like "Man, I like starting backwards, I like starting from number 15 and working my way back." It's paying off, because we live in a playlist world anyway. They just want great music in a playlist form, and we kinda did that with this.

Production wise, what do you look for?

I definitely go beat first when I'm making songs. And the song kinda gotta write itself, low-key. If I'm on it for longer than 20 to 30 minutes and I don't hear an idea, that beat is gone. It's a feeling. The music needs to sound like the instrumental to that one song everybody loves. And I hear that within the first five or 10 seconds. The same way when you popping through an album and you hear something, I'm listening and I'm skipping through beats quick. Its tough sometimes, because producers are there with me. They be like, "Boy, you gotta let it get to..."— I don't though.

Ma$e features on "Not a Love Song" in a way that's modern but sounds true to his sound. What was the mindset behind fitting him in the song? 

With "Not A Love Song," we knew that that one was just a dope club track but it still could cross over. We had the success together with the song "Nothing" but it never reached its full potential—we wasn't really promoting it. [Ma$e] was just like, "Let's get it out there, let's shoot a video." He's old school: "The song will do it's thing, E. We don't gotta hit no radio stations." For the longest I was gon' ask him [to] let me just get "Nothing," make new verses and keep [him] on one of the verses. The song is just too crazy. But once we got another one, I knew this is the one I need him on. I just held it and waited until I got in the room with him.

You and Tory Lanez traded some disses. What happened there?

I wasn't gonna say anything, I wasn't gonna respond. I let so many things slide. I'm like "Aight cool, he did the tag once. Boom, he did it again. Let me just make a joke of it, because he said it twice, and this is my brand." I don't wanna look like I'm not claiming and standing for what's mine. So I just posed a question: "Is it just me or is he out here trying to take my tag? We gonna get Tory a tag!" I was laughing and just forgot about it.

When the album came, I listened and I heard [his diss on "Hate to Say"]. Of course everyone's blowing my phone up before I could even get to it. I was like, "OK cool, he's really taking shots!" Even that, I was like I'ma still chill, it's the third time. Then I saw an interview, then another, then another, gettin reckless, real disrespectful. With my album coming out, you dont think I'm about to use this to my advantage? I'm very smart, very strategic. I'm not going to the studio just to roast you; I'm going to big up myself.

So it's water under the bridge now?

Yeah, I'm good now. I got it off my chest. He said what he said, I said what I said. I was defending what's mine. I'm just kinda on my toes to see what's next.

Why did you partner with Tink and Mila J on the album? 

It's interesting because I had "Aint Ya Ex" [and] I knew I wanted a female feature. The Tink situation happened first; that was an email vibe. I haven't got the chance to meet her but she just blessed that joint. I had a session the same day with Mila. It was like, "Alright, I just sent that, Tink said she supposed to get on there, I can either play a different song for Mila or I can get on my DJ Khaled swag and make the ultimate R&B song." I had Mila in the studio so we did everything to make sure we rounded it out. Both of them came with it and gave great perspectives from the women.

That gender arrangement isn't super common on R&B songs.

That's one of my gifts: arranging, vocal arranging. I used to be in multiple singing groups, so I knew how to make everybody still feel like [they're] on the song.

Are you really hands-on with the process?

Yeah man. From picking the beats to mixing and mastering. I'm right there the whole time, because ain't nobody else—I got the ear, I'm the one! You feel me! I got the Bruce LeRoy glow! If I leave it up to anybody to do what God gave me the gift to do, then its not gonna be done properly, because He didn't give them my gift.

How do you keep up with current sounds while making music your way?

You have to adapt. The music was always classic, because I knew my history. En Vogue, SWV, TLC, all these incredible talents, but I always keep my ears to the streets. I remember a lot of the younger guys, "Oh, mumble rap" but they good to me! They know how to make hooks; their hooks are very simple."

It takes a certain talent to have that feel for hooks, a lot of people diminish that.

When Beyoncé does it, they don't notice it as much because her voice is amazing. Like on "Single Ladies," she just said the same thing a million times and nobody complains because she gonna hit them harmonies. I be tryin' to be on my male Beyoncé vibe, low-key.

You've been always been one for a looser, more-fun R&B, while remaining relatable. Is that an aim for you or is it just part of your personality?

I'm always smiling, just ear-to-ear positive, optimistic. And it comes off in the music. My actual life is really the happy life. I got a son who is 3 years old. He keeps the house full of energy. And my wife takes care of me. Writing and being behind the scenes set me up to where my finances is straight. I'm not a struggling artist even though I'm independent. I can create comfortably. Not having to answer to no label allows me to be the creative I am, without having to get approval from people who don't necessarily see my vision.

How does having a family affect your music and approach to performance?

It's still tough getting used to certain things. I'm used to being R&B—taking shirts off, jumping in the crowd. And it's crazy because I be trying to censor it a little bit sometimes. But my wife be like, "Take yo shirt off!" It's fun to be able to do the music and sing to women with the goal of being the example that they can look at like, "I just want somebody that's gonna treat me like the way you treat your wife and your family." It's the best of both worlds. I still go a lil' crazy, [but] she's not tripping on nothing. She know what time it is. She's older than me, so she's wiser in a lot of things.

Has your son shown signs that he may want to follow in your footsteps?

I have everything for him: a studio at home, the junior mic set up, a little keyboard and a guitar. He makes beats, he be singing. In the mornings, my wife will come in and catch us and just put it on her Instagram—us just creating.

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