R&B Triple-Threat Brian McKnight Back with 'Ten'

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Singer, songwriter and producer Brian McKnight has sold more than 16 million records, including his double platinum hit Anytime. His latest disc is called Ten.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BRIAN MCKNIGHT (Musician): (Singing) Baby, all I know is I can't believe forever. Little kiss, little -


Brian McKnight is a triple-threat, singer, songwriter and producer. He sold over 60 million records including his double platinum hit, “Anytime.” His latest disc is called “Ten” and features the chart topping single “Find Myself In You”.

(Soundbite of song “Find Myself In You”)

Mr. MCKNIGHT: (Singing) I was so lonely, though there was so many symbols waiting, I'm so glad that this ain't that. Girl, your the reason -

CHIDEYA: I recently spoke with Brian at our NPR West studios. Brian McKnight, welcome.

Mr. MCKNIGHT: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So this latest album is “Ten”. That's the name. It's your tenth album.

Mr. MCKNIGHT: Uh-hmm.

CHIDEYA: Give me very quickly - don't think about it - a top ten list of how you should live Brian McKnight style.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Come on. Fast. Fast. Spit them out. Spit them out.

Mr. MCKNIGHT: That's not a question that I can just spit out because I don't know - I'm very boring.

CHIDEYA: Oh no, you're not.


CHIDEYA: Just give me three. How about three?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: You have to love a lot of sports, you have to be a sports-head. And you need to be able to adapt to any situation, you know. I'm into a lot of things that, you know, will put your life in jeopardy, you know, the motorcycle racing and skydiving and a lot of different things. So you know, I'm definitely a lot of fun but, you know, you definitely have to check your HMO before you hang out with me. So I don't know if that answers your question.

CHIDEYA: Check your HMO.

Mr. MCKNIGHT: You know what's funny? I have the systematic answer for every question because I have been asked everything but you throw something at me like (unintelligible). Nice going.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: See, you know, I just have to throw you off so that you know you can't give us the same answer.


CHIDEYA: Well, actually let's talk a little bit about interviewing.


CHIDEYA: Do you get tired of it? Do you get tired of people asking you about your music which gives you less time to do your music?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: You know what - no, because I always have enough time to do the music that I do. And now, when the record is done, I can breathe.

(Soundbite of song “Unhappy Without You”)

Mr. MCKNIGHT: (Singing) Listen. Girl, we really need to talk it out.

CHIDEYA: “Unhappy Without You”. I love the beat that that has.

Mr. MCKNIGHT: All right.

CHIDEYA: It's really, you know, fresh. I mean that's - it's different from some of the slower R&B songs. What - I mean, how would you describe that song?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: This particular song for me - for me it's never about the music. It's always about what I'm saying and this is a really integral song because you get to a point sometimes in a relationship when you're dealing with somebody where if I'm going to be unhappy I can be unhappy all by myself, and I thought that was a very universal message that people you know, you shouldn't put up with a whole, whole lot. No matter how much you love somebody because love really sometimes isn't enough.

(Soundbite of song “Unhappy Without You”)

Mr. MCKNIGHT: (Singing) You still make love to me every single night, girl. How can we get back to that blissful thing again? You got to give me everything if you want to be with me. I don't want to be all by myself. I can be unhappy without you.

CHIDEYA: A lot of your songs, I mean, when you talk about things people can relate to - love. You know, you are a master of love songs. What keeps you coming back to that theme over and over?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: Well, it's the only thing that we all - no matter what walk of life, color, shape, creed, religion, whatever - that we have in common. We all want to love somebody and we all want to be love in return. So there's - you can never run out of subject matter even if it's the same subject matter because at the end of the day you - it's what you want.

CHIDEYA: So, we interviewed Smokey Robinson, and he was joking about how folks would say oh, you know my Mom says that I was conceived to a Smokey Robinson song. Do people ever come up to you and say oh, this is Brian and he was conceived during a Brian McKnight song?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: Everyday. Everyday this happens and it's a great feeling because if people when they're being their most intimate - they use you. I think that's a great thing because it's at a time when it's very important to them to have the mood set. So I have no problem being the mood setter - not at all.

CHIDEYA: What mood are you setting with “Ten”?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: Basically, every record that I make is basically a look at my life over the last 15, 16 months, the things that have happened. And it didn't necessarily happen in that time frame but that's when the song came so that's when I wrote it. So I use the songs as my therapy and you know, it's basically - the audience is the listener and I'm telling you what's going on in my life.

(Soundbite of song, “Should Have Been Loving You”)

Mr. MCKNIGHT: (Singing) Oh, thinking about all the times I let you down. Now I got both feet on the ground.

I found that in my lifetime it to be very difficult to say I'm sorry about a lot of things. And I think that's just the male thing to do. You know, there's a vulnerability there in saying that you're sorry. And “Should Have Been Loving You” is that song that says you know, as I look back there may have been things that may have hurt you. And I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of song, “Should Have Been Loving You”)

Mr. MCKNIGHT:(Singing) I should have been loving you. Instead of running around, I should have been loving you. Instead of breaking your heart. And baby I'm so sorry for the things I put you through. You know, I'm really a fool who should have been loving you.

CHIDEYA: How did you get your start? I mean I understand that you ended up kind of easing into this thing song writing.

Mr. MCKNIGHT: Right.

CHIDEYA: So how exactly did that unfold?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: Well, I sent my demos out everywhere and all the record company and publishing companies were wondering who was singing and who was playing and who was writing? And I was like well, that's me and me and me. Well, do you want a record deal? Sure, why not? I mean, I've been singing my whole life too - not to say - but I don't place a high merit on my vocals or anyone for that matter because without the song, what do you sing?

CHIDEYA: Before I let you go, you know, you have been a producer and songwriter for Mariah Carey, Justin Timberlake, Willy Nelson, Nelly, Vanessa Williams, Kenny G., you know, how do you like working with other people? How do you like that interaction?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: I love working with other people if we all have the same goal. When I first started out, I was producing records because they were paying me a lot of money to do it and it just wasn't fulfilling because I didn't have the patience to deal with some of the other things that had nothing to do with making music so I stopped. And I only work now with people that share the same love for music and the same love for the craft that I do.

CHIDEYA: Do you take good direction from yourself?

Mr. MCKNIGHT: When I'm by myself when I'm making records in my brain I already know what it's supposed to sound like. I think what I am good at is believing that it was right the first time I did it. I hear my own records all the time, like man, that's not exactly right. But man, it sure feels good. So there - then you have to just be able to trust yourself. I do trust myself.

CHIDEYA: It's a great place to leave it. Brian, thanks a lot.

Mr. MCKNIGHT: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Brian McKnight's new album is “Ten,” and we'll be looking forward to Eleven.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MCKNIGHT: (Singing) You got the thing I'm looking for. You got me more than you ever want. You got me so much -

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today and thanks for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MCKNIGHT: (Singing) Can't leave you alone with this. All the single days away from you, I just want to play with you -

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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