Since the debut of the “Cassanova” trio Levert in 1985, Gerald Levert has carried on the tradition of soul music that his famous father, Eddie Levert of the O’Jays’, passed on to him. Gerald embarked upon a successful solo career in 1991, and later teamed for two projects with Johnny Gill and Keith Sweat under the group name LSG.
With a consistent run of eight solo albums, the 38-year-old Cleveland native has proven time and time again that he is a master of performance and songwriting. Even still, the marketing machines that once coveted R&B music have dwindled over the years, and, like many other artists who have survived the changes in the industry, he often finds his music misplaced and misunderstood in the big picture.
Gerald Levert’s new album, Do I Speak For The World?, is a project that reflects his personal views unselfishly on various topics. The velvet teddy bear took some time out of his busy schedule to give AllHipHop.com Alternatives his insight on the album, the evolution of music and societal acceptance.
AHHA: You’ve had a very impressive career over the last 20 years or so…and you’re still a young man. When you look at everything you’ve done since you were a teenager to now, what would you say has been the biggest challenge in evolving through the changes in R&B over the years?
GL: Well I think just really the change in radio and the style, and their perception of what is hot and what isn’t. You know once you’ve been in this industry a long time and you have too much of a soulful voice, they tend to put you in that category, which puts you in a smaller box than everybody else, all the mainstream people, all the Hip-Hop people. You can’t get the exposure to other places that you might have before. From the 90’s to 2000 things changed so drastically. They made R&B second, and that just changed the whole thought process of radio and what was going on music, period. It kinda hurts being an R&B singer, because immediately it puts you in one bag, and you’ll never get that exposure to people who might be listening to, say, Jay-Z or Fabolous. You just have to try to maximize whatever you can do, as far as getting out there in front of people and performing and letting them see what you do on the stage or TV. You gotta do it to your fullest, do your best and make sure that everybody is watching you, because your window is very limited once they put you in that category like, ‘I’m Black R&B’ – you know white people ain’t really checking for you like that.
AHHA: I think a lot of that just comes down to the exposure factor again, because they’re really not marketing your records to that white crowd that might otherwise buy your records or go to shows.
GL: Right, and it’s a different type of thing, it’s because of where they put you. They characterize you by your age, the way you dress… If you get dreds, then you’re neo-soul, and you could be singin’ the same song I’m singin’.
AHHA: There are rappers who are in that mid to late 30’s age group, but they’re making hit rap albums that are marketed towards the teenage audience, and they’re hot records. Then someone would look at a Gerald Levert and say, ‘Well God he’s old, he’s old school’. But you’re in that same age category, so at what point do you feel that you had to kind of had to settle into the idea that people aren’t going to necessarily give you that same fair treatment?
GL: Well, I’ve felt that for the last couple of years, and that’s cool with me as long as I get the respect as a performer and entertainer. There’s always a shot that something else is happening, music always changes, and it’s gonna turn around. But I think that where they messed up at is when they judge, it has nothing to do with the music anymore. When I was growing up in the community, if the music was good everybody had it. They split up R&B music into ‘R&B and Hip-Hop’, and into ‘Adult R&B’, and that becomes confusing, so everybody doesn’t get the full experience to it. Like you said, they don’t market your stuff to those people or those people aren’t interested in a Gerald Levert anymore, because to them that’s an old hat, but bet when they see a Gerald Levert or a New Edition perform, then they get excited about it. Then it’s like these are the ones that will really give us a show, but half of the people that they give their shots to, they don’t last for a long time. They don’t give you a good performance, they don’t give you all the things that legends like a Prince would give you. You know, he was in that for a while – he was old hat. Then he comes back with a big album and selling out arenas. So, there’s a way to make it happen, if you just stay in it long enough and find the niche where you fit in, I think it’s always a way to get their attention.
AHHA: You have to wonder… I mean a lot of these radio program directors are in [their late 20’s and 30’s]. You know I remember being 19 years old and having having sex to your records. I think a lot of people forget that they used to have sex when they were teenagers, and we liked getting it on to that soulful singing back then – we liked Jodeci, we liked Levert, we liked Anita Baker… It’s like, what happened to remembering those days and appreciating it?
GL: [laughs] That’s a good question. I think it’s ‘cause those people, they’re getting older and you change around. I’ve watched my father go through four or five different labels. That’s all a part of the changing of the guards. Look at Santana after all those years. I think everybody’s gonna have a chance, because everybody wants to make love, everybody wants to be made love to. So you know, you can’t make love to too many uptempo records, you know what I’m sayin? That’s a quick one. [laughs]. When you’re in love, you want that ten minute version of ‘Fire & Desire’.
AHHA: There you go.
GL: The reality of it all is that people are going to get tired…I don’t know if they will ever find a perfect medium, there has to be another way to make people open up and try to experience R&B music again to the essence, because it’s just not happening. I think people are gonna open up and it’ll all rise.
AHHA: Definitely. Over the years obviously you’ve learned a lot about the music industry, but you’ve also grown up in the industry. A lot of the times I think people get so caught up in the day to day stuff in the industry that they miss out on spirituality, and they miss out on some of the more political things going on around in the community. You have Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley speaking on your title track. Tell me about how that came about – what was your concept with it and how did you connect with them?
GL: Well, me and Tavis are good friends and I had an interview for his radio show, and I told him I had a song called ‘Crucify Me’, and I wanted him to hear it to really see if he approved of it, because I hold him in high regard on that. Cornel West… from the first time I did my very first solo album, in any article if they asked him about music or in books that he’s written, he’s always said I was the greatest soul singer of this generation. So that day, I ran into Tavis in the hotel [I was staying at] and he happened to be with Cornel, and they came into the studio, I played the record and they went crazy. Cornel was was like, ‘Man, you have not gotten your just due yet and it is coming’, and I was like, “Man could you go in and say something on my record?” It just went down like that, and it just made so much sense for what I was saying in the song. I felt privileged to have those two people on my record.
AHHA: What is it that you want people to know about this album and where you’re at with your career overall?
GL: Well it’s just like the questions you’re asking me about…really actually you’re thinking the same way I’m thinking. You know, about making love, about how to get people together, what’s gonna happen as a race, and basically that’s what I’m asking on this record. What happened to the love of family? Does everybody see what’s going on? Do I speak for the world? That’s basically just saying, how many people feel the same way I feel? That’s all of what I’m trying to put across in this record.
AHHA: Where can people look for you next as far as touring?
GL: I’m touring, right now I’m about to go out with my father for the holidays. Me and him are just going to do a tour, a father/son tour. We’ll do some of his stuff, some of my stuff – just some things that people really grew up liking and knowing. We gonna have fun, and we’re gonna be ourselves, and I think people like when we’re ourselves. I think that’s something that’s very important, two Black men together that love each other, just having a good time, and try to spread a little love – tryna get other people to understand what it is to have family and be a part of a family. To talk things out and be real with each other, that’s so important and that’s just something that’s lost now. We don’t have those family values, a lot of that is gone – if you don’t have that, you don’t have understanding.
AHHA: You’ve got that really solid fan base, but we’re going to be exposing this interview to a lot of people who may not know a lot about you.
GL: They need to. It’s like the record – ‘crucify me’. If they wanna throw rocks on me fine, if you feel it fine. But I’m sure it’s something on there that people…any person can relate to. I think it should touch some people’s hearts, and [the album] needs to be exposed to other people, because I don’t think nobody in R&B music now has done that. You know they do it in Hip-Hop with talking about different situations, but they’re not dealing with the issue about loving relationships [in songs], and nobody gets too deep into anything unless it’s gospel. Nobody who’s been in the business for a while who might mean something to this business has really said anything that was very purposeful, since maybe Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. You know, I haven’t heard a lot of that, so I just felt that it’s something that people need – let them judge for themselves.