With an easy Caribbean accent and throwback “Gumby” haircut, singer/songwriter/producer Maurice “Verse” Simmonds is an unusual figure in American R&B. Sure, he’s as laid-back and charming as your average nightclub crooner. And his debut album, Stories of a Bachelor, is full of typical rhythm and blues sensuality. But Verse is somewhat of an anomaly to the R&B genre.That’s because he’s created his own musical lane: “Island B,” a mix of R&B, Hip-Hop and Caribbean sounds that embody Verse’s musical philosophy. “I came up with the name ‘Island B’ after people would ask me to describe my style,” he explains. “I don’t feel like it’s true R&B, since I’m more inclined to sing a song the way Bob Marley would as opposed to Marvin Gaye.”Born in Puerto Rico but raised in St. Thomas, Verse was first introduced to music through the radio. “I remember being 3 or 4 years old in the back of a car singing along to Ralph Tresvant’s ‘Sensitivity,’” recalls Simmonds, who would steal his mom’s mixtapes and bring them to pre-school for show-and-tell. “In the Virgin Islands, only Top 40 songs make it on the airwaves, so as a kid, I was influenced by some of the biggest songs in the world. To me, music always felt natural.”In high school, Verse would perform in local talent shows with a group of fellow singers – his friends Iggy, Pressure, and Theron. They called themselves 2 Xtreme and would sing for hire for Valentine’s Day lovers or at special events. “Basically, anywhere we could touch a mic,” says Verse.After graduating from high school, Verse moved to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, where he met a young producer/songwriter/engineer named Shama Joseph. The two hit it off immediately and formed the production team, the Jugganauts. In 2003, they moved to Los Angeles to work on several major label projects. A few years later, a phone call from childhood friend Theron Thomas and his brother Timothy Thomas – a.k.a. the singing/songwriting duo, “Rock City” – convinced the Jugganauts to relocate to Atlanta, where they began working with the likes of Akon and super-producer Rodney Jerkins.“Most of the male records that we would write, I found myself recording the demo for those particular records, and when we played them, people would ask, ‘Who’s the artist?’” says Verse. “Theron and Sham would always jokingly say, ‘That’s Verse, and we’re working on his solo project next.’”However, Verse began taking the idea of a singing career seriously. He started recording his own songs and performing around Atlanta. Jerkins caught wind of Verse’s music and, after attending one of his shows, approached Verse about signing him to his Darkchild Records imprint. A meeting with Interscope Records chairman Jimmy Iovine was set up, and after playing a few songs for the label exec, Verse had a record deal.Now, Verse is proud to unveil, Stories of a Bachelor, a collection of “based on a true story” scenarios penned almost entirely by the real-life bachelor himself. “Pretty much every song has a story that you can visualize and relate to when you hear it,” he explains. “Of course, some of the lyrics are from my personal experiences, and at times, it’s a little edgier than regular R&B. But I wanted the album to have a storyline…sort of like a movie.”The first single off the album is “Buy You A Round (Up & Down),” a carefree, radio-friendly party anthem. “Money In My Pocket,” a harder Hip-Hop boast, is a noticeable departure from Verse’s usually relaxed demeanor. “People might not expect this song from me, but I don’t want to be an artist locked into one thing,” he says. “I try to be as versatile as I can.”“That Girl” is a contagious Soca romp, while the RedOne-produced “Boomerang” mixes island-boy style with the electricity of Euro-pop. Then, on “Substitute Lover,” Verse’s striking falsetto issues a warning to fellas everywhere: “If you are not tending to your girl, someone else gladly will.”Perhaps the most compelling song on Stories of a Bachelor is the remorseful yet sexy ballad, “I’m Sorry.” “It’s a timeless record,” Verse says. “It’s for all the f&*k up days that men have. They can play the song and their women will forgive them instantly!”Verse captures a range of emotions on Stories of a Bachelor – from lust to longing, hubris to heartache – but still keeps the music fresh. Indeed, he may be unusual to R&B, but Verse Simmonds stands out among the competition just by being himself.
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