Much like the-Dream and Lupe Fiasco, Lyfe Jennings swears that his new album, "I Still Believe" (out Aug. 31 on Jesus Swings/Asylum/Warner Bros.), will be his last. But is he really ready to make a clean break with music?
The success of "Statistics," the latest single from the artist's fourth album, should give him reason to rethink his decision. The song, inspired by radio personality/comedian Steve Harvey's best-selling book, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man"-moves 23-17 on Billboard's Adult R&B chart and 32-33 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs this week. On the track, Jennings bluntly outlines a few facts about men ("25% of all men can't be faithful") and schools women about key relationship rules ("Don't be a booty call").
Gauging by various reactions to "Statistics," Jennings' no-holds-barred style is still a fan pleaser. Comments on blogs and Twitter feeds about the song range from "He always has a message and doesn't do music for the industry but himself" to "Wish there were more songs out there with positive and thought-provoking messages."
It's currently among the top five most-requested songs at R&B WHRK Memphis. Several of Jennings' earlier singles, including 2006's "S.E.X." and 2004's "Must Be Nice," ended up in power rotation at the station.
"Lyfe's old-soul style and subject matter fill a void," WHRK PD Devin Steel says. "It hits a nerve with women and strikes up conversation among guys. The one thing I like about Lyfe is he's never scared to do something off the cuff and take a chance."
Indeed, Jennings hasn't strayed from the raw, yet poetic honesty that first attracted fans to his 2004 Sony debut, "Lyfe 268-192." Titled after the prison number he received while serving a 10-year sentence for arson, the album achieved both critical acclaim and platinum sales. Before bringing his own Jesus Swings imprint to Asylum/Warner Bros., the singer/songwriter/producer recorded two more albums for Sony, 2006's "Phoenix" and 2008's "Lyfe Change," which bowed at Nos. 2 and 4, respectively, on the Billboard 200.
But despite all his success, Jennings says he's ready to commit to spending more time with his family. "My kids are at an age where they need me," Jennings says of his children, who are 5, 4 and 2. "I can't be on the road for seven to eight months out of the year. But I want to thank my fans for giving me the opportunity to do something I love. And I hope from these four albums, I have given them what they needed."
Once "Believe" is up and running, the Atlanta-based artist wants to spend the next couple of years developing acts on Jesus Swings, including teen R&B trio West Ave. Additional plans include acting ("I just finished my first movie role, which I can't reveal yet"), launching a children's book series and supporting the young people's campaign he initiated, "Stay Busy, Stay Out of Trouble."
Whether Jennings stands by his retirement declaration remains to be seen. But WHRK's Steel joins a chorus of fans who think he should keep recording. "Lyfe would definitely be missed," he says. "He still has stories to tell, which is what draws people to him."