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Eminem looms large on Skylar Grey's new album, and beyond
Being a performing artist in her own right was always Skylar Grey's goal.
Born Holly Brook Hafemann in Wisconsin, Grey sang in a folk duo called Generations with her mother before going solo when she was 14, then moving to Los Angeles at 17 -- where she got a deal with Linkin Park's Machine Shop Records as Holly Brook.
Along the way, however, songwriting became her calling card. She co-wrote hits for Diddy-Dirty Money ("Coming Home"), T.I. ("Castle Walls"), Cee-Lo Green ("Only You"), and Christina Aguilera as well as the Eminem/Rihanna duet "Love the Way You Lie," among others. And she was a guest vocalist on a variety of songs, including for Dr. Dre, Nikki Minaj and X Ambassadors.
But Grey never lost the desire to be her own artist, and since 2006 she's released three albums; the latest, "Natural Causes," came out in September sporting collaborations with Eminem on the single "Kill For You" and "Come Up For Air." She's also hit the road to support the set, doing what she says comes naturally to her...
With "Natural Causes," Grey, 30, says she "just wanted to make an album for me. I didn't have as much pressure on me as the last time around (2013's "Can't Look Down"), so it was really just about being free creatively and doing what I felt. So the album turned out to be, like a pretty moody and somewhat dark sound and tone, and lyrically it's about life and finding happiness. It's a narration of me fighting my demons every day in search of happiness."
The Eminem duet "Kill For You" wasn't initially supposed to be a Grey recording. "That one's been around for a couple of years; I've been working on this album for three years, so that was one of the older ones," she says. "That was originally going to be a song for Rihanna and it was produced by Eminem, and she even tweeted about it. She ended up not using it, which I was happy about because I wanted the song for me, anyway. I did that song mostly in Detroit, too."
Eminem (as well as "Lose Yourself" collaborator Luis Resto) also co-wrote and produced another track on the album, "Come Up For Air," and Grey has worked on plenty of other material for Eminem's albums. "Ever since we started working together we just really enjoyed it, so we just kept doing it," Grey says. "He's my favorite person to work with to date. I can't put my finger on why, I just really enjoy the process of writing and working with him."
"Natural Causes" -- as well as "Wreak Havok," her contribution to the "Suicide Squad" soundtrack -- also finds Grey trying her own hand at rapping. "I've always loved working with rappers because they have the ability to fill a space with so many lyrics, and I've always felt kind of confined by melody," she explains. So one day I just decided I was going to try rapping, and I've been so afraid of that my whole life. Even though I love rap, I've been afraid to do it myself. I thought it would sound stupid. But I just reached a point in my life where I don't care what anybody things. You never know what you're capable of until you try it, right?"
And, naturally, Grey reached out to Eminem to help her hone her rhyming chops. "He was, like, the best person to bounce it off of," she says. "When I first tried rapping I was like, 'Eh, I should probably send it to him and see what he thinks first, because if he tells me I such I know I shouldn't do it again.' But he encouraged me to keep trying it if I wanted to and was positive about it, and I guess that gave me the confidence to keep trying."
Tuesday, Oct. 4.
El Club, 4114 W. Vernor Highway, Detroit.
Tickets are $18.
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