One of our favorite contributors, DJ Slam of You Know I Got Soul, recently spoke with R.L., formerly of the R&B group Next. Here, he talks about what he’s been up to, the industry, leaks and what it means to be a songwriter. Be sure to look out for his upcoming album — LoveMusic and follow him on Twitter for all the latest.

YouKnowIGotSoul: First off, let me start by saying you did a great job writing and singing for Ginuwine’s latest album, I really enjoyed “Orchestra” and “Open the Door.” How did this collaboration come about?

R.L.: I actually did about five songs on the album; I think its five records on there. I got a call from a producer who goes by the name of St. Nick, and he asked me if I wanted to get involved. Me and Ginuwine you know were cool for years since we did “The Best Man,” so I said “Of Course.” I went down and I ended up doing some stuff with St. Nick and they liked my work and asked me if I knew any other producers who would be good for the project. I brought in Oak, and we did some more records. There were actually a few more that I liked A LOT that didn’t go on the album, one went on the international version if I’m not mistaken. Over the years, we always said we need to get up and do something, and it’s a blessing for him to let me get in on the project, it was real nice.

YNIGS: I’ve noticed a lot of your songs have leaked onto the internet over the past year. Does this mean we are going to hear your next solo album soon?

R.L.: Well yea, the album is pretty much done it’s called “LoveMusic.” We are probably going to do one or two more records and then figure out the first single. It’s been killing me because there has been people that hack into everybody’s e-mail address and steal their records and put them out. A lot of the records people are hearing are demos I’ve written for other artists, female artists, a lot of different things, but they are hacking into everybody in the industry’s e-mail. So I would send it to somebody at a label that asked me for a record, they love the record, and then it leaks. I had to re-do my other album twice. They already have I think two or three of my records that are on the new album leaked right now. We know that they are not even the mixed version, so it’s been very, very hectic. It’s hard for me because I appreciate people loving my work, but you know there’s a guy who has hacked me before and I’ve actually talked to him like “Dude, what are you doing?” And the guy responded, he’ll have a fake e-mail from somebody I know. It will be an e-mail address like maybe it will say, Mark Pitts or something, and then I’ll hit him back like “Dude c’mon why are you trying to hack me?” And he actually responded it was crazy! It kinda hurts me, I’m flattered to an extent, but I’m pissed off at the same time because this is how I feed my son, you know?

YNIGS: I wasn’t sure if you actually had leaked the records to get exposure and get your name out there again, but I guess from what you are saying, that is not the case.

R.L.: My exposure really will come from writing for other artists, stuff like that, but there have been records for other artists that have leaked as well. There have been times when artists maybe thought I was trying to leak stuff to be relevant, and I said like “If you turn on the radio everyday, any time of the day, you are going to hear one of my records.” For my relevance, I feel like it’s going to stay regardless, I don’t really feel like leaking a record before its time, you know what I mean? Not trying to sound like I’m too good to leak records, because I think that is a good medium to use in order to get exposure, but it will have to be done right, I want them to be finished records. Because I’ve gone on sites where people would slander me, saying my material isn’t like it used to be, and that might be a record I’m doing for a pop artist, and they’re thinking I’m selling out, switching up, doing something that I’m not even doing. I know that right now on the internet, it’s so many people that instantly look at that and believe it. So they read it and go “oh wow, he fell off, oh wow, he did this.” And the reality of it is 99% of the time, it’s not true.

YNIGS: Tell me about your upcoming album “LoveMusic,” what can we expect to hear from you on this album?

R.L.: I really decided that I was going to sing on this album. When I did my first solo album, I really didn’t know what I was doing. It was more like, Next was caught up in the middle of a whole merger thing with J Records, so we had the album out at the time, so we lost, because we were the ones that were coming out, so it hurt us. Our album was just out, we had just released “Wifey,” and all of the sudden, Clive was leaving. But we made the decision to go with Clive, with the promise that either way our album would still get promoted. But we really didn’t get any promotion. I remember a radio station telling me “Is the label mad at you? We want to play this record, but they are telling us to play Usher ‘Pop Your Collar’” because at the time that was Usher’s new single before they went in and re-did the whole album. We found out the hard way that it wasn’t true; we thought that being loyal would protect us, and we were very wrong. Clive was like “it’s too early to do a new Next record, so R.L. is going in the studio.” So I went in the studio, I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was nervous, I wasn’t with my brothers, and I did the record. Me, Jimmy Cozier, Olivia, we were all coming out around the same time, and the only one who really hit was Alicia, which is cool, which is good for her, but she was doing the rest of her own material anyway, just like me, but no direction at the label. They really had to focus on one artist, they couldn’t focus on all of us so all of us lost. The crazy part is, we did a new Next album, and it was in the stores and we didn’t even know, we weren’t even done with the album when it came out, they put it out just for billing, but it is what it is. Then, the group got dropped but I didn’t, but I asked to be released from the label so that I could go with my group. I turned down another half a million dollars to leave and do that, but you know, things happen.

YNIGS: Would you say there are any lessons you learned in making your first solo album that you have applied to making this new album?

R.L.: When I went in the studio this time, I wasn’t afraid. I used to try to under-sing my records because I know when I do my demos, labels ask me to dumb down songs because most artists nowadays can’t vocally do the things that I do, and I go to church so I’m trying to really go in there and blow and do things that a lot of artists aren’t doing nowadays, just to be quite honest. I decided that I’m going to go in and do it my way finally. I’m 32 now, I’ve been in the game now 12 years and I just feel it’s time and I’m ready to do what I wanna do instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing.

YNIGS: Is Next still together and will we hear another Next album? What’s the situation there?

R.L.: Well what is has been is me and the other main lead singer that have been touring and stuff like that. So we are discussing doing another Next album. I actually wrote and recorded a whole album for him as well, T-Lo. So, it’s hard to say, whatever the public wants, it’s not ego. We always say, it’s funny because if you look at pretty much white pop acts, they can hate each other and get on stage and make money. It’s always the urban acts that never can get over personal issues to go handle business and make money. You know, I love those guys and they are my brothers, and no matter what even if we hated each others guts, if there is money to be made, and we could go out there and provide for our families, why would I pass up that blessing? So it’s always an opportunity. Even though the group member Tweety, he went on the internet and put out a diss record against me, I still love him the same. If the point came where the public wanted a Next record, it would be done.

YNIGS: While part of Next, you had the chance to collaborate with Big Pun on two different songs. Can you tell me what this experience was like?

R.L.: To be honest, it was actually three tracks. One of them did not get released, and it hurt me because me and Pun were always really, really cool. I was out in the studio working on Jaheim’s album, and he says “I was looking for you, I was looking for you, I need you to come over to my studio” which was in the same building, we were in Battery. “I got a record that I don’t want anybody else to sing on but you.” So I went in and I did it, I was like this is free, I don’t need anything, you know Pun I love you, let’s get it, let’s have some fun. But then I did the record and I don’t hear anything else about it, well then Pun died. Then Joe goes and puts Donell Jones on the record. I have never forgot it because I was personally asked by Pun, alive “come in here I need you to do this for me.” I would have did it for free, it wasn’t even a problem, I recorded the whole thing, and all of the sudden they come out with the version with Donell on it. So, that kinda hurt me.

YNIGS: Do you have access to this song? I would LOVE to hear that!

R.L.: No, it’s the same song that came out with Big Pun and it was right after he passed.

YNIGS: It’s so Hard?

R.L.: Yea, that’s exactly what it is.

YNIGS: What does it mean to you that some consider your work with Next as classic R&B?

R.L.: I mean it’s a blessing especially knowing that I can turn on the radio and still hear my music and it be re-occurring. Most music I hear nowadays, it’s just let’s play it for three or four months and then after that, it’s done, you know what I mean? For me, I really, really appreciate the fact that people listen to what I’ve done. As a matter of fact, I’ve done records I wrote maybe when I was 16, stuff like that. I was a kid, but to know that people listen to my music and still feel it’s relevant today. It’s like people can say “oh yea I remember that back in the day, cool” they still have to respect what I’ve accomplished, and that means the world to me, the catalogue means the most. You have a lot of artists walking around, they can go on tour right now, they got a couple nice, little cute records, but what will they have in a couple years? Me, I can say a decade later, I can still go perform anywhere in the world, and people will still, generational, know my records, and love them and it makes people feel good. And that’s the most important thing, music that makes you feel good. I’m happy, it’s a blessing.

YNIGS: It’s been nearly eight years since your solo debut “RL: Elements” what have you been up to since then?

R.L.: Just writing for everyone else, Usher, Jamie Foxx, J. Holiday, and I took time to grow. In this business it’s crazy, you know I got a son, he’s 14, so to be able to spend time with my son and my family, just be regular, you know it felt very good.

YNIGS: Do you find it easier working on a solo album compared to making a group album?

R.L.: It’s pretty much the same because, if you really listen to a Next album, my brothers used to let me do a lot. I would write, arrange the record, I would bring T-Lo in, he would learn the first verse. He was the business man, Tweet was the politician in the group. He might have a part here or there, or he might have to sing background. But if you listen to pretty much every Next record, after that first verse, ad libs and leads were pretty much me. What I would do is go in and demo a record and it would be done. We would go and add our group members and that was the end. I would always go in with Kaygee or any other producer and that would be it.

YNIGS: Are you happy with the state of R&B music today?

R.L.: Not really to be honest. Can you hold on a second?

*Takes a phone call*

R.L.: My bad, that was Eddie F. He was at my house for the game, I mean the fight, but to be able to have people like that around me, real veterans that have been in this business for a long time, that have accomplished so much, that is the most amazing thing to me. How is it that Eddie F. just called my phone? People that aren’t in music that wouldn’t understand that, but he was in the business with Mary J. Blige, Donell Jones, to be able to accomplish stuff and be in the game 20 years plus, that’s what I’m trying to attain.

YNIGS: Let me ask you about that. As someone who’s been in the industry for over a decade since the 90’s and managed to stay relevant, do you feel you get the respect you deserve?

R.L.: Well no, but I never really did this for that, you know? My peers know that as far as vocally and getting on stage with me, they have to respect what I do. Just like I respect what they do. You might have someone who dance, or do whatever, but the vocals you know, me going to church and all those good things, that’s something that whoever I’m in the studio with, they gotta give me that, that’s one thing that God has really blessed me with. I’m not gonna go on stage and dance on stage and do all that other stuff, but like my momma said, “I’m a SANGER!”

YNIGS: *Laughs*

YNIGS: Do you feel you’ve had to change your style of music to evolve with the change in r&b over the years?

R.L.: No, because it hasn’t changed for the better. Everyone is wondering where music is. Every time I see somebody, they say “Man you need to come back out!” Why would I try to go and do that, why would I sell myself short, you know?

YNIGS: No, I agree!

YNIGS: Can you tell me some of your favorite artists to listen to in the music industry today?

R.L.: Of course R. Kelly. I’m from Minnesota, so I like that whole Midwest thing and how creative it is. He has that new record with Tyrese called “Pregnant”……WOOOO I love that!! Let’s see, who else did I like? J. Moss is my ultimate favorite, hands down! Brandy of course. I love Tank, Tank is one of the most underrated artists ever, writer, producer, vocally all of that. Of course Boyz II Men, Wanye, Shawn Stockman. Lastly, Joe, he is one of my all time favorites. We used to ride around listening to his first album that nobody knows about, they keep thinking his first album was that soundtrack “All the Things Your Man Won’t Do.” His first album was that record “I’m in Love.” *Sings* A lot of people don’t know that! Stuff like that, that’s what I love. And of course a lot of other gospel, but if you ask me my mainstream type stuff, that is what I listen to.

YNIGS: As a 2nd part of the previous question, are there any artists that you have not had a chance to work with that you would like the opportunity to collaborate with?

R.L.: Probably country western people, stuff like that. I love Diamond Rio, people probably don’t even know who that is, but they are like legends. Shania Twain, people like that. And of course Brandy, I love to write for Brandy, I think she is really dope, I love her voice it’s really soothing. But besides that, I like to work to be honest with up and coming artists. If you really look at it, if we are going to be honest, the artists that I’ve worked with that I knew? Like okay, if you take Ideal, Ideal was at maybe 100 and something thousand albums sold. They added “Whatever” to their album and re-released it and went gold. Jaheim, nothing has sold like his first album. I wrote “Just in Case,” “Anything” and “Remarkable.” And I love Jaheim like a brother, and I wish politically it wasn’t like it is, and he would have come to me to do more records on his albums after, you know what I’m saying? What happens in black music is, your first album somebody writes for you, and okay it’s successful. After learning your craft and trying to write maybe a song or two, you see that there is publishing money involved, so you decide okay I’m going to write my songs, and I’m not going to call the people who helped me create this masterpiece. Or, I’m going to get writers who are going to let me take some of their publishing. So you are dealing with a lot of that now where you hear people writing songs that they are really not writing and they are just slapping their name on it because they are big enough to do it. Now everybody is trying to do it. I didn’t come into the game and see someone else write all of my records and go “oh my goodness I want to write now too!” A lot of these records I wrote when I was younger, so I was a singer/song writer from the beginning. Nowadays you got a lot of cats who are singers but want to become song writers and that’s not their forte. But I think that’s one of the reasons that the game is really lacking, I mean it’s bad, you know?

YNIGS: No, I agree with you!

YNIGS: So let me ask you then, do you have any less respect for an artist who is strictly a singer as opposed to writing their own material?

R.L.: No, because if you can deliver it I mean, I’m a writer, so why would I? I eat because everybody doesn’t write. Like if somebody is bringing a hit record that fits me, that’s perfect, but nine times out of ten it’s not because I have a vision, of where I want to go with a record, but what happens is, how can I say this..… issue isn’t with artists that aren’t writers, if you are not a writer, you are not a writer. If you look at someone like Usher, he never sits up and says “I wrote this” and he doesn’t have to. You know why? Because he is a total entertainer. He says “you know what, somebody else wrote this for me, but the show I’m going to put on with this is going to be so amazing that you are going to have to give me credit for my delivery. I’m going to bring the drama into it, I’m going to deliver this record, I’m going to sell it.” A car salesman, he doesn’t build the car, but he has to know everything about it to make you believe that he did. It’s the same thing with music, but a lot of these artists don’t do that, it’s like “stay in your lane!” You are not going to get me on stage trying to break-dance and do back flips, so don’t try to come in the studio and try to grab the pen if that’s not what you do.

YNIGS: That is a great point.

YNIGS: How would you describe the style of music you make to someone who is listening to your music for the first time?

R.L.: Fly!! *Laughs* You know what really, the album is called “LoveMusic” one word, the reason it is called LoveMusic is because I do. And a lot of people don’t anymore and after they listen to LoveMusic I want them to say they love music again. The reality of it is I’m not comfortable where music is, it doesn’t represent me, it doesn’t make me want to make love, it doesn’t make me feel good. I don’t even go to the clubs like that, I never really did. The whole thing with “Too Close” was I want music that crosses generations and platforms. Everybody dances, everybody gets down, and there is always music that is relevant. It’s not something you are going to say “that’s not going to happen to me.” Or “Wifey,” people say wifey all the time now, why? Because basically what I’m saying is we are not really married, but you are my wife, and that is pretty much most couples, you know what I mean? For me, I just really, when people hear my music, I don’t care what they call it, I just want them to feel good. That’s the crazy thing about me being a writer. The good and bad thing about my writing is besides the early stuff we did with Kaygee, because every label came to us asking for a “Too Close” or “Wifey” is that it doesn’t all sound alike. So I try to tailor records for artists. You are not going to hear something in a song and go “Oh I know R.L. did this.” So that hurts me because I don’t’ have a signature sound. With the Ginuwine stuff it was a little different because they kept my backgrounds, and that’s unusual for artists, but G was so cool, he was like “hey, you sound good on there, we are boys, you wrote this, let’s go.” But a lot of artists want it to be their own so they can sell it themselves. So you are not going to know that I wrote it. So a lot of people that don’t read the liner notes of an album are not going to know R.L. wrote this, they are not going to have any idea.

YNIGS: I’m actually someone who does read the liner notes. When I hear a song on an album, if it’s a hot song I want to know who wrote this, because most of the time it’s a very talented writer and I want to see who is behind it.

R.L.: I appreciate it man. You know the worst thing that I hate is when people come up to me and go “oh you still sing? What you doing now?” Because they have no idea that I do so much, you know? But they wouldn’t know because they are not informed. It kinda offends but I take it with a grain of salt.

YNIGS: What accomplishment are you most proud of as an artist?

R.L.: To be honest, it’s not even a big thing, like the awards and all that, that’s cool, you know they are in my house somewhere, that’s cool. But there are two moments that stand out to me. One is, when we first came out, I still slept on the floor in Kaygee’s back house and my group members were in relationships or whatever and they went off, but I didn’t. So what happened was, I didn’t know, since radio in New York was all about hip hop, so I didn’t know that our record “Butta Love” was blowing up. So I was at the mall in Jersey City and a little girl was in the shoe store singing “Butta Love.” That moment, it’s moments like that. And the other moment is when I bought my mom a car, I bought my sister a car. I’ve always been more about doing for others so when I was able to do something for somebody else, that’s what means the most to me.

YNIGS: Do you have any goals for the future as an artist or anything in life you’d like to accomplish?

R.L.: I just wanna stay true to myself and be able to accomplish success just doing me. Without having to go “let me make this for radio, let me make this for the kids, how can I get a record played in the clubs.” I wanna be able to express myself through my music and still be successful.
YNIGS: Very good, I really respect that.

R.L.’s new album “LoveMusic” will be in stores next year.