Life is RL’s favorite muse. When asked how he stays inspired after 15 years in the R&B game, the former NEXT front man revealed that he fuels his creativity with a disciplined approach to his craft and a dedication to experiencing life in new ways every day.
Following the release of his new single “Boo’d Up,” and with his solo debut, “5:15,” coming soon, Mechanical Dummy caught up with the man known for his role in classic hits like “Wifey” and “Too Close” to learn more about how he keeps his creative flame burning.
In this exclusive talk, RL revealed the difficulties of dealing with the double-edged sword of love and hate that artists receive from fans, as well as his frustration with the artificial nature of the music industry. With his new record, the self-proclaimed “regular guy who does extraordinary things” aims to take a more authentic approach to modern R&B.
“It’s about the realness,” he said. “People are so about everything else like how things look. People are so worried about the cosmetic things and not (what’s) under it. It’s like putting make-up on unhealthy skin. You’re making it worse. And that’s how we’re doing with this art. We need to X-ray this industry and look deep and say something.”
Say something in the comments if his words inspire you.
– G. King
Mechanical Dummy: You wake up early everyday ready to get to work in the studio. Where does your work ethic come from?
RL: Well really, it just comes from me wanting to be better than everybody. I want any advantage I can have, whether that’s working longer, working harder, any of that. I feel like if you really respect the art, then you have to dedicate yourself and do things uncomfortably until they become comfortable. It’s almost like when I’m in the gym, I used to hate doing pull-ups. And a trainer told me you have to do what you hate until you like it. Until it becomes ingrained in you and it becomes easier and it becomes effortless. And then you don’t think about it anymore, it’s not hard anymore.
MD: What did you used to hate about making music that you’ve learned to love?
RL: What I hated more than anything was really the politics. I love doing music, I loved being in my studio. Everything else you can keep. I loved meeting people that loved what I did and converting people so that they did love it. But I probably came off as standoffish because I was the youngest in the group, so I always was immature. So I felt like the way I could seem more mature was (by) being really quiet. So I would be quiet but then after I was out on my own, people took that as me not being friendly. So I had to learn to be a little more social than I was.
MD: Do you remember the first time you were inspired to make music?
RL: All I know is that music made me feel a certain way. I remember going to sleep listening to like After 7 and Boyz II Men and stuff like that and it made me feel a certain way. So I knew that I wanted to be able to have that effect on people as well.
MD: Was there ever a time when your inspiration faded?
RL: When I went through a divorce, I didn’t believe in love anymore. And that was tough for writing because it’s always about love. And I felt like a hypocrite. If I didn’t believe in it at the time, there was no way that I could write. I wasn’t inspired, I thought it would be fake. And I’ve always wanted to be authentic no matter what it was so I had to change up.
MD: How do you stay authentic while evolving as an artist?
RL: By living. Truth is, that’s why I usually go in the studio early and try to be out with enough time— especially with the engineers, producers and things like that. I’m like, “Let’s go in the studio by 10 or 11. Let me get you out by 5 or 6 so you can go tuck your kids in, or go on a date. Do other things” Because that’s what I wanna do. I wanna go live because the more people I’m around and the more people I experience, the more inspiration I have. So how can I go wake up, go to the gym, go to the studio, stay there ‘til five in the morning, go home, watch TV, do the same thing all over again? What’s gonna inspire me between that time? Nothing. I’m not one to do clubs so I just need to live. I need to be around people. I could be in a restaurant sitting next to somebody arguing with their woman or with their man. Or talking about some drama they’re going through. And that might inspire me indirectly.
MD: What’s your current muse for new project?
RL: Mainly I’ve focused on growth. I’ve focused on my life. I’ve focused on experiences. I try to live as normal as possible. I feel like if I’m a regular guy, doing extraordinary things, then I’m a regular guy period. So if I’m regular, there’s gotta be at least a million other regular guys going through what I’m going through, dealing with what I’m dealing with. That’s a million records sold right there. If people can relate to your music, they’ll buy it. And that’s all I want. For people to relate to what I’m going through and want to buy it because they feel the same way.
MD: What advice do you have for young artist who are seeking inspiration?
RL: Really just live. If you’re authentic in whatever you do, then somebody is gonna notice that. When somebody is going through something, there’s someone else somewhere else going through the same thing or who’s been through the same thing. And that makes it hit a nerve. And when it does that, it becomes more than just a song. It becomes an anthem; it becomes a fad, a fashion. So once you do that, there’s no turning back.
MD: How do you know when it’s time to move on from trends to find new inspiration?
RL: Truthfully, I have a short attention span anyway. So by the time it comes out, I’m probably beyond it. I remember even from the beginning when we were working on our first album, by the time “Too Close” came out, I probably was working on “Wifey.”
MD: What’s it like to never be able to just appreciate music as a fan?
RL: In the creative mind, that’s a negative and a positive. I’ve always said I can’t listen to music like everybody else does. I can’t be a regular fan. I hate that when I hear something, I listen to it differently. I can’t enjoy it like I did as a boy. It’s the same with my music. I don’t see my music any differently. People ask me stuff like, “What are you listening to now?” I don’t want to sound vain, but I’m listening to myself. Because I want to find out what songs I get tired of first. Because if I get tired of them, and they’re me, what is somebody that’s not me gonna think? So I try to study it. I’m the biggest hater. I have to be. Because that’s what society is. We’re all a bunch of haters, we’re over-critical, we over-think things. Especially when it comes to other people. So I try to do that with myself. That way, by the time you get it, I’ve already dissected it. Anything you can think about saying, I’ve already said it. I’ve already got an argument for it.
MD: Does love from fans keep you going through all of that hate?
RL: Of course. I’ll be 36 tomorrow. But when I hear people say you’re legendary and stuff like that, the truth is, I don’t even think of it that way. I’ve lived it, but I haven’t. It’s almost like people will say things and I won’t remember. I don’t remember the past so I don’t look in the mirror and go, “Oh, you’re the guy who wrote this or sang this.” That’s actually the most motivating thing. It’s one of the best things about being an artist and creating. But you can’t get too caught up in it because there’s the opposite spectrum. I have this new rule that I can look at blogs and articles about myself, but I can’t go down to the comment section. On one hand you have people that love your music and say positive things, and on the other you have people that dissect it and say hurtful things. I know that artists are sensitive and it will hurt like hell. Let’s be honest. It hurts. There’s no other way to explain that. It’s the worst feeling in the world. This is my heart, my life, my everything.