INTERVIEW: Brian McKnight Dishes On Finding Love, ‘Better’ Album & Never Winning A Grammy

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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.

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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.

Keithan is the founder/editor-in-chief of Rated R&B

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Interview: Tiara Thomas Talks ‘FWMM’ EP and Working with H.E.R.

Around this time five years ago, Tiara Thomas could be heard on the hook of Wale’s single “Bad.” The melodic track, which peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, would become Thomas’ stepping stone into the mainstream world. Although her past success with “Bad” is part of her foundation, it doesn’t necessarily define who she is as an artist today.

Thomas has spent the last few years building up her fan base with her own music. Last year, she released an acoustic-driven EP titled Don’t Mention My Name and went on an international tour with rising star H.E.R. She followed-up last month with another EP called FWMM (Fucking With My Mind).

Rated R&B caught up with Thomas to chat about her FWMM, working with H.E.R. and her headlining tour.

Check out our interview with Tiara Thomas below.

What were you thinking about when you created FWMM?

I live in my own head a lot. Sometimes I feel like — not in a crazy bitch way — but it’s like the world in my head is the reality and the outside is not reality. So I just talked about a lot of things on this project like relationships, sex, self-discovery and my journey… it’s a collection of these things that are fucking with my mind.

Do you think by being in your own mind, you kind of get in your own way sometimes?

I definitely think so but in my music I’m not necessarily giving you the solution. Sometimes I’m just telling you the story, like, “Yo, this is how I feel and this is what happened.” Everybody gets in their own mind and their own way. Sometimes all you got is your own head, your own boss, you know? Sometimes I love it, even if it’s bad. I don’t know. I can’t explain that. I guess it’s like, for instance, I’ve been in bad relationships before — like, bad ass relationships — and when I got out of them, it hurt really bad but I always know I’m going to be okay. That’s something that I learned about my life. Some people would be like, “I’m going to hang out with my girls,” “I’m going to go party” or “I’m going to go fuck some random person” but I’d rather almost think about it for a little bit. It’s inspiring to me. That sounds bad but it’s true [laughs].

Your FWMM EP and your Don’t Mention My Name EP have a similar cover art. How are these projects connected?

Well, I think these projects go together content wise. It’s all like a statement. On Don’t Mention My Name, I’m talking about people I used to date or fuck around with. Fucking With My Mind is another statement. Maybe the next project cover art may be the front of my face, using the same artist, and another statement. I kind of like that theme. I like that image. I thought it was dope.

You have a few EPs under your belt now. When will you be ready for an album?

I really want to get the best of out an album. I feel the only way to do that, I have to almost build my fan base back up. I don’t want to hurry and drop an album when I don’t feel like it could be at its full potential. I’d rather keep building up my base, keep bringing awareness to the Tiara Thomas brand. I’m going to put out one more EP and hopefully an album after that.

Speaking of building up your fan base, one way you’ve been doing that is through touring. You just wrapped up your tour with H.E.R. What was that experience like?

It was so fun! It was the first time I left the country. Up until a month ago, I never left the country (besides Canada). That shit was tight. I remember the first night, I was in bed in my hotel in Manchester and I was just thinking like, “Damn I’m so far away from home.” I feel blessed to have been able to go out there with her. A lot of the shows were sold out and also I felt like I’ve been getting a lot better as a performer. I like being on the road. I’m trying to be on the road for the rest of the year.

retired my pants after wearing them for 2 weeks, we had a good run

A post shared by Tiara Thomas♕ (@tiara_thomas) on

You apparently had to retire an outfit on tour after two weeks?

Yes, it was longer than two weeks. I bought these pants at Urban Outfitters and, oh my gosh, they’re so fly. I wore them on the last day of tour. They were comfortable. I like to be comfy and I was like, “I’m not taking these pants off. People spend money on clothes, wear them once and don’t wear them no more.” I wore the pants for about three and a half weeks. I literally took them off to wash them a few times.I ended up going home to Indianapolis after tour and I wore the pants the whole time I was at home. My mom and dad were like, “Yo take those pants off.” I wore them to church when I was at home. I wore them to my grandma’s house. I wore them for my New Year’s show with H.E.R. I wore them for a while. Yeah, so they’re retired.

Speaking of H.E.R., you co-wrote “Avenue” on her project. What was that process like working on that song?

H.E.R. is like my little sis. I’ve known her for literally years. I’ve always had a working relationship with her. I have a couple songs with her. When she’s in LA and needs help in the studio, she’s like, “Yo T.” I just went to the studio that day — I remember I was in an extremely bad mood. Mother Nature got me that day. I was just pissed. I didn’t want to go in the studio, not because I didn’t want to work with her, but because I was just cranky as fuck. I went in there and they were playing a beat. I was just like, “Just turned down your avenue. I had to but I’m mad at you. You always say I gotta attitude.” She was like, “That’s tight.” I was like, “Go lay that down.” Sometimes I will get lucky in the studio and some things will come right to me immediately. That’s what happened with “Avenue.” I just started freestyling the song off the top of my head and then write the rest of it obviously. The first initial idea was that melody and those words and we just built based off of that. I think that was one of the last songs to make it to her Vol. 2 EP.

Are you writing for any other artists?

Sometimes I have songs that I be wanting to use but I realize that they don’t necessarily fit my sound so I’ll try to get it off on somebody else but I want to. I’d like to. I would honestly like to write some pop songs because that’s where the money at. I had a song that I was really excited about for Rihanna’s last album. It almost made it onto her album. I was so close but I’d definitely like to get one with Rihanna because I know what type of music she likes.

With your headlining tour getting ready to start. What’s one song you’re most excited about performing?

I think from my new project “Retro 1” because that seems to be a song that a lot of people like and it’s real vibey on stage. I’m excited to do some older stuff too because I know when people discover my EP they’re going to be able to go back and look at other projects too. I got some good tunes on my EP Up in Smoke. There’s a song called “Mary Jane” that’s really fun. “Bad” is always a fun song to do.

Anything from your Dear Sallie Mae EP?

I don’t know. We’ll see. Dear Sallie Mae is probably my least favorite project that I put out because I was with Interscope and I kind of — you know, label things. You can definitely tell the difference between the music I made when I was signed to a label and the music from when I was not signed to a label. Let that speak for itself.

Follow Tiara Thomas on Instagram at @Tiara_Thomas

How Pleasure P Found Strength Through Pain

It’s nearly impossible to talk about Pretty Ricky without mentioning Pleasure P. As the only vocalist, he naturally stood out with his alluring voice that brought a grown and sexy feel to the provocative R&B/hip-hop group’s sound. The Miami-based group made an impressive debut in 2005, scoring two Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 — “Grind on Me” (No. 7) and “Your Body” (No. 12) — from their gold-selling debut album, Bluestars.

The group saw even more success with their sophomore album, Late Night Special, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2007. The LP featured their top 20 hit “On the Hotline” (No. 12), which was certified platinum just five months after its release. The mid-tempo track, which samples The Isley Brothers’ hit “Between the Sheets,” also peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Ringtones chart — yes, back when people actually purchased ringtones for their phones. Whew, what a time!

Despite all the success Pretty Ricky was having at the time, there were issues behind the scenes, which resulted in Pleasure P exiting the group. In a later interview with VladTV, he explained he left the group because Joseph “Blue” Smith, head of Bluestar Entertainment, allegedly stole millions of dollars from the group. “He was controlling,” Pleasure P said in a 2015 interview. “He stole everybody’s money including his own son’s money. And I just wasn’t happy there.”

Pleasure P’s abrupt exit was certainly a gamble at the time but it ended up working out his favor — well, sort of. His debut album The Introduction of Marcus Cooper (2009) debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It earned him three Grammy nominations, including Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (“Under”) and Best R&B Song (“Under”).

Pleasure P’s winning train began to derail in late 2009 when he was hit with child molestation allegations, which he tells Rated R&B are “one-hundred percent false.” He adds,“The reason why I haven’t released an album since 2009 [is because of a] child molestation rumor put out by some people who I know who was just jealous of me because I was number one. I lost everything.”

In 2012, he attempted to rebrand by using his birth name as his stage name (Marcus Cooper) and put his past behind him. He signed with Swagga Entertainment/eOne Music where he released — what was supposed to be —  a comeback single called “I Love Girls” featuring Tyga, who was in his prime with hits like “Rack City” and “Faded.” The two met while on tour. “We had a cool relationship,” Pleasure P says. “He was in the “Boyfriend #2” video when he wasn’t shit, you know what I’m saying?”

Pleasure P adds, “[Tyga] told me to put out the record, so I told my label to put out the record since he was on board. My record label put out the record and serviced it to radio. They spent some money on radio. It’s time to do the video, Tyga says he can’t do the video.” Pleasure P says Tyga’s excuse for not being able to do the video was because he had just “did a song with Chris [Brown].” However, he believes it was another reason why Tyga backed out. “It was really because of the rumors,” he speculates. “I understand why, but I don’t at the same time because if somebody tells you something about somebody and you don’t talk to them personally and they’re supposed to be your friend, I look at that totally different. He put me in a fucked up situation with my label and the album never came out.”

Over the years, Pleasure P has released one-off singles and a mixtape — but nothing more than that. Now, he is ready to make an even stronger comeback. In March, he released “‘You Changed” as the lead single from his upcoming album that is slated to drop later this year.

In our interview with Pleasure P, the singer opens up about his trials and tribulations, his upcoming album, reuniting with Pretty Ricky and more.

What’s the story behind your new single “You Changed”?

Tank and J. Valentine flew to Miami to see me because I recently did a show with Tank and I was like, “We gotta get back in [the studio]” because Tank is responsible for “Under” and “Gotta Have You” from The Introduction of Marcus Cooper album. He flies in and he listens to every record. I didn’t play him “You Changed” first. I played the songs I thought would be the single. When he heard “You Changed,” he was like, “That’s the one and I’m gonna tell you why.” The reason why he said that is because it’s very emotional and it’s something that I went through personally. I thought about it. I was like, “Anybody can make a typical bedroom song but this song is very personal because this is stuff I actually went through.”

What happened in your personal life that inspired the song?

When I was in a relationship, I was on the giving end and she was on the receiving end. It was just a one-sided relationship. After a while, it was like — I had to get the fuck out this relationship because this person isn’t going to change based on how she was raised.

Do you have a title for your new album?

Yes, it’s called Pain.

Are you still in pain from the past?

I’m restored now. This is just shit I’m getting out. I think I’ll be fully restored when I’m back to where I should be in terms of the R&B world. It was taken away from me on some fuck-shit because people were jealous of me because I was winning at the time and they weren’t winning. I feel like I deserve my spot because I’ve always delivered good music and to this day what am I doing? You’ve heard “You Changed.” I’m giving them fucking good music. I don’t sound like anybody. Ain’t nobody going to mistake me for sounding like anybody. [Some people may say], “Oh he kinda whiny. He this, he that.” That’s my style. That’s what took me to the Grammys. I don’t got to be a churchy singer and do all these runs. I didn’t grow up in the church. I express myself the way I know how.

With everything you’ve experienced in the past, do you find it hard to open up or allow people to get close to you?

No, I don’t because I actually got a sixth sense for the bullshit. Once I see the ways of a person, I can tell if they’re good or bad. I rather have a person around me that I know what they’re trying to do versus a person I don’t know what they’re trying to do. If I know you’re a thief, I know not to leave my money around you. Everybody has their ways, it’s just balancing your life out with knowing how to deal with each individual.

It’s been nine years since your debut album, do you feel any pressure to live up to the success of it?

If you look at nine years ago and what I’ve been through, of course, I don’t feel any pressure because I’m so much better. I’m wiser. I sing better. I hear music better.

 

Are there any collabs on the album?

The only feature I have on the album as of now is Flo Rida. That’s like my best friend in the whole wide world. The reason why I don’t rely on features too tough is because of the Tyga situation and another artist who did the same thing to me — didn’t shoot the video with the second label. When you look at the Introduction to Marcus Cooper album, the only person featured is Yung Joc. I know he’s a good performer, rapper and a good guy. I’ve been to his house he’s been to my house. He’s not going to stand me up for some video or some Hollywood shit.

A Pretty Ricky reunion album has been teased for a few years but we haven’t heard many details surrounding it. What’s the status of that project?

The Pretty Ricky album is done. We haven’t put it out yet because we’re doing a “Scream Reunion Tour” for everybody who was on the “Scream Tour.” We’re going to do it in July. We’re going to put the final Pretty Ricky album out around the tour.

What was your experience working on that project with the other guys from Pretty Ricky?

We’re all grown now and we put a lot of personal shit to the side. Rico Love is executive producing it. I would do my part and call whoever in to do their part. It’s just kind of been like that. Spectacular is in LA now and he has a social media marketing company that monetizes Facebook and different things like that. With him being busy with his business and I’m busy doing my album and working on other people’s shit and building my new label, it’s kind of hard for all of us to be in the same room together.

Who are some newer artists you’re checking out or surprised you’re listening to?

I be in the studio so much that I don’t really realize what’s going on [Laughs]. I listen to Kodak Black, Migos, Khalid and 6LACK. Tank was putting me on H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar.

Follow Pleasure P on Instagram @PleasureP

Exclusive: Justine Skye Sheds Lights on ‘Ultraviolet’

Justine Skye has spent the last few years developing her sound and is now ready to take over. In January, the Brooklyn native finally released her long-awaited debut album, Ultraviolet. The album follows Skye’s three EPs Everyday Living (2013), Emotionally Unavailable (2015) and 8 Ounces (2016).

The process of creating Ultraviolet wasn’t that smooth. Skye ran into some creative roadblocks, which resulted in her completely scrapping the project and going back to the drawing board. “I wanted to make sure it was perfect,” she explains to Rated R&B. “I wanted to make sure it was true to who I am and that I could tell the story.”

The album includes production by Hit-Boy, Austin Powerz, Frank Dukes, Fred Ball and Jeff Shum; guest features include Jeremih (“Back for More”) and Wizkid (“U Don’t Know”).

Despite all the pressure that comes with an artist releasing his or her first album, Skye tries not to let it get the best of her.

“It’s not about all of the opinions and what everyone else is thinking, saying, telling me what I should do,” she says. “It’s really about how I feel and what I’m happy with. It’s really not about how many records you sell. It’s about how many people you reach and how many people actually feeling what you’re saying.”

Rated R&B caught up with Skye at her Ultraviolet Tour stop in Washington, D.C. In our interview, she talks about her debut album Ultraviolet, her evolution as an artist, her role in the upcoming film Green Dolphin and living stress-free. She even reveals a dish that has her “Back for More” and something “U Don’t Know” about her.

Watch the full interview below.

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