[INTERVIEW] A Conversation with a Legend – Keith Sweat Reflects On 30+ Years In Music

It goes without saying that R&B veteran Keith Sweat is a living legend.  The certified hit-maker has been in the music industry well over 30 years and continues to release new music and tour the world with his classics.  While I don’t do as many interviews as I used to, I jumped at the opportunity to meet and talk to the “OG”, Harlem’s own, Keith Sweat.

Keith recently released his latest album, his 13th solo studio effort titled, Playing For Keeps.  With a mesh of ol’ skool soul and new R&B flavor, Keith proves that he can put out music in any climate and still satisfy his fan base.  After all these years his croons are as smooth as they were decades ago and his pen game hasn’t lost its touch.


Did You Know???
1.  Keith Sweat attended City College in New York City and has a degree in Communications.
2.  Before becoming a solo artist Keith performed as a member of a Harlem band named Jamilah
3. Keith Sweat released his debut album Make It Last Forever in November 1987!
4. He worked on Wall Street in the Stock Market until he was cemented as a solo artist, shortly after releasing his debut album.
5. He was born in Crescent City, Florida and spent his early childhood there before moving to Harlem.


 

During our conversation we touched on the new album, his incredible career and much more. Read the full interview below.

Parlé Mag:  You’ve been in the music industry for quite a while obviously, but talk to me about this current point in your career, dropping your 13th album, how does that make you feel?
Keith Sweat:  It makes me feel blessed.  Bottom line is most people are not able to drop 13 albums and still be relevant in the game.  Young acts know me, the old acts know me–everybody know me. And I don’t take it for granted because in order for me to be known in Paris, Germany, Amsterdam, Africa, Dubai, and people still feel me and feel my music years later, its very gratifying to know that a young kid from Harlem, who back in the day lived in the projects, would be known worldwide, and would be “legendary” or the “OG”.  I imagined to have that kind of status, but I never thought it would come to that point. When I think about some other people’s careers, some of them were gone in 5 years. I never would have thought that I would expand 30 plus years of better. For me, number one that’s a praying mob and that’s an angel looking over me and that’s an angel that was with me throughout my whole career.

 

Parlé Mag:  Thinking back, did you ever think that you would still be doing this and be in this legendary position?  Is this how you envisioned it?
Keith Sweat:  Back in the day, I just did what I liked to do.  I just enjoyed life. I enjoyed making money, but I enjoyed living life.  What I envisioned was just me having good times, and enjoying what I was doing.  I really didn’t think about the time frame because I was enjoying what I was doing so much.  I guess I didn’t look at 10 years down the line, I just looked at right now. And it just so happened to turn into a long career.  Did I want it to last as long as it did? Yeah. But I just looked at it like anybody that has a career you are hot for a while and then you’re not and it’s that next man on deck. That’s just how it is.

Keith Sweat Playing For Keeps album coverParlé Mag:  Playing For Keeps is the new album, talk to me about that project.  I know you put an album out last year, so why now?
Keith Sweat:  Back in the day the thing was that you couldn’t be too overexposed.  Now the more you are seen the more relevant you seem to be. The more content you put out the more people see you doing things, social media, the more people seeing you the more relevant you are, the more money you making.  The perception of it is that the more they are seeing you doing stuff, the more they want to be involved with what you are doing.

Parlé Mag:  Was there a concept in mind going into creating this album, particularly since it came so soon following your last release?
Keith Sweat:  There wasn’t a concept.  When I go into the studio I just do what I feel.  If I hear a nice beat or a nice sound, I just go with it.  It’s a vibe thing for me, no concept necessary.

Parlé Mag:  Did you approach it any differently than other albums?
Keith Sweat:  I create depending on how I feel.  There might be something that makes me create something and I don’t even know where its coming from.  It could be something I heard a month ago that might have stuck in my head or something like that. Or I could hear something from someone else and I will say I want something with that vibe that I can put my own spin on.

Parlé Mag:  Earlier this year you dropped the “How Many Ways” single which featured K-ci Hailey.  Talk to me about that track, putting it together and how the collaboration came about.
Keith Sweat:  Well you know K-ci is my boy.  I mean he is from the old school just like me.  We been friends, we’ve been on tour together and we have been on the same shows together so it just made sense.  I wanted a duet with a dude. I’ve done it with LSG and I just wanted something totally different. That song just felt like the right fit for a duet.  I got the track, and I put the whole thing down but then I decided I wanted someone to do the second half instead of me and that person was K-ci.

Parlé Mag:  The second single is “Boomerang” featuring Ms. Candice Price for another duet.  Share the story behind that song.
Keith Sweat:  Well the track was a song that was demoed for me by another young lady.  In actuality I reached out to a lot of new artists who have been building a buzz, like H.E.R., Ella Mai, I reached out their management.  H.E.R. might have been on tour at the time, but I never really got a response from any of the people that I reached out to. So I just figured I would create my own artist that was in that lane.  I been creating artists my whole life so I can go out and get somebody else that has that same vibe and people will ask me who that is, we’ll make a couple other songs and put those out and I can make her that premier artist.

Parlé Mag:  Obviously, there’s not much info out about her right now.  How’d you discover her.
Keith Sweat:  Some friends.  It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  Some friends connected us, I reached out then she reached out.  And it’s history!

Singer Keith Sweat
Parl
é Mag:  On the album you collaborated with a few other artists as well.  You have Teddy Riley and Tank on the same track—
Keith Sweat:  Teddy and I worked on the first album together so that’s not anything new for the public.  Me and Tank been friends forever. I said, ‘yo dude, I need you on a song’, and we went into the studio and made it happen.  Every time we see each other, we laugh, we joke. Out of all the R&B dudes thats out here, he is one of the easiest ones to work with and he also understands the music and the R&B game a lot more than some of these artists, so it just made sense.

Parlé Mag:  How do you feel this album Playing For Keeps fits into the current state of R&B?
Keith Sweat:  You can put it up to any record pound for pound and it don’t sound old or dated.  It sounds like some Keith Sweat 2018 shit to be honest with you. It’s not like you’ll listen to it and feel like it sounds off.  It’s funny, because right now Bruno Mars is basically doing New Jack Swing. But if I came back out doing New Jack Swing people would be like, ‘oh that’s old’.  Why? Because Keith Sweat did it! But, let somebody come out with New Jack Swing and it’s like, ‘oh man, that’s dope’. That’s just how music is. It’s not what you do, it’s who does it. Right now, these artists are just doing music that me and Teddy did back in the day.

Parlé Mag:  I talk to a lot of artists and not many pay attention to what’s on the radio.  You clearly like to stay aware with what’s out right now.
Keith Sweat:  I listen to what’s on the radio to see what I’m competing with.

Parlé Mag:  That’s important.
Keith Sweat:  Right.  You got to.  Know what you going up against.  Know what the kids are feeling. Radio is a real funny thing.  If something don’t sound like this or this or this, radio won’t play it.  So if it sounds like X, Y, Z, they gon’ play it. “Boomerang” sounds like H.E.R. or Ella Mai or one of them with the way Candace comes on in the beginning.  That’s why i did it. Cause I know how radio execs think.

Parlé Mag:  What’s kept you driven in this industry, throughout the politics, ups and downs, etc?
Keith Sweat:  The fact that I always wanted to do it.  It has nothing to do with the industry, I love what I do.  Whatever you love to do, it don’t matter what nobody else is doing.

Parlé Mag:  Do you have favorite songs that you’ve created in your career, personal favorites?
Keith Sweat:  “Nobody”, “Make It Last”, “Don’t Stop Your Love”, I mean to me, I still got one of the best catalogs ever!   It’s funny because I was at the hotel, in the lobby and somebody was riding down the street playing “Nobody” real loud.  I have great records that I can still tour.

Parlé Mag:  Social media and even your radio show have helped the fans and listeners learn and know more about Keith Sweat, but I still feel like you’re a private person.  What are some other things that drive Keith Sweat?
Keith Sweat:  I been blessed to have a great career, so right now the only thing that drives me right now is my kids and making sure that they are good for the rest of their lives.  I still enjoy singing and doing that, but my whole motivation in life right now is making sure that they’re good. (laughs). Isn’t that great?!

Parlé Mag:  For sure!
(more laughs)

Parlé Mag:  What do you hope listeners say when they listen to this new Playing For Keeps album?
Keith Sweat:  I hope people enjoy it.  It will have similarities to some old stuff and you will have some new stuff.  So people have to be open minded listening to this album. I’m an artist so I create.  So whether I am influenced by some of this new music that is out or otherwise, I have to open myself up to say to myself, ‘let me try this on a record’ or ‘let me do this on a record’.  It’s not me trying to be young, I’m just not trying to stay in one lane. I have great uptempo records and I also have great slow records. And I’ve written songs for a lot of people because I’m open minded and willing to try different things.  So you have to understand when you listening to a song, it’s not me trying to be young, it ain’t me trying to be old neither. It’s just me doing what I love to do. If I was Picasso, I paint one painting, then I paint another painting. They might not look the same, but its still my painting!  That’s what I do.

Parlé Mag:  You mentioned Ella Mai and H.E.R., but are there any other artists at this point that you still haven’t worked with that you would love to get in the studio with?
Keith Sweat:  I collaborate with people whose music I enjoy and who I think I can make great music with.  Do I have a wish list? No, I don’t have a wish list. But if someone came to me and said they want to work with me, if I like their music then I am not opposed to it.

Parlé Mag:  What advice do you have for young artists coming up in the game?
Keith Sweat:  My advice is to be like me, be comfortable, confident.  Don’t just be trying to get in the game because you trying to make some money, get in the game because you love the game.  Make sure that you’re on point with your craft because if you blow up, you should be able to perform for thousands of people.  Five, ten years from now, people should be able to look back at your career and say, ‘he’s incredible, he’s dope, I still want to listen to him and I still want to follow him.  That’s my advice.

I been in the game a long time, so obviously I know what I’m doing.  Make sure you listen to that Playing For Keeps album. I appreciate the love and support!  -Keith Sweat

Images by Derek Blanks


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Kevin Benoit

Kevin Benoit is the editor of Parlé Magazine. He founded the magazine while in college and continues to run it today. Follow him on IG: @parlewithme Read more articles by Kevin.

Kevin Benoit has 1788 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin Benoit

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