To some in the pubescent world, Lionel Richie might simply be the retired father of tabloid favorite Nicole Richie, but his legacy couldn’t be more understated. An iconic figure with an impeccable track record that is rooted deeply in the 1970’s, Richie was initially the lead singer of the Commodores. His acclaim and fame rose to mythic levels with songs like “Easy,” “Three Times A Lady” and “Brick House.”
When it appeared that it could only get better with the Commodores, he went solo. He moved four million units of his self-titled solo debut in 1982, and his star rose with the release of Can’t Slow Down and Dancing on the Ceiling, both of which yielded timeless hits like “Say You, Say Me” and “Hello.” He and his then-wife, Brenda, also adopted a 3-year-old toddler named Nicole.
The Richie light did dim somewhat in the 90s, which is expected after selling 18 million albums, performing at the Olympics and co-writing “We Are The World,” an enormous relief effort for Africa.
Now, the versatile and wildly talented crooner returns with a new collection of songs called Coming Home. The opus has the legend collaborating with new school legends like Jermaine Dupri, Raphael Saadiq, Dallas Austin, and Chuckii Booker. Read all things Richie, and how he feels about the nation’s infatuation with that daughter of his.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Mr. Richie, how are you?
Lionel Richie: Im fantastic. I got to get used to that name – Mr. Richie.
AHHA: Its good to speak to you; Im long time fan of yours.
Lionel Richie: Well I had to laugh. Your opening phrase is Mr. Richie. Thats the only thing I had to get used to working with Jermaine Dupri and Sean [Garrett]. They kept saying you know Mr. Richie, I said guys just say, Yo Rich or something for a minute.
AHHA: Yeah, its a sign of respect.
Lionel Richie: It was total respect, I must tell you. I was totally respected on this album.
AHHA: Okay, well now that you mention those guys, you know I heard the single. I really liked it. It has, its very mature, but at the same time it doesnt sound old or anything.
Lionel Richie: No, it sounds real. The only thing I told these guys throughout the entire process, I said its got to sound believable. If it doesnt sound believable we are definitely going down the wrong road. When I knew we were down the right road is when a guy came into the room while we were mixing and he said, Is that one of your songs? And that was the compliment because it sounded that comfortable. To me, you nailed it when you said what you just said. Thats the selling point to me – how do you pull off Lionel Richie, contemporary in 2006? Got to be real.
AHHA: Right, you have a lot of young guys [involved with the project] Are we gonna get a mixture of things? Jermaine Dupri is best known for his Hip-Hop. Obviously hes done other things with people like Mariah.
Lionel Richie: Youre gonna be so shocked because you havent heard the rest of it, huh?
Lionel Richie: Thats good. Okay, then this is gonna be good. It was a mutual admiration society, because I actually gave them permission to mess me up. What I said to them was, What does Lionel Richie sound like in 2006? Right, take all Ive done, take Sail On, Brick House, take Zoom, take all this stuff – what do I sound like? And the joke was we discovered that the old sound is the new sound. We didnt have to go that far in left field. We discovered that actually they know more about the old school than I can remember.
AHHA: Right, students.
Lionel Richie: Students, thats what Im talking about. I know [Jermaines] father. It was one of those situations where we almost had a family reunion on one hand and with half of the, with the kid now and of course Jermaine came and he just said, Get out the way y’all, I know exactly what Im doing and bam, heres the record.
AHHA: Well it sounds great.
Lionel Richie: To me, to me its really the best marriage between old school and new school. I told them, Im going to bring Lionel Richie to the table, thats my job. Im going to make it sound like me. There were only two questions we asked throughout this entire process. The question I asked was, What do I sound like in 2006? And all they wanted to know was, How do you keep a record on the radio for 30 years?
Lionel Richie: They say, We can get hit records all day long, how do you keep it on the radio?
AHHA: You know thats one of the criticisms of contemporary music is it doesnt have that, those legs.
Lionel Richie: No legs. And so what came to me was the fact that whats happened now, we removed R&B radio as we used to know it off the radio. Hip-Hop and rap became such a strong medium that when you saw record companies actually taking their R&B department and saying, We dont have one anymore. Because radio had adopted Hip-Hop as the, thats the bible. What were doing right now is bringing actually melody back to beat. And its believable – it sounds so familiar because it represents R&B.
AHHA: You sound really excited. What was your last project out?
Lionel Richie: In America [domestically], four years ago, five years ago. Outside of America we put out four albums since then but because we had so many company changes and because the company has actually been through so many different personnel that when L.A. Reid got onboard, and the joke with L.A. Reid was I gave him advice about 22 years ago as to how to get in the business. And hes now Chairman of the Board of the record company, now how you like that one?
AHHA: Right. Now he can pay you back a little.
Lionel Richie: But hes been there for me in bucket loads because you mentioned the excitement in my voice. To me the only reason Im in this business is because I still love the excitement of something new. Its always going to be changing. I keep telling my artist friends all day long, because they kept saying, Man I hate what its changed into, and I said Its always gonna change. What we have to do is be able to change with it and or at least be believable in it. Understand right now Im just enjoying the run.
AHHA: You also worked with Chuckii Booker. I havent heard that name in ages.
Lionel Richie: Chuckii Booker is the baddest brother on the planet. And what I love about him is hes my music director, has been my music director for five years. Before that he did the Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation tour, and then he did the Tina Turner tour All of a sudden I realize, here I am in the studio, Ive got the best, and I actually have another artist with me as my advice and counsel.
Half of the tracks that we did were Chuckii Bookers. All the Sean Garrett stuff, thats Chuckii Booker, you know. [He] has played on Dres stuff, has played on Snoops stuff – name it. Hes been the best barometer for me on how to bridge the gap between the old school and the new school, so having him on board was the true service.
AHHA: We know you from the Commodores, as well as being a solo artist. Whats the major difference between the two – performing with a group as opposed to performing solo, and what did you like or dislike about each?
Lionel Richie: Well I am forever [indebted]. I like being in the group – I love it. The only thing that makes you angry about a group is you have to have a group vote, everybody has to feel the same way if youre gonna get something done. Now if youre solo, you just do it the way you feel it and thats it. If I had my choice, I like a group any day of the week, because when youre in a group you can blame somebody for doing something wrong.
When youre solo its all your fault. The rest of it is just pure elementary camaraderie – in other words, its not so much that the Commodores were a great band and a great group, but they were also a family, they were brothers. You know we were that close. You lived together. You hang out together. You know you spend your life together. Those are things, just priceless, you know.