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'People just assume I'm an R&B artist'

BREAKING BARRIERS: Taio Cruz says it would be nice to be recognised as being part of the story of black British artists who have enjoyed success in America.

WITH MORE than 100 million global track sales under his belt – not to mention a whole host of awards and chart-topping hits on both sides of the Atlantic – Taio Cruz is a pop phenomenon. And that’s just how he likes it.

While some black artists have been hampered by the fear of being labelled ‘sell-outs’ for not making traditionally black music, Cruz has always sought to make hits with commercial appeal. It’s a decision that has served him well, earning him number one hits with 2009’s ‘Break Your Heart’ and the 2010 summer smash, ‘Dynamite’, after releasing his debut album, ‘Departure’, back in 2008.

So, is it safe to assume the London-born star been able to side-step the ‘sell-out’ accusations, because he’s always made his musical position very clear?

“I don’t think so,” laughs Cruz, who recently released his new single ‘Row The Body’ featuring US rapper French Montana.

“I don’t think I’d ever be spared from those comments because no matter what I do, there will be some people that classify me as an R’n’B artist because I’m black. I’m ‘urban’ by default! I could sing an Aerosmith record and there would still be people who say it’s R’n’B.

“That said, I think I probably get less of that judgement because I’ve always been quite open about the fact that I make pop music and I don’t really make R’n’B music.

“I might have an R’n’B sounding vocal, and I do have a lot of R’n’B influences.”

He continues: “I grew up on Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, but I wasn’t deep into H-Town or Jodeci.

“I was always quite pop-focused, and I’m sure that has meant that I’ve been critiqued less than say, Chris Brown or Trey Songz, who have established themselves as R’n’B artists. I like pop music and I’m a pop artist.”

With ‘Break Your Heart’ and ‘Dynamite’ topping the charts in both the UK and the US – and with a further seven UK top 10 hits to his name – Cruz has undoubtedly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in mainstream music. However, the 32 year-old feels that within the realm of black British music, his achievements tend to go unrecognised.

“There are certain achievements that only I have made as a black British male,” says the singer, who is of Nigerian and Brazilian heritage.

“Achievements like having back-to-back number one singles in America – I can’t think of any other black British male artists who have achieved that.

“So yeah, it would be nice to be recognised as being part of the story of black British artists who have enjoyed success in America. I’m black and I’m British – it’s my identity and I think everyone’s identity is important to them.”

FOCUSED: Taio has achieved phenomenal success.

Still, Cruz, who now resides in Los Angeles, admits that his ‘low key’ personality probably plays a part in him not always getting the recognition he might like.

“If I was like Diddy, for example, I’d be branding the hell out of everything,” he laughs.

“He is great at promoting pretty much anything, as well as himself. But when you’re the type of person who’s quite chilled and
low key, it’s easy for others to steal the limelight. My limelight usually comes when I have a hit record, but other than that, people don’t really talk about me.”

Thankfully, Cruz isn’t much into hogging the limelight. A self-confessed ‘tech nerd’, the singer, songwriter and producer says the ‘creative side’ is the part of his job he enjoys the most.

“I’ve always said I enjoy producing the most because I like the creative aspect of it. I like being able to make something from nothing; to walk into the studio with a blank page and come out with something that sounds really cool.”

Cruz can’t escape the star status he’s achieved. But he does make a concerted effort to stay grounded, so as not to be consumed by the industry.

“I try and have a level of detachment for the sake of my sanity,” he says. “I’ve seen too many artists get overwhelmed by the industry so I make a conscious effort to have a kind of shield to stop myself from going ‘Holly-weird’!

“I pride myself on being quite sensible, so I wouldn’t be the type of person to go around smashing up hotel rooms, or be seen getting dragged out of a nightclub. Unless I got caught up in someone else’s drama, it would never be my doing!”

‘Row The Body’ featuring French Montana is out now on 2TE Records.

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