Legendary Singer and Songwriter RL remains a prominent and vital talent to the music industry in which he has made his mark. Whether it’s songs that he has written for himself or for others, the profound power behind his writing and vocals are still loved, admired, and needed to this day. RL has written for powerhouse music icons such as Luther Vandross, Jamie Foxx, Ginuwine, Keith Sweat, and many more. RL remains a humble, and multitalented sought-out creator.
Hustle and Soul Magazine got an exclusive interview with RL. We take a dive into his epic career, his take on the state of music today, what he has in the works, and more as we give flowers to the Minneapolis native who has touched our hearts for decades with his creativity.
Tammy: RL, you have such a successful career as a singer and songwriter. When you first got into the entertainment music industry what impact did you intend to make?
RL: To be honest, I just wanted to make an honest living doing what I always dreamed to do. I wanted to continue the legacy of my city’s heritage. My mother grew up with Prince and Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind, and Fire so I really wanted to just represent.
I didn’t want to go to college though I had a scholarship offer. Back then it wasn’t as attainable to become an artist and there weren’t the resources that we have now. I graduated high school early which gave me a little bit of time to pursue my dreams and it worked out.
Tammy: It definitely worked out for sure. When you’re in the studio, cooking up your masterpieces what are some items you must have to get in your zone?
RL: When I was younger, and manish I don’t know why, but I would have adult films playing on the TV. Now, I just need peace and no stress. I just need to be in a mind frame where I can just really think back to things absorbed from others.
I have my man cave where I can go work. My daughter will come down there sometimes as soon as she gets out of school. She’ll run down the stairs to come to give me a hug and a kiss or sit on my lap for a minute. Then she’ll be like, “Alright, I’m out” because she knows that her Daddy has to work. I just need to be in a space where I can have the freedom to not have to worry about anything but the task at hand.
Tammy: It’s mental health awareness month. What are some self-care practices that you use to balance being a dad, being in the industry, and having your own self-care time?
RL: I’ve dealt with mental health and low self-esteem issues since I was a young kid, I tried to commit suicide in my senior year in high school. What I realized is you have to have the right people around you that will uplift you, and pour into you. It’s funny because I used to hate being alone then I realized this was because I hated who I was alone with. Once I started to truly love myself, I became a hermit. I rarely go anywhere.
I do think it’s about your circle. Even if it’s one person that you surround yourself with and your faith. I’m a Christian. I was raised Baptist. Whether you’re Hindu, whether you’re Muslim or whatever it is just believe in a higher power that things will get better as long as you continue to push forward.
Tammy: You’ve written for so many people including Usher, Luther Vandross, Jamie Foxx, Keith Sweat, and many more. Is the process easier when you write for yourself or for other people?
RL: I just like creating. There used to be a time when I would create records and be like this is mine, this is my baby. That ended really fast because “Just in Case” and “Anything” I wrote those records for me.
Jaheim was family, KayGee from Naughty By Nature discovered us and we were all a crew. We all slept on the floor in KayGee’s back house on air mattresses together. So when he hit me and requested to have those two records, it was a no-brainer because we’re family.
Early on in my career, I realized that if you create a great record and you’re a great creator, you can create another one. I have faith in myself and how hard I work, and the gifts that I’ve been blessed with to feel like I could do it all over again, or I could do it better next time. So I don’t mind giving records away.
Once you give something to somebody, it’s theirs. It’s not about how you did it or would do it. I’ve been in the studio with writers that wanted me to sing the record the way that they sang it. I would be thinking to myself if they wanted the record the way that you did it, you’d be the one with the record deal.
I’m saying nothing against writers but there used to be a time when want to be artists or cats that hadn’t made it yet as artists would try to make you do the record as they do it. I’ve learned to take the ego out of it once I give you the record.
Lil Duval and Ty Dolla Sign “Pull Up” record we wrote and produced that, but we’re different types of vocalists. So you find a way to bring the best out of somebody so that the song becomes theirs.
Tammy: Your pen game and your vocal game are serious! Speaking of the best, let’s talk about the iconic song “The Best Man I Can Be” from “The Best Man” soundtrack which includes you, Tyrese, Case, and Ginuwine. What was it like being a part of the song and making the video?
RL: That was pretty much my first taste of being solo outside of the group. There were so many other moving parts and layers to that because that was done by Jimmy and Terry, who were my idols. Let me tell you something funny, they had an opportunity to sign us. We used to go to Flyte Time to sing for them. They decided not to sign us, they signed a group called Solo instead. It hurt us so badly and I always had a chip on my shoulder and I felt like they didn’t think I was good enough.
So when I had the opportunity to go to the studio with the guys I was nervous because I’m with these three powerhouse solo artists and I’m the guy from the group. I’d just gotten off tour with the guys and I had to literally land to go straight to the studio because I lived there, they all flew in.
At the beginning of what we recorded, I was talking and doing all these adlibs because I was making that stuff up trying to impress Jimmy and Terry. Now fast forward to 20 something years later, I jumped in on an interview that big bro Jimmy Jam was having. He took like five minutes to talk about me.
All these years I had a chip on my shoulder for no reason. He said that we did those guys a favor. The interviewer was like, what do you mean? Jimmy said that they were in a crazy situation with the label and that they really wanted to sign us but they knew we were too talented and they didn’t want to mess our careers up with the messed up label situation at that time. They knew we’d get a better situation.
Then he went on to talk about how I coached these powerhouse artists for The Best Man record. Jimmy said that I was the glue and I was the guy that really was like Okay, do this, or try it like this. I didn’t even know that he noticed.
When I got in there with the guys I had so much respect and love for them that it wasn’t about me trying to show them up or show them that I belong. It was more about me just wanting to fit in and say you know what, you should sing this part or do it like this.
I really didn’t know Jimmy noticed it but he said I helped orchestrate the record and he gave me all these props. I literally was in tears. I had to sit down because all these years I’ve had this animosity and this chip on my shoulder because I felt like my idols didn’t believe in me but the truth is them not signing us was a labor of love.
Being able to do the video with these guys I’ve cultivated relationships. Tyrese, he’s a movie star now, Case, we just saw each other in Chicago last weekend. I’ve written like six records for Ginuwine on another project. He’s always looked out, hit me up, and check on me. When I talk to Ginuwine he’s always like, “I love you, man”. They’re some of the best men that I know in the industry.
Tammy: What are some other memorable moments in your career for you that you’re so proud of?
RL: My best memories aren’t the awards and all the accolades, because I’ve always been the type of guy that when all of the congratulations is going on, I’m in the studio trying to do some more work. I just work, I can’t help it. I just want to continue to work. That’s the joy for me. Some of my best memories are doing for others.
I’ve been able to surprise my sister and mom with a brand new car. I remember when my brother and I lived in the Bay Area when we were younger, and the curves were super high. So we’re riding our bikes and he flipped and his face on the concrete. His teeth were messed up all through high school, and they started to rotten. I was able to drop like 20 and get his mouth fixed.
The accolades and all that’s cool, and awards can sit on a shelf or on the wall somewhere, but seeing my brother’s smiling, I can take pride in that more than anything.
Tammy: Giving back to others, especially through your songwriting, and giving it back to your family who supported you from day one is so beautiful.
What is your take on R&B today, what’s missing?
RL: I can’t say that anything is missing but I wish there were more ways for artists like myself to get heard. People will say just post on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook but my core audience is not going on social media for new music, they’re not streaming like that. So we don’t have a way to get our new music marketed and promoted to our audience.
There are no record stores anymore, and things like that. There’s a lot of new artists and talent, but the differences are that their audience streams. They’re on YouTube listening to new music. For artists like myself, it’s disheartening to know I can do a sold-out tour, and everybody in the audience is on their feet the whole night but they don’t know about any new music I put out.
Executives and different people will come by my house to hear new records and say this is amazing. So I keep plugging away and making music. I’m blessed to have publishing and the discography to where I can continue to make a living. But everybody doesn’t have that. With Covid, and not touring, times are hard for everybody. I’m not in nobody’s pockets, but I can only imagine for the people that don’t necessarily have those ASCAP checks coming every month.
Tammy: What can we be on the lookout for and what are you looking forward to?
RL: KayGee from Naughty By Nature discovered us. Naughty by Nature are our big brothers. I think the final thing you’ll hear from Next unless God has other plans will be this Next By Nature project that we’re putting together. It’s a labor of love for me. Honestly, if KayGee hadn’t reached out to me, I wouldn’t have done it but Kay is one of those people that is the reason I’m able to feed my family. So there’s nothing I wouldn’t do if he called me.
Besides that, me and a few friends of mine started messing around with some records like seven years ago, and it happened to be on Instagram live. Some label heads came in the room and heard us playing these records. They reached out and put the batteries back in our back.
We’re working on an EP right now it’s called Give It Up For Love. The group is WQRL which is Wingo of Jagged Edge, Q Parker from 112, and myself. We’re readying the EP right now and we’re excited about it. We’re mixing everything and putting on the final touches, but the records are done.
We’ll continue to record because we realized that it’s a great touring mechanism. Not only do we feel like we have great new music, but you basically get three groups for the price of one, and you get the hits. It’s a good business decision as well. We’re all friends, we know each other’s families. I’m so proud of Wingo especially because people don’t realize how talented he is. The twins are super dope so they’re going to overshadow pretty much anybody. But for him to get the opportunity to let the world know how talented he is, I think is the most exciting aspect of WQRL. I’m like a proud brother to watch him. It’s going to be really amazing. I really love it!
Tammy: During these unprecedented times that we’re in, though things are starting to get back on the right track there are people who aspire to be a singer or a songwriter, and get their name out there. They may not have the resources or the connections or may feel discouraged. What words of encouragement would you have for them?
RL: Well, let me say this, I am 24 years in the game and I get discouraged. With the climate of how music is and where we are right now, I honestly feel like it’s easier for new artists to be heard than seasoned veterans sometimes. So my words are to use that discouragement as fuel. That’s what I do.
Don’t doubt yourself! You can become discouraged but that other “D”, you don’t need that. Don’t doubt your gift because that discouragement is something that can prove other people wrong. Sometimes you have to prove yourself wrong.
There’s always somebody, somewhere that sees you. I don’t care where you are, it can happen. It’s not just the tour bus or sneaking backstage, you could be anywhere. It could be karaoke night, you just never know.
Also, remember to treat people right. It’s not what people say when you’re in the room. It’s what they say about you when you’re not in the room. So if you treat people right, and people know you’re dope you will be good.
Keep up-to-date with RL’s legendary career by connecting on Instagram @justrl
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Multimedia Content Creator Tammy Reese is an Award-Winning Journalist and Writer. Tammy currently serves on the Communications Committee for New York Women In Film and Television. She also is The Founder of Visionary Minds Public Relations and Media.