Watch: RL from Next on his writing process and favorite singers of all time

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Closing out Black Music Month, theGrio’s Touré talks to R&B singer RL about practicing his craft and his Black music Mount Rushmore.

The R&B group Next was among the late ’90s greats such as Dru Hill and Jagged Edge. Twenty years later, the group’s “Too Close,” “Wifey” and others are still being played in clubs today. TheGrio’s Touré talked to group member RL about his songwriting process and his favorite singers of all time.

The following is a transcript of their conversation.

RL from Next take with theGrio about his writing process and favorite singers of all time (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)
RL from Next take with theGrio about his writing process and favorite singers of all time (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Touré [00:00:13] That’s our RL and Deborah Cox’s hit song “We Can’t Be Friends,” and it’s a classic. RL is hanging out with us today on theGrio. You’re also a songwriter. You’ve written for Luther Vandross, Usher, Keith Sweat…tell me how you write a song. I know it’s not the same every time, but give me a glimpse of your process.

RL [00:00:33] Well, it really depends on the track, like when I worked on Keith or Big Bro, I got the track from Teddy, and I’d always wanted to work with Teddy. Everybody used to say we looked alike and things like that. So for his process, I was trying to study his voice, “you lie to me, baby,” so I had to know what his, not necessarily limitations were, but his comfort zone. When it was people like Jamie, we hung around each other.

So I knew that he was slick-talk, and he was smooth, yet he was a little sexual, so I tried to make it playful. So you could tailor records for people. Sometimes it’ll be a record that they heard of mine. It was just a demo and they go, I want to record it. I’ll try to find ways to intertwine who they are in the record and change some lyrics around. So that’s usually how it works.

Touré [00:01:18] You do look a little like Teddy Riley. I’ll give you that. Now, for the people who want to be like you when they grow up, do you practice singing? How do you practice your craft?

RL [00:01:32] Well as a vocalist, I don’t know when I’m not singing, it’s so automatic that I’m pretty sure that I’m just humming something all the time. It could be a commercial. My daughter’s watching cartoons. I remember she was watching something this morning and I just started humming the theme song…so it’s automatic.

When you have a passion for something, it’s not like you can turn it off. It’s always on. I might be a little bit hidden every once in a while, but truthfully, when you’re blessed to be able to do something and make money, that gives you joy. I’m always doing it, I don’t know what I’m not singing to be honest, it’s like moving my arm right now. It’s the same thing. It’s that automatic.

Touré [00:02:11] Last thing. Who in your mind is the greatest singer of all time?

RL [00:02:17] Oh. I mean, there’s different genres. I think Stevie Wonder is one of the greatest, I think, oh, my goodness. That’s hard. I mean, that’s not fair because J. Moss is my favorite. J. Moss, Joe, I think Joe is one of the most underrated cats.

There’s so many that have different flavors because, you know, Luther, it was his tone. It’s what you like. You know, I’m more of a gospel, grew up in the church. So, of course, like I said, J. Moss is my favorite. Kim Burrell, people like that. But there’s so many great vocalists. I mean, Jazmine Sullivan is like, incredible, Tiffany Gouché, incredible. There’s so many great vocalists, there’s different things you find that you like about them. You know what I mean? It’s like saying, what’s your favorite food? And you like different things from different places.

So I would be doing a disservice to say my absolute favorite. My favorite entertainer of all time, Michael Jackson, that’s easy. But other than that, vocally, it depends on my mood. It depends on the song. So, yes, so many great ones out there man.

Touré [00:03:16] Okay, so let’s expand it a little bit. Who is on your personal Black music Mount Rushmore? I think you’ve already said Michael Jackson is there. Right? You’re Minneapolis…I assume Prince is there? But who are the other people who are, you know, the gods and goddesses of this to you?

RL [00:03:38] Well, you look at like Quincy in the things that he was able to do with Mike. So Michael Jackson is, of course, one of them, Like you said, Prince, a lot of my contemporaries, Jagged Edge, 112, Dru Hill. I studied them, you know what I’m saying? Donell Jones, Dave Hollister, Blackstreet.

So for me, it was a generation of so many great groups that came up before us, but I was able to study. So it was always about the harmony, it was about how they put their records together, how they arranged it, what kind of runs they did, was it clean? What notes that they hit. So it’s a lot of those. A lot of my contemporaries who I studied and who I’ve admired from afar.

Touré [00:04:17] You talk about the singers, you talk about the church. For me, Nina Simone is the greatest singer of all time because she makes me feel it in my bones.

RL [00:04:29] That’a how I am with Kim Burrell. Kim Burrell makes me feel it. J. Moss makes me feel it. Zacardi Cortez makes me feel it. It just depends on the mood I’m in because you put on the right song…if I’m going through something and I put on one of those records that is crying out, I’m going to feel that in the moment. That’s the beauty of music.

A song coming on at the right time during a certain time in your life can become an anthem for you. And that’s what’s so great about music that hopefully one of my records would come on and somebody will go, that reminds me of when I was in this grade or when I was in college. I mean, this girl used to play that song.

Those are the moments when you have a record that you can apply to a certain point in your life and there’s a memory attached to it. So I think that’s the beauty of it all. So yeah.

Touré [00:05:17] See, that’s the beauty of “sanging,” not singing, right? But we talk about “sanging,” right? Because no matter what level of technique you’ve got, if you can make them feel it? You’re golden. RL, thank you so much for being here. Love talking to you. It’s been great having you on the show.

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The post Watch: RL from Next on his writing process and favorite singers of all time appeared first on TheGrio.