After a tumultuous hiatus from music, filled with a "nasty divorce," successful international film debuts and a departure from his record label, Tyrese Gibson returns with a new album that he says is the best of his career. "Open Invitation," arriving Nov. 1 on the singer/actor's own label, Voltron Recordz, with distribution through EMI Music Services, is an upbeat project packed with high-profile guests -- a far cry from the sound he was known for while on J Records.
"Clive Davis, Larry Jackson and the team at J Records did everything they could do to create some energy around my albums," says Tyrese, who ended his four-year, two-album relationship with J in 2006. "But there were certain things that we weren't on the same page about."
Tyrese, 32, says he found himself with increasingly less say over his projects, and that he felt neglected when he experimented with rap on his third studio album, "Alter Ego," in 2006.
"Major record labels can really put an artist in a vulnerable space, because if you don't do things the way they want you to do it-don't sing the songs they want you to sing, don't wear the clothes they want you to wear in your videos -- it's almost considered to be politically incorrect," Tyrese says. "If you have an opinion that may be the opposite of theirs, [there's] a strong possibility they won't get behind you and your album. There were times when I felt [that]."
After parting ways with J, Tyrese made the most of his free agency, starring in several blockbusters including all three films in the "Transformers" franchise and 2011's "Fast Five." Anxious to return to music on his own terms, Tyrese set out to create a label deal in which he would own his masters. After meeting and brainstorming with Jesse Flores at EMI, he launched Voltron Recordz in February.
But even before finalizing the deal, he had already invited more than a dozen producers and songwriters into his home studio to work on "Open Invitation." "I don't know too many independent albums that feature Rick Ross, T.I., Faith Evans and this level of production," Tyrese says. The album's first single, "Stay," is No. 5 on Billboard's Adult R&B chart and No. 25 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
"This time it's all him," says MBK Entertainment CEO Jeff Robinson, who's known Tyrese since the singer was 17, and has come aboard to help with the project. "With other artists I'm much more in control [and] involved in how the album is rolled out. This one is different: He's ultimately calling the shots."
Tyrese is behind every moving part of "Open Invitation," from promotion and funding to executing retail initiatives. For instance, before playing the album for iTunes executives, he met with Best Buy and Target to talk product placement and rollout.
"A female friend of mine was sitting in a record label meeting -- they were going through the names of the artists whose albums were coming out in November," he says. "The president at a major label -- I won't say who -- says, 'Tyrese is never going to sell albums as an independent artist... The most he'll do is sell albums to black people.'
"They don't think that you'll sell albums unless you're on a major record label," Tyrese adds. "I use that as motivation."