Legendary singer Kenny Lattimore recently released his latest album “Here To Stay”. The album was a testament to the constituency, perseverance and timeless music he’s been giving us for over two decades now.
We recently had a chance to catch up with the singer for an interview. During our conversation, we touched on his latest album “Here To Stay”, maintaining his passion for creating great music, his history at A Touch of Jazz, signing his first album deal, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk a bit about your new album “Here To Stay” and how it all came together.
Kenny Lattimore: It’s interesting because it was a mentoring project. A producer by the name of Drakkar “Madison” Wesley, we were just talking about how to help him to get some exposure. This project seemed like it would be a good vehicle to be a launchpad for him. He’s done music for me in the past, he did “Love Me Back” from “Anatomy of a Love Song”, he did “Stay on Your Mind” from the “Vulnerable” album, he did the song I had with Boney James “Be Here”. That’s three Top 10 Songs in a row. I thought he deserved a platform because he’d been leading in taking my legacy and blending it with new relevant sounds and giving me a new approach to being a part of this music industry on a continual basis. We decided to go in and do it. It really has been more his project. I brought some other friends along like Darryl Simmons. The rest of it was Madison.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Listening to the album is a great reminder of the quality music you’ve been giving us all of these years. You stick to what’s true to you.
Kenny Lattimore: It goes back to that kind of collaboration. I think that some of my peers want to do music that’s going to resonate with the 30 year old adult who is just discovering them because they may have been 5 or 10 years old when they first came out. But they are falling in love and getting married now. So how do we make the sound relevant? You get a 35 year old and get their take. I think some artists are probably thinking they can still do the young sound. For me it was two things, let me be a student all over again. That’s ok, there are things I can always learn, no matter how old I get. And there are things I can teach the younger generation. The other part about collaboration is that the kids now will tell you off the bat if they believe it from you or not, and make sure you remain honest and authentic.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Many of your peers have stopped putting out new albums, simply because R&B music really isn’t getting the support it deserves. How do you find the passion to keep going?
Kenny Lattimore: Just trying to remain impassioned. I still am doing what I love to do, it’s the best job ever. I think that we do lose site of that. Success can make you lose sight of it, or falling short of your goals can make you lose sight of it. You can start considering how much money you’re making and not think it’s enough. I got to a point where I always remember to keep the love for the music. The great part of my career is I didn’t start out with a solo record, I started out with a group back in 1987. That’s when I got my first major label record deal with Epic Records, and it wasn’t a major success. I did another deal after that with EastWest Records with Sylvia Rhone, and the record never came out! When you have those kinds of experiences, you realize that even having an album come out is a success in itself. Then to actually have people buy it and all of that. If I remind myself of my past, there are things I just don’t take for granted. Would I love to have the exposure of John Legend? Yeah! But how can I complain. There are people who wish they were me! *Laughs* I think they are crazy! I was at 10 different major labels, which technically should have counted me out. People want to know why I think I’m underrated. I think it’s because I never had the consistency of one marketing machine behind me to continue to expose me as I grew. You have people who have gaps of listening to Kenny Lattimore. They listened to me in 1996 and haven’t listened since. Then all of the sudden they listen now and ask where I’ve been. A lot of people who could have paid attention were not, they were paying attention to something different, that’s ok, that’s life. Sometimes people are in survival mode. When we think what happened just with Covid, it’s not about me, it’s about life.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk a bit more about the album “Here To Stay”. The title itself, what type of statement are you making with that?
Kenny Lattimore: Claude Villani, the head of my label SRG, came up with that title and I thought it was brilliant for so many reasons. I am still here to stay, committed to this lyric of love that never goes out of style, and I think that keeps the longevity going. People keep saying I need a balanced album talking about pain, and being political, so that I can win a Grammy. No, I need to just be me. *Laughs* And stay in my lane. Like Luther Vandross remained in his lane and had that kind of career. That in itself is here to stay. I believe in love, and that’s here to stay, and as a result I’m in a new marriage. Every lyric of this album has been inspired by my relationship with my wife Faith. That always helps. I really didn’t plan this album. I was about to do a Frank Sinatra/Nat King Cole album. I was. Like some of my peers, I felt like maybe I have done it all already with contemporary R&B, and it’s been successful, and maybe I’ve conquered that as much as I was supposed to. I always want to feel like I’m bringing something new to myself and learning. So I called my buddy Ray Chew. I do the American Songbook in my show along with Gospel and Jazz. So people would understand it. Again, when this whole thing came up again with Drakkar and I got with SRG and started the project. He may be my first artist I launch from the Sincere Soul Records label. I never wanted a record label! *Laughs* For all of the reasons we just talked about. But some people are worthy of the exposure and the time to let people hear what they are doing, their creativity is so fantastic.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s interesting to hear you speak about those around you wanting to push you in different directions musically to potentially gain more exposure. From listening to your music your whole career, you’ve always been consistent in staying true. How hard has it been to remain in that lane?
Kenny Lattimore: It’s tough, but again, because I had to prove myself every single time. First I’m with Sylvia Rhone, then Clive Davis, then LA Reid when I put out “Weekend”. That album was the first time I actually had the record company say I needed some younger hit records. What was crazy was, it was after I had just done a bunch of records with Clive. The album ends up not being as balanced, but it gave me the opportunity to work Troy Taylor, who is a great friend to this day. He’s the one who would always tell me to step outside the box. He said I could work with and mentor the young guys, who could also give back to us. So I left there and did these duet albums, that was a manager thing, with Michael Mauldin, who is an amazing guy and creator. But that was different. Then all of the sudden we’re at Jive Records, and I didn’t want to do the album. I don’t know if people even knew that, neither one of us wanted to do that second duets album. We did it and it continued to sustain us and became a Gospel album. I didn’t know who I was after that. We went into doing “Timeless” and Michael Mauldin, thank God for him, he said to do a cover album. So I wanted to do obscure songs, but it helped me find my voice as a singer again. That album, people wanted to hate it since it was covers. I don’t read all of the critical stuff, but in the beginning I do because I’m trying to learn. I listen to all of that. What people didn’t know was I was trying to find my voice again. “And I Love Her” became the standout song along with “You Are My Star Ship”. Then I took time off and spent it with my son. We go into years later, it took me four years to create “Anatomy of a Love Song”. That was the first time that I said I was going to take the reins. I created the Sincere Soul label, I called a guy named JR Hutson, who had just had success with Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild. He was my Quincy Jones. The pattern for R&B albums at the time was 14 different songs with 14 different producers! *Laughs* You better be a great singer to survive that! I said I needed someone to help me to begin to focus conceptually ideas so that the album has consistency to it. This was the first project that I really can take credit for me doing, outside of “From The Soul of Man”, which was my lyric album. I wanted to say all of the things that men don’t always say but want to say. Columbia was with me. I went down to A Touch of Jazz in Philly, and I had pretty much a small focused group to make that album. Then I did a Christmas album with Aaron Lindsey, and I brought him over to do the “Vulnerable” album, he had mainly done Gospel. We had a fantastic time doing the Christmas album. So Aaron Lindsey and Madison came together, and I found that process just soothing because it’s like my brothers are helping me to stay focused. We used the other creative talents of others around us, young musicians I never would have worked with, but they helped me keep focused all the way to this album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Thanks so much for sharing all of this history. I especially wanted to talk about “Anatomy of a Love Song”, because it was cool to see you get back with Carvin & Ivan, who you worked with at A Touch of Jazz on “From The Soul of Man” years earlier.
Kenny Lattimore: Now I’ll go deeper into the history. That started off like this. When I finished “Timeless” and took the time off to take care of my son, a lot of things were going on in my life. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Carvin Haggins said to me that my voice was needed in the industry. I thought it was nice, but he insisted. He asked me to come to his house and stay and hang out and create music with me. I left L.A., went to the Philly area. Some days we’d just hang out and watch Martin and laugh. He started a song off called “Find a Way”. We did “Find a Way” and “What Must I Do” and “You Have My Heart”. Wow, he gave me the inspiration, he was the catalyst to get me singing original music again. After “Timeless”, I didn’t know who I was. I needed it to establish me as a singer again. I started feeling confident again, it took Carvin to say to do original music again. We had a project that was going to be called “Back 2 Cool”, I collected all of these songs over the years and started doing focus groups, asking if the songs were worthy of me recording. I did those in Atlanta with SESAC, I did stuff in Minneapolis and L.A. and getting opinions of the quality of the song. What ends up happening is, I started a relationship with EMI Records when I started my label. I had no idea what I was doing! *Laughs* I just took my money and put it in and I was trying to learn as I went along. What I realized is yes, I knew how to make an album, I knew how to produce it, mix it, the art work, the liner notes, the packaging. I still didn’t know how to market the product, how much it costs, it was really crazy. So I ended up taking that project before it came out, we had packaged it as “Back 2 Cool”, and I just waited and said let me get somebody to take me out of this deal, I was in over my head. And I wanted to repackage it because nobody had heard any of it. eOne came along and they were very gracious and they wanted to work with EMI to make sure I could make that transition. That’s really what happened. I’ve read stories, and people begin to report on your history inaccurately. Somebody said I put out “Back 2 Cool” and it didn’t work. Nope, actually it never was released. The few people that were able to get their hands on it, may have been able to do it because Amazon was prepped and ready to go in terms of their sales. It was never, ever released. That’s why we were able to use those songs, no one would have taken album of released songs and bought them. That’s how the whole “Anatomy of a Love Song” happened, and I went back and added a few things.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We have to show appreciation for the fact that when you did your “From The Soul of Man” album, as you mentioned it was done at A Touch of Jazz. But you were in reality the first to do a full album there, and gave some of those producers their start, before Musiq Soulchild and Jill Scott and Floetry albums were created there. Carvin & Ivan, Dre & Vidal, and many more.
Kenny Lattimore: I did want to say this first. Those guys are so amazing and they are all stars right now, but they never forgot. The first song was “I Can’t Get Enough of You” from “Love Jones”. Then, I started to say I’d do the whole album with those guys because they are so talented and nobody had heard of them. I have that mentor thing in my heart! The beauty is, when I did “Anatomy of a Love Song”, they all came back to me. They reminded me that I gave them their start, and they wanted to give me hit songs like “Find a Way”. It was amazing and it was because of the beginning at “From The Soul of Man”. I was in Philly working with those guys on “From The Soul of Man”, I got an apartment there just to hang out with these guys. So many good times, so much laughter. DJ Jazzy Jeff is so talented to the point where people really doesn’t know he produced in his entirety the Donny Hathaway remake and the Marvin is 60 remake “Just To Keep You Satisfied”. Motown gave us Marvin Gaye’s actual sessions, that was a trip. You’re listening to him talking and all of that while you are preparing to record. Working with those guys was brilliant and instrumental to see. Even when they brought in the new artists like Jill Scott. We were hearing “Who Is Jill Scott” a year before anyone else. Then Floetry came, and I remember being in the studio with them, and they were excited to have submitted music to Michael Jackson. They played the original “Butterflies” with Marsha Ambrosius singing. Then Jill Scott rolls in and she and I start to work on “Lately”. Then Musiq comes in and asks if I’m done with the album. The other thing people may not know is Musiq’s song “Love” that he wrote with Carvin, was actually written for me, for the “From the Soul of Man” album, I was already done with the album, and I couldn’t hear me on it! I passed on that song! It was partly because Musiq’s style was so unique and different that I just couldn’t hear what I would do with it. Now I can! I’m in a different level in my creative process. Maybe one day I’ll cover it just to see. I met him right at the end of that album process, and I ended up doing some backgrounds for his album. We tried to be there for one another, and it didn’t matter how big or successful any of us became. If it felt like it made sense, we did it. If it felt like it didn’t make sense, that was a different conversation.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Share the story of how you originally signed the major label deal you got as a solo artist after coming out of the group you were in?
Kenny Lattimore: There were quite a few years in that process, where when I left my group Maniquin, one of the most difficult things for me to do but I loved the most was being on stage. Being on stage without the band and without the other singers, I wondered if I could carry it by myself, it was kinda scary. I worked with other groups, I did another record deal and was part of a group called Dem Twinz featuring Kenny Lattimore. I started writing more and step outside of the whole concept of the group and begin to hear my own writing my voice through the demos. I wrote a lot of songs, when I listen back, they may not have been great songs, some ideas had some potential, but just from getting in there and writing and staying a part of the industry and singing live and continuing to keep the passion live and I was able to develop as a solo singer. Right before I did my solo album, I participated within a Gospel album called Broken, and it was a #1 album on the Billboard charts. They had a song called “Be Encouraged” on it. Clifton Jones sang that, I did four songs on that album. All of that was what I needed for me, singing, keep the passion alive, my faith being expressed, all of these foundational things needed to happen before I even started my solo album so I went in with my feet on the ground. One thing that was funny, I remember meeting Mary J. Blige for the first time. We were at some Grammy round table at a radio station. She sat cross the table from me and said “You’re the guy who sings ‘Til the End!”. She didn’t even say “For You” or Never Too Busy”, she said “Til the End”, which was a Gospel song on that album. I realized that music is so amazing and how you never know and when it’s going to touch somebody’s life. She was a superstar then, and was encouraged by that song. I actually heard her on one of the songs on “Share My World” and she did an ad lib from that song! I recognized that. Just amazing, all of those things helped me to feel like “Ok God, I’m ready, if you give me this opportunity”. That was always my thing, if you give me an opportunity, I’d be ready to make the statements that were placed in me from my mother and grandparents and the responsibilities from the leaders and pastors. I wanted to be like Bebe and Cece Winans. Everytime I’d go in to do demos, people would say “What does he look like?” *Laughs* I was flattered, people thought they could sell me to the ladies from a marketing perspective. But that was never my focus, I came from Gospel. But it took me having all of those experiences and feeling well rounded and that I had completed a journey of things, so that I didn’t go in feeling the guilt. A lot of singers talk about their parents talk about this being the devils music, but my parents never did say that. But people on the outside would ask if I was singing secular music. I needed to know that there was purpose in what I was doing. All of that prepared me for the moment that the first album came.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Final question for you, when people hear the new album “Here To Stay”, what do you want them to take away and feel?
Kenny Lattimore: Wow. I want to give people an album that makes them think about love, that makes them feel refreshed in their belief and hope and love. That it really is here to stay. That you don’t ever have to give up on it at all, no matter what happens. Even through break ups, divorce, you’re not disqualified to love or any amazing experience. Every lyric I hope gives people more hope and passion to believe in love as they move into the future.