Review Fix chats with singer/songwriter Darrell Kelley, who discusses his single, “Because of You,” as well as his origins in music and goals for the future.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Darrell Kelley: I cultivated my musical talents with the inspiration and encouragement of my uncle William Baskin (whom I fondly call “Uncle Billy”), a performer, choreographer and artist manager, aunt Donna DeRosa and mother Sandra Kelley. From the age of nine, I remember that my brother and I were always in the groups my uncle put together. My uncle taught us and our friends how to sing and perform. He used to make squares out of soap for me because I was out of step and couldn’t stay in the circle he taught us to move in. As I got older, he was my inspiration because of his success as a manager of so many groups in Boston, including The Fourth Amendment, which later evolved into Planet Patrol. These days, he still sings and plays organ at church. When Michael Jackson and Prince were huge in the 80s, my family knew I could perform just like MJ and asked me to sing “Billie Jean” at family get togethers. I entered all sorts of singing competitions at Roscoe’s when I was 18 and 19 years old, performing in four different colored tuxedos, and won first and second place many times. One competition was hosted by Maurice Starr, who put New Edition and New Kids on the Block together. I think I would have won that competition but I lost because I made a joke about Maurice’s brother, who was a judge, having a rented tux while I owned mine!
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Kelley: Randomly and quite frequently on the spot, when I think of a song, I write it. I love writing about every day life, from personal relationships to contemporary social issues that affect us all. If I see something in the news that I agree or disagree with, let’s say, I will write the lyrics and melody and then call the producers and studios I work with and lay everything down. I have the exclusive rights to my music via Viral Records, LLC, and they are for hire. I give them what I have written and tell them I need to create a groove with certain beats. I help organize it, I bring them my vision and the engineers I work with help me execute it. We trade tracks back and forth and I send them a final file and they go ahead and master it. Inspiration-wise, it’s primarily about everyday life. Sometimes, the initial inspiration can be quirky and unexpected. In an article someone wrote on me, the journalist said that I write songs faster than you can watch a movie and it wouldn’t surprise him if I would write a song called ‘Here Ends the Lesson.’ I read the article and the next day I had a song with that title done – and it became the title track of one of my albums last year! I can write a song in a minute to an hour. Every time I go into the studio, the process gets better and easier. It takes one to 20 minutes to get a track done, chopped up and engineered. Now I’m to the point when I go into the studio, I go over it a few times to make sure it’s done right.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
Kelley: Simple. People, family and everyday life. Sometimes, like I said, it’s an important issue related to an event in the news, such as when I wrote “Believe in Something” (Kneel) about (former 49ers quarterback) Colin Kaepernick and his decision to take a knee during the National Anthem. When he was attacked by everyone, I felt like he had the freedom of speech to express his opinion that way. It became one of my most popular songs. Or “Unity,” which is about police brutality and that protest in Charlottesville where someone ran over and killed a protester. These songs are based on important events and issues in our country. Often, I will simply hear a sound, like it and freestyle to it, singing just what I feel in the moment. My song “Mood” is an example. When I started freestyling it, I had no idea it would turn out like it did. Same with “Moonlight” and the Carribean styled “Beautiful,” about how I felt about the woman in my life and how I feel love is supposed to be.
Review Fix: What does music mean to you?
Kelley: Love, unity, acceptance and living. I believe especially in the power of love, which inspired me to create my grass roots UWGEAM ministry. In the world today, you have to have love and for me, music is a reflection of that. For those who are religious, they can’t talk about Jesus if they don’t know the meaning of love. When I talk about Unity in my songs and elsewhere, it’s about a world where color and cultural differences don’t matter. I truly feel we need to come together as a country. In my view, when we talk about acceptance, you can be gay, confused, or a person who smokes weed. As long as it’s not illegal or wrong in God’s eyes…because only God judges. I think we should accept people regardless of their faults. Our acceptance should extend to our passion for all kinds of music. If you can dance to a song and listen over and over, you shouldn’t care if the artist is black or white, or what country that artist comes from. There are a lot of haters in this world, and music is one way of combating that and bringing people together.
Review Fix: What makes this project – these three new videos – special?
Kelley: I am very honored that people love them, and to me, it’s because they relate to everyday living. Their messages are important to me as well. “Because of You” reflects my feeling that we all need to get involved to stop gun violence in our lives that continues killing children and innocent people. The message behind the song is that we have to come together in support of our communities to make sure the situation doesn’t continue and to ultimately put a stop to it. “Turn It Up,” on the other hand, is a song about the fact that we should enjoy life as much as we can. As long as we’re not drinking and driving and being disorderly, it’s good to have fun with our family and friends and have a good time. One of my favorite lyrics is, “Don’t sip the cup/You gotta drink it up.” I want people to party and enjoy themselves. Likewise with “Get Wild.” No matter where you are or go in life to have fun, get wild and enjoy yourself while interacting with people. Be authentic. If you party on Friday and Saturday, don’t pretend you didn’t when you go to church on Sunday. You can do both in life and not be ashamed. I talk about three things in my songs and day to day life: You’ve got to love God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself and treat others the way you want to be treated. And live your life with respect to those first two things. Don’t let people judge you.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Kelley: Unique! I wouldn’t make it if I didn’t feel it was awesome! To be honest, I don’t listen to my own music every day or analyze it too closely as far as style and genre. I just know I love doing it and consider myself just an average person doing average things. I’m still the same guy I was before I started making music professionally. As far as influences, I draw from a lot of places, including R&B, gospel, hip hop and African and Caribbean sounds. I hear all kinds of music and just enjoy it and those vibes are definitely part of it. I like to say I write music and don’t really care what anyone calls it as long as they listen, love it and appreciate my message.
Review Fix: How are you live shows different from your studio work?
Kelley: Whether I’m making music live or in the studio, everything is driven by the fact that I love people. I just go out and enjoy myself. If I’m doing a video shoot, am onstage or in the studio, I’m the same person. I’m serious about my music, but I also love having fun, laughing and cracking jokes. I don’t pay attention to my surroundings most of the time. Anywhere I go, I’m basically all about communicating and interacting with people. I smile at everyone I meet and ask how are you. Just as I love connecting with people when I’m performing, I am personally invested in everyone I encounter in real life. Recently when I was at KFC, I saw a family with four kids and I gave the mother a donation because I remember how it was growing up with a mom struggling to support eight children. I always want to make a difference, and take that sensibility to the stage. When I’m up there, I always remind myself that nobody who is playing with me and no audience member is different from me. I just want to uplift people.
Review Fix: What inspired your latest single “Because of You”?
Kelley: It was inspired by an interview CNN’s Don Lemon conducted with a student who survived the 2018 Parkland High School shooting. Darrell was moved when the boy looked straight at the camera and singled out the NRA, saying, “What are you going to do about it? Wait till another person gets shot?” The boy was distraught at what took place and gave a very emotional response that touched me deeply. I thought about the situation, how this violence was affecting kids and everyone else and the NRA’s role in gun violence, and felt compelled to write the song.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2020?
Kelley: I want to start performing at festivals and concerts, get onstage, have fun and share the love. I think I’ve been hiding myself in the studio too long. I will go wherever I am welcomed. I also plan on releasing a new album, though I’m not sure what the overall vibe of it will be. I’m excited as well about signing new artists to my label Viral Records, LLC.