We recently caught up with the legendary Brian McKnight for an interview on Instagram Live. During our conversation, he touched on his recently released final album “Exodus”, memories from his earlier albums, helping to shape the younger generation, and what’s next for him after releasing his final album.
Brian McKnight: That’s right. You hit it right on the head. Even with songs that are reminiscent of today like “Sexy Body” and a couple of others, the main body of work of this album goes back to the idea that what I do is what I do. It really doesn’t matter how much music has changed. If I do all new stuff, people will say that’s not what I do. To me it’s always about the song. If the song has a great melody and a halfway decent singer singing them, then it should be great. That’s what this album is.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The reaction to this being your final album has been interesting. Fans are rightfully, sad. But with the way R&B has been supported in recent years, we have to really wonder if they’ve even supported the albums you’ve been putting out every few years over the past decade!
Brian McKnight: There’s two ways to take it. You have to understand that people have a lot going on in their lives now more than ever. We carry around our lives in our devices. The same way when you’re out, people kind of know who you are, and then other people know exactly who you are. You can’t think that you are constantly on somebody’s mind. Even though as a creator, you hope they do. You see how many people follow you and how many are there. But then when you post something, you only get a fraction of those people. So that tells you there are people out there who know who you are and like you, but they are not so interested in you that it takes over from everything else in their lives. I think if you thought of it the other way, they weren’t here to support earlier, so why do they care now? That’s not why I’m doing this. The only one reason, since I met my wife, my priorities have changed. It’s about how can I make my life better with her. How can I make her happy every day. There are people who will say she’s making me stop. She’s not! My wife loves what I do. This is me saying, I just want to do everything with her. I don’t want to share myself with the world anymore, I don’t want to worry about records and how many shows I’m doing. If we want to get up and go move to Paris for 3 months, that’s what we’re going to do. If we want to go see the world together, we want to do that without having to worry about doing shows. Normally we look at my schedule and say we’ll get to see a city because that’s where I’m performing. Not this time. Now it’s all about us and really having our life be defined by what makes us happy and not just by our work.
YouKnowIGotSoul: People may not understand the grind it takes to promote and create an album. What is required of you to do all of that?
Brian McKnight: I’m pretty left alone while I’m creating. The work begins when you have to go to the label and show them what you’ve done, and ask if they can sell it. It would be a great thing to just create records and ask people to buy them. It really doesn’t work that way. You have to pass it off to somebody you trust. You have to then figure out how to get people to even know. You’d think in a world where we are all so connected that when you have all of your followers, you should be able to just go directly to them and say here it is. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. *Laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: The question now is what’s next for you in the music world?
Brian McKnight: We will still tour and I’ll still create songs. I’ve had friends already hit me up about unreleased songs I’ve got. I’m sure I’ll write with and for other people. I really don’t know and I’m excited for the adventure of not knowing what’s next.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We’ve been reflecting back on your career and have to acknowledge the impact you had on other artists. You helped discover Robin Thicke and helped introduce Justin Timberlake to an R&B audience.
Brian McKnight: You know I never looked at it that way. If Robin or Justin never mention me when they were doing something, I wouldn’t be upset. We were just all doing the same thing and we all liked what each other did. I had produced a couple of songs on that last N Sync record and I had known Justin since he was 13. It was about the friendships that we had. Not necessarily about me being Brian McKnight and discovering them. I’ve never been that guy to brag about what I’ve done. If you know, that’s great, if you don’t, that’s great too. I’ve always been in the background as far as that’s concerned.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take us back to the mindset of a young Brian McKnight creating your first couple of albums.
Brian McKnight: I was just trying to write as many songs as I possibly could. I was really trying to stick to my guns. We’re talking about a time when L.A. Reid and Babyface, and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis did everybody’s records. They are incredible. I didn’t want to have anyone take credit for my success or failure, I wanted it to be me. I found myself at a record label that allowed me to do that. Once I finished my debut and it came out, it wasn’t excitement, it was relief. There was so much time that passed from when I got signed to when the first record came out. It was really just about going to work on the next album. There is no playbook that says what to do. You basically have to rely on your label. I was on a year long promotional tour. I then did an actual tour after that. Between those first two records I did nothing but promote for 3 years. That first album finally went platinum, so it was time for the next album. I thought “One Last Cry” was a big hit, let me do a whole album like that. Well that wasn’t necessarily the thing to do. The second record wasn’t as successful. It taught me that you just need to go back in the lab. It doesn’t matter what you did before, it’s what’s now. Then “Anytime” came and then “Back at One” came. Then I thought I had it figured out.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You were on top of the world around the time “Anytime” came out. Take us back to that rea.
Brian McKnight: Being on top, playing stadiums and every Summer Jam for all of the big stations. There was a certain amount of taking it for granted because you think that R&B music or whatever we want to call it, will always remain at the fore front of it all. It was #1 on Pop. Then somewhere along the early 2000’s there was a shift from what was in the 90’s and you started to see it begin to dissipate. You try to hold on in any way you possibly can. I always say you get 10 good years in this business where you can be at your absolute best. I think it really correlates with the age of the people you are reaching. Those first 10 years, I’m dealing with people who are either 21-25, or 25-30, who don’t have children yet, who aren’t married yet, who have all of the free time in the world to do these things. Now that you are into your 30s, you might be married with children. You have other priorities that take place. They are on to the next 21 year old artist. You don’t think of it that way, but it just happens almost overnight. Then, as you move forward, somewhere around 40, it’s the end of that downward curve, and then you meet the love of your life, and at your lowest point, she lifted me to a place where it really wasn’t about how many people were going to patronize me. At the same time, streaming is happening, it’s all of these things taking place. When that wasn’t the number one priority anymore and my wife was, then everything started to come back. It’s the craziest thing that happened. I know she’s my lucky charm, I know that she is the thing that has brought me back. I think I was on life support there for a second and she definitely breathed new life into my writing, into the way I sing, into how I view everything. She is the most important part of my life and I thank her every morning. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m happy for the first time in my life honestly.
YouKnowIGotSoul: From a music standpoint, how do you adapt as an artist to still creating high quality music at this stage in your career and not getting the same support?
Brian McKnight: It is but for me, if two people pay to see me, I’m going to give them everything I’ve got. They took their time and money. I’ve always viewed it that way. I never took the size of the crowd for granted. I’ve always looked at it like whoever came tonight, is here to hear me. I’m not going to short change them just because it’s not more people. I’m just so grateful that after all of this time, people still want to hear these 20 year old songs. It blows my mind.
YouKnowIGotSoul: With this being your final album, how do you view your own legacy?
Brian McKnight: What I hope is that there may be a song that I wrote that means something to you. That’s all I’ve ever cared about. People talk about singers and how well I can sing. I think that’s great. I don’t take that for granted. But you don’t have to be a great singer to be a great artist. Great songs will always be great songs. Writing the tunes I’ve written, if there is one that you love, I’ve done my job. If there are five, even better. I’m happy.