To sustain longevity in the fickle R&B game, legendary ‘90s crooner Keith Sweat has had to adapt to the times by becoming a jack-of-all-trades. Since beginning his reign atop the R&B singles charts in 1987 with his smash “I Want Her,” Sweat has added radio host (of the syndicated Clear Channel show “The Keith Sweat Hotel”), reality TV star (Centric’s “Platinum House”) and most recently, author (his new book Make It Last Forever: The Do’s and Don’ts hits shelves in early 2012) to his portfolio. But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten what got him here in the first place. Back in the booth for his second album in as many years (2010’s Ridin’ Solo debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard 200), Keith plans to stay in the lane he carved out for himself in his heyday.
“I’m just tryna do what I’ve been doin’ for a while,” says Sweat of his approach to creating new material and staying relevant. But on his new album, Til the Morning, which was released on Tuesday (November 8), he says fans should be ready for him to get his swerve on behind the wheel from time to time to update his sound.
“I didn’t want to take away from what I had, I just wanted to add to what I had,” he says of his sonic progression, which is on display on the album’s lead single, “Make You Say Ooh.” “When people buy this album they want to hear Keith Sweat. I got my loyal fanbase. And I’ve got people that I’m trying to attract, but at the end of the day I got to stay loyal to my fanbase who’ve been there for me through thick and thin for all these years.”
With their blessing, he steps out of his comfort zone on the new album. “I don’t think my core audience has a problem stepping out of my lane from time to time for a song as long as I know to come back (laughs).”
He balances new risks like his collaboration with T-Pain for “To the Middle” and SWV’s Coko on “My Valentine“ by including nostalgic returns to his glory days by bringing together his old supergroup LSG on “Knew It All Along“ with Johnny Gill and the late Gerald Levert.
“I wanted to do collaborations with people that I’ve never did before,” he says of his choice in collaborators. “I just wanted to keep it true and make a good R&B album.”
With each new release, Sweat is battling on the charts with the R&B artists that he influenced earlier his career. He holds no animosity for the new school, however.
“Just like a lot of people open doors for me I open doors for a lot of artists. I like a lot of what’s going on right now,” explains Sweat. “Trey [Songz], definitely Chris Brown and I’m a fan of KEM. I think there’s a lot of artists that came after me that I really respect and I really admire what they’re doing — For a while R&B was a little wack but they bringing it back to where it needs to be.”
The wackness of R&B may have driven Sweat, who penned many of his own hits, to venture into other worlds to test his writing skills. In his upcoming relationship-advice book, named after his debut album Make It Last Forever, Sweat will attempt to convey the same messages he’s sung for all these years as an author.
“It’s basically what you should do and shouldn’t do in a relationship in order to make it last forever,” he says of the premise. “So basically I’ve been writing songs about relationships since I came out. So now my whole thing is putting it in a book. What you should do in your relationship to make it last forever.”
His past as a songwriter gives him confidence in his new endeavor. “I’ve written the majority of all my songs that I’ve ever put out. So the book, you could call it a spin-off of the music I put out.”
As he explains, there are advantages to delivering a message through a book as opposed to a song. “You can go more in depth and in detail if you write a book. Writing a song you’ve only got five minutes.”
With a new album this year and his first book debuting next year, some may think Sweat is attempting a comeback of sorts. But he will be quick to explain that he doesn’t feel he ever left. “I don’t really think I bring nothin’ new to the game because I’m already established. I want to add to my legacy. As far as bringing something else to the game, I don’t think I need to do that at this point. I think I’ve already done that.”
Sweat's Til the Morning is currently being streamed over at CentricTV.com, check it out.
(Photo: Brad Barket/PictureGroup)