Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Brian 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 singer/songwriter 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, due Feb. 8. 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. It's a current Grammy Award nominee for best R&B male vocal performance. "Every Time You Go Away," meanwhile, takes fans back to McKnight's romantic "Back at One" heyday.
"Back at One" was McKnight's last major R&B/pop crossover hit. The 1999 single reached No. 7 at R&B and No. 2 at pop. The musician is best-known for 1997's "Anytime" (No. 1 at R&B/No. 6 at pop). Both hits were the title tracks to multiplatinum albums. His 1992 self-titled debut is also multiplatinum, while "I Remember You" (1995) and "Superhero" (2001) went gold.
"U-Turn," however, has sold only 440,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Originally slated for release last year, "Gemini" was planned as a double-CD: one side love songs, the other devoted to the jazz McKnight loves. However, the exit of former Motown president/CEO Kedar Massenburg placed the project in limbo until successor Sylvia Rhone was appointed last September.
Then, McKnight says, it was decided that it "wouldn't be cost-effective" to release a double-CD. The jazz CD, however, is waiting in the wings.
Further boosting his exposure, McKnight has embarked on a new sideline. He will be covering the Grammys for syndicated entertainment series "X-Tra." He made his TV journalism debut last year, reporting on the Billboard Music Awards and the American Music Awards.
He and manager Silas White are also exploring the possibility of McKnight hosting a talk show. He co-hosted "The Vegas Show" with Sheena Easton last summer at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.
But McKnight still harbors one dream that will bring together his R&B/pop and jazz alter egos. "My goal is to play both the Hollywood Bowl and Universal Amphitheatre on the same day."
Excerpted from the Feb. 12, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers .
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