In 23 years, Brian McKnight has earned 16 Grammy Award nominations from over a dozen solo records, hosted multiple radio and television shows, and even competed in Donald Trump’s The Celebrity Apprentice. In an exclusive interview with POPULOVE, McKnight opened up about the loved ones who inspired his upcoming album and why he’s the happiest he’s ever been.
“I think that I’m better in every way. I’m singing better, I’m playing better, and it’s attributed to this relationship that I’m in. It’s the best one I’ve ever been in and the last one that I’ll ever be in,” McKnight said. “That’s the theme of my life now: to be at my best, to be better than I’ve ever been.”
The album’s lead single is a charming, smooth track called “Uh Oh Feeling” that feels like a musical seduction. As the title suggests, “Uh Oh Feeling” isn’t always a good thing. McKnight took inspiration from experiences shared by his girlfriend’s daughter.
“She’s 16, and she’s constantly getting the ‘uh oh’ feeling from creepy guys who are looking at her or trying to talk to her in a creepy way. I wanted to take that and turn it around to make it positive and uplifting,” he said. “When you’re about to be with the person you really want to be with, doing things that nobody else gets to see, it’s that butterfly feeling in your chest that you feel.”
If you listen to the song, you’ll know he succeeded. Even more impressive, though, is that McKnight writes and produces all of his music by himself — a trait shared only by true creative talents. It’s difficult to name even one modern recording artist today who can produce an album entirely alone, but McKnight’s not a modern artist. He’s skilled on eight different instruments and can make popular music without the use of computers. Even though he’s labeled as an R&B artist and has had 10 albums on Billboard‘s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, McKnight says none of his past albums have stuck to one genre.
“I love so many different kinds of music, and there really isn’t a genre yet that encompasses everything,” he said. “That’s the best thing and worst thing about the music that I create. I’ve never been able to focus on one thing. I didn’t want people to put on my album, like some other albums I’ve listened to, and it sound like just the same song, same tempo, same sound, same feeling, same everything — the entire record.”
The music industry has changed a lot since McKnight came on the scene in 1992, but the rise of electronic dance music and the fall of acoustic, live recordings doesn’t bother him. He believes that the sound of popular music in the past, present and future is dependent on what each generation wants to make.
“Everybody’s going to do what they want to do, and it’s not a good thing or a bad thing or right or wrong. It’s just what it is,” he said. “In the 70’s, we thought disco was awesome… for about five minutes.”
If anything in today’s music industry has yet to evolve, it’s how genres are attached to specific artists. McKnight says he’s not the only artist to be labeled R&B without releasing solely R&B music, and some of today’s artists are labeled pop even though their music sounds R&B.
“Unfortunately, if it’s a black singer, people automatically assume that it’s R&B. To me, R&B is The Four Tops and The Temptations,” he said. “The people that are truly making R&B music today are not black people.”
Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, and Nick Jonas are three artists McKnight says are recording R&B the way he remembers it.
“If you listen to Nick Jonas’ last single, that’s the closest thing to R&B that I’ve heard in awhile. I’m not saying that it is, but what it sounds like melodically and musically sounds more like the R&B of the 90’s than anything.”
While fans anxiously await the release of Better next January, Brian McKnight spends time making memories with his family and preparing to tour the U.S. next Spring as the best artist he’s ever been. For this genuine talent, there are no limits.
“I put every musical thing I could think of on this album, and you’re going to love it or hate it. I decided not to try to be like everybody else and just be me, for the first time in a long time.”
For Better, McKnight enlisted the help of fellow recording artists Sixx John, Glasses Malone, and Kimie Minor for collaborations. In his career so far, the star has performed with artists as well-known as Boyz II Men, Justin Timberlake, and Celine Dion, whom he lists as his top three favorite performers he’s worked with.
Pre-order Better on iTunes today, and be sure to follow Brian McKnight on Facebook and Twitter for updates.