By Artemis Thomas-Hansard
By Roy Kasten
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By Mabel Suen
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Bradd Young decided to forge a musical career for the same reason many artists do: girls. When he was fourteen, an acquaintance on his school bus overheard him humming a song and encouraged him to sing louder. The hip-hop/R&B producer/performer demurred at first, unsure that he had comparable talent. But his friend pressed on.
"He's like, 'Yo, everybody! This kid can sing, he can sing, he's good!'" Young recalls. He's sitting at his recording home base, Soulard's Shock City Studios, on a recent weekday afternoon. "He was like, 'Sing loud!' So I sang — I sang loud, one of Jodeci's songs. And when I did, a bunch of girls jumped in my seat, and they were like, 'Oh my God, you can sing! Sing again!' So I started singing again — and from that day on, I was like, 'This is for me.'"
A preacher's kid, Young matched this singing talent with musical prowess; he also learned how to play drums, piano, organ and guitar. In fact, amidst the St. Louis label feeding frenzy after Nelly was signed, he earned a record deal with Epic Records as an artist. Although that only yielded two officially released songs, his production work for the female artist S.K. — then on Warner Brothers — helped him develop a parallel career. In the coming years, Young stepped away from performing, as he and partner Orlando Watson (a.k.a. "Pretty Boy") made a name for themselves as producers for acts such as Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Akon, Kelly Rowland and Talib Kweli.
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Although multiple songwriters and producers have become successful performing artists recently —notable examples include Ne-Yo and Keri Hilson — Young's 2009 transition back into performance had more to do with personal satisfaction.
"I was like, 'I want to live life with no regrets,'" he says. "I don't want to look back, when I'm 35 or 40 years old, like, 'Hey, I really should have done this when I was younger.' I was just like, 'I'm going to take out time for myself and become an artist.' As soon as I did, the first couple of songs I recorded, they were on the radio, on the Internet everywhere. It's been this crazy ride since then."
Although Young is about halfway done with an album — he's aiming to be done in the late spring, with a release date in the summer — he's received radio airplay in twenty different cities, thanks to several strong singles. "Grown Man" is a sultry, snapping slow jam with torchy rock guitar, while "Girlz," a Ne-Yo-meets-St. Louis-hip-pop song, showcases Young's falsetto. Along with Lil Wayne, Young is also featured on the new Yo Gotti single, "Women Lie, Men Lie," which is currently in the top 30 of Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop tracks.
"By me being the artist and the producer, if something goes wrong, I get all the blame," Young says about the challenges he's facing as a solo artist. "It's a lot of pressure. That's the hardest thing about it, all the pressure. As a solo artist, it's not like I have a group or a band. If I fail, it's all on me — it's not on the band."
Still, Young has plenty of support — and limitless ambition. He and Watson head up the local production/record company RockHouse Music and are working with acts such as ex-American Idol contestant Aloha Mischeaux, Vega Da Heartbreak Kid and Donnie Banks.
"I want people to know that I'm not just for myself," Young says. "I'm really, really, really for the growth of my city. I have a serious, serious plan for how I want to take this city and turn it into the music scene that it was back when rock & roll first started, when Chuck Berry and Tina Turner and Ike Turner and all of those guys were here.
"I want to be able to bring that light back to the city and create opportunities for everybody that has a talent and start this music economy, this music businss economy of St. Louis," he continues. "That's my ultimate goal."