It’s been a long time coming. That’s probably how Eric Bellinger feels after earning his first Grammy nomination for his personal work at this year’s award. The singer previously received a nomination at the Grammys nearly a decade ago, but it came through his work on Chris Brown’s 2011 album F.A.M.E. He’d go on to earn himself a Grammy Award in 2012 thanks to that album securing a win in the Best R&B Album category. Bellinger was nominated as a songwriter once again in 2015, but in the years that followed, Bellinger was unable to receive some Grammy love.
By all means, Bellinger is very talented as a songwriter and an artist. He’s written for the likes of Brandy, Jennifer Hudson, Sevyn Streeter, Teyana Taylor, and more while releasing solid projects like 2015’s Cuffing Season, 2017’s Eric B for President: Term 2, 2018’s Eazy Call, and more. But for quite some time Bellinger was very much a slept-on act on an “if you know you know” list. The lack of Grammy recognition didn’t diminish his career because he was more than worthy of one with his undeniable talents. Finally, at the end of last year, he struck gold.
Bellinger’s eighth album, New Light, was selected in the Best Progressive R&B Album category. There it joined other nominees like Lucky Daye, Masego, Hiatus Kyoto, Cory Henry, Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, and others. At long last, Bellinger was getting the recognition he truly deserved.
Ahead of the Grammy Awards, we spoke to Bellinger about New Light, why he believes this is the album that brought him back to the Grammys, and what it would truly mean for him to win.
Congratulations on your Grammy nomination! Where were you when you found out and what was your initial reaction?
Ah man, I was actually in New York. I was at a rehearsal singing backgrounds, I was actually doing a show with Alicia Keys, and I was in the middle of rehearsal while the announcements went off, so I was lowkey watching it in the corner with my headphones. Don’t tell her (laughs)! But nah I’m joking, so when they announced it, it was dope, because I was just like, “Yo! I got nominated!” and everybody what like what are you talking about? Then as I explained it, we took a break and everybody celebrated with me, it was a joyous occasion.
You were previously nominated as a songwriter thanks to your work on Chris Brown’s FAME. How fulfilling is it that this nomination is now for an album of yours?
It feels great bro. To transition from the songwriter world to the artistry world, or from the producer world to the rapper, it’s not easy to transition. For me, that was confirmation that this is for me. Yeah, I have some success as a songwriter, but although I’ve been independent, and to me, in an upward battle when it comes to really making a mark on the other side of the fence. This was great for me to remove the chip off my shoulder to know that all things truly are possible.
You have plenty, and I mean plenty, of great songs in your catalog, great albums as well. What do you think made New Light the album that receive the recognition it has?
I think it was just having a proper team in place to handle all the different things that are necessary when it comes to checking off boxes to even be a potential candidate. I think we got so many incredible people in place now that just know what needs to be done and I’m not guessing anymore. We’re all experienced, we’ve all been here, And we’re all veterans in this. We can lean on each other, I can throw a no-look pass and know that I’m gonna have somebody right there at the rim ready to slam it in.
After the plethora of projects that you’ve released over the last near-decade, did it ever get to a point where you believed maybe the Grammys aren’t for me?
I always wanted it. I just always felt like it was gonna be tougher because I was independent, but I always knew it’s possible because I’ve seen it done, you know? I feel like, “Why wouldn’t it be me? Why couldn’t it be me?” As long as I stay consistent, if it ain’t this year, it’s next year, and if it ain’t next year, it’s the year after that. Because I’m doing what I love, I’ve learned to enjoy the journey rather than anticipating the celebration at the destination.
Continuing off that last question, when you look throughout your discography, what’s a song or album that you think should’ve or you hoped would receive some Grammy love?
Yeah, I think The Rebirth album (2014), I think Cuffing Season, Part 3 (2019), I think Eventually (2016), Eric B For President album (2017) (laughs) maybe all of them. I definitely feel like we’ve been going crazy, like the music didn’t necessarily get better, the team just got stronger.
Furthermore, what makes New Light different than the other projects you’ve released? Was it the creative process? Types of collaborations?
I think this is a personal album. I had time after the quarantine, after the isolation, that was all spent doing self-healing, doing more awareness work on myself, so I was able to be more honest — I was forced to be more honest in the songs. I don’t really want to talk about no bullsh*t, so it was real, pure moments and intentional sessions. I got songs like “Counting My Blessings” and “Backwards,” you know, not being afraid to talk about how sh*t is backwards. You work hella hard to have money to be able to buy what you want, then they just gave it to you for free. All of the life experiences helped create “Blue Dreams,” like man, that’s a song just about manifesting. “Shine On The World,” it’s about having confidence in yourself to not be afraid to shine when the world tries to dim your light. A lot of the songs have a lot more purpose and intention behind them because of the place that I was at and the state of mind that I was in mentally while creating the album.
In this stretch of the journey as an artist, what does New Light represent for you and the music you’re creating?
It’s crazy because going into creating the album, my overall goal is to win a Grammy. When I first started making it, it was like “Yo, we got to win a Grammy with this album.” I never thought that on any other album going in and creating, but this time that was literally the main goal. It’s fire to have been nominated and be in strong consideration from my peers.
New Light was nominated in the Best Progressive R&B Album category, a category that the Grammys added to its field back in 2013. I think it speaks to the many colors and shades within R&B, do you think so? And do you think it’s a category that best speaks to your style?
Yeah, I do man, I do. I felt like I’ve been a pioneer for just merging different experimental sounds and sonics with R&B. From the beginning of my career, sampling Kriss Kross on “I Don’t Want Her,” it was R&B, but it was progressive. I think my love for drums and my love for cadences and BPMs created a new sound in R&B that has always been progressive.
You’re also on tour at the moment, your first one in a couple of years. What have the interactions you’ve had with fans taught you about this album and even about how you’re viewed as an artist?
Lately man, I feel like I’ve been able to experiment and not be afraid because of my comfortability in my space and in my personal life from my songwriting. That set me up to where I’m not hurting to where I have to jeopardize or compromise the character of my music or what I do. I think with that, who I’ve been able to portray is just literally myself and my actual growth. This is actually where I’m at in life, this is the music, this is everything that I’m talking about — it’s all so true and genuine and it comes from my honest place. So I think that’s my weapon in this all: to be able to truly be myself. This isn’t no, like, “this is what people recommend of me.” I’m able to really, really be myself and that is was getting the shine, just genuineness. I think in a time where a lot of people are doing things based on what they feel will work for the people, I’m doing what works for me and it gives me such a peaceful state of mind that it’s like, “Man, this is a winner’s mentality.” I’m able to really live life happy, you know, that’s the ultimate goal, that’s the ultimate win.
With the work you’ve put in, the albums and songs you’ve released, collaborations you’ve done over the years, what would a Grammy win for this project after all that mean to you?
It would mean everything, it would mean God’s promise is true. It would mean even if it don’t happen, I still feel like I already won being an independent artists bro. Ain’t nobody else up there independent. So with everything that I’m doing, that would just be the cherry on top. Even in all of this, I’m already basking and walking in victory. The fans and the people that tell me they voted for me or that they know of nominated, they tell me they rooted for me to win or they feel like I got this. The confidence that people tell me that “I got it,” it’s to the point where I already know that the people know I deserve it so that’s good enough for me. The people know! They know I deserve it. I just wanted the people to know that I’m out here, and for me to be on that list with those incredible artists — Masego, Lucky Daye — it’s like man, them dudes are doing it at the top of this, and I’m in that in that same category, except I’m the fuel behind my machine. There’s no feeling that can compare to that.
You’re absolutely one of the more active artists in the game, so with that being said, what’s next for you?
Man, the acting vibes. The label vibes, building my label, I got some R&B artists that are super dope. I’m excited to bring them to the world man and get on my Eazy Gordy swag.