From the Beach to the Bedroom, San Pedro Native Miguel Pushes the Boundaries of R&B

“I have to be by the ocean.” —Miguel, photographed in Venice
“I have to be by the ocean.” —Miguel, photographed in Venice
Photo by Danny Liao

“You look beautiful,” Miguel says. Hanging over a pair of white jeans with shredded knees, his halfway-unbuttoned silk Gucci Hawaiian shirt billows a little in the breeze. He pauses, mid–leisurely stroll, in the middle of the Venice Beach boardwalk, and reaches out for a hug. His eyes are shielded by a pair of Aviators but that smile, the one that’s melted girls all over the world, lights up his face.

The 30-year-old singer is a little bit R&B, a little bit rock & roll and a lot of sex. Even if the people ambling along the boardwalk aren’t entirely sure who he is, they can feel the heat radiating off him.

Since his steamy debut studio album, 2010’s All I Want Is You (sample title: “Quickie”), Miguel has been flipping R&B upside down and inspiring couples to install bedroom ceiling mirrors. Mainstream success came with his funky second album, Kaleidoscope Dream, and its first single, “Adorn,” a shimmering, sophisticated love song that also won him a Grammy for Best R&B Song.

Last year, he smeared the lines between genres on Wildheart, blending R&B with rock guitar, psychedelia and Lenny Kravitz. The album included an ode to L.A.’s porn hub and a guest verse by rap O.G. Kurupt.

Miguel is an L.A. native and fame is everywhere here, so it hasn’t really gone to his head. Besides, he says, “I always knew. I want to make music. This is it. I never ever thought of anything else.”

He was born Miguel Jontel Pimentel in San Pedro to a Mexican father and a black mother. After his parents split, he bounced around the South Bay as a child, but the ocean always anchored him.

“This is the closest beach to Inglewood. I grew up on this beach,” he says over a coffee porter and a salad at a bustling lunch spot on the Venice boardwalk. “We didn’t have money like that. What are you gonna do? Go to the park, go to the beach.”

Miguel's album Wildheart blends R&B with rock guitar and psychedelia.
Miguel's album Wildheart blends R&B with rock guitar and psychedelia.
Photo by Danny Liao

Growing up in church and being “legit afraid of Moms” kept him in line throughout high school — he didn’t take a drink until he was 18 — and having a father who loved classic rock exposed him to a wide range of musical influences. Both parents believed in his dream. “It’s a lucky thing. Plenty of people have done brilliant things without that support, but to have that? It really sets the tone in a crazy way,” he says.

Though Miguel enrolled in community college, he never attended, instead shuttling back and forth to work alongside a fellow San Pedro native, rapper Blu, in a Long Beach studio. In 2007, his girlfriend (now fiancée) had dumped him and he was working a crap job selling extended car warranties. But the year turned around after he landed a feature on Blu’s critically acclaimed album, Below the Heavens, and then a record deal with Jive.

“The key for every artist is finding a voice. Get yourself together. What do you care about, what don’t you give a fuck about, how are you gonna give a shit in a way that’s uniquely you?” he says of those formative years, as a light wind off the water cools down the unseasonably warm afternoon.

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That struggle is now behind Miguel, but another dilemma has replaced it: what to do if Trump wins.

“I don’t know where I’m gonna move,” he says, only half joking. “But I have to be by the ocean.”

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