Official Biography (courtesy of Lyfe Jennings)
Toledo, Ohio, where I came from, has always been a place where wonderful culture was born. Artists like the soul star Anita Baker, pianist Art Tatum and singer Shirley Murdock once called it home. It was in that city where I sang in church, performed at talent shows and got sent to prison when still in my teens. While I've never been the family reunion kind of guy, I don't get back to Toledo much, but those memories are forever.
One of the early songs I wrote for my new album I Still Believe was the soulful track "Momma," which talks directly about my own mother and the foolishness she had to deal with from me. One day I might be in my room rehearsing to a New Edition song and the next I was "running the streets, making people crazy." Even as a child, I thought of myself as rebel who just did what I wanted. Unlike other kids, I never tried to hide the bad stuff from my mother. I wasn't the type to sneak out of the house, but that didn't keep me from being kicked out several times. When I sat down to work on "Momma," I knew it had to be both honest and soulful. I even recruited my man Anthony Hamilton to give it that down home vibe, but if you listen to my voice, I try to convey the aching pain I now realize I put my mother through.
I Still Believe will most likely be my last studio album as I switch my focus to spending more time with my young family and prepare for other ventures outside of music. I feel this is my greatest work because I was able to concentrate on the music in a way that I haven't in a very long time. Being that this is the first disc from my new label Jesus Swings/Warner Brothers Records, I had total control over the final product and set out to do something special. Believe me, I practically lived in the studio.
Whether I'm talking about my "Momma," my ex-girl or the "Haters," I wanted to be open and honest. From my first album Lyfe 268-192 (my old prison number) to this latest project, I've always tried to put truth in my music. The truth is what inspires me as a songwriter, a musician and as a person.
People often ask what I'm thinking when I write certain songs. For example, my new single "Haters" is a mid-tempo danceable track, but the message is much deeper. Generally, you could say I was fed-up with how certain writers were trying to depict me after my run in with the law last year. Man, between the tabloids and the blogs had a field day saying that I was either broke or crazy, and people believe all these lies that they read. It's hurtful, because I've done nothing but put out positive music. But then, folks will take one situation and magnify it. I suppose its boring to people just to hear about me being a good father to my children, taking them to the movies on Friday night and to church on Sunday mornings. "Haters" is my way of saying I'm tired of the foolishness, tired of the lies.
Obviously, I've dealt with a lot varied situations in my life, but nothing was as powerful as the ten years I spent in prison. There used to be a time when I didn't like talking about it much, but now I have no problem being blunt about that experience that essentially shaped me as a real musician. In the beginning some of the inmates might've thought because I was playing my guitar instead of basketball in the yard, that I was soft. But, eventually the same cats would be sitting on the steps requesting certain songs. "Cry," a track from my debut album, was one I'd already written; I played that and a few others. Some people laughed, others made jokes, but there were a few who listened carefully and absorbed the lessons I was putting in the music. Mr. Baker, the warden at the prison, helped me a great deal and helped keep me focused. If it wasn't for him, who knows what might've happened to my music.
As a songwriter and producer, I'm always trying to find ways to simplify my sound. Now, don't get it twisted, I'm not talking about simple music, but a certain purity that can be heard when a song is not overproduced and the vocals are not outshined. That was my main goal when I began thinking about I Still Believe. If I had to define I Still Believe, I'd say it is about my complex relationships with women, with my family and with myself. It doesn't matter if it's a sexy song like "Holla" or a more intimate track like "Done Cryin'", it's those personal interactions that fuels my material. I think one of the best examples of this from the album is on my first song, "Statistics." I had finished Steve Harvey's Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy and Commitment. You always hear from women that there aren't any good men left. I don't necessarily agree with this, but I will say that there is a shortage of available guys who are suitable suitors. When presented with the numbers, it is that much more important for women to give themselves a chance by not falling to attitudes or behaviors that would have them overlooked in their search for love.
One of my favorite tracks is the reggae laced "That's Love." I worked with Wyclef Jean on my last album Lyfe Changes, and he really tapped my ears to a lot of different music. Reggae lyricists are so open. It's wild, because in Jamaica there is so much poverty, but music brings richness to the island. Dudes with no shoes are master musicians who are focused on enriching the artform that is reggae. On "That's Love," I wrote about the strength of a mother taking care of her children, but not being taken care of emotionally by her husband, I wanted the listener to feel her power. Like a movie, the images are clear.
Growing-up listening to rap music, I've always been a big fan of the music. Guys like Tupac, Biggie and Jay-z were always my favorites, so when I wanted to get a rapper for the club track "The Work," I knew I had to reach out to Fabolous. Right now, he's my favorite rapper. Walking the line between street and mainstream, I incorporated a slight ‘80s-electro sound on "The Work" that should be perfect for the dance floor.
Another obvious favorite is my ATL neighbor Ludacris, who blessed me on "Like This." He does bring a cool swagger to that song, which I wrote about women who often get the short end of the stick when it comes to relationships. Luda and I together are a great balance.
To me, I Still Believe is an honest document of who Lyfe Jennings is and how I see the world in 2009. All of the joy, tears, laughter and pain of the world are contained in the music. It may not be all autobiography, but it is all real.