The name might not immediately ring a bell, but you’ve definitely heard his work with Eminem, Dr. Dre, Young Buck, the Game, 112, ‘NSYNC and Busta Rhymes. The producer, born Bernard Edwards Jr. — the son of late funk/disco legend and Chic co-founder Bernard Edwards — is about to drop his debut album, which he described as his version of mentor Dr. Dre’s landmark G-funk smash, The Chronic.
But, like a hip-hop Radiohead , he’s planning to give it away. “A lot of people don’t know how long I’ve been in the business, and the best way to do that is to showcase yourself,” said Focus, 35, who plans to release Dedicated March 18 on A.Fam Records’ Web site, preceded by the single “Shine,” featuring Busta Rhymes and Aftermath Entertainment newbie Bishop Lamont. In a nod to his relative mic anonymity, “Shine” opens with Focus rapping, “Nobody knows who the f— Focus is, except for local kids/ They know me on these beats, but not on some vocal sh–,” over a grimy, buzzing track. In the meantime, he’s also working on the oft-delayed rapping swan song from Dre, Detox, and the long-awaited new album from Eminem.
Asked why he’s giving away an album he’s spent so much time on, and which he’s clearly very proud of, Focus said he’s hoping that if the response is as good as he anticipates, he will follow it up with a second album, called Focal Point: 1172, which he will definitely get into stores. “As for me and Aftermath, I like just being part of the production [crew],” he said. “I don’t see a long life on Aftermath as an artist unless you are a 50 Cent, Eminem or Bishop. … I’m not trying to make a career of being an artist. [I] just want the world to hear my music.”
In addition to Busta and the Bishop, the 16-track album will feature cameos from fellow Aftermath artist Stat Quo, as well as Little Brother, Chino XL, Raphael Saadiq, DJ Khalil and Illa J, the younger brother of late hip-hop producer J Dilla . “I’ve been around the music industry my whole life,” said Focus, who said he began his professional career more than 20 years ago. “I’ve worked with everyone from Beyoncé to J. Lo, but this will definitely be the only album you’ll hear from me where I produce and rhyme on every track.”
As he awaits the album’s online debut, Focus is keeping busy working on tracks for the upcoming, but tightly under-wraps, first album in nearly four years from Aftermath kingpin Marshall Mathers. “Marshall’s album is coming out soon, and we just did a couple tracks together, and we’ve done a lot of writing together,” he said. “I make my beats and send them out to him.” But other than confirming the existence of a new album from Eminem, Focus wouldn’t divulge much else about the sound or the style of the project.
He was also tight-lipped about his work on Dre’s long-gestating final album Detox which Focus said should definitely be coming out this year. “We’re heavy into Detox now,” he said. “I’m trying to get some tracks on there and give him whole songs so he can keep everything moving. Detox is coming this year. I know that’s what he’s been working very hard on. I want my tracks to be as big as Dre’s name and legend are.”
Interscope’s Dennis Dennehy said there is currently “nothing on the schedule” from either artist.