A stint in jail, an overnight trip to Apollo for a five-win streak and a debut album that was once dropped by the label is not the typical path of an R&B artist. Despite unusual challenges, Lyfe Jennings bucked the system, bringing a new style to the mainstream with his slow-burning Platinum debut album, Lyfe 268-192.
After his release from prison, Lyfe could have taken the obvious route of a gangsta, but instead choose to speak volumes through music with genuine, conscious lyrics. With the upcoming release of his second album, Phoenix, Lyfe Jennings is ready to go back through the fire to reincarnate both himself and the R&B music scene. We met up with Lyfe to discuss his rise to success and his place in the mainstream music arena.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Where did you get the [album] title from?
Lyfe Jennings: My son’s name is Phoenix and then [there is] the bird Phoenix, re-incarnated the fire. I think everybody’s come back thru the fire, either in good times or bad times.
AHHA: Your debut album was out a year before it went platinum. How does it feel it to finally have taken off?
Lyfe: I was glad, especially in this day and time with albums that are going platinum. And being how the album went platinum the album had been out a year before it really caught on. I’m still thrilled about it. When you said it, I’m smiling again.
AHHA: The original release featured the song “Hypothetically” with Erin and then was re-released with Fantasia on the track. What prompted the change in collaborations?
Lyfe: Erin it was just some issues with her management about her being in the video and all these other complicated issues, and I’m an uncomplicated guy. Plus the album had been out for a year and some people had it that long, and I wanted to give them something new.
AHHA: You have a new single out with LL Cool J, “Freeze.” How did that collaboration come up, since you’re not on the same label?
Lyfe: They actually just called me one day out of the blue, Yo, L want to work with you. When I got to the studio, he didn’t even have a song and we was just bopping around concepts, and L was like, What about this – and he came up with the joint “Freeze.”
AHHA: How do you like the song?
Lyfe: Yeah, I love the song, L is real lyrical, he’s just spitting on the song.
AHHA: You did an interview last year, and you said that you didn’t really have a relationship with other artists. Since then you’ve gone platinum and been on tour with Anthony Hamilton. Have you developed any relationships with other artists?
Lyfe: Not really, its just not my thing. I see the guys, I talk to the guys. But I just try to keep it separate.
AHHA: Not even on a musical level?
Lyfe: I guess I haven’t met anybody that I feel is real, real cool. I kick it with L sometimes, and my dude Steve Harvey – he’s not a R&B cat, but hes cool.
AHHA: How was it growing up in Ohio?
Lyfe: Basic growing up, a lot of street stuff. Its kind of country down in Ohio too. Its not a whole bunch of opportunities for cats to express themselves, so they got to find expression, and that’s usually some violent stuff.
AHHA: Do you think Ohio has been misrepresented?
Lyfe: I don’t think so, because I don’t really hear a lot of people talking about Ohio. But we bringing it back, Bone Thugs & Harmony, Lyfe Jennings, Avant and Van Hunt.
AHHA: You had said that if you weren’t a singer, you wanted to be an English teacher. Where did that come from?
Lyfe: I just like English, I like words. Just the origins of words the whole suffix that changes the meanings of words. I like the teaching process. I would find exciting ways to teach people stuff.
AHHA: You’re one of the few artists that actually served hard time in jail, but you didn’t take the route of being “gangsta,” especially when its so popular in today’s music. Why didn’t you take that route?
Lyfe: I guess because I didn’t have to. A lot of cats that’s talking bout that stuff in their songs they haven’t really did that stuff, so they still lusting after that. See all that stuff that they talking bout, I done did that. Been there, did that. For me its easy to let go, because I’ve experienced it, I can move on to something new.
AHHA: Do you think you’re a conscious musician?
Lyfe: I think definitely I’m a conscious musician.
AHHA: What are you trying to say through your music?
Lyfe: Several things, it just depends on what’s my whim at that time.
AHHA: Is there anything specifically you’re trying to say on the new album?
Lyfe: Yeah, again the whole aspect of the Phoenix, the surrounding factors. You can go through the fire and be reborn through the fire, instead of being destroyed by the fire like the Phoenix.
AHHA: Do you consider yourself a mainstream artist?
Lyfe: Mainstream is a funny title, all mainstream means is popular. You can get a song that’s gangsta as whatever, and if it gets popular it becomes mainstream. It crosses over to pop and all that stuff. I try not to concentrate on all that stuff. I concentrate on the message and the melody. So I’m not just a mainstream or urban artist, I’m a people
artist. At least that’s what I like to think.
AHHA: How does it feel to have gotten your start on the Apollo, one of hardest audiences, and you won five times?
Lyfe: It felt good. When I came to the Apollo, when I first came on the stage they was booing me. Before I had did anything, I thought I had did something wrong. It was a plus in that aspect that I was still able to win them over after getting a bad start.
AHHA: With Phoenix, are there any collaborations?
Lyfe: Yeah I have a collaboration with a couple people. Young Buck is on a song, with an artist that I work with named Doc Black. I got a song with Three 6 Mafia. I got another song with an artist that I work with, her name is LaLa Brown, and its actually my first single called S-E-X.
AHHA: Will there be any touring for this album?
Lyfe: Definitely, I’m going to be doing a couple of dates with LL, and then towards the end of the year I’ll go out on my own.