In the mile-a-minute entertainment world of 2012, dominated by overnight YouTube stars, nonstop Twitter feeds and fleeting reality-show buzz, longevity is an increasingly rare commodity. It's hard enough to stick around for 15 minutes of fame, let alone 15 years. But Eric Benét has done just that. With his upcoming album, The One, the soul singer will mark his seventh album and more than two decades in the ever tumultuous music business. Furthermore, after 16 years under the Warner Bros. fold, the album will be Benét's first under Jordan House Records, the new label he launched last year in a joint venture with EMI. Though Benét had been relatively quiet since 2010's Lost in Time — dealing with his label transition and welcoming his second daughter, Lucia Bella, last December — the buzz for The One is growing rapidly. "Real Love," the album's first single, as well as its touching video are still building steam, and Benét also made a stirring appearance in an all-star musical tribute to Trayvon Martin helmed by Chaka Khan. And that's all before news leaked that he's got a duet with none other than Lil Wayne. Here, BET.com caught up with Benét on his new album, his new label, working with Weezy and much more.
BET.com: “Real Love” has a real classic, live R&B sound that stands out in a world of drum machines and Auto-tune. Why did you go in that direction?
Eric Benét: When I listen to R&B and pop music, one thing that seems to be lacking is the authenticity of musicianship. There’s artists out there that are holding the torch for that Chaka Khan, Earth Wind & Fire, Donny Hathaway greatness, but there’s not enough of it. I felt like there was a need for the song “Real Love” and this album ’cause it’s all about that. A very important part of the craftsmanship of making music is musicians.
Why did you decide to call this album The One?
I dreamed, wished, hoped and prayed to a) have my own record label, and b) to release my music on that label, and this is finally the one. I feel like I’m at the peak of my game creatively, musically, vocally, and it’s all just pouring out on this project. If you’ve ever been a peripheral Eric Benét fan, you like this song or that song but you never really got one of my records, this is the one you gotta get. Being the owner of the label, I’m doing things I wasn’t really able to do before. I didn’t have the freedom to be like, I want to do a reggae song, I want to do a country song, I want to do a classical song — and that’s all on this album. I had to put on my record exec hat on and be like I can’t go all over the place, but the core of the album is a better version of what people have come to know and love from me. I wanted to do whatever I wanted to do, but when I listen to it, it all came together and is cohesive. When I was an artist on Warner, they said you have creative control, but really if someone else can push the green light or not for an album to come out, you really don’t have the control. That album may never see the light of day. Now, it’s all on me.
Is that lack of creative control the reason you left Warner Bros. and started your own label?
Warner Bros has always been, like many record labels, every few years there’s a new regime that come in, and there’s this process, like, “Okay, we’ll get rid of most of the artists, we’re gonna fire half the staff at the label.” And there’s all these new people that come in. I’m grateful that I wasn’t on the chopping block these past 16 years, which was pretty amazing when I think about it, but there was this three-year cycle where all these new people are like, “Let’s figure out who Eric Benét is and what’s up with his project?” It was this process of constant re-getting to know me, and me feeling like the investment in my artistry was never really completely there. So graciously — I’m extremely grateful — they let me go, and things are different now. I’m in charge of the ship but at the same time that means I gotta write the checks, which is a responsibility I welcome but it adds a whole other challenge. But I much prefer this challenge than being at the whim of someone’s commitment or lack thereof. I’m ready.
People are going to be surprised — and excited — by that fact that The One includes a song with Lil Wayne. How did that come about?
I probably shouldn’t tell you this — it would be a better story if I told you I went to Miami and we smoked and drunk and hung out — but we haven’t even met, to be honest. It was just a matter of me reaching out to him. It was a shot in the dark. I thought he probably wouldn’t do it, that I wouldn’t be able to afford it — you know, I write all the checks now. But I was like, hey, let me ask. I got a number and sent a text out to him ’cause I heard he was a fan of my music. But I didn’t hear back. A few days later I sent another text and still didn’t hear back. But then a day later, I just got a text out of the blue: “I’ll send you something tonight.” He sent me a track with his verse on it and it was crazy. I was just trying to have a conversation about working together when I reached out to him, but he just did it, and it was absolutely amazing. But I have to tell, the collaboration I’m most excited about is the duet with my daughter. She’s an incredible singer and songwriter herself. She’s 20, her name is India, and I’m as proud as a father has ever been.
You recently linked up Chaka Khan, Kenny Latimore, Kelly Price, X Factor finalist Stacy Francis, actors Terry Crews, Angela Bassett and others to re-record Khan's "Super Life" as a tribute to Trayvon Martin. What was that experience like?
It was a very spontaneous thing. I got a call from Boris [Kodjoe]: “Can you come down here? We need you.” I was so honored to be a part of this thing. It’s such a painfully, hatefully ignorant and horrific thing that happened, and the only way to counteract that kind of ignorance and hatred and pain is to counteract it with love. And that’s what this whole project was about: People just lovingly coming together to use their voice to speak against this.
How have you managed to stay in the game so long, through so many different sounds, styles and music industry upheavals?
I made a decision a really long time ago, before I was even signed. My sister and I, my sister Lisa, we did an album — we were to signed to EMI as a brother-sister duo in 1992. We put a whole lot of effort and creative energy into the project but then the record label just decided to drop us. We had some creative input on the project, but it wasn’t completely what we wanted our creative statement to be. When that happened, I made a decision that if I ever get a shot to get another record deal, I’m gonna really fight to stay true to the passion of music that made me even want to be a recording artist in the first place. I called my first solo album True to Myself for that reason. From then on, I made a decision to not just be a leaf in the wind of the whim of the record label. Every time I go into the studio I’m trying to make as pure a creative statement as I can, as opposed to what I call chasing radio, which is when you’re like, What producer is hot right now? What drums sounds are hot right now? What keyboards are hot right now? I want to make sure my music gives me the same goose bumps as when I listen to Earth Wind and Fire, or Stevie [Wonder’s] Fulfillingness’ First Finale, or Steely Dan or Queen’s A Night at the Opera.
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