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Photo by James Harris. While sitting inside a hazy recording room at Platinum Studios near Times Square, unfinished tracks off an upcoming album blast from the high quality speakers. Red, blue and green circular lights dance across the ceiling and everyone in the bunker-like space nods or sways to the beat. The music is from rising reggae influenced hip-hop artist Cris Cab, who has been clocking in long hours here as he works to finish recording his sophomore album ‘New Beginnings’.

Miami bred Cab had an early start in the industry as Pharrell Williams — whose simple nod of approval can launch any young artist into the spotlight — discovered him years ago when Cab was in his late teens. “He’s the first person who heard me out musically and was my mentor and a big brother to me,” Cab tells Billboard. Since then, the now 23 year old has released a handful of EPs along with his debut album, Where I Belong, which arrived back in 2014 and included the Williams-written hit “Liar Liar” (the video has over 53 million views on YouTube).

*billboard.com

Now, Cab is working with Williams once again on his more expansive, and appropriately titled, upcoming release. “It feels amazing to come back now with all this experience and make this second project,” Cab says. I feel a lot more knowledgeable of what I’m doing and have a better grasp on where I want to go.” Since the release of his debut album two years ago, he has released three singles (“Bada Bing,” “Together” and the most recent track, “Turn Out The Light,” which features Latin sensation J. Balvin) all of which arrived this year and showcase a new direction for Cab.

On “Turn Out The Light,” for example, Balvin sings a verse in Spanish, an idea Cab says he would like to incorporate elsewhere on the album. Williams has been pushing Cab himself to sing in Spanish for a long time, and he has recently been trying it out in the studio. “Pharrell is always like, ‘Show people your heritage, show people where you come from. It’s not going to hurt you, it’s only going to open up more doors,'” he explains. “That’s what the idea was [on “Turn Out The Light“], to start bringing people in on a bit of my world.”

Aside from linking up with J. Balvin, Cab has also been in the studio with 88 Keys and Jerry Wonda (The Fugees, Carlos Santana, Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige), whom he says “stays inspired and surrounded by young cats who are changing up the game”Cab being a prime example. Looking ahead to 2017, Cab says he’s most looking forward to hitting the U.S. market hard and connecting with his fans here.

He adds he’s been away in Europe for a while — “my fans have been calling me over there, it’s where the music has been doing well” — but that now it’s time to stay closer to home in terms of touring. The album, which Cab says carries his familiar reggae flair, employs a similar notion. “You can still tell where my roots, are but it has this new element of energy,” which he says comes from extensive touring playing live shows and festival gigs. The most energizing aspect, though, is “seeing that everybody [especially] now wants to move and feel alive.”