Singer-songwriter R.L. has been in the music industry since the mid 90’s. The Minnesota native is mostly known for being the lead vocalist of R&B group Next. R.L. along with group members Tweet and T-Low are responsible for R&B classics such as “Too Close,” “Butta Love,” “I Still Love You,” and “Wifey.”
Within 15 years, Next has released three studio albums. Additionally, RL has released a solo album and a couple of mixtapes. Although it’s been a few years since R.L.’s last release, the R&B veteran has been quite busy. He has written for other artists, working on his new sophomore solo album, touring, and working on Next’s new album.
Keithan of Rated R&B recently had the chance to talk with R.L. During their interview, R.L. reminisced about Next’s debut album, Next’s forthcoming Music 101 album, his upcoming mixtape and album, and his thoughts on today’s R&B music.
Keithan: The 15th anniversary of Next’s debut album, “Rated Next,” is coming up. What’s one of your fondest memories of recording the album?
RL: Probably just the innocence of not really knowing about the politics in the industry and just being about music. We didn’t care about who produced what. We didn’t care about who was featured on a record. We looked at it like a big opportunity and we were going to work our butts off to try to make it successful.
Keithan: Cool. So, what’s one of your favorite records off the album?
RL: You know what, it’s funny because I’m so deep into engineering and the music side that it’s hard for me to listen because I don’t like how I sound because I sound immature with the vocals. I do love like “Cozy” …the interlude for “Cozy.” I wrote the majority of the album and I was a kid and just being able to hear records completed. I don’t like the mixes on the album. I don’t like the vocals because I wasn’t mature. I was just happy to be in the studio.
Keithan: What came first, singing or songwriting?
RL: It was honestly rapping that came first. I was a rapper. I had an option to leave the group and pursue that but I really wanted to sing. I felt like it was my call…
Keithan: I’ve heard you and the other guys in Next are working on a new album titled Music 101. Can you tell us more about it?
RL: It’s just going back to the basics. We call it Music 101 because we feel like we are taking everybody to school. It’s time to go back to class, go back to the basics. It’s going to be us evolving as artists, but it is going to be what we’re used to.
Keithan: Speaking of school, if you could go back in time to give yourself one piece of advice or teach yourself a lesson, what would it be?
RL: Two things: I actually realized that I’ve always — in my young life — have searched for validation from people. I would just find the inner confidence to myself to know that I have what it takes. I think that’s the one big mistake I had. The second one would be, I was naïve enough to think everybody was going to be happy for me. So I’m sure that I came off pompous and braggadocious when I was really just trying to show people like ‘look I did it, you can do it.’ Tthe reality is not everybody will be happy for you so….
Keithan: Those are good lessons. Let’s talk about your new music as a solo artist. I hear you’re working on a new mixtape and an album.
RL: The album is called Minnesota Nights and the mixtape is called The Life. I wanted to do a mixtape because I really wanted to give something back to the fans — something free because I’ve been gone for a while. I want them to see that I’m really here. It’s really going to be like an album. We actually have to cut it down because it’s so many records. I actually did like 25 for the mixtape. All I do is wake up, go to the gym, come home, take a shower, and go to work. I call it a mixtape because I’m giving it away for free but it’s really an LP. I think people don’t realize all the things that I have written for other people and I’ve been here…I want to show them what I make is still relevant…
Keithan: You’ve written for artists like Luther Vandross, Jaheim, Jamie Foxx. Who have you recently worked with?
RL: I did Mindless Behavior’s last record “Valentines Girl,” and I either have the first single or the second single of their new album coming out. I’m always working. That’s like my love. I always want to be able to just do music. I continuously just write and record. I have a new girls group that I’m working on. It’s not much to say about it but it’s something new I’m working on.
Keithan: As a songwriter and artist, how do you decide what songs you keep for yourself or want to give to another artist?
RL: I always just put records together from whatever thoughts are in my head that day. I always try to make relatable music. I learned a long time ago from family members – my cousin is Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind, and Fire – I’ve always tried to make music that was relative enough to be hip but the subject matter was timeless. Take a record like “Two Close”– talking about being aroused on the dance floor. I’m sure that’s been happening since people have been dancing. Even with the kids, when I make records for [Mindless Behavior], I just try to relate to them on their level and figure out what they’re going through, what they’re thinking… and just try to write records that are fly and hip that they can grow into. I think that real writers have to be in a sense A&R’s because you have to be on the pulse of music.
Keithan: That’s an interesting way of putting it. So how do you feel about songwriters who try to transition into being an artist?
RL: I think they’re oversaturating the market but who can you tell not to live out their dreams. For a while, I felt a certain way about it because I don’t think that vocally they should be doing it…If the radio is going to be playing these records, why wouldn’t they? I look at people like Diane Warren whose one of the most prolific songwriters – ever. She’s never tried to make an album because she knows her lane. I think many times we’re so concerned with fame and being noticed.
Keithan: Moving on, Since you’re considered to be an R&B veteran, what are your thoughts about the newer R&B acts and the direction they’re taking R&B music?
RL: These are pop artists out now. We used to make the trends and they used to follow us. Now, we’re trying to crossover when really that’s not how it works. It used to be us doing records and that’s what became popular. Now, you can honestly tell me the hottest R&B album out right now is by Justin Bieber? I think a lot of these artists are losing their fan base because they’re coming out with music that isn’t relative with what they came out before…
Keithan: Okay. Who are some of the new artists that you think are dope?
RL: I’ve always thought Chris [Brown] was dope. I think he needs to stop cursing and trying to rap [but] he’s young and he’s living his life. I think he’s one of the most talented. He writes, his performances are crazy, I’m a fan of Chris. I like the swag of Trey Songz — it’s not about his vocals, [just] the way he delivers his stuff… I love tank. I think he’s underrated. J. Moss is probably one of my big favorites. I love gospel music. That’s pretty much about it.
Keithan: Is there anything else you want to add?
RL: I really appreciate you taking the time to interview me because I want to be heard – everybody does. That’s any artist’s dream. I just want to say that I can appreciate you on a different level because a lot of people take that for granted…I’m just one person. My opinion is just my opinion. But because I’m and artist, and with you giving me the opportunity, people are going to hear it. People are going to read it. That’s a blessing. I’m humbled and I appreciate it. It means a lot.
Keithan: Any time. Thank you for taking the time out your schedule to do this interview. I really appreciate it!
Stay in touch with R.L. by following him on Twitter @JustRL and by visiting his blog at http://justrl.com