Geared up in the 90’s as the next up and coming Diva, Sparkle came strong in 1998 with her self-tilted debut album “Sparkle.” The album was propelled by the smash hit single “Be Careful,” a duet with R. Kelly that is still being played in radio today. The single helped the album reach Platinum status and it became the most successful album released under Rockland. Unfortunately, Sparkle parted ways with Rockland due to creative differences. After her release from the label, Sparkle signed with Motown Records and released her sophomore album “Told You So.” Even though her second album was a solid effort musically, it did not do well in sales and it would be the last album that we would hear form Sparkle to date. Sparkle found herself in opposite corners against former mentor R. Kelly, during Kelly’s highly publicized sex scandal trial. Sparkle testified against Kelly and identified the underage girl in the videotape as her niece. The trial took a toll in Sparkle’s life and her recording career as it affected her and her family. Sparkle has got to be one of the most humble and down to earth artists that I’ve met by far. Join us as YouKnowIGotSoul has caught up with Sparkle for an amazing interview where we discussed her humble start in the music business, working with Aaliyah, her relationship with R. Kelly, the makings of her first album, the trial, her much anticipated return to the music business with her third album “Split Decision,” and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: First of all, we want to thank you for taking the time and granting us this interview today. It is an honor to have you on the site.
Sparkle: Thanks for the invite
YKIGS: Let’s start from the beginning. Growing up in Chicago, what musical influences did you have at a young age, and what inspired you to pursue a career as a recording artist?
Sparkle: Brought up in church, gospel music is my first love. Having to be lead or co-lead singer in the family group, was the catalyst in me pursuing. But overall, Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder…I just love the male voice. As far as Chicago goes; Crucial Conflict, Twista, and Robert (R. Kelly).
YKIGS: How did you start working with R. Kelly?
Sparkle: He asked me down to the studio, through a couple members of his old group; they kept bringing my name up that he should take a listen to me. So, I sang for him & then was later asked to do the backgrounds on Aaliyah’s first CD.
YKIGS: How was your experience while working on Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” debut album? Do you have a fond memory of her that you could share with us?
Sparkle: It was a great experience and many hours of work. Aaliyah was a sweetheart. I remember her in braces and her wanting her hair pulled up like mine, which later in the session we played beauty shop.
YKIGS: Tell us about the time when you got signed to Rockland? How was your experience on the label?
Sparkle: After I’d done Aaliyah’s CD, I was asked down to the studio to sing backgrounds on another of his projects. I’d recorded a song “Daydreamin” when Robert called me in to the control room after it’s completion to ask me if I knew whose project I was working on. And that’s the moment I found out I was actually working on my own CD. The label experience is too long for this article. You want me to write a book, huh?
YKIGS: Takes us through a regular day during the recording period of your classic debut album “Sparkle.” What was the creative process like?
Sparkle: It would start either very late night or right after I got off work…grindin’. Yep, I was still working while doing my first CD. I’d be working finishing up a song from the prior night or another song would be on the board. Robert would most times feed me the lines because he’d still be writing the song, so it was a long process at times. But then most times, I’d produce my own vocals with me periodically asking the engineer what he thought, cause Robert would be off playing’ ball or whatever.
YKIGS: In my opinion, one of the cuts that stood out the most on your debut album was the song “Lovin’ You.” The song is very unique and your vocals sound amazing. How did this song come about? What are your memories of recording the song?
Sparkle: “Loving You” is a remake from the late great Minnie Ripperton; she sings it like no other…But thank you for the compliment. The song came about because Robert wanted me to do a cover, I did 2 covers but this one was chosen for the cd. It was pretty easy for me to sing, because that was one of the most popular wedding songs people wanted me to sing. I did it in one take.
YKIGS: In 2002, Tank sampled the song on his “One Man” album. How did this collaboration come about?
Sparkle: With me nearly signing a deal with Blackground Records weeks prior to the tragedy of Aaliyah, which was the label she was signed to. Later while my lawyers were going’ through the paperwork, I was asked to fly out to re-sing “Loving You,” Tank (who was also signed to the label) just had the engineer speed up my vocals. One take again.
YKIGS: You also collaborated with Mary J. Blige on her “Share My World” album. Tell us about this collaboration and your experience working with Mary.
Sparkle: As far as the making of this song in particular, I didn’t have any interaction with Mary. I laid the background vocals and that was that.
YKIGS: What led to your departure from Rockland and how did you get signed to Motown?
Sparkle: I asked to be released due to creative differences; Robert fought the release, but eventually I got it. Motown showed up with what appeared to be the best and full commitment situation for me. It wasn’t much time to process the decision after the fight of being released, with them wanting to work off of the momentum and success of the first album.
YKIGS: What was your mindset going into recording your sophomore album “Told You So?” Did you feel pressure due to the success of your first album?
Sparkle: Umm…Scared a little bit. The thought of working with an entirely new label, I think it’s only natural. I feel pressure with every record I lay. A good pressure though, I really want my fans to have the best, that kind of “pressure”.
YKIGS: In my opinion, the album was a very solid effort but it did not do well commercially. Did you feel like the label pushed the record the right way?
Sparkle: Thanks. I’d like to think they did. I do feel they did their best considering; like me, it was an adjustment for both sides. I will say, I don’t think they had the “strength” of Interscope (my prior label).
YKIGS: It’s been over ten years since the release of your sophomore album “Told You So.” What have you been up to during this period of time?
Sparkle: Yea, it’s been a long minute. But I’ve been going through healing my heart, and that has everything to do with my family. Family had once been a first priority, and that’s still an ongoing project for me. With everything taking such a toll on me, the people around me decided that this needed to be completely out of my system before I moved forward doing anything. While healing, I did find time to get in the studio a time or two. Also, I moved to Las Vegas to help my sister Toni Braxton (singing/dancing) in her show on the strip for a couple years. With doing a lot of volunteer work, I recently started a non-profit organization called “Sparkles Solution;” which is directed at assisting young inner city girls.
YKIGS: It’s been rumored that you are working on your third album “Split Decision.” What inspired you to record music again and how did you come up with the title for the album?
Sparkle: It was just a matter of time before I’d record again. Inspiration: aside from loving what I do, I couldn’t let the “testimony” of a case be what people remember me by and/or dictate my “legacy.” It had to be music after! Even if only one person hears it, I’m good with that! The title comes from the fact that I didn’t want to have to testify against Robert, the fact that “my family” sided against me, the fact of no decisive “winner” in all of this. Absolutely No Winner!
YKIGS: What’s your approach going into this third album and what can we expect from it?
Sparkle: Raw Truth! Would you expect anything different at this point?
YKIGS: How do you feel about the state of music today, especially R&B?
Sparkle: I think it’s a bit watered down, but I don’t knock it. The budgets aren’t as big, nor do labels support you nearly as well, so music tends to be real disposable and not have the staying power.
YKIGS: Now something that I’m sure all your fans would like to know is; do you still keep in touch with R. Kelly and will there ever be another Sparkle/R. Kelly collaboration?
Sparkle: I have NO contact with Robert. As a child of God, I’ll follow his lead.
YKIGS: That’s all that I had prepared for today. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Sparkle: Thank You for the compliments and extensive knowledge of my past, it means a lot! Honestly, it does!! To my fans, they’ll be happy(ier) upon my return!
YKIGS: Thank you so much for all your time and candid answers, we are very excited about your third album and can’t wait for its release. We will definitely promote it on the site as well. Thank you.
Sparkle: No Thank You, Again!