In a span of 20 years, Brian McKnight has sold over 20 million albums worldwide, has earned 16 Grammy Award nominations and has had countless hits. McKnight– who has made countless tunes like “Back At One,” “Anytime” and “The Only One For Me” — is ready to release more timeless music. On Jan. 26, 2016, he will release his 13th studio album Better, which includes lead single “Uh Oh Feeling.”
On his new album, the R&B veteran plans to take it back to the basics with “completely organic, all real instruments and zero auto tune.”
Rated R&B recently caught up with Brian McKnight where he candidly spoke about finding new love, his new album Better, his feelings on never winning a Grammy and his thoughts on today’s R&B music.
RATED R&B: Tell us about Better. What inspired this album?
BRIAN MCKNIGHT: Basically, whatever is happening in my life at the time tends to be the fuel for what I’m writing about. For the last two years, I’ve been in the greatest relationship in my life. It’s the last relationship in my life — the last I’ll ever have [laughs]. It’s funny because I’ve been writing about love my entire life. This is the first time I’ve ever been optimistic about life and love in general. I think it shows in the writing and everything that’s happening. It seems like when everything in your life is going right, it just permeates everything else around you — your career, your home life, your health. Everything seems to be so perfect.
RATED R&B: We saw you post about a song called “Like I Do” on your Instagram. Tell us about it.
BRIAN MCKNIGHT: “Like I Do” is the only song on the album that I think people will be like, “here’s that walk-down-the-aisle, typical Brian McKnight love song.”
RATED R&B: How do you feel about the direction of today’s R&B music?
BRIAN MCKNIGHT: I don’t think — even for myself — that we have done the genre justice. When I think of R&B, I’m thinking of The Temptations, The Four Tops, James Brown — which is not the kind of music I ever created but we’ve never called it something else. So when my generation came along or the generation before me, we’ve never had to compartmentalize it. We just threw everything in one bag. Even when I started making music, I don’t remember people saying “this is R&B” or “this is that.” When I was a kid, you’d hear black acts right next to white acts. It was just music. Somewhere along the way, people felt the need to compartmentalize it and I don’t think there is classic R&B anymore.
These kids who are making music now are making their own music. You can’t say that it’s what we did in the 90’s. You can’t say it was done in the 80’s. It’s not the same. For us to compare it to that is really unfair to the people who are making music now. These kids are doing what they know best because technology has allowed them to make the music they’re making today.
RATED R&B: After being in the industry for over 20 years, what do you believe has been the key to your longevity?
BRIAN MCKNIGHT: I think the key was being fortunate enough to have come out with my first album when I did because I’m not necessarily selling records now. I’m still selling the nostalgia for people who still remember when those first three albums came out. Those fans who had started with me are still with me and they’ve had their kids listen to me. Now those kids’ kids are listening to me [laughs].
RATED R&B: How does Better compare with your previous albums?
BRIAN MCKNIGHT: Musically, I think it’s the most advanced I’ve ever made. I liken it to my very first album. I don’t know how it compares as far as hits go because it’s just hard to ascertain it [laughs]. To me, it’s the best writing I’ve ever done. After you have a record like Back At One, it’s very difficult to compare anything to that [laughs].
RATED R&B: Does it bother you that you haven’t won a Grammy, despite being nominated 16 times?
BRIAN MCKNIGHT: It doesn’t bother me because I know how you get one. These awards, for the most part, are industry awards. Industry awards are popularity contests within the industry. It’s a great thing to have when you say “Grammy Award winner” but at the same time, I don’t make records for awards. The ones I made them for were the platinum records on the wall. I’ve got lots of those. My brother has ten of them and it’s a great thing when you see them sitting there at his house [laughs]. When people come up to me and they say, “Man. Your song got me through this so we used your song in our wedding…or it helped me get through this illness.” That’s better than any award I could ever receive.
RATED R&B: If you could become better at one thing, what would it be?
BRIAN MCKNIGHT: Oh, wow! No one has ever asked me that question. I think I’d have a better outlook for everything. I tend to lean on the side of pessimism and I wish I could be more optimistic. I wish I could be better at taking things for what they are — not analyzing them — but just going about my life.
Pre-order Brian McKnight’s upcoming album, Better, on iTunes.