R&B singer Trey Songz performs Friday at Pier Six Pavilion. (Handout photo )
R&B singer Tremaine "Trey Songz" Neverson has just fallen victim to the oldest touring musician cliche: He's not quite sure what city he's in. "Where am I? That's a good question," he says over the phone line and then, after a pregnant pause: "Milwaukee."
But it's hard to blame him, given the whirlwind year he's having. His fourth album, "Passion, Pain & Pleasure," is due out Sept. 14, but urban radio is still spinning "Neighbors Know My Name," the fifth single from 2009's "Ready," around the clock.
A Virginia native, Trey Songz is arguably the biggest young male star in R&B right now, facing real competition only from the older, more established Usher.
"You can't ask for a better moment as an artist," he says of his current run of back-to-back hits, which recently peaked with "Say Aah" featuring Fabolous, his first top 10 solo hit. And he's eager to capitalize on that by releasing a new album before the last one has run its course.
"The momentum is one thing I wanted to catch, some people may have thought that I was coming back too soon," he says. "I think some people make the mistake of letting that momentum pass and thinking that moment will last forever. I'd rather play off of it and make another chapter."
This week, Trey Songz is bringing the Passion, Pain & Pleasure tour to Baltimore for a headlining performance at Pier Six Pavilion on Friday, with opening act Monica. He promises to play the hits he made his name with, as well the fast-rising new singles from the album, the club anthem "Bottoms Up" and the ballad "Can't Be Friends."
Though he's reaching a new peak of popularity at the age of 25, Trey Songz was not an overnight success, and has been steadily climbing the charts since his 2005 debut, "I Gotta Make It," failed to go Gold.
"Features, collaborations, mix tapes all kept me very relevant all during the time when records of my own weren't doing as well as they're doing right now," he says, noting how his tendency to work with rappers helped keep him on the airwaves. And now that he's not just a great voice for choruses but a marquee act in his own right, the freelance work keeps rolling in; he's featured on current singles by Ludacris, Mary J. Blige and Fat Joe.
Although his trembling, emotive vibrato and his six-pack abs have helped vault Trey Songz into sex symbol status, it nonetheless feels like his popularity is a product more of his own hard work and relentless release schedule than any other factors. "It was definitely a gradual evolution, and I think as the singles piled on top of each other, it got crazier and crazier.
"My natural element is to work with rappers, I'm very much a hip hop head," he says, but often points to D'Angelo as his greatest influence and can easily rattle off favorite R&B artists: "I was inspired by Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, R. Kelly." There are even a few signature Trey Songz ad libs, shouts of "yup" and "c'mon" often repeated at the beginning of his songs, a trademark usually reserved for hip-hop artists. "It's just something to keep their attention, you know what I mean?"
Some of the once lesser-known artists that Trey Songz worked with early on, like Canadian rapper Drake, ended up forming mutually beneficial relationships with the singer. When Drake wound up as the hottest new artist in hip-hop last year, a couple of his many collaborations with Trey Songz quickly became hits.
"Talent is talent, whether the rest of the world sees it initially, or whether this person is the biggest superstar," he says of seeing the potential in Drake early. But then, Tremaine Neverson might as well be talking about himself too.
If you go
Trey Songz performs Friday Aug. 27 at Pier Six Pavilion, 731 Eastern Ave. Gates open 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $30-$60. Call 410-244-1131 or go to piersixpavilion.com