Lyfe Jennings: Change Must Be Nice

We wait only a few seconds for Lyfe Jennings to start his interview as he digs into his coat and grabs his cell phone to make an urgent call to Matthew Knowles. It’s all but apparent that this Toledo, Ohio native has had an incredible life turn-around – from stick-up-crime kid to platinum-selling artist. In […]

We wait only a few seconds for Lyfe Jennings to start his interview as he digs into his coat and grabs his cell phone to make an urgent call to Matthew Knowles. It’s all but apparent that this Toledo, Ohio native has had an incredible life turn-around – from stick-up-crime kid to platinum-selling artist. In the sporadically lit artist lounge of Columbia Records, there’s a TV with some BET video countdown and Lyfe Jennings sits not too far from the set surprisingly friendly and approachable.As he speaks on topics outside of the music spectrum, one can say Lyfe is the “urban Bob Dylan.” Jennings uses music to raise questions about human relationships, sex, and situations that ring true to many who listen. This makes Lyfe political without blatantly being political in a world, primarily a country, bogged down by an intense regime of socio-economics. The Columbia Records artist has managed to become a commercial success and maintain a personal voice in his music – a feat few conquer.His debut single, “Stick-Up Kid” was about his thieving lifestyle before prison. Nowadays the five-time Apollo winner makes his musical growth noticeable, singing about a woman thieving his heart and leaving him to call the cops. The artist in Jennings is even taking him to explore the acting spectrum as his current book collection consists of acting books, and has even been reading for movie roles. With the new album Change, Lyfe seems equipped to show an audience the transformation that’s brought us this revered Alternatives: You dedicated the video for “Cops Up” to Lala Brown. How’s it been dealing with her premature death?Lyfe Jennings: It’s regular. You know, when you lose somebody. You wish it wasn’t so. But you know [you] just…get on with it because you have to. Not ‘cause you want to; ‘cause you have to.AHHA: You collaborated with Lala on “S.E.X.” – that track seems to be a shoe-in to get positive feedback from parents. Have there been any young people that have expressed their appreciation for that song?Lyfe Jennings: I actually had a major outpour about the song from parents, grandparents, and kids. That was like, to me, one of the only songs I’ve heard myself that everybody liked across the board. I think it was really great you know young people telling me that it really made them think about it, and they postponed some things that they were going to do.AHHA: Speaking of parenting, how’s it been being a father and traveling as much as you do?Lyfe Jennings: It’s hard. I got to say it’s hard. But I miss my kids to death right now. I’ve been saying this for the past two days. It’s bad right now. I want to see them.AHHA: What’s the best thing you’ve been able to do since you started making a good living making music?Lyfe Jennings: I always say the greatest thing I ever did was to be able to get my kids insurance. That is a great accomplishment for me because when I was growing up I didn’t have insurance. It was taking you to your auntie’s house to get stitched up with a needle and thread when something happened. So that was great, they have insurance so they’re straight.AHHA: Back when you first began your recording career you expressed how Erykah Badu’s Baduizm inspired you while you were in prison to record music. Have you told Erykah herself about that?Lyfe Jennings: Yeah, I did actually tell her. I don’t know her real well, but I see her on occasion. Actually, every time I see her I tell her because I want to make sure she knows.AHHA: What was her response?Lyfe Jennings: She was like, “Thank you.” She was definitely humbled and she was like, “Hearing messages like that is what keeps [me] doing what [I’m] doing.”AHHA: What would you say to someone who is getting out of prison and they look at you and they ask, “I don’t sing. How can I better my life when I leave these walls?”Lyfe Jennings: I think you should always go with your passion, and I think if your passion is music you should do it. If it’s carpentry, something along those lines, you should do it too. But I think the one thing you should keep in mind if you’re coming out of prison is you have to have preparation. In order to do it, don’t come out of prison like, “I’m going to do it when I get out of prison.” Your work starts today. Your life is not starting tomorrow. So therefore your craft, and your intention, and your desire shouldn’t start tomorrow.AHHA: How was it walking in the streets the first time right after you left prison?Lyfe Jennings: You become new at it, kinda. My thing that tripped me out the most was cars. It seemed like everything was moving so fast. I was scared to cross the street. There’d be a car way down there, but it’d be looking like it was flying. By the time I decided to cross the street it was here. That just used to freak me out. And then kids, you know, you definitely not just used to being around any kids at all. So when you’re around kids they look funny to you, because they’re small. [laughs]AHHA: What’s it like recording songs like “The River”? What’s the atmosphere like recording such a cathartic song?Lyfe Jennings: It’s simple. I don’t do certain things when I record, like candles or nothing like that. I really just like it raw. I try to do stuff in one take. It’s almost like acting. You know how they tell you in order to act a role you got to pull something from your life that has a similar emotional response to it and then use that to become the character? I try to pull what I was thinking about at the time when I wrote the song, and I become that song and I just sing it.AHHA: It must be cathartic, but how do you keep yourself from going back to that place when performing these songs that came from a dark place night after night?Lyfe Jennings: Sometimes it’s good to go back in time because it gives the time more emotion. But I don’t get tired doing some songs. I’ll be feeling like I got something to say. The live show is different for us every time; it’s something different.AHHA: What song changed the new album, Change, for you?Lyfe Jennings: To me, one of the greatest songs on the album is called “Will I Ever.” Will I ever fall in love? There always comes a point in your life – whether you’re with somebody or whether you’re not – to where if everything that you ever envisioned in a significant other hasn’t been reached. You just wonder [if you’ll] ever find that.AHHA: Are you narrating the new album the way you narrated Lyfe 268-192 and The Phoenix?Lyfe Jennings: Yes, I am, but I’m not doing it on the album. It’s going to be a special edition online, because some people like it some people don’t. But the thing they both have in common [is] they should have a choice because they’re spending their money on it.AHHA: Are you picking up where you left in The Phoenix?Lyfe Jennings: I definitely am. It’s a continuing story.AHHA: Lyfe 262-168 was about your life on the streets, and off the streets. The Phoenix dealt, a little, with your new found celebrity. What’s Change going to pick up from?Lyfe Jennings: This album is just about after the celebrity and fame, people getting used to it and just different situations that come up. I mean, it’s all relationships. That’s pretty much what all three of the albums is dealing with.AHHA: Your real name is Chester. How did the name Lyfe come about?Lyfe Jennings: When I was in prison, all the stuff that I wrote was about life situations. My name used to be “Music For Life,” but then a cat was like, “Naa, that’s too long. You should just call yourself Life. You should change the ‘i’ to a ‘y’. You ask all the questions that everyone else would be asking.”AHHA: What TV shows are you into?Lyfe Jennings: When I watch TV I watch stupid shows. I watcg something like “I Love New York.” That’s funny to me. The greatest show to me personally of all time is “Wildboyz” on MTV. Oh my God, Steve-O, man, them dudes is crazy. I watch re-runs of that show.AHHA: Where do you think the country stands politically?Lyfe Jennings: I think they are looking for somebody to follow. A lot of people knock Bush, and they have valid reasons to knock Bush. But at the same time it had to be hard being a president. I mean, you got to choose between the lesser of two evils and when you choose that evil you know that everyone is going to bash you, but you can’t tell them why. That must be hard. But there’s just something about a leader. There’s just something about somebody that has confidence in them. It just seems as though Bush doesn’t have a great deal of confidence in himself. I think that they’re looking for something different.You look at health care – the way it is over here. They will let you die. Literally, if you do not have insurance they will let you die. We looking for somebody that can impact change not just in the White House but in our community – stuff that affects us everyday.AHHA: Have you been following the presidential election?Lyfe Jennings: Not really not like that.AHHA: Has there been anyone candidate that’s caught your attention positively or negatively?Lyfe Jennings: Hilary Clinton definitely caught my attention, because her husband to me was a successful president. Maybe not personal, but I think we all make mistakes personally. I know he’s going to definitely haves something to do with [the presidency] .It’s almost like Bush’s father was president, and I’m quite sure he gets a lot of advice from him. [Hillary]  has somebody that she can go to when she’s in situations.Also, Barack Obama because he seems like he’s speaking the truth and he has a lot of different ideas. Maybe some of them will work, maybe some of them won’t. But the point is that he’s actually been thinking and…he has his own opinions about stuff.AHHA: At one of your live shows in June 2005 you threw a bag full of money to the audience – money that had been paid to you for playing the show. You let the audience know that the people running the show told you that it didn’t matter whether you had a sound check or not – you were to go on because they were paying you. You flipped it and told the audience they were being paid to be there. Do you still find yourself in those situations where you have to let others know – “F**k this, you don’t tell me what to do”?Lyfe Jennings: Well, I’m always like that. You definitely have to respect the person’s space because if they pay you to come – this is these guys’ job. So you respect, but some people just take it above and beyond. That particular show they wanted me to go on without sound check, so that means I can’t be the best artist I would like to be. You can’t take that away from me regardless if you paid me or not. In retaliation to them, to show them, it probably didn’t affect them. They still paid the same fee, but for me it was like I just wanted to show you that this money that you give me is really nothing. My artistry is worth more than this, and I’m doing this for the fans not doing it for you.