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WALTER JONES
ON H.E.R. AND
“R&B EXCELLENCE”

Walter Jones, co-head of A&R at Universal Music Publishing Group, speaks with the vernacular of an old-school record man. In an industry that has overwhelmingly embraced more data-driven A&R expertise, Jones is a rarity. His work with award-winning R&B breakout H.E.R. is a case in point.

“Staying close and keeping them honest,” is Jones’ concise summary of his approach. “I think the most important thing to have as an A&R person and producer is trust,” he says. “The artist has to trust you with their vision. The team has to trust you. When you have trust, you get the truth from everyone.”

Before making the jump to Jody Gerson’s Uni in 2019, Jones—who was once a DJ for R&B crooner Montell Jordan—turned heads as VP, Urban A&R at Sony/ATV, signing such writer/artists as Alessia Cara, G-Eazy, A$AP Rocky, and Pusha T. Today his impressive roster of acts and songwriters includes double-platinum Atlanta rapper Lil Baby, Migos standout Quavo, two-fisted Miami duo City Girls and H.E.R., the acclaimed multi-instrumentalist who seems to be everywhere these days.

“My first encounter with H.E.R. was at the [2009] ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards,” Jones recalls of his introduction to the teen prodigy then known as Gabriella Wilson. “Alicia Keys was the honoree, and H.E.R. performed a tribute to Alicia. I think everyone in attendance that night, including myself, knew without a doubt she was going places and would one day become a Grammy and Oscar winner.”

But Jones could not have anticipated that he’d win his own Grammy, for Best R&B Album, for his co-production work on H.E.R.’s self-titled 2017 release. Now he’s gearing up for the drop of her full-length studio album debut, Back of My Mind, due out 6/18. There’s a lot riding on the much-anticipated project from this artist who has drawn comparisons to icon Prince. Jones isn’t worried one bit.

“R&B excellence” is how he describes H.E.R.’s next offering. “Fans can expect a real R&B experience. Back of My Mind explores the many sounds and moods of R&B. I’m most impressed by her desire to learn. She studies the greats just as much as she practices. She loves collaborating and sharing creative energy with other musicians.”

For Jones, the extra time required to craft the album is all part of the process. At a time when some artists are being thrown to the wolves before they can even develop a quality stage show, he’s out to show the old ways of building up an act can still work in the TikTok era. 

“I think the most identifiable solution has been to invest in entrepreneurs who have the time and resources to develop artists,” Jones says. “Some of our brightest stars are coming from entrepreneurs like MBK Entertainment, Quality Control, Darkroom, LVRN, Dreamville, Alamo, Since the 80s and more. But I also think there should be space for A&Rs to develop from the ground up. That’s the fun part of making a record.”

Photo: Jones soaks up the Oscar love with H.E.R. and "Fight for You" co-writer Tiara Thomas.

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