The 1990s opened the door to several R&B male groups, and it would be remiss if the trio Next wasn’t mentioned. The group consisting of RL, Tweet, and T-Low had a string of hits including “Too Close,” “Wifey,” and “Butta Love.”
After a lengthy hiatus, the group is back in the studio working on a new album titled Music 101. Next member RL is also pulling triple duty putting the finishing touches on his upcoming mixtape as well as writing for several other artists.
SoulTrain.com: What are you working on these days?
RL: I’m working on everything. I just did another record for Mindless Behavior, I’m working on stuff for Fantasia, and I’ll be submitting some stuff to send to Jennifer Hudson soon. I have a new mixtape that has 18 original records, and I’m working on that at the same time as the Next album which is called Music 101. I’m just working.
SoulTrain.com: What happened to Next? What have you guys been up to over the past few years?
RL: Well, we’ve been doing different things in the industry. Tweet was doing some acting, T-Low has been doing some managing for some acts that were signed to some labels, and I’ve just been writing. Next is still together, we’re working on a new album. Really, we just had to grow up, because we were really young when we started. So you get burned out, and especially when you’re young and you’re kind of shielded by management and things like that, but then you become an adult in this business and see how a lot of artists are being taken advantage of. We’re lucky enough to be living off the residuals–you know me and Tweet wrote “Too Close” as well as writing for a lot of other artists–and we were performing overseas, so this just afforded us the chance to take a break to really take the time to become men and be responsible. I didn’t sign my first check or balance a checkbook until I was 28 years old and I’m 35 now, so you have to learn to be a man.
SoulTrain.com: You mentioned going overseas to perform. What would you say is the biggest difference in performing there versus here in the United States?
RL: The appreciation of our craft is the difference. I was watching the Gerald Levert Unsung and Eddie Levert said that R&B has become the bastard of music, and there have been a lot of American artists trying to crossover, not even realizing that we made this. We are the ones that set the standard and we are the ones that made them crossover to us and call it crossing over. We have so many artists that are trying to be pop artists and singers that are going retro, which I respect, but we set the trends, we set what the hot music was. When you go overseas, they want to hear real singing, they know the album and really appreciate the music and singing, so it’s sad to say but the best performances happen overseas. These people don’t speak a lick of English but will know every word that you’re singing so they really appreciate it. With social media, people start to think they have access to artists, and believe everything they read. I really feel like the access they think they have to a lot of different ways to see the artist, and it gives them a false sense of knowing them. Overseas I think they really appreciate the artist because they aren’t privy to that.
Soul Train: Do you think the use of social media for artists helps or hurts their careers?
RL: I think that social media can be helpful in a lot of ways. A lot of artists can be a butthole or whatever, but it’s usually a team that shields [fans] from that and all you see is the positives from them. Just think if we had social media back when James Brown and people like that, the womanizing and stuff like that–all that stuff was hidden, but these days things are just different. Now with the power of the internet, everyone finds out about it all over the country. I think a lot of people don’t realize that some artists lack maturity and are still growing up. So of course they are going to be emotional and react to stuff that’s said, but because they are a kid, then we give the understanding and leeway for that. There are a lot of internet gangsters so they read stuff and form their opinions. I always scroll down and read the comments about things. I have read some of the most hurtful comments. I’ve read what some people have said about me, like about homosexuality. I think you love who you love, but I’m a straight man, and when people attack that, I’ll be sitting here wondering is this some chick that I boned in high school and she’s still mad at me and went on the internet to say some stuff (laughs). I really wish that people understood that you can find out who it is through an IP address. I wish there were rules on the internet where you can’t hide and spew all this hatred and negativity. I wish they had a way of tracking that the way they do terrorists because I think it’s almost like terrorism the way they attack a lot of artists. People don’t realize that words do hurt. So social media has really opened it up for the people that say a lot of hurtful, racist, things about people they really don’t even know who will read it.
SoulTrain.com: What do you think about artists going on reality shows to get their name out there or to push their music? Is that the best way to do it?
RL: That’s funny because they contacted us about doing Real Housewives of Atlanta because I, along with Peter Thomas, am an investor in Bar One. So, they contacted us also about doing Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, because we were managed by Mona a long time ago, so that relationship is there. There are some other individuals that are a little bit more prestigious that were in real relationships and were supposed to be on the show but they didn’t. So I was kind of glad that it didn’t work out, because that’s not the kind of persona I want to put out there. I have a 16 year old son, so I have to be mindful that he’s old enough to read, and the people he’s around are probably on the internet as well and are really influenced by what they see. I really respect Stevie J because it’s an act all the way. He’s a great father and has custody of his older son. Stevie J was taken advantage of in the beginning of his career because he made a lot of hits for a lot of artists, and he’s like a musical genius, so he’s had to dumb it down for the camera. I look at it like this: Anything you have to do to feed your family when you’re at the stage or level that Stevie J is, then so be it, you can’t take away his music and what’s he done. So why I say it doesn’t matter, is because he’s not trying to sell himself–he’s a producer, so he just has to sell his work to artists and labels, and they in turn sell it to the public. Someone like me, I’m an artist so it’s a little different. There’s nothing left to the imagination anymore, so the public starts to feel like they know you. Once they feel like they know you then they throw you away after awhile.
SoulTrain.com: What about K. Michelle, since she’s an artist on the show?
RL: You must be who you are at all times, whether you are a man or a woman, and I think it’s kind of turn off because she does all of that hollering and then turns around and says violence was done against her. Now I don’t condone violence of any kind done on anybody, male or female, but I also know that the man will go to jail if the woman is acting violent and he grabs her to restrain her, and then she ends up with bruises on her wrists. Now I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened. I do feel like K. Michelle’s storyline is victim. I was married before, cheated on. My wife cheated on me with a guy that I hung out with and had sung at his wedding reception. It was some deep stuff. I had to wake up and decide not to be a victim anymore. I think that K. Michelle will be successful when she decides to stop being a victim that just can’t be her story. Mary J. Blige went through that, but not every song she puts out is about that.
SoulTrain.com: What about when people say they want the Mary J. Blige that was in pain, because they can relate to her music?
RL: Then that says a lot about her fan base. Sometimes people don’t want to see you do well, and don’t want you to evolve. One of the biggest mistakes in my career is not realizing that not everybody is going to be happy for you. I’d go back to the hood, throwback jersey on, Benz truck, a gang of chains on. You know when your mama says you act like you ain’t used to nothing (laughs)? Well, I wasn’t! I’m thinking people are going to be happy for me, and they are thinking I’m trying to floss on them. I didn’t realize at the time that not everyone is going to be happy for you. A lot of people don’t want to hear you sing about happiness because they aren’t happy with their own lives. Instead of music uplifting and helping with their thought process, they’d rather drag you down and have you be miserable with them.
SoulTrain.com: Speaking of how you decided to not be a victim, because so many people live that victim storyline, what was the turning point for you to be able to say that?
RL: Actually, I just really wanted more for myself. I woke up one day–and this is what people don’t realize–I didn’t leave the industry because I just fell off. I was writing for other people, and I asked to be released from my deal. Next had already been released from the label, which was when we were immature and still needed to grow up. I asked to be released from my deal because after I got divorced, every time I went to the studio and each song I was writing was about love and I didn’t believe in it at the time and I felt like a hypocrite. So it took me looking at my ex, married with two kids, moving on with her life and I kept asking God, how is it that I did the right thing and got the wrong results and she did the wrong thing and got the right results? God does put you through things purposely because now I’m a better artist, a better man, and I changed my perspective. Imagine when a woman cheats on you, it’s an added embarrassment especially when you’re a man. A man only falls in love one or two times, and a woman can fall in love 20 times, because that’s the nurturing part of women. Men are conquerors, we have been taught to conquer by our fathers. What makes me a man is not how many women I can go to bed with, but what makes me a man is that I have one woman that I can take of, so there’s a difference. Sometimes it’s just a lesson that you’re going through to prepare you for bigger and better things.
SoulTrain.com: You have done interviews where you have mentioned having suicidal thoughts when you were younger. Can you elaborate on that and how you dealt with it?
RL: I tried to commit suicide my senior year in high school, but in my younger years I thought about it frequently. It’s an on-going battle and I’ve suffered from low self-esteem since I was about 5 years old.
Soul Train: How does the name Minnesota Nights tie into that period of your life?
RL: Minnesota Nights comes from, when I was thinking I’d just tour overseas or maybe go over to London and stay there forever, or just stay behind the scenes and write. My original dream that kept me alive and kept me going was seeing myself on stage singing my own records. Whenever I feel like I’m getting the big head or feeling myself I think back to those Minnesota Nights because it took everything in me not to take my life. I appreciate the good times and the bad times. I just remember walking into my parent’s room holding my grandfather’s picture with a gun in my mouth. They ended up putting me in a padded room. I got out of school that morning after taking finals, and was going to kill myself. Back then it wasn’t cool to want to be a vocalist; people wanted to be a rapper or a football player, so back then you couldn’t just go to a studio at someone’s house, you had to try to get up enough money to go to an actual studio to record. It was a lot harder, and to be honest my family wasn’t all that supportive at the time. My dad was all about books, and I had a full scholarship to college and he wanted me to be an engineer, but when I would go to school, they would question my manhood, talk about me behind my back and laugh at me wanting to be a singer. Then when I would get home there was no positive reinforcement about me being a good person, believing in myself and achieving my dreams. Basically music kept me alive.
SoulTrain.com: What lessons have you learned from being in the industry with Next that you are using in your career now?
RL: Just to enjoy it. A lot of the success we had before I don’t remember it all. I don’t really bask in past glories. If you come to my home, you wouldn’t know an artist lived here unless you were just downstairs with everything else, because music doesn’t define me; I define my music. So I’ve learned to really just enjoy it and step back and look at what I’m accomplishing at that moment.
Follow RL on Twitter at @JustRL and check out his website www.justrl.com.
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.