We recently caught up with RL for an interview on Instagram Live. During our conversation, we touched on his recently released EP “The Letter J”, how he stays motivated to keep creating music, his songwriting process, memories of creating some of his biggest hits, his upcoming projects, and more.
RL: It was actually my production partner Brian “B-Flat” Cook’s idea. I’m sitting on all of this new music trying to find the right opportunity. He’s like “Just put something out!” We talked about concepts. We had a few records where I was really paying homage to some great acts that I love like Jon B., Janet Jackson, and Jodeci. So we decided to put out an EP at least. All of the sudden our minds started racing to figure out what to do. He’s the technical genius. It was him that really motivated me and watching other artists. I see a lot of groups come out with some great music. I know 112 just dropped. They’ve been getting support which they should. The scary part is, a lot of great music falls between the cracks because we don’t have the machine. People just think social media can work. The truth is if I got on here right now and we shouted at each other and cursed at each other, a million people would view this. But we’re talking about good music and something positive, we’re lucky if we get 1,000. It’s trying to figure out how to maneuver. I don’t want to waste good records. I’d rather sit in my studio and send you snippets then just giving them out and nobody ever hearing them. I know what they are capable of. Just like with all of these other great artists dropping great music. I think we are trying to find out way in this new technological wave and we will. I’m excited about the project. We called it “The Letter J” because we sampled different artists with the initial J. It’s funny because I’m already working on the next project which is called “Rtv” which is going to be probably a few more songs. It’s going to be all 80’s type music. Being from Minneapolis growing up in the 80’s, it really was influential on sounds that I like. Right now, I’m really happy about what we were able to accomplish with the project. I’m just hoping people spread the word.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Love the sound of this project. It has a nostalgic feel but you also took the sound up to date. Talk about the creation of the music.
RL: Credit to B-Flat again. It’s funny because the Janet record, I was down in my studio. He’s really pushed me to produce more. I’ll start something and have him go ahead and come in and finish it. It’s almost embarrassing. *Laughs* Like if I was to play golf with Tiger Woods and he’d come over and finish my game. The thing is, I think we’ve spoke on it before, artists of my era, the hardest thing to navigate is the thin line between trying to sound too young and dated. I really wanted to go do something with harmonies and love type music, but you’re going to hear some 808’s. We grew up with that with hip hop. Technology has changed. You have different things to work with. I hope people hear it and they can feel the nostalgia but also the forward thinking.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We love the song you sampled Jon B. on “I Do”. Hope he gets a chance to hear that one.
RL: He’s heard it! Jon B. knows how much I respect him, I’ve sampled a record of his for Tylan, my nephew I’m working with. We’ve been on the road together and he’ll come sit in the dressing room and we’ll chop it up. I wanted artists to get their flowers now. A lot of times they don’t and by the time it’s the funeral and everyone is crying, they don’t get to hear the accolades. They are up in heaven chillin with Pac and B.I.G. It’s different.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Adult R&B is in such a strange place right now. It’s almost been left for dead the way people treat it. I don’t know how artists like yourself do it.
RL: I think because I’m an artist. I write and arrange it’s self contained in a lot of ways, so it’s just to much it’s overflowing. People around me always say to put it out. It is a moral crusher when people come to the studio and hear the records and say it’s better than what’s on the radio. But no one gets to hear it. It gets to the point where you just have to make music for you. God gave me a gift, I would do this for free. I’ve been blessed enough to take care of my family and live off of things I did over two decades ago. I can’t complain about that. All I ask for is a listen, I just want people to check it out. If you hear it and it’s not your cup of tea, cool. I don’t think you’ll say it, but if you do I’ll respect it. A lot of times people will dismiss you because of the era you came from. They are on to something else.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How do you stay so motivated to keep creating?
RL: I try not to read the comments! I was on my IG Live playing some new music like I do sometimes for those who log in to hear it. Someone made a comment like “Man, you aint got it anymore”, I guess just to get a reaction. Artists get tired of getting beat up! Music is a powerful thing, this is the soundtrack to people’s lives, and all we want to do is continue to make great music and live our lives. It’s at the point now where people literally look for the negative. I even saw them attacking Ginuwine’s beard! And he said something like he would just chill and be rich and relax, and I’m cool. Artists are tired of knowing there is good music you can put out into the atmosphere and nobody will hear it. I think that the motivation has to come from your team and people around you that support you.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What can you tell us about this new project “Rtv”?
RL: It’s like Mtv but it’s Rtv. We’ve got that, we’ve got the Next by Nature project coming out. I’ve got an afro beats project. We haven’t even got to my album yet! It feels good to put out new music even if 10 people like it and enjoy it, that’s good enough. If music is timeless, it can grow and continue and it could be a year or two from now, and people will hear it. There is always somebody watching! I remember when the song “Get To You” from his project premiered and Jimmy Jam hit me up! In Minnesota he’s just below God! My idol hit me up and said he was watching and said it was good to hear my voice. I sampled his record. People need to realize there is always somebody watching, you can never slack, always continue to put your best foot forward.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Many years ago in one of our first interviews you had mentioned an album you were going to put out called “Minnesota Nights”. Curious what that even sounds like compared to what you’re putting out now.
RL: I’ll work on projects and it’s almost like a term paper or thesis. I have these ideas and then move onto the next. Creating is the fun part for me. People don’t understand. I’m going to eat from publishing and discography. In reality I make music now because it feels good. You get to that point where it’s a dream. It’s funny how things revolve because I can remember being broke looking out my window thinking I just needed one person to hear me. I think that a lot of artists slack and forget that. These cats have got talent man.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How are you holding up with the pandemic and not being able to perform shows and share your gift?
RL: I’m staying in the studio, you know me. Of course I’ve got a 3 year old probably watching before she goes to bed. Just being motivated. I think having her helped motivate me. Having a second child at 40 was like whoa! That in reality was God sending me a reminder. She runs around the house and one day she wants to be a singer, one day she wants to be an actress, or a doctor. My job is to let her know she can be all of those things at once if she wants to be. That reminds me I can still do what I do. You can’t tell her that and don’t believe it yourself. She made me believe in me again.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Always wondered around Next’s second album. The first single was “Beauty Queen” which is a good song but it was picked to release before “Wifey” to become a single, which eventually became huge. What was that decision like?
RL: When I look back on that, I regretted it then but I love it now with residuals and stuff. I had written “Too Close” partially with Tweety. I didn’t like uptempo records but I learned the formula from Mr. Clive Davis. If I can talk about life things but give it tempo. I hated uptempo because it was all about the clubs and I don’t like clubs. I thought if I can take real life subjects and just speed it up, I like it more, it makes more sense and has longevity. “Wifey” or “Just in Case” you would think would be a slow song. For me, it was a no brainer. Everybody was coming to me to write them uptempos. It’s funny because I saw an interview that my group member did, and I cringed because he was talking about how “Wifey” came up. Everything he was saying was wrong. I think over the year’s stories change. I don’t think he purposely said something, but he really believed it. Women used to go “What do you mean I could be your wifey, I’m not good enough to be your wife?” “Wifey” meant I’m broke, my credit is bad, I don’t want to mess your credit up, if we get married we can’t get the crib that we want! Or I want to get you the perfect ring and treat you like a princess but my money’s not right. Women thought it meant less than. It meant “You’re my wife to me, but I don’t deserve to be your husband until I can provide and do these manly things”. A lot of women disagree but I’m old school. I knew that was going to be the single. As far as how we got to “Beauty Queen”, that was a Clive Davis situation. The funny thing is, regardless of what the next single was, we were kind of stuck, because that’s when the changeover happened and Clive went to Artista. So that’s why in a sense, Next kind of disappeared. We were caught up in the label politics. I liked the record, I wrote it about a couple of girls, and I said their names in the beginning, that I liked in high school who looked down on me. So I decided to take my heartache and write a record about it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Songs like that are what set you apart as a songwriter. Same with “Wifey”, “Just in Case”, and “Butta Love” for example. We’ve heard the same stories in R&B about love over and over again, but you have a way with words to put them in different perspectives.
RL: I learned that from Lionel Richie. I love you, I miss you, I need you, I’m sorry. Some things never go out of style. You just have to find a way. I was a rapper first, I had a record deal for rapping. I had to make a decision to rap or sing. For some reason, I wanted to sing. I feel like it brought more emotion for me. When I was younger and went through the difficulties growing up, music is really what kept me going. Literally I’d lay in bed and listen to Babyface and After 7 and then Jodeci and things like that. That kept me going, so I realized how powerful music was. I wanted to be that for somebody else.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about performing a song like the duet you have with Deborah Cox “We Can’t Be Friends”. How do you get into the emotional zone to perform a sad song like that live?
RL: It’s funny because I was always jealous of Kenny Lattimore because he’d always get to perform it with her. I only performed it once with her! I used to be so jealous. We ran into each other and I gave her that side eye and she laughed. We were label mates. I was a kid and that was one of the very few I didn’t write or co-write that I sang. My favorite person in the industry is Montell Jordan because he’s such a nice guy. A lot of these dudes will say they love you and then turn the corner and it’s over. You have no idea. He’s one of those dudes that will pray over you, I’ve known him and his wife for years. Clive asked me to do the record with my labelmate. I always knew Deborah was a powerhouse. I go into the studio and I just sang. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was so used to singing with my brothers. I go to the studio in L.A. and there is Shep Crawford and Montell Jordan and they are the ones who wrote and produced it. We knocked it out of the park. The thing about performing it now is it’s probably one of my favorites to perform at shows only because of the call and response. We don’t put a lot of my solo records in Next shows, but that is one we put in. We didn’t until they let me do it one show. I’d sing my part and usually the beat fades, and I started singing acapella Deborah’s part. I just put the mic out to the audience and the ladies literally sang at the top of their lungs. From then on, T-Low and Tweet asked why it wasn’t in the show!
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the song “Just in Case” you wrote for Jaheim. Was that a song you wrote for yourself, or with him in mind?
RL: He’s my little brother to me, we’re family. Those records were mine, it was actually a slow record. We double timed the record to make it uptempo. That’s one of my dad’s favorite records that I had ever written. I’ll have to get you the original version, it’s slow. We slept all in Kay Gee’s back house on air mattresses. Tweet and T-Low had other places to live, I didn’t. My family had left Minnesota. They went back home and I stayed on an air mattress and Jaheim was in a room with no doors. We shared a bathroom. I knew his struggle and how talented he was and he had came up hard. He’s a strong guy. Resilient. He asked me for the record. Anybody else on the planet I would have said no. I also did “Anything” and “Remarkable” with Terry Dexter. I had never really got credit, nobody even knew. People didn’t read credits like that and it wasn’t the time and era of songwriters. Kind of like when Ne-Yo came. He didn’t really speak on it and didn’t feel like he needed to. I kind of wished he had told people. I had done an interview and I was bigging him up. I know Musiq is an artist who came up and was homeless at one point, so I always have respect for artists like that. I came up hard but not that hard. I talked about Jaheim and he felt like I was saying disparaging remarks and I wasn’t. I had to clear it up earlier. I think that Jaheim is one of the dopest vocalists tone wise. He’s a star. I just think that we all gotta continue to grow, all of us. I love him and what I realized today is I just love him from a distance, that’s all. But I love those records and I love him.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What is your songwriting process like? What’s been the hardest and easier song to write?
RL: To be honest it’s been so long since I’ve written a song down on paper. I’ll write in my mind. Sometimes I’ll get out of my phone and take a video of a melody. God has blessed me. I know what I want to write before I even finish the song. People will ask to co-write, but it’s hard for me because I already know what I want to write. When it comes to records that were hard to write, if it’s hard, it’s because of the subject. I did a record for my best friend, my God son, he passed away at 20 from leukemia. I wrote a song basically of him talking to his father. I sang it and I gave it to his dad, and it was that pain that you needed but it was my gift to him. He’s my best friend. I respect him immensely. That was the hardest record that I’ve ever written. But that’s why. You get mental blocks, but you walk away. Since I have my own studio, I can just go upstairs and play with my daughter or watch Netflix, or jump on the Pelaton. I can just walk around the house with my airpods in and get an idea and go back to the studio. I do want to tell artists who are watching this, invest in yourself. Get better at your craft no matter how poppin you are locally or if you have a dope record out. You can’t depend on a certain producer or studio. Get your own equipment and learn how to use it. If you’re self sufficient, you’ll save so much money and you’ll learn more about the game. I learned that later. I’ve had a studio for quite some time and learned from Kay Gee. But truthfully, learn not just the business, but the technical aspect of making music. It’s priceless.