Grammy-Winning Songwriter James Fauntleroy Talks About His Hits With Bruno Mars And Justin Timberlake, And His New 1500 Music Academy
Over the past 15 years, songwriter & producer James Fauntleroy has been one of the most successful hitmakers in pop, R&B and hip-hop music. Impressively, he has won four Grammy awards, including Song of the Year and twice for Best R&B Song. He has co-written over a dozen hits, nine that have made the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. And he’s been a key collaborator for Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and other artists.
James Fauntleroy at the Grammy Awards in 2018.
Fauntleroy won three of his Grammy awards for his extensive work on Bruno Mars’ multi-platinum album, 24K Magic. He co-wrote the number one hit “That’s What I Like,” which won Grammy awards for Song of the Year, Best R&B Song and Album of the Year. Fauntleroy also co-wrote the hits “Finesse” and “Versace on the Floor.” Notably, he co-wrote 7 of the 9 songs on 24K Magic.
In addition to working with Mars, Fauntleroy has been a major contributor to Timberlake’s hit singles and albums. He co-wrote all 10 songs on the multi-platinum album, The 20/20 Experience, including the hits “Suit and Tie,” “Mirrors” and “Pusher Love Girl” (which won the Grammy award for Best R&B Song). He also co-wrote the hits “Filthy, “TKO,” “Take Back the Night” and “Not a Bad Thing.”
Fauntleroy has also co-written other hits such as ‘Please Me” by Cardi B & Bruno Mars, “No Air” by Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown, “Love Sex Magic” by Ciara, and “Winner” by Jamie Foxx. He’s also written and/or produced songs for Beyonce, Jay-Z, SZA, Drake, Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, Snoop Dogg, Frank Ocean, Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson.
Along with his work as a songwriter & producer, Fauntleroy has recently launched a major new venture, 1500 Music Academy. This is a music school based in his hometown of Inglewood, CA, that strives to produce young artists, songwriters and producers with mentorship, positive mindset and professional development. Featuring state-of-the-art facilities, 1500 Sound Academy is led by Fauntleroy. Grammy-winning producer/writer Larrance Dopson, and executive Twila True.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with James Fauntleroy. He discusses his hit collaborations with Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake and Rihanna, and he talks about his new music school, 1500 Music Academy.
Larrance Dopson (left) and James Fauntleroy
DK: How did you get started with music and writing songs? I read that you grew up in Inglewood (Los Angeles).
James Fauntleroy: When I was growing up. I wanted to do art. I had an art portfolio and I wanted to go to an art school…that was my dream. But then I had a mysterious illness; I couldn’t use my hands for a long time. So I had to find some other thing to do. I started thinking that maybe I could sing—someone asked me to sing at a school performance when I was 15 or 16. And then through that, I went to their church and joined the choir, and that’s when I started thinking more deeply about music.
DK: As a songwriter, what do you feel is your strength? Is it writing the melody or lyrics, or creating the tracks?
Fauntleroy: I think with the people I work with, what we all have in common is that we’re huge fans of music. I think that my greatest asset in a competitive market, is that I love songs so much that I deeply study songwriting and lyrics, and also separately singing, because those are two different disciplines. Since I was 15, I’ve spent my life studying music and songs because I’m such a big fan that I can’t help but study it. I’ve always wanted to see how far I could take my own skill, and I learned that the best path to move forward is studying people who’ve already done a good job (with music).
DK: What was your first big break in the music business?
Fauntleroy: My first hit song was “No Air” by Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown (in 2008). That one started the buzz that everybody who has a hit song has, and I guess the rest is history.
DK: You’ve done a lot of work with Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars. First, how did you connect with Rihanna for her Rated R and Anti albums, and what’s it like to work with her?
Fauntleroy: Rihanna is one of the most awesome people on the planet, and working with her is amazing. I met her when I was working with Chris Brown on his Exclusive album (in 2007). Chris told her about me, and she said she liked my songs and wanted to work with with me one day. And so one day we did, and the first song that came out was called “Fire Bomb,” which I consider one of my best songs. That song went so well, that it turned into many more songs that we did together.
DK: You’ve also had success collaborating with Justin Timberlake. How did you connect with Justin and write with him on his albums, The 20/20 Experience and Man of the Woods?
Here’s the video of Bruno Mars’ #1 hit “That’s What I Like,” which was co-written by James Fauntleroy.
Fauntleroy: Man, that was such a fun and life-changing experience. I met Justin through a friend of ours named Rob Knox, who invited me to a session with an artist named Esmee Denters that Justin had. I didn’t know Justin was coming to the session, but I had worked with Esmee before, so it was a fun session. So we were writing a song, and Justin kind of appeared behind us and scared me actually (laughs). He liked what we were doing, so he started writing the song with us. I think we had a good experience, so we wrote a few more songs. And then we did a couple songs that came out on other artists. So by the time we worked on The 20/20 Experience album, we had known each other for about six years, so we were friends and comfortable around each other. Then we went into the 20/20 sessions, and it was a really smooth, epic experience.
DK: I like the songs you wrote for Bruno Mars’ big album, 24K Magic, and you won three Grammy awards for your work on it. Can you talk about making that record and co-writing the hit, “That’s What I Like”?
Fauntleroy: “That’s What I Like” was the first song we worked on when I went to the studio. That was pretty epic. I’ve known Bruno for my entire career…I met him before I had my first hit song. We shared a studio space when we were very young. He was also a songwriter at the time. And over the years I watched him become a superstar, from just being a random homie at the studio (laughs).
I’d worked with Bruno a few times before on other things. We did a song for Alexandra Burke that he and Philip Lawrence wrote. Phil was a longtime collaborator…I met Phil before I even started writing. It’s just weird and crazy that he became one of the biggest writers of all time. It was fun because everybody knew each other, but for me it was such a valuable learning experience (making the 24K Magic album), and I was so happy to be a part of this music. You could feel how incredible it was, especially as we were getting towards the end of the process. Also, I was excited to learn more and see how far we could go with our talent and approach. I learned so much and got so much, because Bruno went in and swept the Grammys and it was awesome.
Bruno didn’t say he was gonna sweep the Grammys because he didn’t know that. I remember when we were making the record that I was complaining about something, and Bruno saying, “It was gonna be worth it” (laughs). And that was an understatement if ever I heard one.
Here’s the video of Cardi B & Bruno Mars’ hit “Please Me,” which was co-written by James Fauntleroy.
DK: You’ve been partners with (hit producer/writer) Larrance Dopson on many songs and projects. What makes the two of you such a good team?
Fauntleroy: Larrance started a band called 1500 Or Nothin’ many years ago [that I’m also in]. The band’s been on eight world tours and everyone in the band is a successful producer/songwriter. Then about four years ago, he and I along with our partner Twila True, opened a school in Inglewood called 1500 Sound Academy. And we’ll be opening a school in Asia soon, in Taiwan. It’s pretty awesome.
DK: Can you tell me about 1500 Sound Academy?
Fauntleroy: In the music business, there are a lot of people who take advantage of others for the benefit of themselves. And when I would get screwed over, I would ask them, “Why are you doing this?” And they’d say, “This is just how things are done in the music business.” But my dream was that I could convince people that being an asshole is not the only way to be successful in the music business. I want to send them into the business with a different perspective and attitude. We always talk about the value…your value is your level of service to the world around you. And so we teach emotional intelligence and etiquette, and we teach the music business. We teach about contracts and publishing, and we teach music production, so they learn all the software that we use. We have corporate partners with Roland and Fender, so they have equipment. And they interact with the students and do a number of scholarships every year. Se we’re trying to give people the tools that we wish we had, and also send them into the business with a new perspective on how it could be.
DK: These days, are you focusing on 1500 Sound Academy, or are you still doing a lot of writing & producing for other artists?
Fauntleroy: Well I love music, so I’ll always make it. I’m certainly still writing for other artists, and I’m working on my own music (as an artist). I’m trying to get into the studio as much as possible. The school is a huge priority, because we’ve had an opportunity to do so many community things and working with school districts amd city government. And I realize that the community’s efforts and initiatives were important to me, and I’ve been working on a program with the boys and girls clubs. I recently did a project with Goodwill, and I’m on a board they formed for community work. So that’s important, too.
Here’s the video of Justin Timberlake’s hit “Mirrors,” which was co-written by James Fauntleroy.
DK: As a songwriter, do you have some cuts or singles coming out that you can talk about? And are you putting out new music as an artist?
Fauntleroy: I love having top secret things going on—I have two top secret things (laughs) happening that I’m excited about but I can’t say what they are yet. And as an artist, I’m putting a song out in about two weeks, and I’m gonna be releasing things regularly.