Carl Thomas became a soul singing, R & B star once he appeared on the scene in 2000 with his debut single, “I Wish” as a member of the then-infamous and at its prime, Bad Boy Family. As the lead male R & B vocalist of the crew Carl Thomas was the male counterpart to Faith Evans with enough swag to carry a duet or croon his way through a deadly hook on a Biggie track. By his second album he was on top of the world, Chicago’s other golden boy and Bad Boy’s weapon of mass destruction.
Unfortunately with the passing of his older Brother, his only brother, the journey came to a standstill. Carl needed time off, he needed to part ways from his label and he chose to go overseas to deal with things his way. The return to the mainstream has been a struggle and even with a third album release in So Much Better, Carl was still more hidden then present in the eyes of some of his Emotional fans. But now, with his fourth album, and a new major label home with Verve/Universal, Carl Thomas has a new lease on life. On the heels of his debut label release, we got an intimate interview with the singer. He talks about his comeback, his Bad Boy days, the new album Conquer and much more. The Carl Thomas inteview…
Parlé Magazine: This whole journey for you began under the wings at Bad Boy Records. What was that experience like in the beginning?
Carl Thomas: In actuality, Bad Boy was like one of the greatest colleges of the music business that I could’ve went to. I learned so much, and the things I learned were a foundation to build on. I’m really proud of the experience. It’s really fun to listen to people speculate about the whole Bad Boy situation, what happened there and what didn’t happen there. Puff is a character that people love to villainize for one reason or another, but inside of the company it wasn’t even like that. I always have a lot of fun listening to people.
Parlé: People haven’t see you in the forefront for a while now, but after seeing you in concert, it looks like you’re still very comfortable doing your thing…
Carl: I never really went away from the stage, I would die without that. I always have to be close in that aspect. I just had to step away from recording. I had a situation in 2004, right after the release of my Let’s Talk About It album, where my older brother was shot and murdered. That brought a lot of turmoil to my family, I never really had to deal with that type of agony. I started to reprioritize my life and when I started to reprioritize I started to fall out of love with the music business. I was never out of love with music, I just had to find time to get deep within myself to fall in love with everything again.
Parlé: You were born in Chicago, but you’ve mentioned that you became a man in New York…
Carl: Yeah, I grew up here and I became a man in New York. I came here as a teenager. My experiences are all here, all in Brooklyn. So you became a man in New York, so I guess you rejuvenated yourself overseas?I just went over there for about 6 months, stayed with a few friends. I’ma tell you something, I’m a real big fan of the European R & B scene. And I really, really wanted to get into something someone else was doing, to help my perception with what was going on over here.
Parlé: What helped get you back home in the states working on music?
Carl: You know, I was chilling at home one day when my man Mike City called me from L.A. He said look, ‘whatever you doing, stop what you doing, come down to the studio and let’s make some records without the pressure of being under the gun of somebody’s budget’. I went out there for 2 weeks and we recorded day and night. But I really don’t remember the sessions between all the fun we had. I really don’t remember recording those records. It was like a blur of laughter and wine, good times. And I missed that. Recording that album is what put me back in line and got me back focused.
Parlé: Looking back at it now, in retrospect, do you have any regrets?
Carl: I had to deal with the process of dealing with grief different from the way everybody else does. One crazy thing I see is when crazy things happen to people that they really need to grieve from, but they keep working. They really don’t give their selves a chance to deal with that process and it causes a lot of problems later on. I’m really thankful to God because that didn’t happen to me. So Much Better was a project that healed me from all of that, by the grace of God. I do a lot of things well, but music is my best work. I just wanted to be back out there putting my best foot forward and music is the way for me to be doing that.
Parlé: There were a bunch of rumors and speculation as to why you left. What were you thinking while all that was being said?
Carl: I’m interested in knowing what people’s perspectives on why I left. I don’t know what people’s perspective of that is. I left on a decision that I felt I had to make, I went in the office and told Puff I had to leave. Was he ecstatic about me wanting to leave? No. But at the same time he respected me, which is a lot more than I can say for a lot of these executives who are putting their money in front of the well-being of their artists.
Parlé: How’d you hook up with Verve/Universal as your new record label home?
Carl: I went out on the road and just reintroduced myself to my fans with So Much better. I started doing records again and started looking for a boat to carry my music. The order of the game seems to be everybody looking into these 360 deals… And that’s cooool. I’m not against 360 deals, that’s just not what I was looking for at the time. When I met with Verve it just seemed like we had the same goals in mind. We were trying to accomplish the same musical things. And it was really cool for me to be with a label with so much musical integrity and history with the greats.
Parlé: Tell me about this new project, Conquer.
Carl: Conquer is comprised of songs that I like to call ‘Hero music’, records where the hero is always winning. I’m really thankful that people were receptive to it. I’m back where I belong.
Parlé: Some of those fans who have been with you since the beginning still expect you to give them tracks like “Emotional” and “Summer Rain” on this album, but you have grown as a man and as an artist. What can people expect from this new album, Conquer?
Carl: They can expect my style not to change but at the same time with that being said, I just wanted to position the music to be broader, go deeper and reach farther. And I think I was able to accomplish that and at the same time, not make the fans mad.
Parlé: Do you have any plans for the next year or so?
Carl: Yeah, in the Summer time I’m going to release a 6 song EP of nothing but ballads, and it’s going to be called, Carl Thomas Begging After Midnight and there are going to be some real summertime ballads for people that like to make love with not that many clothes on. (Laughs)
Parlé: And after that? Should we expect another hiatus?
Carl: Just to keep on touring and then I’ma prepare the album for about 6 months after that. I’m not going to take any hiatus’ any more.
Parlé: What’s been the greatest point of your career up to this point?
Carl: The greatest moment was the point of reckoning that I would definitely be coming back and I wasn’t leaving.
Parlé: It’s been a long time since some of your fans have seen you, is there anything you want to say to your fans out there?
Carl: I appreciate them for supporting me whether I had a product in the marketplace or not. I still always carry the ability to fill up a room when I came into town and that’s something you can’t take light.
Parlé: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to a new artist trying to make it in the industry?
Carl: Best piece of advice I can give a new artist is that before you try to sell yourself to a label that you want to sell you to the world, make sure you sell yourself to you first, make sure that you are your first believer. If you just got talent but you don’t believe in it, the label will be able to pick up on that. You be your first believer before you go out there and try to make someone else believe.
Parlé: Since the album title is Conquer, do you feel like you’re winning right now?
Carl: I think any time you have the mind to allow God to make you the man he wants you to be then you are winning. If I become the man I want to be it might not turn out well, but if I let God do it I’m sure that whatever happens, I’ll be okay.
Parlé: Any final words you want to put out there?
Carl: Conquer in stores right now.
Images by Jay Bastien for Parlé Magazine