There’s a moment after the bridge to Musiq Soulchild’s “So Beautiful” that the 33-year-old artist descends, in one phrase, from his effortless, flighty falsetto back into the baritone that made him famous more than 10 years ago. Last Tuesday night at the Highline Ballroom, he took a few steps back, clenched both fists as if to compose himself, and sang, accompanied by his background singers: “Baby don’t you know you’re so beautiful?”
It marked, perhaps, the first time Musiq appeared truly comfortable that night, a remarkable fact since he was about three-fourths of the way through his show-slash-de facto release party for his sixth album MusiqInTheMagiq. He held the microphone in one hand and looked across the crowd, a swagging soulstar in complete command of his presence and the atmosphere.
Even at shows celebrating recent releases, new material is best mixed with a heavy dose of fan favorites, especially when many members of the standing-room only crowd are wearing high heels. Tuesday’s performance was not unlike watching a parent crushing vitamins into their child’s food so that they hardly know they’re eating something nutritious.
Which is not to suggest that MusiqInTheMagiq is a hard sell. It will probably go down as one of his best two or three albums; the first, Aijuswanaseing, was released in December 2000. And the subject matter of his latest record is decidedly more optimistic; on “SayIDo,” Musiq croons, “So let me put it all together/ it’s been good let’s make it better/ And now forever if it’s alright with you.” On “Lovecontract,” he sings, “Baby I, I’m thinking it’s time I/ quit the running around settle down and give my heart to you.”
So much for looking for a B.U.D.D.Y.
Musiq sat down to discuss the state of his live show, dish on love and relationships, and explain why he patterns himself after the late, great James Brown.
Your new album is your sixth. Where were you as an individual back in 2000 in comparison to who you are today?
That time period from 2000 and 2001–I was so green, man. I didn’t really know that much about the music business or the entertainment industry, and I was still actually leaning a lot about myself as an artist as a vocalist, a songwriter; shit, as a person. So at the time I had a lot whole of ideas that I later found out were misconceptions about the game.
Misconceptions about the game of life or music?
Both (laughs). Life in general. The space in between 2000, 2001 up until now as been a tremendous learning experience, it’s been B.S. People ask me, well, is it all that I’ve expected? Whenever anyone asked me that, I always say yeah and no. It’s been what I expected in terms of It’s been overwhelming, and [having] access to so many resources and being able to be in the position where you’re on a platform presenting yourself and opening yourself up to so many different types of people. No, because all the little intricate stuff that makes everything tick. I couldn’t have imagined it. Despite all of that, I can definitely look at everything as a blessing.
Would you agree with the observation that the subject matter of MusiqintheMagiq is a rather optimistic than your material has been in the past?
I am very optimistic. I know that it’s particular to love and relationships, but that sense of optimism, you can actually apply that to my entire approach. I’m very optimistic as far as the potential of the type of music that I’m making, and the legacy and traditions of music that I’m contributing to. I’m optimistic about the potential of it, how far it can progress and grow, and how many people will be willing to invest in it and support it. If I’m not optimistic, what does that say about what I’m doing and the purpose that I’m doing it for?
A lot of it songs are talking about commitment, and even (gulp) marriage, though.
That’s the ultimate goal, you know, when it comes to love and relationships. I’m still working on my relationship to get to that point to be comfortable where I’m willing to make that step because it’s a huge sacrifice, when you want to get into the realm of committing yourself to that one person. There’s a lot of things to consider that I don’t think people take into consideration. And they enter into it a little loosely, then when the shit gets real, they wanna be like, “Hold on, I got some conditions now.” (Laughs.) Then it’s like, “Well, I don’t think you were clear on exactly what it was that you were asking for.” It’s just think I’ve learned that in conversations I’ve had with people, and now myself being in a relationship that I can call a serious, exclusive relationship. Not to take away from any of my previous relationships with anyone I was with, but this is the most involved, the most focused that I’ve been in a relationship. You learn a lot about yourself, let alone [learning about] the other person.
Do struggling relationships still speak to you as an artist?
I still speak to those points because they’re real things. They’re not gonna go away, there’s always gonna be that sense of uncertainty. You’re always gonna ask yourself those questions. I don’t think anyone goes into a relationship that sure. Even the most solid or seemingly stable relationships are filled with questions. Maybe not necessarily doubts, but questions. Even if it’s, “Am I good enough?” Or, “Am I doing the right things?” Maybe not so much questions like, “Does she love me?” Or, “Is he gonna be there after he finds out these things about me?” I think that if you honestly love someone to the truest meaning of that, then things like that doesn’t really matter because you’re dealing with another person who pretty much feels the same way, and they’re just looking for someone to love and accept them for the same reasons that you wanna be loved and accepted.
If you find two people who find each other on that same common ground, there’s nothing you guys can’t accomplish or maintain within a relationship. It’s just that when you’re misrepresenting yourself because you wanna come off as, like, a good look, it’s kinda hard to keep that up with stuff gets real. So I think those questions will always be asked–even when you’ve been married for four, five years, if you’ve got grown kids, you’ll still be questioning! That’s just the nature of humanity. Everything changes. People change. And with those changes create the opportunity. Like, maybe an individual will be the change that [improves] a person’s life. But I think those questions are good because it offers the opportunity to stay on your toes in a relationship, not to get too comfortable. Don’t think everything is so chill that you don’t have to do stuff anymore. ‘Cause then don’t get mad when a person rolls out because you didn’t stop. Marriage is not a license to get lazy.
Your live show has really progressed without some of the big production of R&B singers have, and the band sounds great. You’ve been compared to James Brown. How pleased are you with your live show?
I’m still very adamant about going out with a band. I’m trying to maintain tradition. It’s interesting that you mention James, because, you know, I pattern myself after him as far as his work ethic. I might be as strict as James, but I still have that same firmness–any bandmember will tell you: I want what I want. And it’s not so much because I want it, it’s what I need. And it’s not so much it’s what I need, really. I need it because that’s what people want. That’s what people are looking for. So I’m responding to what the people are coming to be entertained by. But once I get that, we can go H.A.M. onstage, because that’s only going to enhance the situation. I like to have fun onstage. I like for people to get involved with the show. I don’t want people to leave thinking I sang some songs, and that they would have been better off had they just gone home and listened to the album. I want you to feel like you experienced something special, something different, even if I don’t have the big production. As long as I’ve got a band, a microphone and a crowd to entertain, I’ma go hard.