Brian McKnight: The Love Below

If R&B is lacking respect from Hip-Hop fans, then how about we let the numbers do the talking? While most rappers strive to go platinum at least once in their short-lived musical careers, Brian McKnight has sold over 16 millions units and released a whopping 10 albums, with his new release simply called Ten as an acknowledgment to his longstanding career.

Speaking of numbers, it has been15 years since Brian McKnight first released his self-titled debut album. Since then a lot has changed, and although Brian’s music has been able to evolve with the times, the music industry and R&B scene have been through serious changes. Today, McKnight is facing the biggest challenge in his career – competing with dancing teenagers who are holding their own in R&B.

Paradise isn’t without its problems, but they are at a distance on the day we spoke to Brian. He was playing golf with his friends, and as much as we would love to blame the atmosphere for his laidback demeanor, McKnight assures us that he is “a laidback kind of guy.” Of course, that didn’t stop us from asking the more controversial questions.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Was Gerald Levert ever an inspiration for you?

Brian McKnight: He was one of my best friends. The world will miss not just a great artist but also a great person. I’ve known him since I first got into the business, way back in ‘89. We just kept in touch and we became like brothers. He has two decades of music that he’s left us that we will be able to use. That big smile and that great personality…I mean, people will want to be like him. Absolutely.

AHHA: Tell us about your situation at Motown. After 16 million albums sold on Mercury and then Motown, why change now?

Brian: Let me ask you a question. What was the last record on Motown that actually did well? [Silence] Exactly. That is my point. I don’t think they are at a point where they still know what they are doing over there. I don’t know. What they were doing with me…I don’t think we had the same vision anymore. So it was time to go. Plus it was the last record on my contract, so it was time to go.

AHHA: Why did you go to Warner?

Brian: We both share the same vision, and I looked at their ability to sell records on artists like Josh Groban and Michael Buble. They think outside the box. They figure out ways to get it done that are outside the conventional ways.

AHHA: In 2003, you told us that you were starting a new label called Fortress of Solitude. What happened with that?

Brian: I’m still working on. I’m developing two or three different things that are taking time. These are singer/songwriters, so they need to develop. And being so busy myself, you know, I’m not done making records so it makes it a little more difficult to do it. But it’s in full swing. Trust me.

AHHA: What ever happened to Take 6?

Brian: They’re still making records. My brothers did an independent record that came out this year and they are touring right now. Actually, they are touring all over the world.

AHHA: You are seen as more of a mainstream artist. You were quoted as saying, “White singers are singing Black, dancing Black, but they are automatically pop stars. I had to fight and fight to break those walls down”. Do you think you paved the way for the Ushers and Chris Browns to be considered in the mainstream arena?

Brian: No, not at all. I think that…man, how do I say this… I think that when you come out, people naturally put you [in a box] where they think you are at that time. It’s different for me, because I sing love songs and they automatically put me in R&B. I think it changes every year. I paved the way for nothing.

AHHA: So you’re saying they put you in a category?

Brian: Not just me, everyone. Everybody is about category, category category. All the time.

AHHA: Don’t you think it’s important for marketing purposes?

Brian: No. Well it is, because you have to but imagine somebody who doesn’t like R&B as a whole. There may be something on the record that they might like that’s more pop driven or maybe more rock driven. But they won’t know because someone has already told them that it’s R&B. They’ll never know. They’ll never know that there is something on that record that they may love. See what I mean? It can detrimental as opposed to something great. Look at Norah Jones. Nobody said what it was; they just said it was great and people went out and got it. But for some reason with Black artists they have to put it in a category immediately.

AHHA: Do you think that happened to your previous album?

Brian: I don’t know. There are always other genres on my records. I can’t worry about any of that. I used to worry about things like that. Now I just make a record.

AHHA: Of all your Hip-Hop collaborations, which one is your favorite?

Brian: On my last record I did one with Juvenile. I thought that that was something that people definitely could have played – and again, we’re talking about Motown’s view of me. They didn’t think it was something that they would be able to run with, when I thought that was something that we could have gotten played in the club.

AHHA: What’s you favorite album out of the ten?

Brian: I love making them all. I can’t pick one. There’s just no way, because making them was so personal for me that each one is another child. It’s like asking me which one of my children I love the most. I really just enjoy the process itself. [I like] coming up with something from nothing.

AHHA: What’s the scene like now compared to when you started?

Brian: The biggest thing is that the industry has become much more narrow. If you have too much talent, you can’t win. Because Hip-Hop is so huge, it’s kind of killed the singer in a way. And that’s the part that kind of sucks. It’s so personality driven now and less talent. Some of it technology has to blame.

AHHA: Is that a bad thing? How?

Brian: It is because now it’s much easier for anyone, no matter the talent level, to be in this business. The beauty of 50 years ago is technology couldn’t match what you couldn’t do. You had to be able to go in there and do it. And now with Protools you can make anybody sound good. You go to these concerts and it doesn’t sound like the record. Everything that I do in studio I can do live. For me technology makes me faster. It doesn’t disguise what I can’t do.

AHHA: I want to ask you about your love life.

Brian: I bet you do.

AHHA: Have you been in a serious relationship since your divorce?

Brian: Yes, one. Not for the whole period of time but I have had one since then. Wait – let’s back up for a second. Define “serious”.

AHHA: Umm…serious is when commitment is involved.

Brian: Define “commitment.”

AHHA: Oh gosh, you’re the one who sings all the R&B love songs. You define it!

Brian: Yes but here is the deal. This is what I was alluding to. I sing songs about specific periods in time. I don’t sing songs about ‘oh I love you forever’. I always sing about ‘forever’ being much shorter.

AHHA: So you didn’t answer my question. How many serious relationships?

Brian: I’m not looking for serious relationship. Maybe two since then. I tried. It’s not for me; at least not right now.

AHHA: How do you meet women?

Brian: I don’t actively go out looking for women. There’s just no way. I don’t hang out at the club; I don’t do any of those things. For instance today a woman approached me at the gas station while I was getting gas.

AHHA: After 13 years of marriage, do you regret anything?

Brian: No, nothing. We have a great friendship and two wonderful kids. I don’t regret anything.

AHHA: You have some crazy female fans. What’s the craziest thing they’ve done?

Brian: All sorts of things. Strip butt naked in front of me; in front of my car. I don’t really stick around long enough for them to get that crazy.

AHHA: Ok, so tell us about the new album.

Brian: It’s obviously called Ten because it’s the 10th CD. It’s the optimism, being on the new label. You can tell when you listen to it that I’m in a different place. There’s a duet with Jill Scott. I produced most of it myself. There are 18 songs on this album.

AHHA: What made you put 18 songs on the album?

Brian: Well I wrote 40 and I had to cut down. I couldn’t cut it after that, there was just too much I had to say.

AHHA: Like what?

Brian: Just personal [stuff]. As sort of my first statement in a new place, I wanted to give the fans more than I have given before.

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