Former Next front man Robert “RL” Lavelle sees his new album 5:15 as a rebirth of sorts. Over a decade after topping the Billboard charts with hits “Too Close” and “Wifey,” the feather-voiced singer is plotting a comeback as a solo artist. “I went into this project as if I’ve never been here before,” RL said. After sharpening his skills as a songwriter, writing for Mindless Behavior, Usher and more, and watching the game change, he’s returning as an evolved artist who’s as hungry as ever. Following the release of his new single “Boo’d Up,” BET.com spoke with the Atlanta-based crooner about his work ethic, the goal of his comeback and the possibility of a new Next album in the near future.
BET.com: The R&B game has changed since we last saw you with Next, who do you see as your competition today?
RL: Well, I don’t see anybody as my competition. I look at everybody as peers. I think that because I’ve been in the game so long, I kind of view it differently. I’m a fan of everybody because I know the hard work that it takes to get here. Even cats that I’m not a fan of vocally or production wise, I still have to give ‘em a certain amount of respect after all these years of knowing what it really takes to even be heard. As far as the state of R&B, I feel like nowadays we’re forgetting who we are, how powerful we are. That we set the trends; that we’re the ones that are the tastemakers. I see that a lot of artists nowadays are trying to find themselves and reinvent themselves instead of just slowly evolving. You can’t alienate your fanbase like that. But for someone like me, that just leaves my lane open. I feel like there’s not a lot of soul right now in the music… I feel like my lane is open and I’m happy to travel it.
What’s the meaning behind the title of your new project, 5:15?
5:15 AM is the time I was born. So I look at it like a rebirth. I consider this my debut album. This was the first time I was able to go in the studio and make what I heard in my head come out of the speakers. I engineered, wrote [and] arranged everything. So for me, I could finally hear it in my head and put that out there for everybody else to hear. I feel like albums should be like chapters in your life. I recorded like 60 records for this album and we’ll get it down to probably 15.
How did you come up with a plan for reintroducing yourself to old fans and introducing yourself to new ones?
I had to ask myself, if a promoter said, “You can do three records,” and I know I had to do “Too Close” and “Wifey,” I needed another record that was an anthem-quality song that I could put in between them. And I really feel like “Boo’d Up” is that. I want to bridge the gap. This will give my fans something where they’ll say, “OK, he didn’t just jump off the bridge and go totally left,” but it’s also something fresh. It’s like — I just put on a pair of retro Jordan’s today. They were out before. But they're still fresh. I feel like this is a re-release. You actually appreciate the retro’s more now than you did when you were younger because when you were younger you would go ball in ‘em after a while. Now you might keep retro’s in the box for a while.
For those who remember your Next days, what have you been up to in the years since you guys were topping the charts?
It’s funny because Kobe is my favorite player and he got himself a new nickname, “Vino.” Everyone was wondering what it means, he was like, “It’s like a wine, I get better with time.” I just been getting better with time. Just honing in on my craft, working with other artists from Mindless Behavior to Usher, Jamie Foxx, the list goes on. I just was really trying to become a better writer and arranger so that I could apply that to my own work.
What’s your ultimate goal with this rebirth?
I just wanna enjoy it. I don’t even remember the first run. I was too busy in it and I was so young, I didn’t know that I needed to really just bask in it and take it all in. I just want an opportunity to show people that after these years, that I’m still here and I’m better than ever. I just wanna make good music — anthems — and I just want people to appreciate it.
How have you been able to survive the record industry grind for over 15 years?
[Working hard] is a habit. Old habits die hard. I’m a difficult person to be around because I’m so strategic in everything I do and I like things lined up. But that makes me a great artist. I guess because I grew up on an itinerary, that’s just how my life is. I wake up at 5 o’clock every morning. I’m at the gym by 5:30. It’s almost military-like. I’ve always just recorded and worked hard because it’s what I love. I don’t understand how anybody could have an opportunity like this and a gift like this from God and not want to continuously do it. I get paid to do something that I would do for free anyway. So that just comes naturally to me. I really appreciate and am honored with the opportunity to be able to display it for the world. So I’d do a million songs a day if I had to.
Why were you up at five every day?
I was always the cat that didn’t want to miss anything. I wanted to go to school everyday. There might be a fight, there might be some new girl that came and I wanna be the first one to holler at her. It could be a lot of different things. I want a head start. I wanna work harder than you. I wanna start before you and I want more. My thing is, I wish you well, I just wish me better.
How do you stay inspired and passionate enough to keep creating?
You live. I really feel like the best way to come up with creative energy is to live and be around people that are characters. So I’m around people, I can write about them and what they’re going through, and if I live I can write about what I’m living. I really feel like people go in the studio and try to make up something just for no reason. That’s when you mess up. You have to really live something or be around somebody that has so you can have a passion and understanding of it.
Is there any possibility of a new Next album after this solo project?
I never close the door. I will say that that’s always open. I’m just a branch. Next is the group and I’d be foolish to think otherwise. I know a lot of people would be like RL, “lead singer,” but I don’t consider myself that. I’m the one that sang a lot of the leads but you can lead in different ways. And I know that I wouldn’t be the artist or the man that I am had I not been in a group with T-Low and Tweet. So I’m sure there will be another Next album… We’ve got over 20 records recorded, it just has to be right.
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(Photo: Big Play Entertainment)