Cynicism is a growing phenomenon in music. Real love songs are hard to find these days. Named after Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Yellow Diamonds is a lyric series in which VIBE editor Austin Williams celebrates songs that sound like love found in a hopeless mainstream.
In a way, Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II is the patron saint of Yellow Diamonds. Of the 20 songs I’ve covered in this column over the past two months, he produced three: “Cherry Forest” and “Ego” by Lucky Daye, and the single “Leave The Door Open” by Silk Sonic, which won a Grammy.
Although he made a name for himself in the mid-2000s by earning one-off production credits — a placement on a Mary J. Blige record here, a few songs on a Janet Jackson album there — greatest hits from D’Mile came about once he started producing full bodies. of work. In 2019, he produced all the songs for Lucky Daye’s debut album, Painted, after the pair briefly considered quitting music due to disenchantments throughout their respective careers. The album earned them four Grammy nominations.
The following year, he produced eight of the nine songs on Victoria Monet’s critically acclaimed album. Jaguar album. And the year after, he produced two-thirds of Joyce Wrice’s film. Too developed before returning for another full project with Lucky Daye in the form of Drop candies. During these collaborations, the Brooklyn-born beatmaker developed a knack for vibrant production and throwback instrumentation that lent his sound to lyrics about love. Nowhere else in his discography is this more evident than on An Evening with Silk Sonicwhich he also produced in its entirety.
“I like the process the way Bruno [Mars] writing,” D’Mile tells me, describing how the Silk Sonic singer adapted his production on the album. “Bruno will always challenge himself and say, ‘Okay, is that the best way to say it? Or can I do better?
Along with Anderson .Paak’s contributions, this musical mastery is what encouraged me to give An Evening with Silk Sonic the No. 1 spot on VIBE’s list of Top R&B Albums of 2021. The Grammys also gave the band their flowers.
A work of pastiche perfection honoring the soul of the ’70s, the album’s romantic lead single (with some editing technicality) led to D’Mile becoming the first songwriter to win Song of Year Two. years in a row. Before winning the award this year for “Leave The Door Open,” he also won it in 2021 as the credited co-writer of HER’s “I Can’t Breathe” (although he maintains, “Me and the lyrics, I try to stay away from there…I stick to the music”).
At 37, D’Mile is at the peak of her life and career as a music curator with a message. Most often, this message is love. As he prepares follow-up albums with Monet and Wrice, as well as the release of the two tracks he has on Ella Mai’s next album Have the heart on the hand LP, the decorated producer took the time to talk with me about the lost art of love songs.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VIBE: Looking at the artists you’ve collaborated with over the past few years – Silk Sonic, Lucky Daye, Ella Mai, HER – something I’ve noticed is that you seem to be working with known singers to create great songs of love. When I think of them, I don’t think of the “toxic” R&B trend. Would you say this is what you gravitate toward most among employees?
D’Mille: I think it sort of happened that way, because… You’re right. I’ve never really thought about the things that appeal to me, but yeah, I guess I would. Paying attention to what they write about, it’s kind of a pattern that these are the people I work with. I don’t know if it’s partly due to the energy in the room when I’m in it or whatever, but…
I think that should be part of it. The guideline of your work is that it looks very organic. I feel like maybe when these songwriters come in and hear the musicality that you bring, they’re like, “Nah, I can’t bring toxicity to that. I have to talk about a certain type of thing about this music.
Yeah, I think you’re right. But sometimes… Especially when I started working with Ty Dolla [$ign in 2012]I think he was the king of toxic (Laughs). He took it to a whole new level. What I was doing with it at the time, what I loved was how raw and real it was. The shit he used to say back then was so funny, man. And I thought that was a good contrast.
So I think there is a balance for everything. I agree with you that maybe we need a lot more love these days. But as long as the artists I work with are able to express what they feel and I’m able to help them achieve that, that’s what matters to me. It turns out that more than others, people like to write love [songs] to my business.
Two love songs from the Lucky Daye album that I covered in Yellow Diamonds are “Cherry Forest” and “Ego”. I like the versatility of his pen. They are two very different songs. “Ego” is partly about self-love and “Cherry Forest” is that abstract conception of love. How does it feel to see him create songs like your production?
That’s all. I think once he gets into that mode, and you watch him do… It’s easy because it’s like he always does the right things.
Usually he either writes it down in his head or writes it down on paper and I don’t really hear what he’s doing until he’s ready to step into the cabin. And when I hear it, I’m like, “Man, this guy literally nailed what this should be.” He is so good at understanding, hearing and listening to what the music tells him to say.
Would you say the world’s Lucky Days are more common today? I feel like a lot of singers these days are writing themselves, but I don’t know if that was the case when you came.
It’s so funny you say that because I just had this conversation with some of my friends and my wife. If you think about it back then… There were a lot of great artists who really didn’t write that much. Now it seems everyone does. [Or] writers themselves become artists. I don’t know how you want to see it. But they have a lot more information now, it seems, than they did in the early 2000s.
[As a producer], it makes it easier to understand. Yes [the artist] knows what it wants to do and if it does it well, you don’t really need to outsource [to songwriters] so much.
A trend over the last few years of your career has been that you produce most, if not all, of the albums you work on. Would you say that’s where your main focus is? Lock a whole project instead of just internships?
I think so. I mean, I’ll still take internships here and there, but I like to be more involved. The more I am involved, the happier I am. I like to just be part of the process in some way to help out with an entire project instead of just making a song and not knowing how it’s going to translate to the rest of the album. Because the rest of the album can make your song better or worse (Laughs).
In the production of these complete works, which was the most difficult?
Silk Sonic, from afar. We spent a whole year, or a year and a half, trying to get ‘Leave The Door Open’ right. And then between the three of us, we are all producers. So we all have these ideas and these contributions, and sometimes we can disagree. Also on the writing side. Sometimes a person can think, “Yeah, we did it.” And then the other person is like, “No, that’s not it yet.” It was the hardest because there was a lot going on, but that’s because we all care.
You gotta think, I’ve been listening to these songs for at least a year, every song… Literally everything was like, “Are we still on this?” But it always gets better and better. And it was worth it. It was extremely worth it.
Pusha T said something similar recently about her new album, in that working with Pharrell was harder than working with Kanye, but the result was still worth it. Would you agree that in the creative process sometimes there has to be a bit of discord?
I would definitely agree. I guess you could look at it like there’s none of that, so maybe you should be worried. Even though it can be boring and difficult to manage… I think it’s important.
I was rewatching the Janet Jackson documentary last night. And there was a scene where [she’s arguing with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis]. Even they have been there. [But] you saw what happened once they figured it out. They had their disagreements. They had their fights in the studio. They had it all. And I bet if that hadn’t happened, maybe this album wouldn’t have been as good as it was… I think some of the best things [comes from] when you have to fight to reach that finish line.
Getting back to the yellow diamond stuff, what are some of your all-time favorite love songs?
Donny Hathaway, “A Song For You”. Anything by Boyz II Men. The list can go on. You put me in the hot seat (Laughs).
The fact that you mention Boyz II Men reminds me of that era of 90s R&B, where “begging for music” was one thing. I was surprised to see a pleading song on the Silk Sonic tracklist (“Put On A Smile”). What do you think of these types of love songs?
We need a lot more of this stuff. The thing is, I think everyone’s so cocky these days, man. It’s as if they were ready to say “eff you” before “sorry”. Or they don’t really like to talk about pain in the same way.
[“Put On A Smile”] was cool because it was a new way of saying it. We just have to find a way to stay vulnerable and not feel like you have to be so tough. [Even] if you don’t want to do as before, there is still room for that. Because we are all human. We have the same feelings that our mothers and fathers had. Nothing really changes. It’s just how you go about it or how you say it that changes.
With these changes, especially now that artists are more involved in writing their records, hopefully more of them will start putting their personal experiences back into the music, because not everyone can be toxic. I know some of these singers are romantics and want to write about their love. I recently asked Rotimi how he found the song “Love Somebody,” and he told me it was entirely inspired by his fiancée.
I had a feeling that was his answer. It should have been. But you can ask the question, are many of these other people in love right now? Maybe they are say what they feel. Think Summer Walker. She’s been through a lot. I know she speaks the truth in her music.
That’s the thing. I think maybe even personally in life these artists need more love and they don’t really get it. And they can only talk about what they are obtain.