Taio Cruz Biography
Last updated: 10/10/2010 11:00:00 AM
From Carole King to Timbaland, and Pharrell Williams to Smokey Robinson, there's a great tradition of r'n'b songwriters and producers stepping out of the shadows to become stars in their own right. A new name is about to be added to that illustrious list, as a joint venture between Universal Records in the UK and Motown in the US presents Taio Cruz.
This precocious 23 year-old has already cut a swathe through the upper echelons of the American music industry. After Dallas Austin picked him out as "the new Babyface", Taio worked with Jazze Pha and Rich Harrison - writing for Usher, Mya and Britney Spears - and was set to become part of Tricky's currently all-conquering Red Zone operation (that's not Tricky the Bristolian maverick, but Tricky the US super-producer behind Rihanna's "Umbrella") when his own solo career began to take off. In the last couple of months Taio's transatlantic work has continued with the London wunderkind writing & producing with Esseme, the first signing to Justin Timberlake's new label. Taio was also chosen to write and produce the debut single, "Let Me See Dat", for exciting new Island / Def Jam US artist Vawn as well as several additional tracks for Vawn's forthcoming album. In addition Mr. Cruz has also been working with Mark Ronson protégé Daniel Merriweather on his debut album.
Now his beautifully polished debut album Departure is poised to establish Taio (pronounced Ty-o) Cruz (pronounced Cruise) as a real name to conjure with in 2008.
One important thing marks this velvet-voiced newcomer out from the massed ranks of US hit-making talent. Taio Cruz is British. Born and raised in the UK to a Nigerian dad and a Brazilian mum ("I've never asked them exactly how they first met, but my dad's a bit of a suave playboy type of guy, so I'm sure she was attracted to that"), Taio went to school in rural Sussex. "At that age I didn't even have any concept of colour", he remembers with a soft-spoken confidence that recalls his childhood hero Michael Jackson in his pre-meltdown pomp, "it's only now that I look back and think 'Oh, I was pretty much the only black kid in the whole school'".
Taio loved music from an early age. "My mum used to play all the soul classics", he grins, "all the usual interview names like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, but in my case it's true. I remember me singing 'Sexual Healing' to myself when I was about five or six, and my mum telling me I was probably a bit too young for that song".
Any time he could grab a few moments alone in the school music room, Taio would pick out tunes on the piano. Weaned on the eighties' pop/dance sounds of Madonna and Michael Jackson's Bad, he was thinking big from the very beginning. "When you're young, you fantasise about being whoever it was that inspired you to make music in the first place. So when I'd close my eyes and imagine myself wearing that red and black jacket, it was never at the Jazz Café, it was always at Madison Square Garden. Not that the Jazz Café isn't a nice venue", Taio adds, diplomatically, "but I always dreamt of being in America, with the idols I learnt how to sing from on my headphones at home". The way this dream came true was entirely consistent with such schoolboy fantasies. As a teenager, Taio began to experiment with recording his own demo's, and soon found that girls he knew would ask him for tapes. "A good friend of mine was playing one of my songs in her dorm at uni'", he remembers, "and her room-mate was dating a guy who worked for Def Jam. He was chatting her up on the phone when he heard my music in the background, and asked what it was". A heady blur of meetings and showcases and a lot of hard work later, and this level-headed eighteen year-old was signed to a US publishing deal, and swapping beats with Timbaland.
Five years on, Taio's debut album puts into practice everything he's learned from those US musical masters. Combining state of the art production with the vocal tunefulness and clarity of classic sixties and seventies soul, the snap and crackle of eighties pop, and the seductive swagger of nineties slow jamz, Departure should mark a turning point in the history of British r'n'b.
Since the thriving homegrown UK garage scene was marginalised by the disastrous strategy of calling all music made by black people 'urban' and everything else 'pop', there seems to have been a conspiracy afoot in the British music industry to ensure that only white performers should be allowed to have careers singing black music Not just written and performed, but arranged, produced and mixed by Cruz himself - in his own London studio - The Arrival is the perfect antidote to that sick state of affairs whereby the closest thing you'll hear to homegrown soul on most mainstream UK radio is the new single by Shayne Ward.
Lead single "I Just Wanna Know" has been played 500 times in two months by Kiss FM, as well as introducing Taio to the UK top 30 (a setting to which he is actually no stranger, having already won a Brit award for best single, for co-writing Will Young's "Your Game"). And with many other hits to follow, (notably the infectious, rave-tinged second single "Come On Girl" and the anthemic "I Can Be") Taio Cruz's journey is only just beginning.
He's got a few surprises planned for later on down the road, too. "I've got lots of songs with African vocal samples and weird drum patterns on", he explains. "But I didn't want to go with those on the first album, because people will be more inclined to give them a fair hearing when they already know me. If you see a stranger jumping up and down on the street, you'll just think they're a madman, but if they're your friend you're more likely to think 'Maybe I should jump up and down too... maybe this is the new thing'".