Given such song titles as "Baby Hold on to Me," "Can You Handle It," "The G Spot" and "U Got That Love," the general theme of Gerald Levert's music is easy to divine. His brand of sensuous R&B has
Given such song titles as "Baby Hold on to Me," "Can You Handle It," "The G Spot" and "U Got That Love," the general theme of Gerald Levert's music is easy to divine. His brand of sensuous R&B has provided romantic sustenance to a devoted fan base ever since his 1991 solo debut, "Private Line."
But Levert takes an unexpected turn on his eighth solo outing, "Do I Speak for the World?" As the title implies, the Nov. 30 release finds the 38-year-old singer/songwriter/producer pursuing more socially conscious topics: patriotism, activism, religion and the future of mankind.
The project also signals another milestone for Levert: It's his first album for the revamped Atlantic Records and without his longtime mentor, former Elektra Entertainment chairman/CEO Sylvia Rhone.
The shift to Atlantic is a homecoming of sorts. As frontman for R&B trio Levert, the artist recorded for Atlantic before moving to the Rhone-helmed EastWest (which later folded into Elektra Entertainment).
"You get complacent," Levert says during a stop in Los Angeles to shoot the new album's first video. "I'd been working with Sylvia for 18 years, so I knew [everyone's] names [on the staff]. It was like family."
Levert says he came up with the concept for "Do I Speak for the World?" before Elektra was dismantled. He also wanted to integrate elements of the original love connection he had forged with his audience, and this became even more important after his label switch. "You never know what can happen," Levert says. "This business can be scary."
The singer, who is the son of the O'Jays' Eddie Levert, adds, "Now I understand my father's dilemma when his group left Philadelphia International and the special relationship it had with [Kenny] Gamble & [Leon] Huff.
"I didn't want to force-feed my album concept," Levert continues. "But if I had gone totally left-field, the label might have said, 'Why didn't we drop him?' I still have to make a living at this. So I added a few love songs that still put across my original message. Not the one-night-stand kind of love, but that special kind of love for everything -- your family, your mate, the world."
The result is a record in the message-oriented vein of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Underscoring Levert's theme on the title track are cameos by noted social commentators Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. The anthem "Crucify Me" speaks to what's going on in the world. "What Happened to the Lovin'" ponders changing family values, accompanied by a chorus of Levert children and grandchildren. "So What (If You Got a Baby)" offers a tribute to single mothers.
Among the writer/producers working with Levert were Darrell "Delite" Allamby, Mike City and Tony Nicholas. Additional guests include Eddie Levert and Atlantic R&B newcomer Trey Songz.
Levert's albums have held their own in a predominantly hip-hop world, with his last three debuting in the top 10 of The Billboard 200. Two entered the chart at No. 6: "Gerald's World" (2001), which has sold 558,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and "Stroke of Genius" (2003), which has scanned 381,000. Entering at No. 9 was "The G Spot" (2002), which has scanned 359,000.
Levert's most recent top 10 R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks hit, however, was "Taking Everything," which peaked at No. 3 in 1999.
In tandem with prerelease promotional efforts, the label is developing tie-ins for Valentine's Day (February), Mother's Day (May) and Father's Day (June).
A campaign linchpin is the Father Son tour, which features Gerald and Eddie Levert. The outing kicks off Nov. 24 in Cincinnati and includes stops in Detroit, Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta, Houston and Washington, D.C.
Levert, whose previous production work includes Barry White and the Winans, has been busy with other projects as well. He earned kudos for his recent duet with Teena Marie, "A Rose by Any Other Name." He says the group Levert is 10 songs into a reunion project. And he still harbors a desire to work with Gladys Knight, whom he deems the "singingest woman in the world."
Right now, though, he wants to show that there's another side to Gerald Levert: "I'm just trying to say some things to people. [This album] speaks to the spirit of the reality that I've grown, and it isn't about how many girls or how much money I have."