[EXCLUSIVE] Eric Benet Talks “Brilliant” New Album, Holding R&B Torch, More

After more than 15 years in the music industry, five solo albums, and four Grammy nominations, Eric Benet is a rarity as he starts his own record label and prepares for the release of his sixth solo studio album titled “The One” on June 5th. The soulful crooner’s success can be undeniably be attributed to his humble disposition, drive, and smooth vocal prowess.

In this interview with singersroom.com, Benet takes time out from his busy schedule and new daughter Lucia to discuss his latest album which features guest appearances by artists such Lil Wayne and daughter India. He also dishes on his upcoming tour with Ledisi, artist integrity, and the importance of social awareness.

Singersroom: Hi, how are you today?

Eric Benet: I’m doing pretty good. I’m not gonna be talking very loudly because I have the baby, and she’s sleeping.

Singersroom: Ok, congratulations on that, by the way!

Benet: Thank you.

Singersroom: So the new album is called “The One.” What is the significance of that title?

Benet: I called the album “The One” because I’ve been dreaming, and working towards this goal, pen ultimately, to have my own record label, and then to release my own stuff on that label. And this is the one; the one I’ve been dreaming about my whole career and working towards. I’m definitely at the top of my game vocally. And those fans, or kinda fans out there that have maybe liked an Eric Benet song or two but never really purchased an entire album, this is the one they gotta get. If I do say so myself, it’s just a brilliant body of work. It’s quite a statement, and I’m proud that this is my first independent statement creatively.

Singersroom: That goes into the next question, actually. You have started a brand new record label called Jordan House Records. What can we expect to hear from your new label?

Benet: Our first priority is a successful release of “The One.” After we’ve achieved that, I would very much like to find, develop, and nurture an artist or two who has a very definitive, creative statement and I’d like to give that artist room to express his or her self, more like a partnership, rather than a label and the artist; but a partnership to share music with the world. And how effectively that will happen will depend on the success of the first release, but it’s very much in the plan.

Singersroom: Do you feel it’s important in today’s music business for artists to become more entrepreneurial?

Benet: I think if they’re gonna survive, they have to be. I think in an industry where the pie was historically eighty percent belonging to the record label and the artist was lucky to get a percentage of that pie, that pie has become very small now, and in order to survive, they not only have to be a creative force but they also gotta have quite a bit of business savvy. The returns aren’t what they used to be, people aren’t buying records. It’s not even a business off selling records anymore, it’s just a business of visibility, saturation, and branding. The artist has to be aware of that, and [the artist] has to have some type of machine behind him or her and understand that there isn’t going to be as much about selling records as it used to be. The artist, in order to be successful, must play a role, and creatively, with what that marketing means, and what’s gonna set that artist apart from everyone else out there trying to get a piece. So yes, I think it’s extremely necessary for artists to have more autonomy, more control, and more business savvy if they’re gonna survive.

Eric Benet

Singersroom: Your first single from the new album is called “Real Love,” and is a nod to soulful, old school crooners. In your opinion, where is R&B in its evolution?

Benet: I’d like to think that there’s an authenticity to R&B that a few artists are holding the torch for, I’d like to think I’m one of them. I think that this kind of R&B celebrates musicianship, celebrates arrangement, chord structure, and vocals that are unapologetically real and raw. Right now, I think that kind of R&B is not the mainstream. I think that it’s something that is appreciated by less quanitful masses, but with more discriminate tastes in music. I think that there will always be an audience for that type of R&B. I think it’s going through a cycle now of not being the most popular type of music, but I’d like to think that that cycle is coming around and going around again. A great soulful song, with great instrumentation and great songwriting craftsmanship will never go away. I think sometimes you get kinda covered up with stuff that’s a little more sensational, or more youth-oriented. But I think quality and depth isn’t gonna go completely away, and I’d like to think that the pendulum is gonna swing back again, and once again it’s gonna be like, the “in” thing. But right now it almost feels like it’s an underground thing, like people who have a love affair for the instrumentation of music are drawn to this type of R&B. You got the Jill Scotts, the Maxwells, Anthony Hamilton; these kinds of artists do very well, it’s just not that many of them, and I’m gonna keep holding the torch.

Singersroom: Your daughter India is featured on the album, specifically on the track titled “Muzik.” How much do support a career in music for your daughter?

Benet: I support my daughter in anything that she does, anything that she’s passionate about, and she’s definitely passionate about music. (Laughs) My wife just made a comment today, as I’m carrying Lucia around and changing diapers, that everything with me is a song. So I’m making up a new song and singing it to Lucia, like, every ten minutes. So her just being around me, and I’m not really thinkin about it, I’m pretty much bombarding her with original music. And with India, it was the same way, and with me it was the same way. I was a baby in a family that was very musical where everybody made up songs, my mother made up songs, from everything to clean your rooms, to take out the garbage. So music is a way of communicating love, and music with me and India is like breathing.

Singersroom: You recently took part on an all-star musical tribute to Trayvon Martin. How much do you think it’s important for musicians to take part in social and/or political issues?

Benet: I think that, as a society, it’s important for everyone to continue to try to move us all toward a more loving and nurturing coexistence. I think that’s what we’ve been doing ever since history has been recorded. At first, we were really bad at it, with the stronger nation going to the other nation inflicting their belief system, their religion onto the smaller nation; that being hundreds of thousands of years ago all the way until forty or fifty years ago, a lone voice in Alabama speaking against segregation. My round-about way of saying, if you have a voice, use it towards love, use it towards promoting the evolution of society towards a more nurturing, loving place. Celebrities, we have a bigger megaphone, we can reach more people, and when there’s injustice and blatant wrong, we need to speak out against it, and we need to speak for healing and love, and not only bringing the country together, but bringing the world together. I think it’s everybody’s responsibility.

Singersroom: Yes, definitely. There’s a Lil Wayne collabo called “Red Bone Girl” on the new album. Lil Wayne has said that he listened to your song “Sometimes I Cry” while he was incarcerated. Was that the starting point for this collabo?

Benet: Yes, it was the catalyst for me reaching out to him for sure. I was flattered; I was honored that my song would offer some kind of healing when he was in such a lonely place. And through that reaching out, it just became a matter of force that I say ‘Yo, how bout we get down on something?’ And came up with this track, “Red Bone Girl” which is just a fun, throwback vibe, but still got some bottom in it, you know, I’m still doing the live instrumentation but still got beat. It was very natural for me to invite him to get down on it with me, and he heard it, loved it, and I’m glad that he was down.

Singersroom: That’s awesome. You recently signed on to Ledisi’s BGTY Tour this summer. What can fans expect?

Benet: I know a lot of people probably don’t know this, but years ago, I was hanging in the Bay, and I went to this old jazz club. This was like twelve years ago, maybe eleven, ten, something like that. And I saw this girl singing, and I thought she was like, bananas, like insane! It was just her with this small band, and this club you had to go down in the basement, this little place, maybe forty people could fit in, and she was just killin! And I was completely blown away, so much so, that I called my A&R person at Warner Bros. at the time, and I was like, ‘Look, I gotta fly you to the Bay to see this girl sing, cause she is just ridiculous.’ And it was Ledisi. So, my A&R person came to see Ledisi and was blown away, and flew her back to LA and had some meetings. But you know how it goes at record companies sometimes, the person who pushes the button to give her the deal or not give her the deal was not my A&R person, it was somebody higher up. For whatever reason, the deal did not work out, and so I was very happy a few years later to see Ledisi come out with her own project. So I’ve seen her many times and she’s a wonderful person. She got down with me on the last album “Lost in Time,” and to see her live, you see, like, passion, perfection. Like a tutorial of being a vocalist. So that’s what you’re gonna get from Ledisi. And from me, I pretty much look at getting on stage and singing to people as my gratitude personified; my gratitude for me, being able to have this life, being able to live my dream. When I get on stage, I perform like it’s the performance of my life. I want people to feel every note, feel as though I gave everything I got. I’m very proud to say that people come and see me perform, those are the comments that I get, and that’s pretty much what I aim to do. So when you come to the tour, you’re gonna see two extremely passionate people about a craft they’ve been working on for a very long time and giving it their all. And it’s gonna be very memorable, very powerful and it’s something that you ought not miss.

Singersroom: Yes, definitely. I’m in the Cleveland area, and I think I saw that the tours gonna be here in July, so that should be a really good match up, with you two guys performing together.

Benet: Oh it’s gonna be better than good (Laughs)

Singersroom: (Laughs) OK, one last question. How does the new album “The One” compare to your previous works?

Benet: It’s me at the top of my game in every aspect, so I think just creatively and vocally it’s on a whole other level. Nothing motivates you like ownership, you know, I put my whole soul into this project and that I’ve come to love what I do. I love to be extremely satisfied and happy, and these songs are pushing the envelope, trying some things that I’ve never done before, and I think that’s all you can ask as an artist, is to express yourself in the purest, most creative way that you can and then push the envelope and do things that you haven’t yet and succeed. So, I’ve definitely achieved that with this album.

Singersroom: Ok, that’s all the questions. Thank you for your time. We really appreciate it.

Benet: Thank you. Appreciate it. June 5th, it comes out.

Singersroom: Thank you.

Follow Eric Benet on Twitter @ebenet and go to ericbenet.net for all the latest news.