There is no musical genre better at capturing the complications of love and lust than R&B, and with his debut album All I Want Is You, singer/songwriter/producer Miguel gives us a guided tour of his achy—and sometimes naughty—heart.
The album’s first two singles—“Sure Thing” and the title track “All I Want Is you”—chronicle Miguel’s painful breakup with a girl (he cheated) and the brief rekindling of their relationship before it ended for good. Other tracks, like “Quickie” and “Vixen” embrace the bad boy lover that’s dying to come out and play again.
The world may be just awakening to his talents, but 24-year-old Miguel—born Miguel Jontel Pimentel in Los Angeles to a Mexican father and African American mother—has been operating behind the scenes in the music industry for several years. His list of co-writing and producing credits reads like a rap sheet of R&B icons—Usher, Musiq Soulchild and Mary J. Blige to name a few—and he recently wrapped up a tour as the opening act on Usher’s OMG tour.
We managed to get him on the phone early one morning to talk about his music, his love life, and what it was like growing up between two worlds:
You say your new single “Sure Thing” is a break-up song, but it’s very romantic. What gives?
That song is about me not wanting to ever forget what real love felt like. It was a reminder. So I defined for me what a relationship felt like so if I ever had the chance to be in love again, I wouldn’t take it for granted.
Does that mean you’re not currently in love?
No, I’m single. Unfortunately. Well, actually, probably fortunately because I don’t know if I could handle a relationship right now. I know that love exists and I want that for myself, but I think it’s more about timing than anything.
Tell us about working with Usher, both in the studio and on tour. That must have been huge for you.
The experience was one I’ll never forget. He’s kind of like a big brother now. I’m really proud to say I’ve got three co-writing credits on his last album. From the time he walked into the studio, we just vibed out. There were times when we’d break away, go out for a drink and just talk, so that was pretty cool.
Considering everything that was going on in his personal life at the time, there must have been a lot to talk about. Did you learn anything by watching him go through all that?
It was really inspiring to see him continue to work through all the adversity in his personal life. He went through a chain of really dynamic personal events in his family, and some of his fans had a not so positive response to it. But he was resilient and gave it a 120% all the time. I think the lesson from him is to never be settled or comfortable in your success.
You’ve been working on your music for a long time now and have already been on a couple of different labels. Why do you think success as a recording artist is only coming to you now?
I’m not the easiest sell. Because of my background, my fashion sense, I don’t really fit into a box. It makes it more challenging for a label to market me. But as time goes on, I’ll define myself. Even in the past nine months between releasing the first single to now, there’s been a huge evolution. People can tell what is manufactured and what is real. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist.
So you’re half Mexican. Did you observe any Mexican traditions growing up?
My father and my mother were divorced when I was eight and I lived with my mom after, but my father was very much involved in my life. I’m very, very close to my father’s side of the family. We get together for anything, any occasion to have dinner. I remember great food, and great parties…we had tamales every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love those things.
Was it challenging straddling two cultures?
The only time I really felt that I was both was when I got caught in the middle of some BS where I grew up, in San Pedro, because late in the ‘90s there was a huge competition between Mexicans and Blacks.
Could there be a Spanish language album in your future?
Some of the most romantic songs I’ve heard are in Spanish. When it’s time, I’m really going to delve into that part of me. But I want to learn how to speak Spanish first. I wouldn’t do it until I could really do it right.
Who do you fantasize about when you’re writing?
Salma Hayek is always going to be my all time favorite. Then there’s Rosario Dawson…oh my god. The first I saw her in that movie Kids, I thought ‘she is amazing.’ And then there’s the one with the huge…accent. She was in Soul Plane. Sofia Vergara. She’s bangin’!