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Brian McKnight

Two Sides To McKnight

BrianBrian McKnight recalls that it was once easier for someone like himself to be considered a mainstream artist. "Seven years ago, maybe, there were eight or nine formats I could be played on," the artist says. "But you know what? I'm not going to be pigeonholed. Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye made the music they wanted to make. And I'm getting back to that way of thinking, versus fitting a mold. I'm just going to be me."

That's the intent of "Gemini," McKnight's latest Motown offering, this week. His eighth studio album couples his signature love ballads with uptempo songs that reveal the artist's fun, risqué side. Along the way, he also injects some doo-wop and jazz. And, as he did on his last album, "U-Turn," McKnight shares the mic with guests from the rap/hip-hop arena, including Juvenile, Akon and Talib Kweli.

"I am my past records," he declares. "But there are parts of me that just want to 'hit it.' I can't worry about people saying I'm being something I'm not."

The project's first two singles -- already bona fide adult R&B hits -- illustrate McKnight's musical dichotomy. The flirtatious "What We Do Here" is about a performer preparing to go onstage while trying to get his groove on with a woman in his dressing room, and is a Grammy Award nominee for best R&B male vocal performance. "Every Time You Go Away," meanwhile, takes fans back to McKnight's romantic heyday circa "Back at One," which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.