Well that may be true, but most people, McKnight is a multi-faceted person, not a one- or two-dimensional character. (And he and R. Kelly have a lot more in common than many people know; a little more on that later.) Nowhere is McKnight's humanity more apparent than on his latest album, Ten. On the album, McKnight is much more upfront and frank than on many of his previous nine albums.
New Record DealMcKnight's newly expressed boldness and buoyancy coincides with his separation from previous label Motown, where he released five albums, starting with the 1998 holiday album Bethlehem. (Prior to his Motown days, McKnight recorded three albums for Mercury Records.)
McKnight says this is not a coincidence, and that he feels more comfortable now that he's with Warner Bros.: "I definitely think it's the switch in labels," he said of the reason behind his apparent creative rebirth. "I don't think they (Motown) had the same vision I did." In particular, he said he felt Motown didn't do enough to support what turned out to be his final album on the label, Gemini. But he also said the differences had been brewing for awhile and that the rift was apparent "way before" Gemini was released.
Moving On, RegroupingBut McKnight has moved on and rebounded with Ten, arguably one of the best albums of his career. Two of the reasons for the album's quality are the songs "Find Myself In You" and "Used to Be My Girl." The latter song (which is not to be confused with the O'Jays classic of the same name) is about a chance encounter between a man, his woman and his woman's ex-boyfriend. McKnight, the ex-boyfriend in the song, says the tale isn't fictitious.
"It's real. Absolutely. I ran into a girl that I used to be with. It's a very funny song to me because of the situation. It's the very first song I wrote for Ten." During the song, the situation escalates and McKnight continues to taunt his would-be male rival. One thing the song definitely does is throw dirt on the notion that McKnight's soft, a perception that he's aware of, but laughs at.
"Anybody who knows me would say that I do not lack confidence: I'm 6'4," 225 lbs, played sports most of my life," said McKnight, who's been known to play semi-pro basketball (something he has in common with R. Kelly), and was actually in the middle of a golf game in Los Angeles during the phone interview. (For the curious, McKnight said he took up golf about eight months ago, and has a handicap of "about 16 or 17.")
"Red, White & Blue"One of the more interesting songs on Ten is "Red, White & Blue," a patriotic song told from the perspective of a solider in Iraq who's writing home to his wife and kids. The songs made even more interesting by the fact that it features the Country & Western act Rascal Flatts.
"I've been friends with those guys for awhile," he said of the Country band. "I don't think they're very different, Country and R&B. The people think they are. The way that Gary sings, he's probably the most soulful white boy around," McKnight said, referring to Rascal Flatts lead vocalist Gary LeVox.
"The problem with music today is that there's so many categories. When I was growing up, music was just music," said McKnight, who was born in June 1969. "You could hear all kinds of music on the same station."
Gerald LeVert's DeathAlthough his new deal with Warner Bros. and new album have been recent causes for joy for him, McKnight was also hit with tragedy even more recently - the Nov. 10, 2006 death of R&B singer Gerald LeVert. "Of all my friends who are in this business, he was probably my closest friend," McKnight revealed. "This has been tough. I didn't want to believe it. I still expect to get a call from him."
McKnight was even one of the speakers during a three-hour memorial service in Cleveland a week after LeVert's death. "It wouldn't have mattered where I was, in any corner of the world, I would've been here today," he told the assemblage during the gathering. "The world will not see the likes of Gerald LeVert again."
A that's a sentiment definitely echoed by R&B fans across the globe.