Ronald Isley: Ahead Of The Game

Few artists can claim insurmountable success over the course of five decades in the music industry. With chart toppers…

Few artists can claim insurmountable success over the course of five decades in the music industry. With chart toppers like “Groove With You,” “Footsteps in the Dark,” “Between the Sheets” and many others, the Isley Brothers are legendary artists that serve as a precedent for the current and future generations of R&B singers.

Almost a half a century after kicking off his career, Ronald Isley is still a force to be reckoned with. Remaining amazingly fresh and original, he shows no signs of slowing down. Mr. Biggs, as he was dubbed in the mid-90s by R. Kelly, is back at it with a brand new album under the Isley Brothers’ name, entitled Baby Making Music. The project features a slew of hot producers and collaborations, and is said to be Isley Brothers’ greatest album to date. If the success of the lead single, “Just Came Here to Chill,” is any indication, those sentiments aren’t too far-fetched.

Ronald Isley definitely has his hands full, but he did manage to take a time out of his busy schedule to speak with Alternatives about his new album, his relationship with R. Kelly and his ability to stay current in the music industry. Alternatives: Your music is timeless, and you've been able to transcend boundaries with generations of fans. What is your secret for staying fresh and relevant in a music market that is so hard on artists and their business?

Ronald Isley: You know, just recognizing early on that we have a gift from God. Being competitive; loving what you do; putting your all into it; wanting to share it with people are all things to keep in perspective when you’re trying to accomplish something. Some people, like Stevie Wonder, are so great that they don’t have to prove anything to anyone, but I was always one that wanted to prove myself-my versatility and success. I have to let it be known that I can make a number one record in any decade.

AHHA: Do you feel that you've had to shift and change a lot, whether creatively or business-wise, to appeal to new fans?

Ronald Isley: From what I’ve learned, I appeal to all groups of people, all ages, from all walks of life, without much shifting or changing. It’s all about keeping up with what’s current and incorporating it into your art without losing yourself.

AHHA: Bow Wow recently made some comments regarding Will Smith, basically showing a blatant disrespect for someone who was a part of making it possible for him to even make a career in rap. Have you experienced any younger R&B artist speaking harshly about your career moves? How have you reacted, or would you react, to that?

Ronald Isley: Some [people] just have to learn. Bow Wow will learn, in years to come, what Will Smith is about. [The Isley Brothers] and myself in particular have been fortunate with the people in the Hip-Hop community. They gave me the name “Mr. Biggs.” I get much respect from them. They’re always interested in what I’m working on and what’s next from me.

AHHA: You've always been considered an artist with a talent for creating baby-making music. Do you consider your craft to be focused more on sensual, adults-only music, or do you work to appeal to those younger people in a different way?

Ronald Isley: I want to do it all! I don’t want to leave anything out. I feel like there’s a little something for everyone in my music.

AHHA: Surely over the years you've developed some integral relationships with artists and producers. Are there any that stand out in your mind right now that you have close relationships with?

Ronald Isley: Usher, R. Kelly, Alicia Keys, Aretha [Franklin]. Aretha and I go back several years. I talk to them now more than ever.

AHHA: I know you've worked with R. Kelly on various projects. How is your relationship with him now?

Ronald Isley: [R. Kelly] will be at my house tomorrow, actually. I just left his house. He’s opening in St. Louis on Friday, and we were going over some things for the show. We’re tighter than tight. He’s like a son to me.

AHHA: I know you also have a relationship with Jay-Z. Did you feel torn with the confusion surrounding Jay Z and R. Kelly in their dispute during their Best of Both Worlds tour?

Ronald Isley: I just left Jay in California. He’s really on top of his game. I really hope he gets back into music. We were joking around when I saw him. I said, “I know you have an album in the works.” He just laughed. I have nothing but love and respect for both of them.

AHHA: What do you think is the key to developing as an artist without drama, slander, etc? It seems to be the popular thing today for artists to bring themselves up by tearing others down.

Ronald Isley: They will get over that sooner or later. A lot of them do it for attention; because others before them did it and it seemed effective. They’ll learn, in this business, that the world isn’t into cheap thrills, quick attention-getters and stuff like that.

AHHA: Jimi Hendrix was one of the first artists featured with your company, T-Neck records, developed back in 1964. There has been talk of a movie chronicling his life, and there's a mean line-up competing for the role - from Andre 3000 to Will Smith. What are your thoughts about the movie, and is there a particular actor you'd like to see play the role of Jimi Hendrix?

Ronald Isley: You know, Jimi used to live with our [Isley Brothers] family. He’s strange. Whoever plays him has to be on top of it, because he isn’t going to be easy to [portray], if they really want to capture who Jimi was the way Jamie Foxx captured who [Ray Charles] was.

AHHA: So you have some things in the works as well...a new album? Now is this Mr. Biggs or Ronald Isley?

Ronald Isley: Mr. Biggs.

AHHA: Has the Mr. Biggs persona proven beneficial to your career as you transitioned into the '90s?

Ronald Isley: Oh yeah! It has been very beneficial. Everyone wants to know what “we’re” going to do next. They really love the sound. The new single, “Just Came Here to Chill,” is at number four on the Billboard charts right now, and it’ll be number one before the video hits.

AHHA: Your album is titled Baby Making Music, which some would say describes the Isley Brothers feel perfectly. I've heard the debut track, "Just Came Here to Chill" and I love it! How does this album differ from previous albums?

Ronald Isley: You just have to hear it all at once. It’s like listening to “Between the Sheets,” “Who’s That Lady,” and a mix of everything else. It’s a good feel.

AHHA: What are some of your favorite tracks off the album?

Ronald Isley: All of them. There are 11 tracks and I hand-picked every one.

AHHA: I noticed you worked with some new producers on this album, including Jermaine Dupri and Manuel Seal, Jr. In putting an album together, do you find differences in creative approaches from the producers of today versus producers in the '70s or '80s?

Ronald Isley: I work with ones that are hot and are really efficient. Jermaine and Manuel are at their peak. And they wrote songs [specifically] for me to do. In fact, Jermaine said, “Can’t no one do this but you!” It adds to the overall feel and success of the album when you work with great, talented people.

AHHA: Are the younger producers ever nervous around you, seeing as how you're a musical legend and all, or do they seem pretty comfortable and calm?

Ronald Isley: No. We have a ball together, really.

AHHA: What are your expectations for this album? Do you feel the titles "gold" or "platinum" hold weight in this market?

Ronald Isley: It’s going to come in at number one. Jimmy Jam and them have a way of telling that before the album even drops. We wanted this to be my best album to date, and I believe it is.

AHHA: You've been able to enjoy a longevity that few can match - a lot of new artists have trouble before they even release an album. Is there any advice you'd give to up and coming artists?

Ronald Isley: They should wish and pray for God’s blessings. Stay honest with it. It’s so competitive so you have to stay on top of things. Stay close to what people, who are successful, are doing. Just keep yourself involved-in the mix.