It doesn't happen often. But every once in a while a young artist comes along who has the chops, vision, range and creative conviction to change the game. Miguel is among that chosen few.
Let's start with his voice: The Los Angeles, California, native has one of those raw honey falsettos that oozes into your soul and stays there, even after the music stops. Billboard Magazine exclaims, Miguel, 24, "offers both the sweetness of Babyface and the passion of R. Kelly." Yum.
Then there's the power of Miguel's pen. This Scorpio doesn't just write lyrics. He paints aural portraits—of his loves, his heartbreaks and his kinky little fantasies. "To me, the best songs are the ones that show how vulnerable, how human we all are," says Miguel. Penning Asher Roth's "His Dream," Mary J. Blige and Musiq's "If U Leave," and co-writing on Usher's Raymond V Raymond album, Miguel says, "For me, writing is like making steak and potatoes into a Happy Meal—how do I work in that substance but keep you coming back for more?"
With the album tracks on his ByStorm/Jive debut, All I Want Is You, Miguel certainly delivers. Through his longtime partnership with LA-based underground stalwarts Fisticuffs, and his visits with veteran boardsmen such as Salaam Remi and Dre & Vidal, Miguel has cooked up a truly genre-bending mélange of sounds. On the same platter, you'll find traces of the Cali avant garde hip-hop he picked up from his high school homie Blu; the funk, electro and classic rock he borrowed from his crate-digging Mexican-American dad; and the big, rich harmonies of his African-American mom's traditional soul.
"Overall, I call my style 'eclectric,'" says the crooner who considers himself a mashup of Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Pharell Williams. "It's edgy and it defies category, but it still reaches the people."
Produced by Remi and featuring Roc Nation firestarter J. Cole, the album's title track and lead single represents this balance. Since early summer, the hypnotic track has garnered widespread critical acclaim, constant radio play and a gang of online praise from everyday fans. The underground hip-hop heads who know Miguel from his features on Blu's Below the Heavens; the hipsters who downloaded his adventurous, electro- 2008 EP Mischief the Mixtape and the young people of today's generation screaming for him on BET's 106 & Park, have embraced the hit single.
With more than 8 million plays on MySpace, his second single "Sure Thing" has also captivated fans. The slow-burn makeup song features a chopped-and-screwed hook with rock candy-sweet lyrics like, "Even when the sky comes falling/ Even when the sun don't shine/I got faith in you and I/ So put your pretty little hand in mine." Like every track on All I Want Is You, the song is based on a true story. "I wrote 'Sure Thing' after I cheated on my girlfriend at the time," Miguel reveals. "Instantly, I knew I had made a mistake and I didn't want to do it again. I started writing all these metaphors about how she and I belonged together like, 'If you be the cash, I'll be the rubber band' and 'You be the match, I'm a be your fuse.' That song helped me sort out how I was feeling about her." Not only did "Sure Thing" help Miguel get his girl back, it compelled industry veteran Mark Pitts, JIVE Label Group's President of Urban Music and the CEO of ByStorm Entertainment, to sign the songwriter to an artist deal.
Miguel's true love story continues with the mid-tempo bounce of "Girls Like You," a track he penned after he and Miss "Sure Thing" split for good. "I was enjoying being single, but every so often I'd look at one of my homeboys who had a good girlfriend and it would remind me that I really wanted a connection. It was like, 'I'm out here doing all of this, but I'm still lonely.'"
Of course Miguel isn't all Hallmark romance. On "Teach Me," an electric-guitar-laced romp that recalls Prince, circa "Little Red Corvette," he chronicles his quest to satisfy a woman seven years his senior. "That was a very...interesting relationship," Miguel says with a sly smile. "'Teach Me' is about how I learned what she needed and wanted physically, all the intricacies of what turned her on."
And then there's "Quickie," a roots-reggae influenced fantasy of a one-night stand Miguel wrote after watching a mystery woman wind at the club. "'Quickie'" is a really special record for me because marks my personal renaissance. Up until then, I was known as the great guy, the little brother that girls would come to for advice," he explains. "But there was something about that night—maybe it was because I was underage at an over-21 venue doing adult things—that opened me up. I went home under the influence of alcohol and inspiration and I wrote."
Given his current candor and confidence, you might think Miguel Jontel Pimentel has always been so clear about his creative path. But you'd be dead wrong. While he started singing and dancing at age 5, songwriting at 8, producing at 11, and signing a production deal at 13, he eventually hit a wall.
"When I was coming up in the industry, I had people telling me to dress and dance more 'urban.' A few even said I should stay behind the scenes and write because I was a 'hard sell' as a half-Mexican guy who sounds Black but looks Filipino," he recalls without a trace of resentment. "At first I took the advice—I wore the white tees, the fitted caps and the baggy jeans and focused on writing—but that didn't work for me. Only when I said, 'Forget what everyone else says, I should be,' did the doors start to open for me as an artist."
And the doors are sure to stay that way for this artist's artist who cites James Brown, David Bowie, Queen, Kraftwerk and Jimi Hendrix as key influences. After all the hard work, Miguel has been receiving positive reviews as the opening act for this fall's Mary J. Blige "Music Saved My Life Tour" and recently confirmed as the opening act for Usher's "OMG Tour" in November. Later this year, after 10 years underground and behind the scenes, he'll deliver All I Want Is You to an ever-growing audience that can recognize true talent when they see and hear it.