Newcomer Miguel ready for the spotlight with his 'eclec-tric' hybrid of R&B
“I was actually part of a freak show, had an extra arm -– that’s how I learned to play the guitar. I then worked my way up to tight-rope-walking, then lion-taming,” he said.
OK, so the singer born Miguel Pimentel has a healthy sense of humor and took the more common approach of discovering music as a youngster.
The 24-year-old singer-songwriter from San Pedro is enjoying his move to the spotlight with his first single, “All I Want Is You” featuring buzzy rapper J. Cole. The single, from his debut album, has peaked at No. 7 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
He is especially eager to get his music out there after previously landing a deal as a young teen that ultimately didn't pan out. After his recordings found their way to Mark Pitts, Jive Label Group’s president of urban music and CEO of Bystorm Entertainment, Pitts signed him in 2007, but not before the newcomer found himself in a holdup with his previous label.
“[Pitts] has been such a champion for me. I went through some legal troubles with the other deal, which is why I’m coming out so late. He stood behind me 100%,” he says. “For him to vouch for me, because he is so respected, it kind of opens people up a bit more to me than they normally would.”
Having Pitts behind him isn’t the only major co-sign he's received this year. Talking backstage late last month, he was prepping for his opening slot on Mary J. Blige’s “Music Saved My Life” tour and already knew his next gig: supporting label mate Usher’s “OMG” tour. It rolls into Los Angeles on Thursday after playing a show near Miguel's hometown Sunday. It’s also a bonus because he has penned tracks for both Usher and Blige.
He points to musicians such as Prince, James Brown and David Bowie, along with Queen, as his influences, and it shows on the album, a hybrid of R&B, funk, hip-hop, dubstep, rock and electronica –- or “eclec-tric,” as he calls it.
“I always use that term. It’s a sound that I’m pioneering and still developing. The reason I use the word is I want the music to remind you of really special nuances of music that you love from the past, but to always have something that’s electrifying and new,” he said. “I think my style as far as vocal delivery and even down to the pronunciation of certain words is so deliberate.”
Pimentel said he hopes listeners will be able to relate to the album, which hits stores Nov. 30. It’s a throwback to classic R&B themes of having love, leaving it and being single, with an edge that should help him carve a niche in the overflowing market of male crooners –- he is, after all, opening for one of the biggest, and the tour also features ladies man of the moment Trey Songz.
Songs such as the catchy first single, the dance-ready “Pay Me” and the intensely personal “Sure Thing” -- which he wrote for an ex-girlfriend after cheating on her and which has gotten more than 8 million spins on his MySpace page -- make him an artist to watch.
“I was really in that place, emotionally, and exhausted by regret. All I really wanted was her,” he said. “Everything [on the album] is personal. I didn’t just pull it out of thin air.”
He cracks a smile at his nearly 10-year journey to get to this point. As he plucks away at his Fender guitar -- a gift from his father -- which he named Scarlet for its deep crimson hue and his “affinity for Scarlett Johansson,” he looks back on the roadblocks that almost curbed him.
“It’s ironic that who I am ethnically had so much to do with why I wasn’t signed before. There was a process of trying to identify myself in society and who I represent and there came a time when people were confused,” he said. “People saw me and didn’t know what. It’s like, ‘He looks Asian, but his name is Miguel, and he sings like he’s black.’ But it’s a selling point now … because being raised in L.A., I kinda represent what L.A. is now.”
Miguel, with Trey Songz and Usher, at Staples Center; 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $29.50-$125, not including surcharges.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Kai Regan