If Trey Songz' latest video was your first introduction to the seductive R&B singer, you might think he was an entirely different type of artist. Made for the delicate ballad "Top of the World," from his recent five-song EP "Inevitable" (which arrived Nov. 25 on Atlantic Records), the clip was filmed in Songz' hometown of Petersburg, Va., and shows him hanging out at the barbershop and holding babies. The chorus, crooned in his silken falsetto-"If I could, I would bring the whole hood to the top of the world with me"-invokes shades of Michael Jackson's most generous moments. The video tells the story of a man from modest means who now wants to lift up everyone around him. There's nary a pelvic thrust in sight. It's "Mr. Steal Your Girl" gone 99%.
"Today, it's kind of difficult to make a conscious record and still be successful, however brash that sounds," says the Grammy Award-nominated Songz, 27, whose most recent album, "Passion, Pain & Pleasure," debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in 2010 and spawned the top 10 hit "Bottoms Up" (featuring Nicki Minaj). "As much as is going on in the world, people aren't really checking for that real conscious record. They want to dance, they want to hear bragging, all that stuff. With that song, it was about telling people I worked hard for what I have-and I have a lot. I'm very fortunate. But by that same token, I will give back to as many people as I can."
For Songz, the last month represents a period of growth and added dimension to his more prominent persona as an R&B lothario with a sensual chest and wide-ranging hip flexors. For one, the singer has gotten increasingly serious about Angels With Heart, the charity foundation he began in 2010. Using the vast reach of his fan club, Trey's Angels, Songz realized he could mobilize and encourage his fans to volunteer in their communities, meeting each other through social networks and offering their time to soup kitchens, elderly foundations and similar endeavors. A portion of the proceeds from "Inevitable" will go to the organization.
He also released a pair of free mixtapes, "Anticipation 2" and #Lemmeholdthatbeat2, the latter consisting entirely of Songz rapping in triple-time cadences that mimic the rhythms of many of his R&B songs. "No matter at what point in your career, you have to evolve some way. You have to grow your audience," Songz says. "It's not a marketing strategy, it's just what I feel musically. And I want people to know every angle of who I am."
Which isn't to say that Songz is abandoning his platform: "Inevitable" is smattered with his signature smooth talk and big, gleaming ballads geared to convince ladies to abandon their boyfriends. But even those are a bit adventurous. "Outside, Pt. 1" is an ode to open-air coitus, while "Sex Ain't Better Than Love" uses Songz' falsetto and recalls early-'90s quiet storm. But "Top of the World" and "What I Be On," a fun, club-centric single featuring Fabolous, point toward a more interesting future, which includes a fifth album (Chapter 5, release date TBA) and a small tour in February, during which he'll play all the hits from his back catalog.
He's also taking a new step into acting, having wrapped "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3-D," due in theaters in October. "It's going to be crazy. It's very real. Especially when you put yourself in the mind-set that it is real, it's an ill experience," he says. Was he scared during the filming? "No comment," he says. Songz' part: the lead love interest, naturally.
But as Songz breaks out, with a fan base so dedicated he can motivate them to public service, what will they think of his next steps? "I feel people will view it as a transition period," he says, "but I'm not really doing anything different than I have been. It's just now I'm more popular."