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Lucky Daye, R&B poet, levels up

Lucky Daye leans on his collaborators in D'Mile and John Kercy. "I'm not going to do better with nobody else other than them two," he says.
Courtesy of the artist
Lucky Daye leans on his collaborators in D'Mile and John Kercy. "I'm not going to do better with nobody else other than them two," he says.

Lucky Daye has steadily climbed the ranks in R&B since his 2019 debut album Painted. Since then he's amassed an impressive list of collaborators and appearances leading to Table for Two, an EP that just won best progressive R&B album at the 2022 Grammys.

The table was properly set for his sophomore album, Candydrip released March 10, which was immediately lauded by his Daye Ones while also assembling a new crop of fans. The sound is more expansive and more experimental, but maintains the essence of what captured our ears from the beginning: a marriage of contemporary and classic R&B.

We celebrated the release Candydrip with a Listening Party on NPR Music's YouTube channel. We listened to the album and talked to the trio responsible for the current Lucky Daye sound — album producer D'Mile, album engineer John Kercy and Lucky himself — about how their friendship kept the music going, Lucky's love for poetry and getting Usher's blessing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bobby Carter, NPR Music: Did you all feel any pressure going into Candydrip to top Painted? Because there's definitely similarities, but there are a bunch of differences. What was the approach going into this record?

Lucky Daye: On the first album, you can literally say that we were in the lab, just the three of us, with nobody else in the world. On this one, we have a lot of people. Anybody's going to pick the phone up. I saw D'Mile be more like the Quincy Jones-type of producer in this situation and less like, "Let me get the keys. Let me play this. Let me do that." It was more his mind. So I think we got a chance to see him open up and all of us just opened up in different ways.

This album is a masterclass in sequence and flow. I mean, y'all don't even let off the gas for the first three songs: "Intro," "God Body," "Feels Like." Can you just talk about that?

John Kercy: One of the things that we did was that we pretty much sequenced the album before I started mixing it. I needed to have basically the whole palette in front of me exactly the way it was. And I just let the music just speak to me, you know, and I went from song to song; if you really focus on the album and the sonics of it, it progresses sonically.

Another huge difference, obviously, is features. You went from zero to some heavy hitters on this. I don't think I would be lying if I said I expected Lil Durk to be on this record, but it works. Smino makes sense — shoutout to Smino, STL's finest. Chiiild on "Compassion." But there's one uncredited artist: Alex Isley. She plays an important role in moving this thing along.

D'Mile: That's my homie. We met a while ago and we actually did a song together for her project. And honestly, it was literally like during the pandemic; I didn't have anything else to do. Everything was shut down. And one of my main — if not the only focus — was putting Lucky's stuff together. So one day I hit her up: "Do you have anything laying around that you might have started ideas on" — I know she likes to do a cappella vocals. So the "Intro" has her in there; we built something off of something she sent me into the "Intermission." And then, at the end for "Cherry Forest," I was like, "Can you just sing along with everybody?" And then that goes into "Ego."

So for me, it's always been a safe haven; it's a place where I can go, where I can just make you feel how I feel. That's how Imma do it: Imma write a poem about it.

Lucky Daye: That's my joint. Recording that looooong note.

John Kercy: Slow clap for her.

[Everybody slow claps.]

D'Mile: You're clapping too fast.

[Everybody laughs.]

I love how you continue to make music that sounds like it belongs in 2022 while also honoring a legacy. Today you can pop off with a couple singles, but you guys really put the emphasis on the full body of work. Do you guys think about that kind of stuff going in?

D'Mile: I remember every album that I would get like Mary J's Share My World. I would literally listen to the whole album for the album, and I'd purposely skip the singles because I heard enough of it. And it's just like the full body of work ends up being more important to me than just the singles.

Lucky, I want to talk about poetry, man. When I listened to Candydrip and I went back to Painted, I figured out finally: "Wow, you're a poet." Did the poetry come before the singing? How important is poetry in your work?

D'Mile: You know, I want to know this, too. He just does it. I'm just like, "Yeah, that's fire."

Lucky Daye: When we grew up, we ain't have much, so my mom always told us, "You want give me something? Don't give me nothing for my birthday, don't get me nothing for Christmas; write me a letter." So everything that I did was written down. Even the way I talk to people in my family, they would be like, "Yo, you disrespectful. You sound better when you write it down." After I would write it, they would get it. Even though I said the same thing. So for me, it's always been a safe haven; it's a place where I can go, where I can just make you feel how I feel. That's how Imma do it: Imma write a poem about it.

I want to pause for a minute to have a bit of a love fest. I want to talk about the relationship between you, D, and you, Lucky. I've read that before you guys came into each other's lives, you were both on the verge of giving up this music thing. Lucky, how has D'Mile changed your career and your life?

Lucky Daye: Damn, that's heavy. I feel like when you have the gift of music, it draws and attracts you to other people with the level of gift that you can recognize. So when I met him for the first time, it was like, "Oh, wow, he's doing the harmonies that I hear, too." In my mind, he was my best friend already. I started doing Michael Jackson harmonies because I just want to see if he recognized those. And then he did them after and I'm like, "Oh, man, this is incredible!"

Any time I just thought about how to be the most comfortable I can be making music that's who I called. And who was there every time he was there? Jay! Right here. It was just my whole musical motivation. And to be able to create something together and that the whole world can see, it validates the feeling that I get from knowing my musical ability and the relationship that I'm supposed to have with his music ability. And, to me, I appreciate that because I know what it is.

D, before your work with Lucky Daye, you had this repertoire of who's who not only in R&B but also in pop music and hip-hop: Rihanna, Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige. But something different happened once you started working with Lucky Daye. So I will ask you: How has working with Lucky Daye changed your music and changed your life?

D'Mile: Like you said, at that time, I kind of was thinking about giving this thing up. Funny enough, we all kind of had the same kind of energy. So for us to just come together at the right time, the way we did — it gave me the perfect window when he came in and said, "I want to do this project." That turned into everything. He wasn't signed, yet — like, nothing. We didn't know how we were going to get this out to the world or anything.

Lucky Daye: It meant everything to everybody. We all was just putting out 110, 110.

John Kercy: I feel like I did quit. Like, the only thing I was working on was this. I was like, "Man, that is the only thing that inspires me right now," and that's the only thing in music I wanted to work on. I honestly don't think I picked up the phone for any other thing than this.

D'Mile: Yeah, I kind of said no to a couple of things during this time just to be happy.

Man, you don't know this, I don't think [turns to Lucky Daye], but I actually had been a fan of yours. So he did this TV competition a long time ago; that's all I'm going to say about that. [Everyone laughs.] So when I met you, I already knew who you were. I used to watch [American Idol] a lot and you were my favorite. So, it's just kind of funny how just life happens.

Finally, for all three of you. Favorite song on Candydrip and why.

D'Mile: I've been saying "Candydrip" for the longest, specifically the "Candydrip (Interlude)" into "Candydrip," like, that whole moment.

John Kercy: For me, it is definitely "Candydrip." And then "Used to be Yours." Yeah, "Used to be Yours" snuck up on me

Lucky Daye: "God Body." And there's a story behind why. [It was supposed] to be something else, right? It was a whole 'nother song.

I'm like, "Damn, I got to get D'Mile's attention, man. How am I gon' get his attention?" He out here working with the greatest of greats. So I want to make sure this album is crazy, right? So I want to change this one song because I'm thinking I can do better. And I'm not going to do better with nobody else other than them two. I stripped down a song and remade it, sent it to these guys and they was like, "Nah, man, I don't know, I don't know. Man, I don't know." So in my mind, I'm like, "Dang, they drifting away from me." [Everybody laughs.] "They don't even hear it, they don't even hear it." So I took it back in. I'm like, all right bet, let me get some more synths, do some more things to it. And then it was like, "Ohhhh."

D'Mile: He definitely shut us up. I think he was so tied to the first version of that song. And I was like, "Man, you ain't gotta top this; this is it." And he definitely did.

John Kercy: By the way, the original is cold as well. Like he sent us the first one, and we were just like, "I don't know." And then that fueled him. He went Super Saiyan and came back with a new song.

Lucky Daye: But it was because of them. They was like, "We still like the song," so in my mind I'm like, "All right, you got you gotta turn into a chemist now." So what I did was I just traced a lot of the melodies and reformed them and then built on top of that.

D'Mile: But he knew in his heart it was something. You know what I mean? Like if you feel strongly about it, s***, prove me wrong. That's the chemistry we have. I don't feel like anybody shuts down ideas. We'll be honest. But if it's motivating us to get better, then why not?

So now we need the OG version of "God Body" on the deluxe version.

[Everybody laughs.]

Oh, one more thing, "Guess" samples the classic "U Don't Have to Call," and I saw that you guys ran into Usher not too long ago. Has he heard "Guess," yet?

Lucky Daye: He definitely heard "Guess." And he went into my DMs and said, "I love what y'all did, man. Let me know, anything y'all need." So shoutout to Usher, man, that's a stand-up dude.

We need that collab. We need y'all to get in the studio, for real.

D'Mile: Hopefully we can, yeah.

Lucky Daye: And he said he was down, too. So, it's a matter of time.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Carter
Bobby Carter is a leader on the Tiny Desk Concerts team for NPR Music. He's brought an ever growing roster of big names and emerging artists through NPR's HQ to squeeze behind the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen and record standout performances, including Usher, Mac Miller, Noname, Anderson.Paak and H.E.R.