When you interview Keith Sweat, its surprising how deep and gravelly his voice is. After all, this is the dude whose nasal twang of a singing voice is synonymous with R&B music of the late 80s and early 90s.
Its made him both a beloved, soul-singing figure and prime fodder for black comics who have recreated his singing style in their routines. Thats a compliment, youknowhaimean, says Sweat, on the phone from Atlanta. Sweat has long accepted that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That means Im making some kind of impact. I always learned when they dont talk about you thats when youre not making an impact.
These days, the fiftysomething, Harlem-bred Sweat is making an impact as the headlining performer of the Fresh Music Festival, a package tour that features fellow 90s R&B acts Guy, Charlotte natives K-Ci and JoJo (formerly of the bad-boy soul quartet Jodeci) and SWV (Sisters with Voices). The tours great, you know, he says. All the acts are phenomenal
Theyre blessing and gracing people with all the hits theyve had through the course of the years. Theyre very professional in terms of their performances, and the crowd is definitely receptive of all the acts that are on the bill.
Sweat says hes enjoying getting back on the road again with these performers, hitting fans with the New Jack Swing-era classics that were most likely on their mixtapes when they were younger. Ive toured with them before, only in other areas, he says. So, its just like any other show. You try to put a package together that you think the people would enjoy seeing and that its all put together. I mean, Ive worked with K-Ci and JoJo before. Ive worked with SWV before. Ive worked with Guy before. So, the package works, and its from the same era.
Once a reigning prince of R&B, Sweat is now relishing his role as an elder soul statesman, still dropping releases (like last years Til the Morning, which includes appearances from T-Pain, SWVs Coko and Johnny Gill and the late Gerald Levert, aka his partners from the supergroup LSG). He also serves as the host of his own radio show, Sweat Hotel.
I mean, basically, its a quiet storm format, but its not called The Quiet Storm, he says of the five-year-old show, which can be heard on Fayettevilles Magic 106.9 FM nightly. Basically, it came about because they asked me to do it. I started in 14 markets. So, it was a great hit in the 14 markets. Then, I ended up moving to 20-something, then to 30. So, the show has been a phenomenal success.
As much as Sweat enjoys reminding audiences of that back-in-the-day soul, either on-stage or on his radio show, the man does gives props to the contemporary R&B singers. Trey Songz I love him as a vocalist, he admits. I mean, hes a gifted entertainer, along with Chris (Brown).
Changes in R&B not for him
However, Sweat does feel that R&B music has changed dramatically. No longer does soul exhibit the tactful innocence that Sweat trafficked in. If you want to get 21st-century fans, you have to be a bit, um, aggressive.
Radio has changed, he says. A lot of things have changed since Ive come out Everything today is more cutting-edge, as you know. You could get away with a lot more musically than you could at the end of the day. There are certain things that radio would not play. The music is more graphic than it was back in the day, youknowhamsayin. So, you had to be a little more subtle with what you said and how you said it. And, now, you know, its just straight to the point. You say what you feel, and radio probably will play it.
Nevertheless, Sweat insists that even in these more explicit times, he wont be changing up his style anytime soon. Hell always be the same dude dropping romantic, R & B ditties nasal twang and all.
I want people to think he hasnt changed from back in the day, youknowhamsayin, he says. Hes still real with it.