Take a little bit of gospel and add some soul with a side of hip-hop, and you have an Atlanta-based quartet that was the first R&B group to emerge from Bad Boy Records’ roster. If you guessed 112, then you guessed correctly; Daron, Mike, Q, and Slim took the music industry by storm in the mid 90s racking up multi-platinum records and several awards, including a Grammy.
After five albums the group declared “It’s Over Now” and parted ways, each pursuing their own path. Michael Keith, also known as Mike, was no different. He put his million dollar voice to work by releasing a self titled solo album in 2008, taking on the challenge of giving vocal lessons to aspiring singers, and writing an advice column.
It took several years, but now all four original members are back on stage, reunited for the For the Fans Tour, giving fans what they have been asking for. Mike says, “There is a need for the type of music that we have, and there was a demand for it from the fans, so we did it for the fans, hence the tour name.”
Soultrain.com caught up with the Grammy Award-winning opera-trained singer to discuss performing again as a four man band, the alleged “Bad Boy curse,” and a cause that’s near and dear to his heart.
Soul Train: Talk a little bit about the For the Fans Tour and how that’s going, because it seems like there are spot dates here and there. Why is that?
Michael Keith: Well, to be honest with you, we have a reputation to rebuild as far as the touring aspect of it. A lot of people were not sure if it was going to be Q, Mike, Slim, and Daron when we stepped on the stage. So now that it’s been established after these last few performances, shows are starting to come in now. We have several shows coming up.
Soul Train: Let’s backtrack. A couple of years ago, 112 was touring with you, Q, and Daron, then it dropped down to you and Q and another guy. Why the reunion now with all four original members? What made you guys say let’s do this for real this time, and is it for good this time around?
Michael Keith: I hope it’s for good! (laughs) Honestly, there’s no better group of guys that I like singing and performing with. I’m a fan of 112. In my humble opinion, there’s no other talented group of guys like Daron, Q, and Slim, and me, but I’m not going to toot my own horn. (laughs) We had the other guy, and just for the record, there was never a new member, never an additional member or anything like that. Kenny Wray and Raphael Howard were fans of 112, and they came in and to help with the movement and the brand for overseas purposes. At the time we were touring as a three member group, and then Daron decided to pursue his solo career. The European market had known us at the time for being a three man group, and we had to give them a three man performance, so we auditioned some people and Kenny started with us at first, then he had some opportunities come up and we understood that, so then Raphael came in. He’s a phenomenal singer, producer, and songwriter. They were never official members of the group. With regards to the tour and why we did it, it’s honestly because there is a need for the type of music that we have. There was a demand, and our tour manager/promoter Abraham reached out to us and made an offer that we couldn’t pass up. It’s one of those things that you feel it’s about to happen, but you don’t know what the catalyst was going to be. We just knew it was going to be some kind of movement regarding 112. We had been keeping tabs on each other, supporting each others’ projects via Twitter and friends of the family, because we do care about each other. This situation came up and everyone was willing participants. The other projects–that’s a good way to show that you’re talented in other ways, but in my opinion, nothing compares to being on the stage with these three other guys. We make magic, and that’s no disrespect to anyone’s solo projects. It’s nothing like being on the stage with them. We did it for the fans–hence the tour name For the Fans Tour–and we did it for ourselves. I think we just needed it to feel normal again, to feel like we were in our natural environment again; it was what we were born to do.
Soul Train: Now Mike, has that rumored “beefing” among the group members finally been buried and put to rest? Are y’all good to go?
Michael Keith: 112 is a family and with any family you’re going to have ups and downs. You’re going to have moments when you’re not speaking, or you’re going through some kind of issues, and eventually it will pass. So we have discussed things that will remain between us, because that’s family issues and things of that nature. We broke a lot of things down and put it on the table, and there are still some things that need to be ironed out. Everything is not perfect, and if I told you it was I’d be totally lying. We got to a point where respect superseded anything that we were emotionally still holding onto. We’re at that stage now; it’s all baby steps. This is real life and there are real life emotions that are taking place, so we have to be aware of everyone’s feelings and opinions. We are all grown men now. I think it actually works out better, because we know exactly what it is that we’re doing now. Our goal is the rebranding and re-establishing of 112 as a viable force in the music industry. So we’re good.
Soul Train: How do you respond to the “Diddy ruined 112′s career” statements that seem to come up every now and again, the alleged “Bad Boy Curse?”
Michael Keith: Well, we were successful after we left Bad Boy. That right there should let you know. We released two albums that were both successful. One went gold and the other went platinum, so I don’t know anything about a “Bad Boy Curse.” I’ve heard it just like everyone else. It’s erroneous and it’s just people wanting to talk. The thing with me as a grown man and life period, I never want to feel like someone else other than the man upstairs is ordering my steps. My destiny is my destiny. The fact remains that the way Puff’s life has evolved, that’s the way that God intended it to be. My path and what I’m doing right now is the way God intended it. I live under the mind frame no man can control what happens to me in that sense. Puff was very instrumental in our development–he’s a great producer, a great judge of character and vision and creativity, and we’re always grateful to him. You will never hear me bad mouth Puff about that because honestly, if there was anything that was wrong, in my opinion, we didn’t capitalize on the star potential that we had, be it out of ignorance or fear. That would be the reason I’d say, because after Part III we were on the cusp of being that super group like Boyz II Men or Jodeci and we didn’t take full advantage of that, and that had nothing to do with what Puff did or didn’t do. I can’t call it a “Bad Boy Curse” because Bad Boy was a blessing to us given by God, and I think people just like to characterize things and put it in a box without really looking at the full story. I’m still making money off the records that I wrote for Bad Boy, so what curse? I’m still touring, what curse? So those are my questions to people that say that about us. As long as we keep doing what we’re doing and as long as we’re getting paid for it, I don’t see how you can what we’re going through and what we’ve established and are creating a “curse.”
Soul Train: Other artists that have worked with Diddy have said something similar to that as well–that to outsiders/fans they assume certain things happened rather than just getting the full story.
Michael Keith: For some reason, we as a people just have the inability to be happy [for people] who are successful. That’s really the disturbing thing, and how about we call that the “curse?” It’s a sad fact that we can’t be happy for the next person; it’s just someone taking something and running with it because it sounds cool. I’m doing what God intended for me to do, and if you have a problem, go to the man upstairs and talk to Him about it.
Soul Train: You have also been doing some vocal coaching over the past couple of years. Are you still doing that?
Michael Keith: Yes, but I haven’t had the chance to do it in almost a year. It was really refreshing and fun to get back into that zone again. I really enjoyed watching kids develop vocally. One of my major gripes and concerns that I have now days is [that] music has been subjugated and pushed to the side, and more focus has been on the math and the reading which I have no problem with, but if you eliminate the creative aspect of it, then we won’t have a Mozart or Albert Einstein and these people thought in creative ways. If you take away creativity from a child, it will never blossom in a natural progression. So what I see is a lack of understanding of how incumbent creativity in the music aspect or art or whatever the case may be, how important it is to have it in the schools. I’m doing everything that I can and reaching out to a lot of non-profit organizations to see if this is something that can be groundbreaking, by perhaps putting more instruments into the schools or something. I’m adamant about music being put back into the schools’ core curriculum, so that kids can say well I may not make it in the music industry, but at least I had some music in my system to get it out, or this allowed me to be creative. So the vocal coaching is just my way of doing that and re-establishing the generational gap of what it takes to be a musician. Slowly but surely, I’m getting my message across that if you want to be in the music industry, you need to have some background and start with a foundation. You can’t go out there and start belting out strong notes; you have to know how to maintain a healthy vocal practice and techniques without going through the basics.
Soul Train: What’s your favorite Soul Train memory?
Michael Keith: The first time that we performed on Soul Train, we were not aware that there would be lip synching. So we actually got into an argument, like “man, we have to get these vocals right,” before we jump on stage. We were sitting there going back and forth over whose note was what and then this dude that was working behind the scenes was like “uh, y’all know ya’ll lip synching right?” That just took the air right out of our balloon. So we got on stage like oh okay. So this dude had to be working in craft services or something. He knew that we was over there arguing he could’ve came over there sooner! (laughs) So we were arguing for like 5 or 10 minutes before he said a word, but we had a good laugh about it, and went on the stage and had a good time.
The only thing that I regret about Soul Train is that we never won a Soul Train Music Award and um, you know always the bridesmaid, never the bride! (laughs) It still hurts a little bit, but it can still happen, maybe we can get that lifetime achievement award now that our asses are old.
Soul Train: That’s the way to be positive! (laughs) How did you get involved with the Lupus Foundation?
Michael Keith: I am in the process of establishing a relationship with the Lupus Foundation because my mother has lupus. She has been living with lupus for the last nine years. I wasn’t aware of what the disease was and how it can change a family. She’s doing well, she carries on as if there is nothing wrong, which is the good side of it. There’s also the dark side of it that people aren’t aware of. My goal is to establish more awareness of Lupus, because so many people are suffering from it. I am working with the organization in Georgia to establish awareness, and trying to expand to others so we can raise money and find a cure. Lupus is incurable now, but I’m confident over time we can find a cure or at least a better quality of life for those suffering from it. I would just like for people reach out to your local foundation and if you can donate, do so, give some time. This is one of the ones that gets a lot of notice, but it’s just as debilitating as other diseases. This was something that really touched home and is near and dear to my heart.
Follow Michael Keith on Twitter @MichaelKeith112 and keep up with 112 on Twitter at @Official112.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.