As Trey Songz released his fifth album, “Chapter V,” in August 2012, the R&B singer could feel the genre's boundaries shifting beneath his feet. Established stars found fruitful collaborations through electronic dance music, while rising new singers arrived on the Internet seemingly fully formed and with little compromise.
“You had Usher, Chris Brown and Ne-Yo — three powerhouses in R&B — making EDM. You had the new wave of R&B being an underground sound with the Weeknd, Miguel and Frank Ocean,” Songz said on the phone from Los Angeles last month. “You had music taking a turn.”
Rather than forcibly turn with it, Songz — who co-headlines Royal Farms Arena on Tuesday with Brown, the embattled singer who postponed the original January date due to unfinished community service — took a step back from the world that first made him a star when he released his 2005 debut, “I Gotta Make It.” The brief break allowed Songz — a Petersburg, Va., native who called Baltimore County home for four years during his middle school days as an Army brat — to pursue other interests, including acting, which led to his first film roles in the 2013 slasher flick “Texas Chainsaw 3D” and the comedy “Baggage Claim.”
Before long, though, Songz returned to what he does best: sensual, ready-for-radio R&B music. His sixth album, “Trigga,” was released in July, and like “Chapter V,” it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Although little of “Trigga” would shock those familiar with Songz's catalog, the 30-year-old singer said the album represents an important time in his nearly decade-long career.
“'Trigga' was kind of a reset button for people that got a little break from me, as well as those fiending and yearning for R&B again,” Songz, born Tremaine Neverson, said.
As R&B continues to expand outwardly in unpredictable directions, Songz appeals to the many fans still willing to give themselves over to a conventionally charming heartthrob. Carnal pleasures drive Songz (album opener “Cake” lays it out plainly) but he articulates it without the Weeknd's creepy literalness. Like Brown and other R&B singers who grew up with hip-hop, Songz has incorporated rapping into his wheelhouse in recent years, but he largely avoids the sophomoric indulgences Brown cannot. And then there is Songz's famously sculpted physique, which is often on display in music videos that can look like home-workout DVDs. In 2015, it is difficult to find an artist more suitable than Songz to play the role of R&B's traditional leading man.
For Songz, “Trigga” captured something simpler, too — a snapshot of his life.
“It's the soundtrack to what my life was at the moment,” Songz said. “The beautiful thing about music is it's like chronicles you leave for the world to hear forever what it is you feel in the moment.”
A “Trigga” standout is “Touchin Lovin,” his second collaboration with Nicki Minaj. (The first, “Bottoms Up,” was released in 2010.) Songz, who will tour Europe with Minaj in March, said feeding off the rapper's outsized personality translates to audible chemistry between the two.
“Her sexuality oozes in her records no matter what it is she's doing or talking about,” Songz said. “We look good together, we sound good together — it makes sense. I'm talking to the ladies and she's representing for them.”
The plan, later this year, is to release “Trigga: Reloaded,” a repackaged version of the album with additional songs. (New single “Slow Motion” is the first offering from the project, which does not yet have a release date.) He also plans to release his seventh album, “Tremaine,” before the end of the year.
Before then, though, is the anticipated tour with Brown. Tuesday’s performance at Royal Farms Arena holds extra significance for Songz, who called Baltimore “a second home.” (Songz, who attended eight schools before 9th grade, said he was a student at Woodlawn Middle School, Cockeysville Middle School and Old Court Middle School before settling back in Petersburg in high school.)
Virginia will always be considered his home, but his time living in Maryland came at an impressionable period for Songz. The impact from his time here feels ingrained inside, but hard to articulate. But, he said, there is no doubt it is there.
“It was a very adolescent time in my life. I was moving around a lot, but it was imperative to the person I became later in life,” Songz said. “I just miss the developing, and the growing, and the people that I met there. Baltimore, in a lot of ways, helped shape me as a person.”