RL has enjoyed success as a solo artist and with the group “Next,” over the past 20+ years. Is it over for the group though?
By Percy Crawford (@MrLouis1ana)
(AllHipHop Feature) I’m willing to bet that there is a very high percentage of men out there who have programmed their significant others name in their phone under, “Wifey.” That phrase was made popular in 2000 by R&B group, “Next;” in particular lead singer, “RL.” That would be one of many hits by the group whose debut album, “Rated Next” went double platinum in 1997. The “Rated Next” album produced classics such as, “Butta Love,” and “Too Close.” Their sophomore effort, “Welcome II Nextasy,” is certified Gold and was the album that produced the aforementioned, “Wifey” track. Lead singer, “RL” would eventually venture out into some solo and collaboration efforts which included “We Can’t Be Friends,” a Deborah Cox collaboration which reached #1 on Billboards, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. That same year, “RL” would join R&B powerhouses, Ginuwine, Tyrese and Case on, “The Best Man,” movie soundtrack for a track entitled, “The Best Man I Can Be.” In 2001, “RL” once again showed his range performing the hook for Tupac’s, “Until the End of Time,” single, where he nailed, “Mr. Mister’s” “Broken Wings” sample. In 2002, “RL” put out his lone solo album entitled, “RL: Ements,” which produced hits, “Got Me a Model,” and “Good Man.” As a songwriter and producer, “RL” has worked with some of the best in the business.
I recently caught up with, “RL,” who refuses to be put into the “old school,” category, the end of the “Next” era as well as Lil Duval’s new single, “Pull Up,” which he wrote and co-produced.
AllHipHop: It’s a pleasure and an honor speaking to you. How is everything going?
RL: Man, I can’t complain. I’m just glad to still be doing what I love you know what I mean?
AllHipHop: 100%. How have you survived the rollercoaster ride that is the music industry for over 20- years?
RL: Truthfully, publishing. Decisions I made early on in my career. Investing in myself left me to be able to say right now 20-something years later that I’m living off of the things I did years ago. Also, I guess the way that I use negative energy in everything that I have ever been through. I kind of use slights as fuel to keep going. And lastly, my faith. I honestly know that growing up I dealt with a lot of low self-esteem. I had a suicide attempt in my senior year in high school. What’s crazy is, I could remember getting into fights and cats thought I was soft because I would cover my face. They would be like, “Why you ain’t fighting back?” And I was like, “Yo, I don’t want to get hit in my face because I gotta be right for my album cover.” That’s how dead serious I was back then, bruh. So, for me, I always just knew that there was more for me. I knew God had a plan for me. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew he had a plan. It’s just like now, I know that it’s not over. I don’t know why, but God keeps telling me to keep going. Like I said, I could stop and just live off of residuals, but there is so much more music left in me. I get discouraged sometimes because of the climate of the industry right now, but there is a voice… it’s gotta be angels saying, “No, God said keep going.” That’s it.
AllHipHop: You’re looked at as a sex symbol, so for people to hear that you have self-esteem issues I think illustrates that no one is exempt from that feeling.
RL: Most definitely. I also feel like it’s the environment you came up in. I dealt with a lot of verbal abuse. I’ll be honest and I hate to say it, but I feel like that could be worse. I don’t know if what I see when I look in the mirror is what everybody else sees. To this day, I get up at 4:30 in the morning and go to the gym. I got braces for the second time because I’m always trying to be better. It’s not like an issue in a sense, I just want more for myself. I can’t be around people that are stagnant and that are cool where they are. I don’t care if I had $100 million dollars. I want $100 million and one. God put this thing in me where I want to keep going and elevating. I think that has a lot to do with it.
AllHipHop: You obviously take physical fitness very seriously. I feel like R&B singers have to stay in top of that a little more than say a rapper or any other genre of music. You mentioned hitting the gym at 4:30 every morning. What is your regimen?
RL: For me… I’m never going to be Mr. Olympia, but I do want to make sure I age gracefully. It’s funny because I have a 23-year old son, but now I have a 2-year old daughter. She’s more famous than me. Everybody walks up to me and it’s no more, RL, more like, “That’s Rory’s dad,” which is humbling but it’s dope. But I ride the Peloton Bike now. Ki never cycled before. I already know me, I’m still a man and I don’t want to be in no cycling class around a bunch of sweaty women, so I’m trying to keep my head on straight. So, I bought the bike, spent like, 3G’s and I was like, “Yo, I’ma learn this” and I hated it and I still do, but I want to do things that are uncomfortable until I get comfortable doing it and then I’ll move on to the next. It’s the best investment I have ever made. I do that. I go to the gym 4 to 5-days a week. I get up at 4:30 because I’m that guy that never wanted to miss school because I was scared, I was going to miss a fight, miss gossip or something. I never missed school and it’s the same thing now. I want to wake up before you, so that I could get started before you and still work harder than you and longer than you. I want every advantage I can get. So, I get up before everybody else, so that I could get a head start. That’s always been important. Lastly, every day that I don’t want to get up out of the bed which is usually every day, at 4:30 and I don’t want to go to the gym, and I don’t want to get on the Peloton Bike, a number pops in my head. And that number is 58. That’s what pops in my head, 58. 58, is how old I will be when my daughter graduates’ high school. I refuse to not be fly walking around with my baby girl. I want people to still go, “That’s your dad?” Hell, yeah that’s her dad. I want it all. Having a daughter later in my years… I looked at it like, am I being selfish because I want to be around when she has a kid or two. I don’t want to be… I have pictures with great grandparents, and they say, “You don’t remember your great granddad, you were too young.” No, I want my grandkids to remember me no matter what. I could be 99, we going to the park or something (laughing).
AllHipHop: You recently wrote and co-produced a song for, Lil Duval titled, “Pull Up,” which is doing very well. Are you enjoying fulfilling your musical talents by being more than just a musician and doing some other things like writing and producing?
RL: I’ve always been behind the scenes, the difference was, having been in a group, we always had this thing of not putting more attention on one member more than the other. So, I never got to speak about the fact that I wrote, “Just in Case” and “Anything for Jaheim, “Bring Your Heart to Mine,” for Luther, “U R the One,” for Usher, “Weekend Thing,” Koffee Brown, six on, Keith Sweat, five on Ginuwine’s “A Man’s Thought” album… Jamie Foxx “Forecass.” I never got to talk about all of the things I’s done. Two for “Mindless Behavior.” Just a bunch of records. I love creating. When we were doing “Next” we were focused on that for a while. We literally have 75-records recorded that the world will probably never hear to be honest. A record exec just hit me to congratulate me on “Pull Up.” I played him the record in 2015. It was a “Next” record, and nobody heard it. It’s sad because an A&R would rather put on a new artist to get the credit than an artist that has a fan base. I hate to say it, but in urban music, it’s like, “Okay, we are done with you, so go and do something else.” I hate the word, old school and throwback. I hate those two words and I’ll tell you why in a second. But they want to put you in a place, and I call it the “Cîroc” mentality. Cîroc has to keep coming out with new flavors. The original are great. I love them. If I drink, which is rarely I can grab the blue dot it don’t matter. But in our society, we need the next thing. Okay, what’s next? But when you go to other cultures, “I’ll just take some whiskey.” They drink the same thing for 50-years. For us, we’re ready to throw you away until we’re at your funeral telling you how great you are. but you never heard it.
It’s funny because the “Pull Up” record was originally supposed to say, “Featuring, “Next,” but Duval, that’s the homie, he felt like it would age him; even though he’s my age. But putting us on there would age him and sadly he’s right. I made the call to a friend of mine who used to work with Ty [Dollar $ign] and I got Ty on the record. We have another record with a major artist on it that me and my partner wrote and produced it; a young cat named, B Flat out of Birmingham, Alabama. We literally do everything with him. Other producers try to send me tracks and some major producers want to work with me, but I’m trying to be the new Jimmy [Jam] and Terry [Lewis]. Being from Minneapolis, that’s what I grew up with, so that’s what I’m on. But I’m excited, I love where the record is at and I like challenges. I know a lot of people felt like, “Okay, one hit wonder, Duval.” I had been around him a lot in different circles and stuff and I felt like, I hate when people doubt people because they doubt me. We actually recorded it at my house. I was like, “Come on let’s get this record done.” We mixed it, sent it off to get mastered and here we are with another hit record. I feel blessed. I did laugh because it’s like, “You’re telling me, that I have been grinding all of these years, and for me to get some attention, I gotta go do a record with a comedian.” Nothing to discredit, Duval, because I think he will go down as the new, Eddie [Murphy] type of guy in the sense that he’s multi-talented he’s funny and talented in a bunch of different areas. But I had to go and do a record on a person who is not known as an artist for people to go, “Oh okay, “RL” is still around.” You know what I’m saying?
AllHipHop: I was actually going to ask you was it a little bit of a blow… and like you said, no discredit to, Duval because he’s doing his thing, but for someone so established like yourself to have to give your song to someone else, had to be somewhat disheartening.
RL: It’s humbling, but I will say this, for someone to think, “Let me throw this dude a bone,” or I looked out for him or he needs me. If you… any artist knows if you have major publishing and you have your publishing, you’re good. Right now, with the streaming and all that, that’s little money compared to a lot of the vets that had real publishing and records that lasts forever. Nowadays the attention span of the audience is so short, and they are so flooded with music that, new artist… I feel bad for them because you can have 10-chains, a Bentley, everything but once that stops there is literally no publishing for you because there is no residual recurring. Your record is not going to be played in 10 to 20-years. That’s my biggest fear for a lot of artists. What will you be singing in 20-years? I can hear, Duval singing this with grey hair and no hairline holding a cane. He could still be doing this record. That’s what gives me pride and I can stick my chest out and be proud of. This isn’t a gimmicky record. This is his record and he really sang it. I don’t even blame the artists or the writer’s or producers. I’m going to be honest with you. I have been up to labels. My neighbor is a major record label executive. We just had a double date and went to dinner and then we had another double date and went to the movies literally a couple of nights ago. Truthfully, I know that it’s the people that are in the labels now. I’ll tell you like this, this is what happens, say you’re “Puff Daddy,” right. You get put on and now you’re a boss. Besides taking care of your mom and you kids or whatever, what is the first thing you do? You put your homies on. I don’t want you in the streets no more. So now you gotta be in the music industry. I’m not saying, “Puff” did this, but I’m just saying this as an example. You have people in the music industry that are hustlers. Music becomes a hustle. You didn’t study music, you didn’t have a passion for it or a passion for finding new artists or uncovering or finding an artist that was once hot. Look at, Charlie Wilson who come back out and you’re like, “Wow, a re-emergence.” You’re not into that. That’s not where your pride comes in at. Your pride comes in… that’s why the meetings I go into now they ask, “How many social media followers do you have?” The focus on that. Not, if you have dope music or “Let me check out your records to see if you got hits. Let me see your look, are you in shape?” Those aren’t the questions. Those aren’t the questions because the music industry has become what the real estate game was. When cats got involved and put everyone on and then the whole market dropped. That’s what the music industry is. So now, the question is, “Are you popping in your city?” They want the record to already have traction because they don’t want to take a chance because they don’t want to put their neck on the line. That’s why the music industry is stagnant. That’s why there are a bunch of artists that you can copy and paste, and they are trying to find the next this or the next that instead of finding hot records and hot artists. That’s where it’s messed up. And, it’s radio’s fault too because if you listen to the radio, they play the same 5-records. But, that’s the playlist. I’ve had radio jocks that go, “I really want to play this record. I love this record,” but their hands are tied because it’s not on the playlist.
AllHipHop: I don’t want you to lose that thought you had, why don’t you like the terms, throwback and old school?
RL: That’s easy, I always say this, an old school is a car that you got candy paint on, you put rims on, you might have put switches on it and maybe some new speakers. You add a crazy stereo and probably a new dash; digital dash. All that right?
AllHipHop: For sure.
RL: So, what you’re basically saying is, it wasn’t good the way it was with all of those original parts. Why in country or pop music it’s called classic. Classic is all original. We took care of you. We took care of you so good that all we gotta do is wipe you off, put a little gas in you and give you an oil change and put some new spark plugs in you and boom, we roll you out. You got people that will be like, “I don’t want the car if it’s not all original parts.” But, with old school’s it’s, “I want that candy paint, I want it raised up, I want the 22’s on it.” What you’re saying is that it wasn’t good the way it was. It wasn’t taken care of, so you had a bunch of rust on it, had to put a new engine in there. If it was good the way it was, there is nothing you need to change. My cousin is, Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind & Fire. At a certain age, when you can get AARP and all that you can say, old school or throwback. Throwback means to a time when or whatever. But when you’re talking about groups of the 90’s. We came out like ’97-’98, so late 90’s. Nothing against the groups that came out in the early 90’s, but they try to group you all together. You have these concerts and all of these hit records and dope artists and I think it does them a disservice to say, old school or this and that because… I was just with, Montell Jordan. He looks amazing. He’s 50-years old and dude looks like he’s in his mid-thirties. He looks great and I think it does a disservice to all of these acts when you just try to throw them in a barrel and say, “You’re just like this person or that.” Now, are there some that didn’t take care of themselves and out here just trying to make a buck because they don’t want to get a day job, I’m sure. But there are a lot of acts, Jagged Edge, 112 and Dru Hill, these guys look amazing. It’s just wrong to say, “Ya’ll are throwback and old school.” No! they still fly, and they can still roll up somewhere and some 25-year old be looking at them. So, for me that puts them in the, Bobby “Blue” Bland area.
AllHipHop: Bear with me on this, but I checked out some numbers on YouTube, “Wifey” has 46-million views, “Too Close” 66-million, “Butta Love” 7.5-million, “Good Man” 2.8-million, “We Can’t Be Friends” 43-million, “Until The End of Time” 6.1-million and “The Best Man I Can Be” 10-million. What does those numbers mean to you?
RL: It just means that I’m blessed, bruh. It’s just simple as that because, truthfully, people that be on the computers are usually a little younger. So that means if you’re on YouTube and you’re watching these videos, that means you’re interested in things that we did. That’s what we were trying to do when I was coming up on the Northside of Minneapolis waking up every day dreaming of this. I wanted to leave a legacy. I might not be on the, “Prince” level, my mother grew up with, “Prince” and I got stories about that which is crazy, but I just wanted to be mentioned. We had a show in, Minnesota. Where I grew up, we had a pretty rough childhood. They were cruel to me. I literally have two friends who I grew up with. I was on stage. It was a sold-out concert and I got to say a few words and I said that my dream was for parents to tell their kids they went to school with me. You know those people that can say, “My mom went to school with, “Prince”.” Even those people that teased me and told me that I would never make it. I wanted them to go, “Oh yeah, I went to school with him.” That was the one thing growing up that I wanted. “Ya’ll might laugh and me and ya’ll might tease me, but one day you’re going to be bragging to your kids that you knew me.” That’s what I wanted.
AllHipHop: You guys are still on the road as a group, April 5th you will be in Houston. Can we expect to see more shows and music from, “Next?”
RL: Truthfully and sadly, I really think that… we have a show in Oakland, which is really funny because I grew up in the Bay area as well. My dad was an executive out there, so between Minneapolis and Hayward, California, those are the two places I really call home. I think that April 20th will be the last “Next” show that people will see. If they are close, they should probably come out. It’s going to be a bitter farewell. It’s sad to say because we’ve worked so hard and it’s been great. We have seen sadly, “112” break up. I know how talented they are. I haven’t always gotten along with all of these groups because we were rivals. But I’m such a big fan of those guys as a unit, they are amazing. I know they are dope individually but there is just something about them as a unit. And when its classic, people want those original parts. Right now, we’re in a situation where different guys have different ideas of where they want to go direction wise. “Tweet” is really getting into motivational speaking, so he has some other things that he wants to do. It was communicated to me that some of the music we do… he wants to do different things. I call it musical menopause where you start listening to the climate and where everything is at and I’ve been there. You feel like you need to do more quote on quote relevant stuff. But you alienate your audience. You don’t have to sound dated to be true to something. You still gotta have the harmonies and the range, but you can have the baseline and the harder drums. It’s a fine line between sounding dated and like you’re doing too much. It’s like, here we go trying to be 25-again.
I think different guys are just going through different things. I was just talking to T-Low, the other major vocalist in the group and we have decided to do other things with other artist. He manages a girl group and I’m probably going to write and produce for them with my partner. I just want to grow and continue doing music. I’m literally standing in my studio right now. This is all I do. I’m working on a bunch of things. I’m praying on it. I’m hoping things with, “Next” work out because we literally have a whole album done. I also think it becomes frustrating when you’re working so hard towards something and people won’t give you the opportunity. We released a single last year. It was actually last March. It actually went Top 25 Urban AC [Adult Contemporary]. We funded it ourselves. We hadn’t been out with a record in close to 15-years. We put the single out and it did better than we even expected. It was just a warm-up single, we had the second single ready. We thought, let’s put out something and let these labels and executives see, look, people want music from us. But they didn’t care. I would go into meetings and it’s like, “I love the record, but I would love to put it on this artist.” I felt like the “Five Heartbeats” when they changed the album cover. I think people started being less motivated because of that and then the in-fighting starts, and you start pointing fingers at one another. When the truth is, we’re doing everything we can and all we can do is keep pressing forward and doing what we do best. It just seems like there were so many factors against us, it wasn’t a lot of opportunities. So, I think that also kind of had an effect on the moral of the group. I’m still here. I love my brothers. My favorite saying is, “I wish you well I just wish me better.”
AllHipHop: It’s been great speaking with you, my man and I truly wish you the best of luck with everything you have going on. Is there anything you would like to add?
RL: Man, I just want to tell you how much I appreciate you. It’s funny because people think the internet… and what I mean by that is, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube is how you have to be heard. The truth is, DJ’s and journalist are truly the ones responsible for all our success. Being in this game 20-something years I know that better than anybody and I want you to know how much I truly appreciate you taking this time to do this interview.