When you think about discussions that often arise about which was the best r&b group of the 90’s, why does it seem that Next is not even under consideration most of the time? The group managed to top the Billboard r&b charts multiple times, but also managed to top the Billboard Top 100 with their smash “Too Close”; an honor none of 112, Jagged Edge or Dru Hill can claim. Although Next hasn’t had a release since in nearly a decade, RL has gone on to have a very successful career in penning hits for others artists over the years. In fact, we may have seen a second solo album from RL by now had his project not been leaked prematurely by hackers. Despite this temporary setback, it’s good to see that RL has not only started on a new album of his own, but that there is also another album from Next in the cards. YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with RL backstage after his performance at RnB Nights at BB Kings in NYC. In this interview, we discuss what he’s been up to, the status of Next as a group, his new solo album, writing for other artists, fans stopping him on the street and asking if he’s still singing, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell us what you’ve been up to.
RL: I just had been writing for everybody and then I took a break for a minute to find other ways to be prosperous without music. So I’ve got a lounge opening in Atlanta. I had a mixtape that came out called “Return of the Voice” and part 2 is about 90% done. We’re shooting videos for about five or six of those records. So I’ve been slowly learning the viral media part of entertainment now. Before it just had to be a hot record and you had to have talent. Now you can have none of that and have a lot of hits on your YouTube or a lot of followers on Twitter and you can get a deal or get some spins; I’m really not used to that. I’ve been in the game almost 15 years and it’s been more about music so I’m trying to find that happy medium between still being about the music and talent and still doing what I need to do virally. So my management has been helping me get in different magazines and do interviews and things like that. But I’m going to be honest, I’m a boring cat! When you think of most industry cats you think of people who like to go out, but I’m about to be the co-owner of a lounge and I probably won’t be there because that’s not me. I’m in the bed by 10:30 and watching Forensic Files or First 48, so I’m kind of boring when it comes to life outside of music. So I’m not comfortable doing all of these things you have to do nowadays but I’m slowly acclimating myself into a transition to it.
YKIGS: Let’s talk more about something you mentioned which was r&b artists these days don’t need the talent, but maybe just have a look or an image. This type of thing is starting to push real singers like yourself to the side which is unfortunate.
RL: You know it’s crazy because I can overseas and perform like I’ve done for years and actually make a lot more than these artists that are on radio over here. I can’t really blame these artists, but I look at the labels. I think that’s one reason we asked to be released from our deal and not dropped because we refused to put records that last three months. You have these songs that are here right now, they sell a little bit, you’re on tour for a summer, and then you never hear the record again. We’ve been blessed to have some of the biggest records of the past 20 years, whether it’s something I wrote for somebody like I did with the Jaheim records, or whether it’s something I wrote and performed with Next. I feel sorry for a lot of the artists nowadays because when it comes time that they have to slow down and depend on touring for awhile, what are they going to sing? The records that they have won’t be relevant anymore. My cousin is Phil Bailey from Earth, Wind & Fire and I want to be like that, I want to be able to tour forever. Of course I want to be able to put out more music, but relevance to me is being on someone’s mind. I just walked around the city all day and probably a couple of hundred people recognized me, even cats who might have been 8 or 9, or 10 or 11 when I first came out, but they know me because my music transcends generations. That’s what I want to continue to do.
YKIGS: On stage you mentioned you’re back with Next as group.
RL: I never left. There’s always inner turmoil within a group because I was the baby, and it’s hard when I’m the youngest and all of the sudden the public thrusts me as the lead singer which I’m not. I can understand where maybe I’m doing a record with 2Pac or Deborah Cox or “The Best Man”, and my group mates are sitting ready to work. Being young, I didn’t know how to juggle that, we were juggling egos, we’re men, so I had to learn. Secondly, the original three is back together, me T-Lo and Tweety. Tweety left for awhile, but he said he had to grow, he had to humble himself and grow. The same with all of us, we argue but look at the Rolling Stones, they can have a fist fight and then get on stage and make a million dollars. Why is it that black groups can’t do that? I don’t want to be the next black group to throw it all away. We’ve started working on a new album and it’s called “Music 101” and it will come out after my album, but we’re taking our time. If you look at a lot of urban groups, they have to put an album every six or nine months. Pop acts can put out an album every four or five years because they can tour off of that same album. Luckily we can go and do touring; I’m about to go to Liberia, we just got back from Australia. Internationally is where it’s at right now.
YKIGS: So you did mention that you’re still planning to release a solo album. Talk about that.
RL: I had a whole album done but these leakers from Germany, oh my goodness, they find ways! You can get an e-mail addressed from your mom and click on it, and they’re in your computer! So I’ve learned to protect my catalog. And it just wasn’t me, it was producers as well. What would hurt me the most was a lot of producers thought I was leaking records so I could get heard. Why would I cut into my income stream in order to get a leak out? It was happening to everybody I found out from talking to other artists. I’ve got an album that’s 90% done that’s called “Minnesota Nights” because there are times that I don’t want to be out. I was at a funeral yesterday; my mentor died a couple of weeks ago, 40 years old with two kids. I didn’t want to be here to be honest, and there really wasn’t any income for me to be here, but a friend of mine was throwing this so I came to host and maybe do one song. Music is so powerful that you want to get up there and put on a show for the crowd here. The meaning behind “Minnesota Nights” is that when I was younger I contemplated suicide and every night before I would go to sleep I’d go sneak a beer from the refrigerator or something stupid and down it so I could go to sleep. Every night I’d have my headphones on and listen to Boyz II Men or After 7 and just dreamed about making it. Whenever I become complacent I think about those Minnesota Nights when I would lay in that twin size bed, which was 20 years older than me because me and my brother got beds from my mom and my uncle that they got when they were kids. So I think back to that time and it keeps me focused.
YKIGS: You mentioned the tragedy you’ve been through recently and I think a lot of fans may not realize the human element that goes into it; you mentioned you didn’t even wanna come here to perform. As an artist you’ve gotta go up there and act like you’re happy and smile and take pictures. How do you balance that when even though inside It’s probably killing you?
RL: Because you realize it’s bigger than you. To be honest I’m actually more comfortable on stage than I am right here doing this interview. I can forget about every and anything when I’m on stage, I don’t even see the audience half of the time, I close my eyes and I’m in the shower naked or something like that. I imagine I’m anywhere but where I’m at. Music has always been an outlet and all of the songs that I’ve written or performed, people listen to them and it takes them to another place. Before it can take them, it has to take me, and that’s how I know that it’s good enough. You get past the point where you go “It sounds good, I like how I sound on the song”. It has to be bigger than that and I’ve matured and learned that, so now musically is actually my outlet. It’s an amazing thing to get paid to do something that I’d probably do for free.
YKIGS: Talk about your writing. What’s your process for putting a song together?
RL: It depends. When I wrote Jamie Foxx’s record “Forecast”, I listened to his first album and I really wanted to capture that. He was around when I was doing my solo album, he was in the studio telling jokes, he invited me to Will Smith’s house and we became really cool. I actually wrote the record for him two days before, but the label didn’t want him to record it, but he called and said he wanted it. So a year and a half passed and I finally reached out to him and said “If you don’t want the record, it’s cool, you’re still my guy.” So he told me “I’m actually shooting Miami Vice right now, we’re flying from here, I’ll stop in Minnesota and pick you up, and we’ll go to Miami.” I couldn’t do that because I had to go to a graduation, but right after the graduation I went down to Miami. So I went down there and he recorded the record and put it on the album. The funny thing is I’ve never heard another artist that I’ve written for perform a song that I’ve written for them live; Jaheim, Lloyd, Usher, Luther, nobody. I was at a concert in Atlanta at the Fox Theater and he started singing my song! I started singing loud as hell not even realizing it because it just felt so good. So he started going to me “Ssshhhh, let me sing!” So he sees me, breaks the music down, points to me, and tells the crowd that RL wrote that song, and asked them to give up it for me. That was one of the highlights of my career.
YKIGS: Are you currently writing for any other artists right now? Or are you just focusing on your solo album and Next?
RL: I’m really focusing on my project and Next and the new mixtape. Artists come to me sometimes for records; I’m going to be working with Meelah soon when she’s down in Atlanta. It’s been a humbling experience writing for a lot of artists that I feel like vocally I might be on another level and I have to dumb down records, but that’s not a problem. The hardest part is when I write a record and I hold it for an artist that I consider a friend and they don’t use it. It happened with Lloyd on two records I wrote with The Runners and Cool and Dre. I called him a year ago on my birthday and he thought I was calling about the songs, and he told me he still wanted to use the songs, but I told him I was calling because it was my birthday and I wanted him to come party and he told me he was in Australia but he’d hit me when he got back. So I didn’t hear anything else from him about the songs, and to be honest I wouldn’t even have charged because I love his spirit and he’s a really good cat. The album came out, I went and bought it, but my records weren’t on it. You get sensitive with your material that you hold for artists but you also realize that it’s a lot of industry talk in the game and it could be a lot of people around that artist.
YKIGS: A lot of fans don’t realize that type of stuff goes on behind the scenes. Does that go on often? Do you take it personal? How do you deal with it?
RL: It’s hard not to. I’m a man first, this industry doesn’t define me. There’s time that you get angry. The funny thing is that both me and my manager are both Aeries; I wear my emotions on my sleeve but he has an even temperament so he balances me out. There are times when I overreact and I’m learning to just let things work themselves out sometimes. I’m learning to relax now because if I didn’t I’d probably have an aneurism!
YKIGS: You mentioned on stage people see you on the street and ask if you you’re still singing and still recording. You haven’t had an album with Next since the early 2000’s and your solo album was back in 2002. Has it been tough stepping out of the spotlight per say and do the writing for other artists and not be seen on the major level like you’re used to?
RL: Truthfully, no because for some reason out of all of the groups that were out when we came out, we’re the least known urban wise. If you really look we only had three albums out, but we were much more MTV than BET. So when you ask the urban audience what their favorite group of the 90’s is, they’ll probably say Jagged Edge or 112 or Dru Hill, and I love all of those groups. They won’t even mention us and we’ve had some of the biggest hits in the history at that time. But it was because we were playing in other countries and we were on pop stations that we got different attention. Clive took us somewhere else and I used to hate how we had to dress; we couldn’t wear fly gear and we didn’t have a rapper coming in on our songs. We also didn’t have Jermaine Dupri or Puffy coming out in the videos ; we didn’t have that. Kay Gee who I love like a brother was there but that was when Naughty by Nature wasn’t as big. Naughty doesn’t get the credit they deserve either because they were on the pop side as well. You don’t think of them when you think of best hip hop groups but they had some of the biggest hits in hip hop history. So I’m used to people not giving us the credit that’s due. It used to bother me when I was younger, but now it’s much more lucrative to sit in the background and not have to deal with the headache. The funny thing is people notice me, people still show me love. It is offensive when people ask me if I’m still singing, but if there’s a shower or there’s a bathroom with tile so that it’s acoustically sounding great, I’m going to be singing regardless!
YKIGS: Anything you’d like to add?
RL: I love your site and love that you keep it positive. My message to the leakers is “Quit sending me e-mails, I know that it’s you, I’m glad that you like my music, but I’ve gotta eat, thank you!”